Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Quarterly Report
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Quarterly Report 04/07/2009 - 4:35 PM

Rn The tennis season is long, but like anything else that doesn’t involve your own daily 9 to 5 labor, it passes with disconcerting speed—“Time is a jet plane,” Bob Dylan sang, “it moves too fast.” Maybe it’s the scattershot, peak-and-valley nature of the early-year schedule—massive tournament to start, nothing for a month, followed by two big events in rapid-fire succession—that catches us off guard. We’re not worn down by weekly results yet. By the time the players get to Europe and that grind begins in earnest, a quarter of the year—one Slam, two Masters/Premier events, a round of Davis and Fed Cup—is gone.

With that in mind, the time seems right to take stock of how the game and its players have measured up to expectations so far in 2009.

Victoria Azarenka

Just when it appeared as if the WTA would never give us another girl with the fortitude and irrational desire to be a champion, we get this 19-year-old Belarusian beanpole. Granted, Serena was hurt in the Key Biscayne final, and Azarenka did throw in a couple of anxiety-ridden double faults when she was trying to serve out the match. But instead of panicking when things go wrong, she gets mad and tries her best to figure out how to fix the problem. And if I don’t love the bird-like whoo-ooo she makes when she swings, I do like the swings themselves, especially the graceful punch she gives the ball on her backhand side. A

Juan-Martin del Potro

The gently brooding giant has bounced back nicely after his Davis Cup debacle last winter. He won in Auckland to start the year and reached his second Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne. While he suffered an embarrassing two-bagel loss to Federer there, del Potro bounced back again to make a Masters semi in Key Biscayne. Biggest of all, he recorded his first win in 14 attempts over one of the Big 4 when he came back to beat Nadal in Miami. That’s important—he had looked utterly lost and overwhelmed against the top guys until then. DP's development, after last year’s breakthrough, remains on track. He may take his losses hard, but he can forget them. A-

Novak Djokovic

We learn more and more about the wacky Serb every few weeks. When we first met him, he was quick to call it a day if events weren’t proceeding in a manner that favored him. Then he was serene and sure of his destiny to become No. 1. Then, when destiny was derailed, he was a ball of frustration ready to immolate itself at the first sign of trouble. Now, he’s starting to seem like a guy who can throw in an unmitigated clunker one week—see his dismal Indian Wells quarterfinal loss to Roddick—and bounce back a week later to beat Tsonga and Federer and make a Masters final. Djokovic lets his anger get the best of him, but he lets his pride pick him back up. Do you have any idea what he’ll show us next? I don’t. But I want to find out. B

Roger Federer

From a performance point of view, you’d have to say this is his worst start since he became No. 1 in 2004. At least last year he had a debilitating illness as an excuse. While Federer still knows how to work the majors, he looks more and more lost at the Masters events. Watching him self-destruct against Murray in Indian Wells, I began to think that his version of tennis artistry, defined by a 0-to-60-in-two-seconds-flat transition game, was looking a little dated compared to Murray’s side-to-side, slice-and-scramble approach.

But from an emotional standpoint, Federer has been the most compelling figure in tennis. He provided, to his chagrin, the signature moment of the year by bawling in Melbourne, and then he made our jaws drop with his stoically savage destruction of his racquet in Key Biscayne—it was like watching a magician destroy his wand. None of this should surprise us: Tennis players, whatever their outer selves communicate, are deeply emotional. Why wouldn’t Federer, the best tennis player, have the deepest emotions of all? B+

Indian Wells/Key Biscayne

These tournaments offered plenty to the fan willing to (a) attend one or both of them; and (b) seek out and stick with FSN as it stumbled its way toward covering both events. But for someone tuning into the semis and finals on the weekend, both tournaments left a lot to be desired. Federer was entertaining and revealing in one sense, but only in a negative way. The two women’s finals were ruined by wind and injury, respectively, while the two men’s finals were uninspired and only marginally competitive. What would the casual viewer of Key Biscayne have made of a Saturday spent watching Serena hobble and a Sunday spent watching Djokovic narrowly avert heat exhaustion? And as much as I like Murray’s style, I can’t view it as a good sign for the game that he won more matches than anyone by taking fewer risks then ever. C+

Ana Ivanovic

I know she says she’s happy with her new coach and back on track with her attacking game. And I hope it’s true. But even in her run to the Indian Wells final, Ivanovic was excessively up and down, not just from match to match, but from game to game. As of now, her confidence can still be blown away in the desert wind. B-

Jelena Jankovic

Poor JJ. Is her sudden and precipitous decline a product, like she says, of overtraining? Or is it an inevitable market correction for a woman who never belonged at No. 1 in the first place? Now that’s she fired her in-house fitness guru, Pat Etcheberry—he may have neglected to consider the finer points of Jankovic’s finesse game before trying to add 10 pounds of muscle to her—we’ll find out. JJ has bounced back from worse slumps before; but she wasn’t 24 then. D

Andy Murray

When did the game’s resident miserable brat become its most upstanding citizen? While Federer was smashing, Djokovic was staggering, and Nadal was blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead, No. 4 kept his head and body intact and left the U.S. with the best overall record of any player who was in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. On a small scale, he weathered bad patches of play against Monaco and Djokovic with just the barest amount of testiness, before quickly reasserting his low-key control over both matches. Whether it’s a match or the season at large, he’s clearly thinking long term. My only reservation, as I said earlier, is that he has found a way to win that requires minimal risk. Good for him, but potentially bad for us. Murray has the variety to do much more, and eventually we’re going to want to see him use it again. A

Rafael Nadal

He’s extended his turf while tightening his grip on the top spot. As the champion in Melbourne and Indian Wells, Nadal is now the favorite to win any hard court tournament he plays. You might chalk this up to the sport's long-running move toward slower surfaces. But I’m going to chalk it up to Nadal’s dogged expansion of his own game. By now, his rallies can consist of anything—drop shots, low chips, stealthy forays to the net, exclamatory overheads, and, of course, the meat and potatoes, uncannily accurate topspin drives. There’s something for any tennis fan to like, which is no more and no less than what we want from the new face of the sport. Rafa is taking No. 1 in stride; he’s comfortable there without acting entitled about it. Why would we have expected anything else? A+

Andy Roddick

Like Murray but unlike Nadal, Roddick has assessed the modern game and found that less is more. Fewer risks, more balls in play, lots of running, and a big serve to back it all up is the recipe du jour. And as it is for Murray, it’s a winning recipe for Roddick, but it may not taste all that good to us in the long run. Roddick has won a lot of matches in 2009, but I’ve enjoyed watching him most during the few games where he let his strokes fly—à la 2003—against Federer in Key Biscayne. Of course, he lost that one, so chances are we won’t see it again. He's gotten too smart for that. A-

Dinara Safina

I like her story, her personality, her persistence, her intensity, her emotion, her mid-career surge— everything, in other words, other than actually watching her play. I’ve tried, but at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne Safina's game looked very labored, as if she and her strokes and especially her serve just didn’t want to be out there. I want to see more from a player who is at least nominally fighting to become No. 1 for the first time. B

Serena Williams

With her 10th Slam coming a full decade after her first, you might say this is a time to celebrate Serena, her longevity, and her apparently effortless dominance. And it is. There are many things to enjoy in Serena’s game—the coolly lethal serve, the exemplary racquet extension, the indomitable fight. It’s just that when I turned on the TV to watch her in Key Biscayne, I didn’t see those things. I saw her spraying shots, slumping her shoulders, acting like she couldn’t believe this was all happening to her, and standing still and hitting all-or-nothing shots because she had suffered another injury. The physical problems may not be her fault, and the erratic play and flamboyant frustration can be filed away in the “Serena being Serena” department—that’s just how she is sometimes. But when you’ve seen her focused and at her best, the way she was for most of the U.S. and Aussie Open finals, this version of her isn’t much fun to watch. I hope she gets better in all ways for the rest of the year. A-


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by john 04/07/2009 at 04:48 PM

first!

Posted by john 04/07/2009 at 04:51 PM

agree with the grades, although by the time the us open comes around, i can't see rafa being the favorite. unless he storms through the us open series winning everything he plays, i think murray will most likely be the favorite to take the us open(if healthy). but i shouldn't get ahead of myself, there's plenty of clay court/grass tennis to be played. vamos rafa!

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 04:57 PM

Steve,
Why Roger get a B+? I would have given him a B- or C based on what was written and in every loss this year, he loses his concentration.

Doha - 6-2,6-2 last 2 sets vs Murray
Australian Open - 6-2 final set vs Nadal
Indian Wells - 6-1 final set vs Murray
Key Biscayne - 6-2,6-3 last 2 sets vs Djokovic. Roger should have won 2 games at the most.

Posted by frances 04/07/2009 at 04:58 PM

steve i love you for loving nadal!!!! hahahaha

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 05:02 PM

Steve,
Let me revise Roger grade and it would have ranged from B, B-, or C. Agree with the other ATP grades.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 04/07/2009 at 05:03 PM

Federer's B+ is too generous. I would have given him a C, actually.

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 05:05 PM

Steve,
On the WTA, what is the grade for Venus Williams(winning Dubai and Acapulco along with SF in Key Biscayne losing to her sister)and Vera Zvonareva(who won Indian Wells singles and doubles along with a SF at Australian Open)?

Posted by Ryan 04/07/2009 at 05:09 PM

Roger's grade is only relative to Roger. I'd say everyone not named Nadal would be pretty pleased with his year so far--Slam final, 2 Masters semis. Then again, you know Roger ain't pleased.

Posted by john 04/07/2009 at 05:10 PM

Federer's B+ may sound generous given his recent meltdowns, but he still made it to a GS final (and almost won), which is more than we can say for Djokovic or Murray, and he made it to the semis of both Masters.

Posted by lollipop 04/07/2009 at 05:12 PM

Steve- definetely would give roger a much lower grade. Nole gets a B but roger gets a B+? it doesnt make sense to me.

Roger should get at least a B-

Posted by carlos 04/07/2009 at 05:12 PM

wta without justine and maria: F

serena winning the australian open this year playing the way she played is really bad for the wta.
I have never seen someone win a grandslam playing so bad en route to the title.

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa!) 04/07/2009 at 05:15 PM

A+ for Rafa! Love it!!!

Posted by Jalen 04/07/2009 at 05:15 PM

Rankings were cool, what about Venus and Dementieva and Zvonereva, players who have been hot at times this year?

Posted by Sher 04/07/2009 at 05:17 PM

Steve, I think you are right on with all your marks. I know exactly what you mean when you say Federer's game is the worst it's been in five years -- but at the same time, there's so much interest around his future.

And right on with Nadal feeling comfortable at #1. He's had ample practice fending off challengers even in his 3 years at #2 (which is pretty crazy to think about, still...from 2005 till 2008 he was the #2 player in the world, stopped only by Federer from being #1. If there had been no Federer, would he have been a long term number 1 by now? (even assuming roddicks/djokovics/nalbandians/etc would have won a bigger share of hardcourt tournaments, spreading the wealth around))

Thanks for an excellent write up. I appreciate it as usual! :)

Posted by gauloises 04/07/2009 at 05:18 PM

Steve - fantastic post. I can't disagree with any of your grades.

I'm thrilled about Azarenka - it's such a relief to see someone who has such a will to win out there, and I love watching her game. And like you, I can't wait to see what happens in the latest chapter in the Nole saga.

Thanks for acknowledging JMDP's good start to the year, especially after the way last year ended - and most importantly, the fact that he's still developing. (And, um, for describing him as a "gently brooding giant". Which made me swoon a little bit.)

Posted by Sher 04/07/2009 at 05:21 PM

>Nole gets a B but roger gets a B+? it doesnt make sense to me. Roger should get at least a B-

Why B-? Their h2h for the year is 1-1 and Federer did better than Djokovic at the Australian Open, although Djokovic did win Dubai. The most you can argue is that they should both get a B.

Personally I think Federer destroyed his chances at an A with his racquet breaking vs Djokovic and the way his game fell apart in the two recent matches he lost. Djokovic destroyed his chances at an A with the retirement in Australian Open and the way he once again couldn't handle the heat vs Murray.

Posted by Sher 04/07/2009 at 05:23 PM

>i think murray will most likely be the favorite to take the us open(if healthy).

I love the guy, but baring really unfortunate circumstances for the top two, the favourites game will be replayed again in similar fashion as in Australia this year.

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 05:24 PM

Steve,
Two last questions from me, why Serena is getting an A-? All she has done is win the Australian Open, made the finals at Key Biscayne, semifinals at Sydney, Paris, and Dubai. Think she is playing more tournaments than we ever believed. Also, what about Elena Dementieva, as Jalen posted earlier? She started off 2009 with 15 straight wins during the Australian swing where she has perform poorly in the past?

Posted by stephen 04/07/2009 at 05:27 PM

Good call about Murray's ability to win with minimal risk. I personally can't stand the dude's style. He is the King of All Pushers: as annoying to watch as I am sure he is to play.

I never thought I would be a Rafa fan, but with Roger winding it down I now must root for the new #1, if only to beat the anoying one.

Posted by Yikes 04/07/2009 at 05:32 PM

When did the game’s resident miserable brat become its most upstanding citizen?

Frankentooth got with David Beckham's PR machine, that's what happened. His game is ugly, his personality is ugly and his teeth are ugly. The PR machine should start with veneers.

Posted by Christopher 04/07/2009 at 05:35 PM

Interesting analysis of Murray's recent play, Steve. My guess is that he will indeed have to put more on the table as time goes by and more players get accustomed to his style. That's one of the great things about tennis, a certain style of play seem to be the ultimate answer, then someone else comes along and asks a new question. Well do I remember thinking in the mid- and late 90's that the men's game was doomed to be dominated by nothing but huge serves on faster surfaces and true clay court specialists (and I think the term applies to some in that era) who skipped Wimbledon. Boy was I (and many others) wrong (happily so).

Sometimes I do wonder how successful Murray's varied and unpredictable game will be long-term. One frequently hears comparisons to Santoro. Well, much as I like watching Fabrice play and he has the reputation as someone no one likes to play, the reality is that most top players ultimately beat him most of the time. He only made the quarters of a slam once in a long career and never threatened to break into the top 10. Murray, of course, has much greater strength and a much more effective serve, and that's what will make the difference if he's going to maintain a high ranking and win slams.

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still my heartbeat 04/07/2009 at 05:35 PM

@stephen 5:27 pm - word

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 05:36 PM

Yes, Rafa gets A+ and deservedly so.
now, i will read

Posted by john 04/07/2009 at 05:39 PM

"I love the guy, but baring really unfortunate circumstances for the top two, the favourites game will be replayed again in similar fashion as in Australia this year."

True, I only say that because of Nadal's history at the US Open and Murray's hard court hype, which is well deserved. And who knows, maybe the top two right now won't be the top two come August.

Posted by cash 04/07/2009 at 05:43 PM

Steve thanks for "finally" posting. I have been awaiting your report card. I continually enjoy your accurate and at times poetic look into the game we all love to love.

Posted by Samantha Elin 04/07/2009 at 05:50 PM

JJ a D. I totally agree. LOL, she's a hot mess and has been that way all year." A woman who should have never belong as No l in the first place." So true.Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by C.F. 04/07/2009 at 05:51 PM

I agree with almost everything, but like many posters, I didn't expect Roger's grade to be higher than Djokovic's. Sure, Federer reached the AO final and both masters semis (which is at least better than his early 2008), but on the other hand, Nole already has a title this year and finally managed to get his confidence back after the whole "oops, I changed my racket and now it's hard to get used to it" thing. While Djokovic appears to be having health issues with the heat, and that is complicated, Federer is the one who seems to be having serious confidence issues now.

I see them as pretty even, so that's really the thing I'd grade differently from Steve - to me both would get a B.

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 05:52 PM

john, going by history unless there is a huge injury or rafa really loses all his form there will be little chance he will lose #1. Rog however I'm not sure but I think no one knows how to pace themselves in G-Slams like Fedal. Honestly, I just don't see Murray making inroads in Wimby. I too think Murray's best chance is USO.

I will admit that he's rather hard to like.....boring game and personality...and from a very shallow point of view, not easy on the eyes.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 05:58 PM

Steve - I echo the sentiments of some that will be nice to have more results for the likes of Vera and ElenaD who round up the top eight women.

MA - what grade do you think ReRe should get? I think in total she did better point wise than 2008 but in terms of winning tournaments at this point last year she already had Bangalore and KB in the bag compared to only AO and finalist appearance at KB and the rest of the SFs. But she has also played more than she has for the first quarter in a long time so may she is also going for consistent results and winning "big" tournaments in the long-term which may not be so bad considering in the race points she is still almost 1000 points ahead of Vera who is second on the list.

Posted by Mr Rick 04/07/2009 at 06:02 PM

...was also happy to see Juan Monaco playing well again - his match against Murray was pretty darn good - would like to see him get back up into top 10-15 range again soon.

I have tried and tried as a loyal red blooded American to get back behind Andy Roddick since his shoulder surgery, but just can't do it any more. There is just something squirrely about the way that guy plays... can't quite put my finger on it...

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 06:20 PM

Avid Sports Fan,
My grade for Serena should be A.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 06:26 PM

Master Ace - ok, thanks. Meanwhile I was going to ask you that do you think ElenaD's good run at Australia may have accounted for her poor run in the NA HC swing where she usually does better?

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 06:33 PM

Avid Sports Fan,
On Elena, I believe that was the case as her body was tired from the AO swing. However, I believe she is going to play Stuttgart and Madrid before the French so she is trying to rest her body adequately.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 06:35 PM

Master Ace - I noticed that though I would have thought she would do Rome instead of Stuttgart. I think she will be up and running again during the clay season. Madrid is the only premier mandatory during the clay season right? SO all the top players would be in Madrid.

Posted by Pspace 04/07/2009 at 06:36 PM

""Why wouldn’t Federer, the best tennis player, have the deepest emotions of all?""

You seem to be the only guy in the world who empathizes with Fed's emotional situation without judgement. Can't say the same for myself. But, good on ya.

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 06:44 PM

Avid Sports Fan,
Correct on Madrid being the only Mandatory.

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 06:46 PM

yes, pspace steve is the most empathetic sportwriter i've read...which actually really elevates his already awesome writing and that is why he is a favourite of mine.
i enjoy all his tennis and non-tennis related posts to a great extent.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 06:50 PM

Master Ace - Thanks for the confirmation on Madrid.

Posted by Carrie 04/07/2009 at 07:06 PM

Steve- great post. As always, I enjoyed it.

ava- I agree that Steve is an empathetic sports writer- which is one reason why I really like his writing. He seems to find ways to identify with players- even if they are not his favorites- instead of saying "nah...don't like them" and not bothering to write about them.

Steve- I agree with most of your grades. And while Roger could have had a lower grade for the technical aspects of his game- it has been interesting - and sadly compelling- to see this player who was imo once derided in some circles as emotionaless- show how much he really cares.

I may give Rafa a solid A. While he has- as you say- handled the number one well- I did think at Miami we got a brief glimpse of the adage "heavy is the head who wears the crown."

Would have enjoyed grades for some like Vera- but overall- great stuff (and you can't write about everyone).

*(And, um, for describing him as a "gently brooding giant". Which made me swoon a little bit.)*

Yes- me too. And nice photo on the front page.

I know that some find Delpo boring and humorless, but I kind of find him fascinating. I like that he can be so stoic on court and yet quick to cry as soon as he gets off of it. He may be too gruff for some in his English pressers (although I wonder if his deep voice an as yet un-mastered English can have a part in that). But I enjoy reading his rather thoughtful imo magazine articles translated from Spanish and have enjoyed when his personality shows through n English- like it did when he joked at IW when his match preceeding Marat's. And it has been fun for me to see him add to his game- and progress in terms of the toolls he can use on court.

Posted by john 04/07/2009 at 07:09 PM

ava,

I agree, and I was definitely talking about Federer dropping out of the top two rather than Nadal. He's had a tremendous start, and assuming he takes the French which he is pretty much a lock to do, there's almost no way he'll lose the #1 spot.

Federer has a slim chance of losing #2, only because Murray is defending very little points from the entire clay season including the French, while Federer is already automatically losing points from dropping out of Monte Carlo.

Either way, no matter what the seedings or circumstances are, it makes for an exciting rest of the season.

Posted by C Note -- Is it Fed Cup yet? 04/07/2009 at 07:12 PM

Lord knows I love her but if you give Dina a B and JJ a D, then methinks your grade for Ana is a bit generous.

Teacher's pet? ;)
[cue "Don't Stand So Close To Me"]

Posted by imjimmy 04/07/2009 at 07:18 PM

No mention of Rafa's collapse in Miami: A Woeful week culminating in a out of character, self destructive. and an amazingly disastrous loss to Del Potro. Surely there are some question marks for the Spaniard going forward . Especially considering how many points he has to defend on clay and grass. I mean, he won everything last time. Surely it can only be worse this time?

I expected a A for Rafa instead of an A+.

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 07:23 PM

imjimmy and corrie, barring rafa's miami debacle his quarter season was amazing. If he doesn't deserve an A+ then who does??
MURRAY? I think not..

Posted by ladyjulia 04/07/2009 at 07:24 PM

imjimmy...Rafa isn't expected to do well on hardcourts...that is why he surpassed all expectations by winning AO,indian wells and Quaterfinal at Miami..so A+.

Rafa will be himself on Clay...no need to worry....as Roger says "He is a completely different animal on clay"...the run on clay will end sometime, but not this year...

he might get injured for Barcelona or something else, but will be in full display at RG..he should be a sure shot at RG for another couple of years, barring a major injury.

Posted by ladyjulia 04/07/2009 at 07:24 PM

imjimmy...Rafa isn't expected to do well on hardcourts...that is why he surpassed all expectations by winning AO,indian wells and Quaterfinal at Miami..so A+.

Rafa will be himself on Clay...no need to worry....as Roger says "He is a completely different animal on clay"...the run on clay will end sometime, but not this year...

he might get injured for Barcelona or something else, but will be in full display at RG..he should be a sure shot at RG for another couple of years, barring a major injury.

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 07:27 PM

also, if you remember imjimmy, rafa lost in the first round of Roma...so he technically did not "win everything".
I think it is possible. Miami was just a week after IW and the pressure may have just got to him but on clay I think he's more comfortable.
Just sayin'

Posted by Carrie 04/07/2009 at 07:36 PM

*imjimmy and corrie, barring rafa's miami debacle his quarter season was amazing. If he doesn't deserve an A+ then who does??*

I think you are referring to me not corrie since I remarked on the A grade for Rafa. . Well I think that A is a good solid grade. And perhaps even if he had just lost in a differen manner than in a way that he termed an "amazing disaster" I may have deciced it was A+ worthy. I never believe in grading on the curve (and never did when I was a TA) so while Rafa's season - which has been fantastic- is not perfect imo. Nobody's has been. :)

Posted by ava 04/07/2009 at 07:38 PM

ok, carrie :)
sorry about calling you corrie....
but one of fed's pre-clay season's have been perfect...cannot remember which.

Posted by Tfactor 04/07/2009 at 07:40 PM

A Woeful week culminating in a out of character, self destructive. and an amazingly disastrous loss to Del Potro"

Don't you think you're exaggerating just a tad? :)

In particular taking into account Nadal won the AO, won doubles in Doha, reached the final in Rotterdam, won IW and reached quarters in Miami.

Everyone loses sometime and while I agree with you it was an uncharacteristic loss, I don't think is, by any means, a sign of things to come.

Posted by ladyjulia 04/07/2009 at 07:41 PM

Ava...maybe 2006...he won AO, indian wells and miami...

Posted by Carrie 04/07/2009 at 07:45 PM

*
but one of fed's pre-clay season's have been perfect...cannot remember which.*

I was just referring to this quarter for 2009- sorry for the misunderstanding. Yes- I think once or twice Roger came into MC without a loss.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 07:53 PM

Ava...maybe 2006...he won AO, indian wells and miami...

ladyjulia - yes 2006 was almost perfect for Roger, he had just one loss during the period to Rafael in Dubai final but he won Doha, AO, Dubai, IW, Miami. 2005 was also close to perfect except he did not win AO but won Doha, Rotterdam, Dubai, IW, and Miami.

Posted by Victoria 04/07/2009 at 07:55 PM

When did the game’s resident miserable brat become its most upstanding citizen?

Frankentooth got with David Beckham's PR machine, that's what happened. His game is ugly, his personality is ugly and his teeth are ugly. The PR machine should start with veneers.
-------------------------------------------------------

This is the most stupid comment I ever heard.

If you can't warm to his tennis, just turn off the TV or watch something else. but too bad, if he just keeps winning, what you gonna watch, too bad, too bad.

Posted by imjimmy 04/07/2009 at 07:56 PM

">>Well I think that A is a good solid grade. And perhaps even if he had just lost in a different manner than in a way that he termed an "amazing disaster"..I may have deciced it was A+ worthy.>>"

Word, Carrie. My thoughts exactly.

">>I never believe in grading on the curve (and never did when I was a TA) so while Rafa's season - which has been fantastic- is not perfect imo. Nobody's has been. :)>>"

Beg to differ on that one. Why can't Murray get A+? His only loss was to the #1 player in the world and to a in the zone Verdasco, when Murray was not physically 100%. Considering Murray's gone from a nobody since Wimb 08 to the most feared player in the circuit today, I would give him an A+ for improvements and results.

">>My only reservation, as I said earlier, is that he has found a way to win that requires minimal risk. Good for him, but potentially bad for us.>>"

Word, Steve. You dissected Murray's game best in that one sentence.

">>Murray has the variety to do much more, and eventually we’re going to want to see him use it again>>"

He hasn't needed to, perhaps because the competition has been found wanting. But if he does, he could set some new performance benchmarks. Let's see how Rafa, Roger et al. cope with that.

Posted by Khalil 04/07/2009 at 07:59 PM

Rafa is surely worthy of an A+, especially comparing his start of this year to 2008, when he didn't win a tournament till April (if I remember correctly). So compared to himself last year, it's a deserved A+. Ditto compared to other players; a grand slam and a master is surely a more valuable haul than what any other player has managed to achieve so far. Adding to this the fact that hard courts are his least favorite surfaces, and there would be no further room for argument imo.

As for the Miami meltdown; the guy just proved he was human (he's so dominant that some people think he's a tennis tournament winning robot!). I wouldn't read too much into it..

I do root for Federer to go back to his previous confident self, though, if only to continue the great rivalry with Nadal (it sure is WAY more interesting than a Nadal/Murray rivalry would be!)

Posted by claudia celestial girl 04/07/2009 at 08:00 PM

great post, as usual.

someone mentioned that Rafa ought not to be the favorite at the USO, except if he wins everything in the summer. I disagree. I tend to think that Rafa's summer will be like the run up to the AO - Murray the favorite, Delpo moving along, everyone looking the other way, while Rafa purposefully goes about his business. I think Rafa will take on the USO, and do well, if and only if everyone counts him out. I think that route fits his psychology a little better. Even Rafa says that making the Grand Slam is almost impossible (no?). But that doesn't really sound like the 'inner Rafa,' the Rafa who took on Verdasco and then Federer through 10 sets.

Also, I thought the comments about Murray in this post were interesting. I have a hard time watching Murray sometimes (Delpo too), and thought Steve's comments about how good Murray's game was for tennis to be interesting.

Posted by Victoria 04/07/2009 at 08:07 PM

">>My only reservation, as I said earlier, is that he has found a way to win that requires minimal risk. Good for him, but potentially bad for us.>>"

Is that the long term strategy for Grand Slam. I don't think with the level of men tennis at this moment there is anyone capable to crush his opponent all the way to the final. Consistence week in week out is Murray's most important weapon right know. Just have a look from the Wimby last year, he consistenly go deep into each tournament he played. No shock early exit (except the Olympics).

Posted by Master Ace 04/07/2009 at 08:13 PM

C Note,
Agree that Steve's grade of Ana was generous. For me, her grade would range from C to C-

Posted by bagel4732 04/07/2009 at 08:22 PM

Claudia-
I completely agree with you. Even if everyone is betting on Murray, who by then might have a few more Masters shields under his belt, Nadal will still be a force to be reckoned with. In fact, I think it will be better for Nadal if he is upset in the early rounds of one of the preceding events: remember last year when he lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero in Rome but then used the extra rest to win the FO without losing a set? (I'm not entirely sure of the schedule- was there another Masters series (Madrid?) in between?) Compare that to the US Open Series (won Toronto and SF of Cincinnati) and the Olympics (Gold Medal). Following this grueling series of matches (which, keep in mind, are on a surface not kind to Rafa's knees), Nadal lost a set each to Querry and Fish before finally going down to Murray in the semis. If he had, say, lost in the first round of the olympics or Cincinnati, it's possible that his US Open results may have been better (of course, it's equally possible that Murray was just too good for him).
~!

Posted by C Note -- Is it Fed Cup yet? 04/07/2009 at 08:25 PM

As per usual, MA, I agree.

The pretty girls always have it easy....

Posted by sonya 04/07/2009 at 08:26 PM

you're tough Master Ace but I totally agree with you. I really think Serena should have got an A, and Rafa too. Same reasons as Carrie's.

Posted by bagel4732 04/07/2009 at 08:27 PM

Victoria-
I don't know if Murray's consistency is enough to get him through seven matches in a major (although he did do it at the US Open, but, then again, look at what happened this year at the Australian Open). Do you think Murray's increases fitness, etc. will help him or help his opponent if he plays a hard-hitter (like Ivo Karlovic) on a grass or even a fast hard surface?
~!

Posted by otep 04/07/2009 at 08:45 PM

Generous grades for Roddick, Del Potro and Federer.

Posted by Victoria 04/07/2009 at 08:59 PM

I think at this stage he get more options how to play, that's important in my opinion. And together with his new level of fitness, he's confident to deploy diferent tactics with different opponents. The AO is a one-off situation in my opinion. I was there and not so suprised (but of course disappointed) to see him loosing. Ved fared much above his weight in the match and Andy' physical condition is not at the best.

But I am impressed with the way he reacted after failure, he always drew something positive out of that and get better from that point. His williness to work hard to achieve is also impressed me. As long time fan of Andy, I can't believe I get to the stage that I expect him to win whatever he enters.

I do not expect him to win RG or Wimby, but I believe he will havve a good chance in US. A consistent result (go deep in each tour) is what at stake for now.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/07/2009 at 08:59 PM

hey everyone,
i agree with steve about serena getting an A- but i also think that venus should be mentioned. she has two titles so far(acapulco, dubai) and she also performed better this year at Miami than last year (08-QF, 09-SF). seems like both are pretty motivated this year so pretty excited to see what happens..
on a side note, what do you guys out there think..
serena: can she pass steffi graf grand slam total (22)
steffi was also the only woman to win at least four of every slam, serena only needs to win 3 french and two wimbledon titles to tie)
venus: who do you guys think is the next great grass court player? and how many more wimbledon titles can venus win? can she get to nine and break Martina's record? will she get at least 10 grand slam titles?

Posted by CPM 04/07/2009 at 09:12 PM

imjimmy--Murray should get an A+, and Nadal an A? Now, c'mon, Murray's had a fine start to the year, but an R16 loss at a major some favored him to win ought to put a kibosh on that talk toute de suite. Also, a little silly to call him the most feared player on tour right now as we enter the clay court season. And by "a little," I mean "a lot."

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 09:14 PM

ericinphilly, serena only has 10 grand slam singles titles, while steffi has 22 singles titles. I don't think Serena has a chance to pass that total.

Posted by tennisfan511 04/07/2009 at 09:15 PM

Where do you rank Venus? She won two tournaments this season and lost in the semis of Miami to Serena.

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 09:16 PM

CPM word!

Posted by ericinphilly 04/07/2009 at 09:24 PM

neil in toronto: i know its pretty far fetched but just throwing it out there to see opinion. what do you think about venus, in regards to wimbledon?

Posted by claudia celestial girl 04/07/2009 at 09:24 PM

Bagel4732 (what does that mean, anyway! ;-)

Instead of counting on Rafa, we should all tell him that he'll never make it. Rafa I mean. Winning the Grand Slam. Just continue to say, you know, Murray looks better than Rafa. Rafa isn't really good on hard courts. Rafa's inconsistent. No more A+'s for Rafa.

And see how he reacts to that! ;-)

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/07/2009 at 09:26 PM

Steve Tignor A+
Perhaps what sounded like complaining was just a badly phrased request to hear more of your opinions on the top 10 in both the ATP and WTA.
or..some people are just ungrateful slobs

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 09:29 PM

hey ericinphilly, well she has 5 now, but is turning 29 in June. Seems like a tough thing to ask her to do, but she does seem to be a very different player on Grass, a la Rafa on clay, and is probably the most forgiving surface on the body.

I'd buy Venus tying Martina's Wimbledon total before Serena beating Graf's slam total :)

Posted by CPM 04/07/2009 at 09:33 PM

I always love Tignor's grades; he's the undisputed GGOAT (Greatest Grader Of All Time).

Posted by Grant Wollen 04/07/2009 at 09:34 PM

I agree with them all.

Roger deserves the B+ because he played great but just can't get past Nadal or Murray anymore.

Roddick deserves a great grade too; he has played so well/mature.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/07/2009 at 09:38 PM

neil in toronto:
yeah i def think she can do it even tho she is getting up there in tennis years lol. i dont see too many people who can beat her on grass and no heir apparent as the next great grass court player..

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 09:40 PM

I agree with all of the grades except Roger's. He's not even won a smaller tournament yet. That and the last set meltdowns Against Rafa, Murray and Nole. I'd give him a C+.

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 09:43 PM

Well, eric, other than her sister, you're right, not many spring to mind at the moment.

Posted by federerfan 04/07/2009 at 09:43 PM

Assuming murray can keep up (not even improve) his h/c play shown thus far, i think by the time the uso comes in, murray will be #2 and he and rafa will not meet each other in the semis anymore, so he in my view is looking very good for the final. Depending on rafa's knees and what he does to murray;s confidence over clay and grass, he could stand a good chance of beating murray but my pick would still be murray.

Posted by federerfan 04/07/2009 at 09:47 PM

i also think fernando verdasco should have got a good grade

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/07/2009 at 09:48 PM

I don't know about AndyM becoming no. 2 before the USO. The reason is Roger has almost zilch points to defend in the Toronto-Cinci stretch while AndyM has winners and QF to defend so Roger would be gaining points while AndyM will be defending. Also after the USO AndyM will be defending the most points in the post USO stretch with Roger defending way fewer points again all the way to the WTF. So I think the period he can get closest to Roger is between now till the end of grass.

Posted by Syd 04/07/2009 at 10:03 PM

Neil! C+ My beautiful boy? Even when he got to the AO final? humph.

Posted by frances 04/07/2009 at 10:03 PM

good grades steve--i always like to read your reports-- its has a humor approach and yet very straight to the point. Definitely agree on Nadals execptional grade-- although would have disagreed- but he's performance this first months this year eclipse his previous year's performance...vamos rafa and best wishes on the clay court season!!!!

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 10:07 PM

LOL Syd, only because he's not won anything this year thus far. Getting to the finish line counts. You know what an awesomely high standard your boy has set for himself and the rest. I'm sure he'd grade himself the same way (privately tho, not ever in public :P )

Posted by al 04/07/2009 at 10:08 PM

who cares

Posted by BlueDog 04/07/2009 at 10:10 PM

Great grades Steve. It's refreshing to see a take on the situation that isn't totally biased by recent events.

federerfan- it seems every time we assume past performance guarantees future performance, we're in for a surprise. We gonna see, no?

Posted by Syd 04/07/2009 at 10:20 PM

Neil;
right. not in public - though he came close to it in his pressor after the Djokovic affair when he said he managed to "finish even worse than him." [meaning, played even worse than Djokovic.]

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 10:25 PM

hehehe Syd, not quite as catchy as Rafa's "amazing disaster" referencing his loss to Delpo. Hmm another reason for a lower grade *ducks*

Posted by Syd 04/07/2009 at 10:27 PM

*throws pasta pot in Neil's direction. *

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 10:36 PM

ROFL...Syd, you root for the wrong guy, but you're totally awesome!

Posted by Valevapor 04/07/2009 at 10:54 PM

Clearly we must grade on a curve here, for if anyone aside from Rafa had Fed's results they'd receive an A or higher. As such, Roger probably deserves a B for performance - I think the plus was tacked on for remaining the most compelling player in the sport. I'd argue that Murray deserves an A+ along with Rafa, even though watching his conservatism sometimes makes me cringe as I recall all the torturous pushers I've lost to over the years. These tactics will not suffice on clay, however, where he will be signing up for grind-a-thons against a willing, Spanish-speaking throng. Murray will have to do something more to excel on clay.

Posted by BlueDog 04/07/2009 at 11:03 PM

We all root for the wrong guy eventually, neil!

Posted by JUST ME 04/07/2009 at 11:08 PM

I THINK ANDY MURRAY'S STYLE IS EXHUBERANTLY BORING... ALTHOUGH NADAL IS IN THE SPOTLIGHT NOWADAYS I DON'T LIKE HIS STYLE TOO MUCH... HE'S NOT PURE TALENT... MAYBE HE'S PURE MENTALITY AND MUSCLES, BUT THAT IS NOT ENOUGH IN A VERY COMPETITIVE AND INDIVIDUAL SPORT AS IT IS TENNIS... I MISS FEDERER'S DAYS OF GLORY, JOY, CONFIDENCE AND TITLES... ALL WE KNOW FEDERER IS THE BEST FOR HIS STROKES AND EASINESS WHEN EINNING POINTS... AND THE DJOKER... HE'S THE OTHER PURE TALENTED PLAYER... BUT UNLIKE FEDERER HE'S NOT CONVINCED YET OF HIS SKILLS... I'D LIKE TO SEE MORE ACTION ON THE TOUR... AND DEL POTRO I SUPPORT YOU... I'M FROM LATIN AMERICA... I LIKE YOUR STYLE... BUT PLEASE FEDERER CONVINCE YOURSELF ONCE AGAIN THAT YOU CAN DO IT MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE, YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE, TIME AND TALENT... I NEED RIGHT BACK ON THE TOUR...

Posted by neil in toronto 04/07/2009 at 11:20 PM

LOL Bludog, too true too true my friend. I'll remember your words when it is me that is rooting for the wrong guy.

Posted by Bibi 04/07/2009 at 11:26 PM

Glad Nole got a B. Fair. Like him so much. The excitement he brings to tennis nobody else can match. Hope time will come for an A....

Posted by Victoria 04/07/2009 at 11:28 PM

Firstly, I advice you to try to work out the "Caps lock " properly.

Please Fed fans just keep concentrate on your idol and leave Anday Murray alone. Just because he continuosly defeats your idol doens't mean he's boring, no talent and so on so on. Just bring back the tape and study the glory days of your idol, it may ease the pain of keep loosing to the "boring, untalented" player like Murray.

If I am Fed's fan right now, I must be extremly worried and have no heart to talk bad about the other. Oh maybe it's the general character of his fan, keep thingking that the glory day will just come back out of the blue. It is all about him, win or loose. It has nothing to do with his opponent.
Ha, ha, ridiculous.

Posted by jerry 04/07/2009 at 11:33 PM

steve you're an idiot

Posted by gretchen 04/07/2009 at 11:37 PM

Delpo seems like a flash in the pan to me...can't see him staying in the top 5 for long. And the only way Murray's getting a "+" tacked onto to his grade is if he'd gone much further at OZ, beaten Delpo in straight sets and gotten the job done against a practically passed out Miami Nole much earlier. So the "A" seems justified, IMO.

Posted by steve 04/08/2009 at 12:02 AM

Frankentooth? Spot on - ugly ugly nd ugly... its only a matter
of time before everyone figures him out, aye Fed? it happens..

Posted by Ryota 04/08/2009 at 12:03 AM

Nadal and Murray deserve their high marks. Both have reached the quarters of all the tournaments they have played in and have undoubtedly won the trophies that matter thus far.

Federer's grade is deserved as well. Again, I think there's a disconnect as far as what he's achieved and what people were used to him achieving. He has reached the SF in the 3 tournaments that mattered. Regardless of how badly he performed in those 3 losses, he still got that far in the tournament. It's not like he's losing in the 1st round here.

Why is everyone so high on Del Potro? Apart from his height, what sets him apart from other players out there?

I'm also suprised that Cilic hasn't been mentioned here. He started the year well with 2 titles and run in AO 2009. Granted he hasn't made that much noise in the Masters still a nice spring for him though.

I'm still waiting for the real Djokovic to return. Regardless of what anyone else says, the "slump" started in Wimbledon 2008. He got blind-sided by that loss to Safin and has been out-of-sorts ever since, TMS Cup, notwithstanding.

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