Category Archives: AMS Miami

Uneasy And Just Plain Wrong about Cañas and Djokovic

Was Cañas just careless? Why did Djokovic smash Murray?

This is the first time I can ever remember not being excited by a pair of semifinals at a Masters Series Tournament. Maybe it was the plume of orange smoke that filled the sky above my house early this afternoon. A 5 acre brush fire spread to 150 acres quicker than lunch less than a mile from my house. If the wind had blown south instead of north and the fire had reached the Hollywood sign, my house would have been a thing of the past. I gathered my last will and testament and my passport and prepared to evacuate. Luckily, more than 200 firefighters managed to bring the fire under control. I’m going to the nearest firehouse tomorrow to personally thank them.

But it wasn’t just that. I have to admit that I feel uneasy about Guillermo Cañas. I want to know: did he intentionally take a masking agent to cover up the use of a performance enhancing drug or was he just careless? When baseball player Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at members of congress and said “I have never used steroids, period,” I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. When he later tested positive the steroid stanolozol, I felt better because then I knew

Cañas has been on fire – ugh, maybe I should use a different term. At Indian Wells he beat Roger Federer. After beating Federer again in Miami, he beat Tommy Robredo then beat Ivan Ljubicic today to get to the final.

Cañas’ guilt shouldn’t matter, he served his suspension and he’s now playing exceptional tennis, but the legal case still isn’t finished. First Cañas appealed his original suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which reduced his suspension and reinstated tournament results, then he appealed the CAS decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Either Cañas is determined to prove that he was treated unfairly or he’s protesting so much that I’m suspicious all over again.

But it’s not just that I’m uneasy either. It’s that I’m just plain wrong. I expected Andy Murray to be the first youngster to make it to the top ten, instead it’s Novak Djokovic. It wasn’t even close. Djokovic took about an hour to beat Murray, 6-1, 6-0, and move into the final against Cañas. As my friend James would say, “wow wow wow.” That score is shocking.

Djokovic is also playing exceptionally well. He got to the final at Indian Wells and beat Rafael Nadal in Miami. But he powers his way to victory instead of reading his opponent. When Djokovic was serving for the match against Nadal, he still insisted on hitting his approach to Nadal’s forehand making it easy for Nadal to pass him. One point in that game, though, showed why Djokovic is ahead of the pack.

Facing a break point, Djokovic hit a hard serve and Nadal popped up the return. Djokovic came in and hit the ball as hard as he could but Nadal got to it. Djokovic hit an overhead and Nadal got to that too. Djokovic came in and hit another hard shot and to the crowd’s delight – they were squealing in disbelief by now – Nadal chased it down. One more overhead, one more lob and then it was over, Djokovic finally put the ball out of reach.

He looked up at the sky then bent over on the court. He had survived the onslaught and defeated it. Welcome to the top ten young man. Power and nerve will serve you well.

I’ve decided to treat my uneasiness and disappointment with a short trip to Las Vegas. I’m off tomorrow see the legendary Prince perform at his nightclub at the Rio. Lets see if the sexy little guy can put my mind at ease.

The Revenge of Cañas

Guillermo Cañas got his second shot in a row at Roger Federer at the Masters Series event in Miami.

When Kobe Bryant went on a recent tear and scored at least 50 points in four straight games for the Los Angeles Lakers, his coach Phil Jackson suggested that Bryant was motivated by two recent suspensions. Bryant was pissed off because he thought the NBA treated him harshly when they gave him two one game suspensions for flailing his arms and hitting players in the face.

Guillermo Cañas was already angry. In 2005 he received a two year suspension for using performance enhancing drugs prescribed by an ATP doctor and delivered to him by ATP staff. Later that year the ATP kicked him off the grounds of the U.S. Open when he tried to see his girlfriend play a match. Cañas appealed the decision and got the suspension reduced to 15 months but he was out to prove that the suspension was unfair.

That was bad enough. Then Roger Federer chimed in. After Federer lost to Cañas in Indian Wells, this is what he said about Cañas’ suspension:

They always fight for it anyway, everybody that was tested positive, you know. That’s, for me, just not understandable, you know. Everybody who gets caught always says, “I didn’t do anything,” so…

It’s just not right, you know.

I don’t blame Federer, how can you believe anyone if everyone says they’re not guilty? But Cañas surely didn’t appreciate it and here he was two weeks later at another Masters Series event with another shot at Federer. This was gonna be fun.

Canas won the first set tiebreaker but Federer came back and took the second set easily, 6-2, and it looked like Federer had taken the measure of Cañas’ game and figured out how to beat it. In Indian Wells, you remember, Federer had a blister on his foot which impaired his movement. Now he had no excuses and he was taking care of business.

Federer got up a break in the third set and had two break points to go up another when it got interesting. He failed to convert either break point and this set the crowd loose. Cañas is an Argentine and there are a lot of South Americans in Miami. The crowd was rowdy all day and they delayed the beginning of Federer’s serve in the next game with cheers of “Willy”, Cañas’s nickname. It wasn’t just Argentines, there were a few Brazilians in the crowd too. It was the Swiss Federer against South America.

Federer put a hard serve down the middle but Cañas managed to bunt it back for a good return. It is windy in Miami but then it’s been windy all week so it seemed a bit strange when Federer hit the ball more than a few feet beyond the baseline. He did the very same thing on the next point. Nothing else you can call that but nerves.

A point later Federer seemed to forget how to move as he put an easy forehand into the net to give Cañas two break points. One more Federer shot beyond the baseline and non-South Americans were putting their hands to their face in astonishment.

We’ve been talking about slumpers this week, James Blake and Fernando Gonzalez in particular having been having problems. Maria Sharapova isn’t doing so well either. Her serve has been dismal since she injured her hamstring at the end of January and she got trounced by Serena Williams here for the second time this year. Federer could probably sympathize.

When your rhythm goes off your confidence will take a hit and the first place a player will feel that is on the big points. Federer had already botched a few of them earlier in the match. When he served at 4-5 in the third set tiebreaker, he had another opportunity.

He hit a good serve wide and got a popup from Cañas. Federer then stepped inside the line and hit a swinging volley. Right into the net. Instead of pulling even, he’d given Cañas two match points. Cañas was the number 8 player in the world when he was suspended so his results this year shouldn’t a surprise. Cañas put a good serve right down the middle, Federer, perhaps appropriately, whiffed at it and Cañas had his second victory over Federer in as many tournaments.

Federer managed to win three grand slams around back to back losses to Rafael Nadal last year but he also won both Indian Wells and Miami. We’ll see if is this month has been a blip for him or the start of a bigger problem. It’s a lot easier to push yourself up the rankings when you feel you’ve been wronged than it is to maintain a number one ranking for over three years so it would not be shocking to see Cañas continue to thrive and Roger experience further problems.

Slumps And Plateaus in Miami: Blake, Gonzalez, et al.

I’m not sure Gonzalez is in a slump, he could be experiencing a plateau.

What is going on in Miami? Players are dropping like flies. Juan Carlos Ferrero lost his first match though it was Guillermo Canas who beat him so maybe that’s not such a big surprise. Tommy Haas lost his first match to Alejandro Falla and that was a big surprise. James Blake lost his first match to Florent Serra which is no longer a surprise. Blake hasn’t gone past the third round since Delray Beach and the clay court season is next and that’s unfortunate because clay is his worst surface.

Blake is in what we call a slump. Baseball hitters have them, golfers have them, I’m sure even curlers have them though they probably blame the ice. Blake knows that everyone will experience a slump at some point in their career and he knows exactly what happens during a slump, you lose your confidence and it shows up foremost on the big points.

It happened to Blake at the end of the first set tiebreaker in the match with Serra:

What happened is I locked up. That’s where my confidence came up…I locked up at the last second and saw he was covering where I was going to go. When I’m playing well I don’t even look up and I don’t notice what he’s doing. I just hit my shot to where I want to go.

What can you do when you’re in a slump? Blake has a plan for regaining his confidence:

Hopefully I can count on being a dumb jock and I can fool myself into thinking that I can play confidently next time. I think I can do that. It’s just a little bit of tricking yourself, and before you know it, the confidence just comes naturally.

If it works, Fernando Gonzalez might want to try it. He was tearing his hair out during his loss to Paul-Henri Mathieu in the third round. Gonzalez is barely over .500 for the last two months.

But I’m not sure Gonzalez is in a slump, he could be experiencing a plateau. Since Gonzalez hired Larry Stefanki as his new coach last year, his style of play has changed. He used to hit the ball as hard as possible and throw in a few drop shots here and there. I could be simplifying but certainly subtlety was never a feature of his game. Stefanki has added change of pace to his game and encouraged him use more strategy and less firepower.

Whenever you make a big change, you go through a learning process and that process often resembles a staircase. At the beginning you run up the stairs two or three steps at a time as you discover new things. Gonzalez reached three straight finals last fall and had a stellar performance at the Australian Open in January. But you can only jam so much learning into your noggin before you need a period to process and integrate and here is where you end up on the landing running in place before your next burst of improvement.

If Gonzalez thinks that learning is a linear process – you only get better – and forgets that he’s on a longer journey with even more adjustments ahead, he’ll get frustrated and angry as he did in the Mathieu match. Worst of all, he reverted to his old style of play.

Both Blake and Gonzalez could learn from two players who’ve recently made adjustments. Rafael Nadal’s win at Indian Wells was his first title in ten months. That’s definitely a slump for him but slumps aren’t always self-induced. Players caught up to him on fast courts. They hit through the ball and came to the net to take time away from him and it worked. Nadal improved his serve and rediscovered his forehand all the while holding on to his number 2 ranking and now he looks like his old self.

Andy Roddick’s problems weren’t self induced either. The game was passing him by. The best serve in the game and a pretty good forehand were no longer enough. He was getting his butt kicked on grass by Roger Federer and Andy Murray, players with better all-court games. Roddick had to round out his game by being more aggressive on returns of serve and coming to the net more often. After dropping to number 12, Roddick is now comfortably at number 3.

Notice the theme here, it’s no longer enough to be a clay court retriever or a hard court banger, you have to be an all court player to get to the top. As Charles Darwin said:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

2007 Miami: Draws And Picks

Federer and Nadal again. Are you ready?

Sorry I’m late with the Miami picks, much of the second round is already set, but I was sick earlier in the week and the ATP site wasn’t working properly yesterday.

James Blake over Marat Safin should be an easy pick but Blake has been maddeningly inconsistent. He lost his first match at Las Vegas and ended up ringing the death knell for round robins when ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers mistakenly gave Blake a free pass to the quarterfinals after Blake’s second round opponent retired on him. Blake then lost to Julien Benneteau at Indian Wells as soon as he realized he didn’t have to face Roger Federer who shockingly lost his first round match. It’s a good thing Blake’s coach is a wise and patient guy, I would be pulling my hair out.

Mikhail Youzhny and Marcos Baghdatis isn’t so easy to call either. Youzhny lost in the first round at Indian Wells and Baghdatis hasn’t decided whether he wants to play outdoors this year, he’s 9-1 on indoor courts and 5-5 on outdoor courts.

I’m going with Blake and Youzhny only because they’re the favorites but I wouldn’t lay my lunch money on either one. If Blake does get through he should meet Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Blake is 3-0 lifetime over Nadal but I think Nadal wins this time as Blake hasn’t totally recovered.

Tomas Berdych has slipped behind two other young players, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Berdych is only 21 but I’m losing hope for him. He hasn’t won a title since winning the Masters Series event in Paris in 2005. He’s playing as if he already reached the ceiling of his desire. Very few people in the universe have the all-consuming desire necessary to get to the top ten and stay there and it looks like Murray and Djokovic do. I have Berdych losing to Chela.

I’m assuming that Andy Murray can take out Fernando Gonzalez by applying the domino theory. Murray beat Tommy Haas on one good ankle in Indian Wells and Haas took out Gonzalez easily before he met up with Murray. Besides, Murray is my new favorite player.

Nikolay Davydenko has the easiest draw and should get to the semifinals.

Murray and Andy Roddick could meet in the quarterfinals. They’ve played each other twice this year on hard court and split. According to court speed ratings at, Miami is significantly faster than Indian Wells so I’m giving the advantage to Roddick. If Roddick meets Nadal in the semifinals the result could be closer than the debacle at Indian Wells where Nadal beat Roddick 6-4, 6-3, but the end result will be the same.

So, tennis fans, Nadal was on a roll last week and it looks like we could get Federer-Nadal X. About time I say. As for the winner, I agree with my co-writer Pat Davis, bet the house on Federer in Miami after his untimely exit at Indian Wells.

You can see the draw and my picks in the draws here.