TGFTU

For a better comprehension of this post, a quick reminder of the five Masters events held so far and its semifinals follow:

Indian Wells: Nadal def. Del Potro, Djokovic def. Federer; Miami: Nadal def. Federer, Djokovic def. Fish; Monte Carlo: Nadal def. Murray, Ferrer def. Melzer; Madrid: Nadal def. Federer, Djokovic def. Bellucci; Rome: Nadal def. Gasquet, Djokovic def. Murray.

Feel the drama. Five tournaments mean twenty available semifinal spots. These twenty spots were filled by only ten players. Or, as I like to put, four plus six.

I could just go all the way and explain the reasons for this domination and why it sucks, for both the sport and (most? Some?) the fans, but I won’t. Instead, I will dedicate this article to the brave men who inflicted the most surprising results of the year. We could just call it TGFTU. Thank God For The Upsets.

The randomness of the draw’s lottery set another Nadal-Murray meeting for the semifinals. Oh. And many many of us – me included – thought we were faded to endure another Big-4 semifinal. But tennis is a lovely box filled with surprises, isn’t it? With a beautiful, plastic, ballerina dancing endless circles inside.

Exactly.

And the ballerina first spun to Murray. The world number four who, believe it or not, had his most impressive results in 2011 up to date on clay rather than on hard courts, went down to Kevin Anderson with a surprising-but-not-so-much 6/3, 6/1 loss. The ‘not-so-much’ part stand for his losses to Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov at the first American Masters of the year.

Draw open, then. Open to Nadal, right? His foot is not okay, but he is Nadal and OH WAIT.

When was the last time you guys had seen Rafa facepalming?

The plastic ballerina deployed to handle him was more like a macabre voodoo doll made of rags found only in the darkest holes of this planet. And they took the form of a 26-year old Croat to achieve its final goals. The story of the match is, alone, crazy enough, highlighted by Rafa’s squandering of breaks in the final set en route to a tie-break loss and his first opener loss since ’08 Rome. 1/6, 7/6, 7/6 scoreline and biggest win of Ivan Dodig’s career.

We now have left in the bottom half of the French franchise of the Rogers Cup only three seeded players, #6 Fish, #7 Berdych and #14 Wawrinka, plus Gulbis, Kevin Anderson, Tipsarevic and Dodig. Only the first three have already a Masters final in their record, but only Berdych has a title. The other four? Well, they combine for four career titles and are seeking their Cinderella run.

Ivan Dodig kills the giant. It's not like he's the next #1 or something. And that's the best part of it

Ain’t it amazing? Of course, people who are fan of Nadal, or Murray, or both, don’t think so. But for tennis and guys like me, who are completely against the Big-4, this is like heaven. The surprise factor, so present in guys like Hicham Arazi or Albert Portas in the past, but so gone nowadays, returning, adds a tad of an extra excitement to the game. Tennis need it. You can’t just blame someone – or someones – for being too good. Hell, no, this is an individual sport, where in the end it’s all about you, your racquet, your opponent, his racquet. Better player wins.

But to avoid the common sense sometimes, to see some different faces, faces you wouldn’t expect, faces you might don’t even know precisely to whom they belong, well, that’s something to prevent the sport from falling into total and complete boredom – a scenario you could miss all the action throughout the week, tune in on Friday and still have that feeling you missed nothing.

With all of my faves out of the party, only thing still left for me is rooting against Djokovic and Federer. Of course. Djokovic’s ridiculous YTD record went from admirable to ridiculous. And Federer, well, he’s just turned 30. Every title now will be a “statement against the big media that says he’s done”. We don’t need that. And we also don’t need a lackluster final between one of them and an underdog.

But you know what we could use? An underdog – the kind of winner that makes a lucky better rich.

Quickie: Compared debuting #1s stats

This is one of those few posts when blog and Twitter collide. I, the stats wizard, the master of the dark wizardries of applied numbers to give tennis standards, for the first time in a good while post an article here not expressing an opinion nor something like.

It’s a comparative, but the different kind of comparison: it’s merely a curiosity I wanted to know myself and thought you, faithful readers – and mainly Nolefans – would also appreciate to know.

Here’s the deal: After six weeks, Novak Djokovic is FINALLY debuting as the best-ranked player in the world. He tops the list at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. So, I was wondering, not sure you were too, where the former #1s – active and retired – debuted after becoming, well, the number one? Here’s what I collected:

Active players:

Lleyton HEWITT: Turned #1 on 19.11.2001. First event: Davis Cup final v. France, lost to Nicolás Escude in the first match as #1.

Juan Carlos FERRERO: Turned #1 on 08.09.2003. First event: Davis Cup semifinal v. Argentina, won the first match, d. Gaudio in 3 sets.

Andy RODDICK: Turned #1 on 03.11.2003. First event: ’03 Masters Cup; Won first match as #1, d. #7 Moyá in three sets. Outcome: Lost in the semifinals to #3 Federer.

Roger FEDERER: Turned #1 on 02.02.2004. First event: Davis Cup 1st Round (WG) v. Romania, won the first match, d. Hanescu in three sets.

Rafael NADAL: Turned #1 on 18.08.2008. First event: ’08 US Open; Won first match over #136 Phau in straight sets. Outcome: Lost in the semifinals to #6 Murray.

 

So, funnily enough, none of the active former-#1s won the title in their first event as number 1 – tenderized by the fact three of the five debuted at Davis Cup ties. But what if we come back a little more?

Gustavo KUERTEN turned #1 on 04.12.2000, and played his first match as the leader of the ranking v. Gaston Gaudio at the 2001 Australian Open. He won, but eventually lost in the next round to Greg Rusedski.

Marat SAFIN became #1 on 20.11.2000, having the Masters Cup as his first event. He beat #7 Corretja in the first match, but ended up losing in the semifinals to #8 Agassi.

Patrick RAFTER was number one for only one week, between 26.07.1999 and the first of August; he did not play a single tournament as the #1.

Yevgeny KAFELNIKOV was the first Russian to become #1, on 03.05.1999, and played for the first time at the Rome Masters, winning the first match against #158 Woodruff, but losing in the third round to #14 Kuerten.

Pete SAMPRAS, who topped the rankings for the first time by 12.04.1993, played for the first time in Hong Kong, defeating #71 Simian in the first round and eventually claiming the title over #2 Courier.

Andre AGASSI, finally, rose to the top spot in the ATP rankings of 10.04.1995. His first event played was on the very same week he turned #1, in Tokyo. He beat #103 Ho in the second round out of a bye, and made it all the way to the final, losing then to #15 Courier.

 

(Of course, I selected some of the most recent players to turn into #1 and Agassi/Sampras. There are 25 guys to analyse, and that’s a bit too much – at least for the this post. Who knows one day?)

Uff, that’s it. Can Nole be the first player in a good while to win his first tournament as #1?

And… I hope you liked it 😉

Quickie: Hamburg’s curse?

The title says for itself. Quickie one.

After losing to Thomaz Bellucci in the first round of Toronto, Golubev is now 4-22 at ATP/Davis Cup in 2011.

He hasn’t won an ATP match since Indian Wells, and has only two wins outside Davis Cup this year.

After losing to Djokovic in the second round at the first Masters event of the year, the Kazakh also endured negative results against Dodig (Miami), Riba (Casablanca), Kohlschreiber (Monte Carlo), Hanescu (Barcelona), Stepanek (Munich), Monaco (Madrid), Florian Mayer (Rome), Fish, Monaco and Soderling (World Team Cup), Bellucci twice (Roland Garros, Toronto), Gimeno-Traaver (Halle), Garcia-Lopez (Wimbledon), Ramirez Hidalgo (Bastad), Monaco again (Davis Cup), and once again to Kohlschreiber, in Hamburg, when defending his maiden title.

He won a couple of matches at the Astana challenger, making it to the semifinals and losing to Sergey Bubka.

Reminds me of Roberto Carretero – who won his first and only ATP title at Hamburg, when it was still a Masters event, in 1996. After the title, Carretero finished the year on a 1-10 run at ATP events. He then finished 1997 at #298, bearing a 1-13 record and never having another year-end top-100 ranking – or close to it.

This makes me thing: Hamburg’s curse or Hamburg’s fluke?

(PS: Albert Portas also won his only ATP title at Hamburg, but he went on to pursue a more successful career, reaching another three finals and peaking at #17 in the world)

Will be back later.

Follow me on Twitter: @Daily_Scores

How it’s done + Quick considerations

“EASY STEPS TO MAKE ME LOSE ALL THE INTEREST IN A TENNIS TOURMANENT – A QUICK GUIDE”

Written by Pete S. Liguori

1. Andy Roddick.

2. Robin Soderling

3. Remove items 1 and 2 off the draw.

4. Kim Clijsters

5. Yanina Wickmayer

6. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

7. Set the following match-ups: 4 vs. Serena Williams (3rd Round), 5 vs. Caroline Wozniacki (2nd Round), 6 vs. Hantuchova/Dulko, Azarenka (2nd/3rd round).

 

So far, the Rogers Cup fits perfectly.

The following links will redirect you to the catastrophic Toronto/Montreal draws. Quick considerations to follow.

 

Montreal Masters 1000

Toronto Premier 5

 

– Djokovic vs. Federer again in the same half of the draw. I wonder of the tennis world will collapse in case this match-up starst being only eligible in finals.

– Montreal had so many withdrawals it now looks like the Bercy Masters. Or maybe not – since the tops usually also don’t take part in the last Masters of the season.

– Djokovic is likely to play Davydenko in the second round. Del Potro, who made his only Masters final up to date at the Rogers Cup, might play the world #1 in the third round. Gael Monfils is the seed placed in Nole’s quarter, but he could have John Isner before the quarterfinals. Tough draw.

– In the lower quarter of the upper half, Gasquet and Florian will meet in the first round. Bellucci MUST beat Golubev (who the hell loses to him these days anyway?); Federer and Almagro are the highest seeds in this section. I doubt Almagro will reach the QFs. As for Federer, he has Tsonga – who beat him in Montreal/09 and Wimbledon this year – on his way. Third round.

– Lower quarter, bottom half. Nadal is placed there, just like Berdych. Haas vs. Tipsarevic – luck keeps failing Tommy; Fernando Verdasco could be Rafa’s fourth round opponent, and I’m already laughing – you should too; Gilles Simon – who put a run in Hamburg – is Berdych’s biggest challenge before the quarterfinals. Or maybe not – he will play Dolgopolov or Chovka in the second round. The way things are going, I can see Berdych losing to Dolgo, yes, rather easily, even.

– The remaining quarter – or the tasty first-rounders quarter. (8) Fish vs. Lopez/Stepanek, Gulbis/Ferrero vs. Youzhny/Llodra, Wawa/Nalbandian, winner taking on Murray in the third round. Even with Fish owning Murray recently (their H2H favors Mardy, no?), and Ernie, David, playing the wildcard, darkhorse, mad dog role, I’m still skeptical about a surprise here.

Should I take a round up with the girls? No. Definitely not. At least not now, not on this post. Will be back later. But don’t expect to see me here again today.

Amazement

Superpowers, activate // Pic: Yahoo! Images

Am I late? Yes, I am. A lot? Considerably. But whatever. This post was supposed to be released on Saturday, then postponed to Sunday, but I had a full day, and Monday beat the hell out of me. So, it’s Tuesday. And I hope you’re gon’ like it anyway.

Back to Rome, now a case closed, I could not help my jaw from dropping, as Murray and Djokovic alternated the momentum during the second semifinal. After the first set, it seemed Nole was going to routine his British counterpart, but Murray stepped up, made Corretja proud and said: “Not without a fight”.

It was a great match, regardless of who would leave the court victorious – and, in a certain moment of the match, I could even bet a nickel The Streak would be halted, right there, right then, by the first man to finish runner-up to it.

(I’m also not good with people saying Murray chocked, chickened, shrunk his arm, suffocated, dug his head in a hole, yellow-ed [I don’t know if this works in English, but anyway, I think some Brazilians read my blog and they will understand], etc. It just… happened)

But he didn’t. It may have changed a lot – since I’m not sure whether Murray could pull an upset on Nadal, but as we always say, “If” does not exist. Nole finished him, chalked another victory to his professional record, improved his H2H against Andy, and on to the semifinals.

Then here, I would have written another post, but once again, did not have time. My intentions were to rant about the uberdominance Djokovic and Nadal are imposing to the circuit right now, and how it sucks and is not good for the sport. But I will leave it to another opportunity.

But ohh, Tennis Gods, you love to contradict me and shut me up. Sunday we had an amazing, this all of you who watched know – a savage meeting between Nole’s massive forehand and backhand and an overwhelmed Nadal, featuring some abusive angles, celebrations after service holds and an out-of-this-Earth display of tennis.

The outcome? The Streak lives, bigger and stronger than ever – like a Monster – and now Djokovic controls his own fate. He’s depending only on himself to complete his apotheosis, dethrone Nadal, and proclaim himself King, right on Rafa’s backyard.

But nevertheless, I’m amazed. I’m amazed how greatly Murray played in that semifinal, maybe the best he’s ever played on clay. I’m amazed how Djokovic has some extra gas to burn, and how he looked fresh in the final after looking nearly gone in the semis. I’m amazed how he’s breaking records, and how he’s playing Nadal on clay. I’m amazed how he can take over the number 1 at the French Open – just like Nadal did last year and Federer started doing in 2009. I’m amazed how excited I’m for Roland Garros in ages – even though it’s predictable how it will end.

So, I never thought I’d say this before Nadal’s retirement, but oh well.

“Bring on Roland Garros”.

Not bad

Handshake of the brothers // Pic: Yahoo! Images

Fish, Roddick, Querrey and Isner. The four best ranked Americans in the ATP singles rankings. Good players, indeed. Some expectations, mainly when it comes to US tournaments. But on clay?

YES, THEY CAN!

Fish, Roddick – Team Bromance, or Roddish, Fishney or even Roddilino (Serious, people, Fishdick is just AWFUL). Best friends, two-oh record in doubles finals, Indian Wells champions in 2009. Doubles specialists? They do ok, but far from it. ON CLAY? Ha, you kid me kiddo.

First round, 6/3, 2/6, 19-17 (NINETEEN-SEVENTEEN) over Berdych/Dlouhy. Niiiice. Second match, d. Norman/Moodie, 6/4, 7/6 (9-7). They were the eight seeds. Sweet. Quarterfinals. Bryan Bros, like in a Davis Cup practice. Aaaaand… 4/6, 7/6, 10-4. WOOOOW. Team Lucky Loser ahead – Berlocq (replacing Ferrer) and Nieminen (Monfils). 7/6 (9-7, again), 6/2. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

First clay final of any kind for Roddick since 2005 (Houston). And Fish? Houston 2006 the last time he had decided a title on the dirt. Crazy, noah?

Other half of the draw. Querrey, Isner. Decent clay participations last year (made the first all-American final on clay since the beginning of the 1990s, in Belgrade), but they have developed some kind of allergic to it.

But friendship never ends and works perfectly when you are in perfect syntony. And did I mention they were the defending runner-ups? Well, I said it now. Jamie Murray and Stan The Man were no match for them. Bhupati and Paes? Pfff AMATEURS. Go back to your club in Chennai. Kubot and Marach, the 6th seed? Isner alone could beat them. Furrealz. In the semis? Fognini and Bolelli. Querrey could beat them. Alone and only with one hand.

In the finals, pa-pa-pa-pam… Roddick and Fish vs. Querrey and Isner – gently nicknamed Quisner. Second consecutive all-American doubles final in Rome, the third ever (Flasch/Witsken def. Kinnear/Salumaa in Miami/92).

Not bad for a declining tennis nation. Not bad for a country whose players are a denial on clay.

Not bad AT ALL.

No Superstitions

Friday. Last day of the week, the start of the weekend, night lights, party, FUN FUN FUN. Oh, but the calendar is telling me today is the 13th day of the month. So what? I don’t think any of you believe Friday the 13th is a bad omen or something. But if somehow you do, Rome quarterfinals have three strong reasons to convince you to stop believing that breaking a mirror will give you seven years of bad luck.

First – Rafael Nadal defeats Marin Cilic, 6/1, 6/3

 

"I'm still the number one haaaaaaaaa" / Pic: Yahoo! Images


There are no black cats enough in the world to jinx Rafa. And I’m pretty serious. Rafa, who was allegedly feverish and kind of ill the whole week, took care of Marin in 1h25. He didn’t face a single break point the entire match, and now Cilic can’t be cocky about being one of the few players to have a non-negative record against Nadal – Rafa now leads 2-1. In the semifinals, the five-time champion plays Richard Gasquet, whom he leads 8-0. Gasquet has captured some momentum in Italy, but is it enough to beat Rafa?

Rhetorical question.

Second – Andy Murray breadstick(ed), breadstick(s) and breadstick(s) Florian Mayer, 1/6, 6/1, 6/1

 

"Not that it's a superstition or something like, but I am definitely NOT GOING to cut my hair now I'm winning" // Pic: Yahoo!


Say what you will. “Murray plays like crap on clay”; “Florian Mayer is now top-20 material (!)”; “Andy is still slumping”. But it doesn’t change a thing. Even though Florian is having the best year of his career (Surprisingly, he’s already a 27-yo veteran), Murray was the favorite, simply because he is Andy Murray.

The first set may have felt like walking under a ladder. But, as you know, Murray has the luck of Scottish, so fool superstitions can’t touch him. Nor could Florian – Murray faced only two BPs in the next two sets, returned the first’s scoreline in double and sealed his way to the semifinals – he is the first Briton to reach the final four in Rome. 2011 is also his first season ever with multiple clay semifinals, though he still needs to reach his first final.

Last and least – Novak Djokovic (Mars) def. Robin Soderling (SWE) – six-three, six-nothing

 

I know what you're thinking. Yes, they DO have weaknesses. Try water next time. // Pic: Yahoo! Images


It’s done. Nole spilt salt on R-Sod’s wounds. Earth’s last hope even had a positive start, breaking his opponent in the opening game from love. But he couldn’t keep the advantage, and when Novak got back on serve, we knew the biggest chance to kill that monster had been lost. Robin even kept toe-to-toe with him, but after six games he desperately hail-maried (Did I successfully translate Hail-Mary into a verb?) and gambled his last stamina to try a break, but meh, he failed.

Djokovic then used his inhuman, never-ending resources. He then left the court and went for a walk. In a park. Soderling tried to cool things down, went to the locker room, maybe even had an illegal coaching session with someone. But it didn’t even tickle The Alien On The Other Side Of The Net (TAOTOSOTN). Djokovic finally dished his second bagel of Rome, and repeated his opener’s scoreline, in the quarterfinals, against a top-5.

Unreal.

Oh yeah, that was also the ultimate proof of alien supremacy. There is nothing we can do now. Expect them to be marching over in our main cities some time real soon.

DA STATS

 

Nadal plays Gasquet, 2nd on Centrale tomorrow, not before 2 p.m., seeking his 5th Masters final of the year. He leads the H2H, 8-0.

Murray will try to be the first man to beat Djokovic since November, not before 8 p.m., also on Centrale. Djokovic leads the H2H, 5-3, and in case you have already forgotten, they played this year in the Australian Open final. Was a monster performance by Nole, who wasn’t threatened the whole match.