Monthly Archives: October 2007

Was Nalbandian Lucky a Second Time?

David Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic one day after beating a tired Rafael Nadal. Was Djokovic tired too?

Yesterday David Nalbandian trounced Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters Series event, 6-1, 6-2. I don’t think Nalbandian would have won that match if Nadal had been at full strength. Nadal was clearly reeling from his tough match against Andy Murray and his knees were suffering from playing on the gritty indoor hard court.

Today Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-6(4). Was Nalbandian lucky again?

If Djokovic did enough things wrong, then Nalbandian was lucky. If Nalbandian did enough things right, then Nalbandian was playing like his old self. The player that used to be the number three player in the world before Djokovic took over the spot.

What did Djokovic do wrong and Nalbandian do right?

Djokovic’s Problems

1. Too much tennis. This is Djokovic’s ninth match in two weeks and a third of those were three set matches. He had trouble getting his feet underneath him. He stumbled a few times and had trouble with his footwork on return of serve.

2. Double faults. Djokovic hit two doubles faults in his first service game and five double faults for the match. His last double fault gave Nalbandian a match point. As Djokovic put it: “It happens, sometimes you play bad.”

3. Unforced errors. As far as I could tell, Djokovic had zero winners from his backhand side. That’s rare. He hit 34 unforced errors in two sets. That’s a lot.

4. Rhythm problems. In his second service game, Djokovic twice hit errors by trying to end the point too soon and lost his serve. Serving at 2-2 in the second set, he hit two drop shots on one point and added another on a later point. He lost both points. He couldn’t figure out when to attack and when to change pace.

Nalbandian’s Positives

1. Attacks. Nalbandian played excellent attacking tennis. He attacked off return of serve and he hit the corners with his ground strokes. He attacked Djokovic’s second serve and he attacked the net. What else is there to attack?

2. Big points. Nalbandian played the big points well. He saved the two break points he faced. In the second set tiebreaker he hit two service winners, a backhand winner, and an excellent return off a tough serve down the middle.

3. Good serves. He served himself out of trouble when he had to.

So which is it? Nalbandian did meet Djokovic on a day when he played badly but Djokovic could have won this match. He pulled even in the second set but Nalbandian kept attacking and played lights out in the tiebreaker.

Nalbandian was lucky. But other players have met Djokovic on one of his bad days this year and they seldom came away with a straight set win.

Nalbandian will play Roger Federer in the final tomorrow. There’s no way in hell Nalbandian wins that one. Is there?

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Will Rafa Lose His Number Two Ranking?

Rafael Nadal lost a lopsided match to David Nalbandian today but he could lose much more.

People at the Madrid Masters Series event saw Rafael Nadal noticeably limping after his win over Andy Murray yesterday. If you knew that, you would have been surprised but not shocked with the score of Rafa’s loss to David Nalbandian today: 6-1, 6-2.

When was the last time Rafa lost a match that badly? In October 2002, he lost to Albert Portas in a Barcelona challenger, 6-2, 6-1. Rafa was 16 years old at the time.

The match with Murray was brutal for both players. I’ve seldom seen two such exceptional defensive players go at it so hard on such a fast surface. It looked like a compact version of an interminable clay court match. The kind of match you’d get if you kept all the good points and threw away everything else.

This is Rafa’s first event since the U.S. Open and only his fourth hard court event since the spring clay court season ended. His knees were already hurting by the time Wimbledon rolled around and he broke down in Cincinnati altogether. He arrived at the Open with bum knees.

And now, the day after a very tough match, he can barely play. If it keeps going like this, and it certainly could, he’ll end up focusing on the clay court season and Wimbledon and live with that.

Nalbandian wasn’t just twiddling his thumbs on the other side of the net. He took the ball early and he flattened out his strokes to take time away from Rafa. Still, you couldn’t see Rafa limping on court but you could see he was in trouble.

In Rafa’s second service game, Nalbandian hit a ball behind him but Rafa couldn’t stop and change his direction well enough to get to it. Stopping and starting on these gritty indoor surfaces is very hard on knees. Serving at 1-5 in the first set, Rafa twice went for winners much earlier in the point that he normally would. Both times he hit errors and the second one gave Nalbandian a set point which he converted.

Nalbandian got five breaks of serve in the match. Rafa didn’t even get a break point. That’s how bad it was.

This must have been very tough for Rafa to swallow but it could be worse than just a lopsided loss. If Novak Djokovic keeps rolling, he could pass Rafa for the number two spot in the year end rankings. Djokovic has already qualified for Shanghai so he would be smart to skip Paris and I don’t see him listed as entering any tournaments next week.

Rafa might not lose his number two ranking to Djokovic this year but it doesn’t look good from here on out. And that is very sad because Rafa had the skills and the will to overtake Federer. As Rafa sat in his chair towards the end of the match, he looked sad himself.

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Federer’s Revenge

I wanted to write about the Andy MurrayRafael Nadal match but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow because there was too much good tennis for me to do it justice tonight. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a funny video about a grunter, a new poll to figure out who’ll get the last spot in the year end championships, and a short bit about Federer and trading on betting exchanges.

Federer Beatdown

By the time I’d arrived in Indian Wells in March, Roger Federer had already lost his first match to Guillermo Canas. I was just plain annoyed but many people were shocked.

We understood it psychologically. Canas was convinced that he’d been suspended unfairly for being mistakenly given a banned substance by a tour-approved doctor. If you can’t trust a tournament doctor, who the hell can you trust? And what better way to express his frustration than knocking off the number one player.

As luck would have it, Canas got Federer again at the next tournament in Miami and beat him once again. Something appeared to be wrong with Federer in the first match but Canas outplayed him in the second. Federer was up a break in the third set and had two chances to go up another break but still lost the match.

This brings up an interesting question. Let’s say Federer was injured at Indian Wells, sprained ankle, blisters, whatever. On the one hand you don’t want to reveal your injury else your opponent will smell blood. On the other hand, if your opponent beats you and thinks he’s beaten you straight up, that could give him a huge psychological advantage and that advantage may have carried Canas through the match in Miami.

In case there was any doubt about the matter, Federer reminded us today that Canas is not someone he worries about. It took him only 21 minutes to bagel Canas in the first set. That was a statement.

Federer was all over Canas from the get go. Federer won 80% of the points on Canas’ second serve and he won 25 more points than Canas in the match. That’s a huge margin in a two set match. The final score was 6-0, 6-3.

Traders and Punters

I realized this week that users on betting exchanges are sometimes traders, not betters. (Betters in England are called punters.)

A betting exchange is an open market – like a stock market – and the commodities being traded are odds. In this case, odds that a tennis player will win a match or a horse will win a race or a soccer team will win a game.

Tennis punters bet on a player at particular odds. They research a player and figure out the likelihood that the player will win the match. Traders bet on the pattern of the odds. They study price patterns and figure out the likelihood that the odds will go up or down.

It’s like betting on the direction of the Dow Jones Index instead of buying or selling a stock.

Lots of trades in stock markets are made by software programs not humans. According to this report by Aite Group, about one third of U.S. trades in 2006 were made by computer software.

Given that, I wondered if there were software programs for trading on the tennis market on a betting exchange. And if there were programs, could they have contributed to some of the irregular betting patterns we’ve seen. Computers can trade a whole lot faster than humans and it’s possible a piece of software went wonky and started spewing out repeated $30,000 bets.

I spoke to a Betfair user and he told me that some traders use software to make their trades but it’s not likely that they produced irregular results. After all, I now realize, an irregular betting pattern isn’t a random betting pattern.

If you were fixing a match or had inside information, these irregular patterns would look very regular to you. They’d be exactly what you expected.

One last comment about gambling. Betfair pays out bets on any match that completes the first set. Wouldn’t it make sense to pay out on a match only if the match was completed by both players? It wouldn’t stop match fixing or trading on insider information, but it would help if there was insider information about an injury that led to a retirement.

This, by the way, is a plausible explanation for the Nikolay Davydenko/Martin Vassallo-Arguello match that started our recent fascination with gambling in tennis.

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Andy, Robby and David in Madrid

Andy Murray is playing excellent tennis in Madrid, Robby Ginepri and David Ferrer are not.

Robby Ginepri’s Long Strange Trip

What happened to Robby Ginepri’s career? Why has he dropped from a career high ranking of 14 to number 72?

The guy can serve, he can move, and he can hit the ball very hard. He was facing set point in the first set of his second round match in Madrid when he got into a long rally with his opponent, one Mr. Roger Federer. Ginepri got Federer on the run with a forehand down the line. He got him running a second time with a backhand down the line. A shot behind Federer, a shot to the opposite corner, one more down the line and Ginepri saved the set point.

When you go to enough post-match media sessions, you’ll hear the following question again and again: “What helps your confidence the most?” The most common answer doesn’t sound like it belongs on the dust jacket of a self-help book. You don’t create your own reality in tennis, your opponent tells you exactly what level your game is at.

It’s very simple: what helps confidence the most is winning.

On the way up that means a win over a big opponent. For Ginepri, beating then number seven Marat Safin to get to the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in 2003 was big. Following that up with a quarterfinal at Miami helped a lot too.

But the converse is also true. What hurts confidence the most is losing. The next year, Ginepri only reached the second and third round in Indian Wells and Miami and that started a dive in his ranking.

He managed to make it all the way back and he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2006 where he played a magical five round match with Andre Agassi. The next year he only reached the third round and his ranking has never recovered.

Because his ranking is so low, Ginepri had to go through qualifying to get into the main draw in Madrid. He went to all that trouble because he plays well here and because he wanted to defend his quarterfinal finish last year. The lower your ranking, the earlier you’ll face a big player. This time it was Federer.

Ginepri got to the first set tiebreaker where Federer raised his game and Ginepri did not. It was a good outing, though, Ginepri lost the match by one break of serve in the second set: 7-6(2), 6-4.

Once you slide down the rankings slope, it’s that much harder to climb back up again. When the rankings come out next week, Ginepri will be somewhere in the 90’s.

Andy’s Back

I love watching Andy Murray play tennis. It’s a bit like watching a circus performer.

Here he is loping after the ball and just when you think it’s impossible, he gets to the ball and hits a deep shot back over the net. I don’t know whether it’s his long arms and legs or a secret technique he’s developed, but he can hit the ball later than anyone else I’ve seen.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t take the big windup and the big follow-through on his ground strokes. He directs the ball rather than smashing it. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t look fast enough to get to all those balls and he surprises us when he does.

In the second set of his second round match with Juan Ignacio Chela, Murray ran on a straight line from the net to the baseline to track down an overhead. Once he got there, he hit a flat-footed overhead with his back to the net and placed the ball smack on the sideline to win the point.

One point later he retrieved two balls deep in the deuce court then motored all the way to the other corner to hit a gorgeous passing shot down the line. The crowd was clapping and yelling as Chela was waiting to serve the next point. Murray lifted his racket in recognition of the crowd as he shyly dropped his head.

I sometimes forget that Murray is a good returner. He’s in the top ten in three of the four statistical categories for return of serve. The one thing he doesn’t do well is convert break points. It’s the same problem he has closing out matches. He doesn’t win the pressure points.

Murray had his usual hiccup closing the match out but he won it easily, 6-1, 6-3.

Did I say that I love watching this guy play?

David Ferrer on the Fast Stuff

I was right about David Ferrer. He’s the hottest player on the tour but I didn’t expect him to do well in Madrid because he’s not a good indoor player. Lefty Feliciano Lopez took Ferrer out in the second round, 7-6(3), 7-5.

Why doesn’t Ferrer play well indoors? If you go to’s Games Per Set Page, you’ll see that Madrid is ranked number 15.

Fifteen what you ask? The faster the court, the harder it is to break serve and therefore the more games will be played in each set. By that measure, Madrid is one of the top 15 fastest tennis courts on the tour.

That’s a problem for David Ferrer because it also means there’ll be more tiebreakers. He’s 11-10 in tiebreakers this year because he doesn’t have a big enough serve. Lopez, on the other hand, has a big serve and the match turned on his serving.

At the beginning of the match, Lopez couldn’t buy a serve and Ferrer was up a break. As soon as Lopez found his serve, he was able to win the first set tiebreaker and go on to win the second set.

It also helps that Lopez is a lefty. Ferrer was serving for the first set 5-3 when he came to the net and reflexively hit a volley to the ad corner which is the backhand side for most players. For Lopez, though, it was right in his wheelhouse and he hit a forehand passing shot and ended up breaking Ferrer.

This was a big loss for Ferrer. He’s ranked number six and he’s very close to clinching a spot in the final eight for the year end championships. He’s got two more weeks on the fast stuff. If he can’t win at least one or two matches he could be in trouble.

Whaddya think? Can Ferrer learn to live with the fast stuff and make it to the year end championships?

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ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for Madrid

We’re deep into the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out my Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

Sign up and join our subleague! It’s called We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

The deadline for picking your team this week is Monday morning: 1am in Los Angeles/4am in New York/9am in London. Make you picks before you go to bed Sunday night.

Rear View Mirror – a look at last week’s picks

I picked two of the three winners and jumped from number 53 to number 14 in the standings. Remember, though, that I took Novak Djokovic and the sure $183,000 in Vienna so I may pay for that in Madrid and Paris because I can’t pick him any more.

This is a huge week because Madrid is a Masters Series event with lots of points and there are a number of players who can still qualify for the year end championships – only the top eight players qualify. It’ll be too late for most people by the time the Paris Masters rolls around in two weeks.

We need eight players so let’s pick the top two players in each quarter of the draw – in other words, the quarterfinalists.

Madrid (indoor hard, first prize: $468,860)

Roger Federer’s Quarter

I still have one Federer left so I’m picking him because he’s 10-2 here and he won last year.

Now I have the toughest pick in the draw. David Ferrer is on fire but he has a losing career record indoors. He got to the quarterfinals in Madrid two years ago but he beat clay court players to get there. Also, Feliciano Lopez is in his part of the draw and he beat Ferrer in Stockholm last year.

Ivan Ljubicic has a clear path to the third round so I’m picking him.

Nikolay Davydenko’s Quarter

Nikolay Davydenko has never gone past the third round in Madrid and he could meet Ivo Karlovic in his first match if Karlovic can get past Marat Safin. I can only use Davydenko one more time so I’m saving him for Paris which he won last year.

Safin got to the quarterfinals in Madrid last year and won it the year before. On the other hand, Karlovic is 11-3 on indoor hard court this year and he won the title in Vienna. Safin has been playing so badly this year that I have to go with Karlovic.

I’m ignoring Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislaw Wawrinka because Youzhny has lost in the first round in Madrid the past three years and Wawrinka has never played Madrid and hasn’t done well in Paris.

Tommy Haas got to the semifinals in Stockholm last week and he has an 11-2 record on hard court this year, but he’s never been past the third round in Madrid. I can only use him one more time so I’m saving him for Paris where he got to the semifinals last year.

The question in this part of the draw is whether we can count on Fernando Gonzalez to turn up. He got to the final here last year but he’s still up and down this year. What the hell, he doesn’t do well in Paris and I can only use him one more time so I’m going with Gonzalez.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

I’m in trouble here because I’ve used Djokovic up and James Blake is 0-3 in Madrid.

I’ll have to choose between Richard Gasquet and Paul-Henri Mathieu to get my first pick in this section. Gasquet is 3-0 over Mathieu so I’m taking Gasquet.

Carlos Moya has one victory indoors in the last two years and Juan Carlos Ferrero got to the semifinals in Vienna so I’m taking Ferrero who will only get to the third round before he loses to Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

I used up all my Rafael Nadal picks on the clay and hard court season.

David Nalbandian reached the semifinals the past two years but he’s playing badly. I’m picking Tomas Berdych over Tommy Robredo because Robredo hasn’t gone past the third round the past two years.

Assuming Marcos Baghdatis continues to flounder, the tough pick is between Andy Murray and Radek Stepanek who unfortunately meet in the first round. Murray beat Stepanek on grass in their only meeting and Murray’s record indoors is far better so I’m picking him.

Madrid Draw

My Picks

Here’s my team: Federer, Ljubicic, Karlovic, Gonzalez, Gasquet, Ferrero, Berdych, Murray.

Happy fantasies!

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