Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Nalbandian met in the Masters Series final in Paris. The winner would go to the year end championships in Shanghai. The loser would go home.People looked at Pete Sampras as a brilliant shotmaker and supreme big match player but a somewhat boring personality. I always thought shotmakers were emotional players, players who fed off the moment and only fully blossomed when the stakes were high. And they were, in my mind, the opposite of players such as, say, Sampras’ opponent Ivan Lendl who prepared for the moment as much as he fed off it. Lendl popped off to cardio conditioning classes when year round conditioning was a new idea for professional athletes and changed his home court surface to match the US open surface precisely. Roger Federer threw me off too because he’s another brilliant shotmaker yet you hardly heard a peep out of him during a match, and while people called his domination boring more than they called his personality boring – he’s always been very good about doing media interviews and photo shoots, they did ask for more expressiveness on court. Now that Marcos Baghdatis is on the shelf until he can figure out that being a professional athlete means putting in some time at the gym and doing a few forward bends now and then to avoid injury, we have the best candidate in some time that combines raw, in the moment shotmaking, with an electrical personality: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And this week at the Masters Series event in Paris, he’s come through in spades. I’m not wild about Jo-Willie’s thumbs pointing at shoulders celebration that says “look at me, look at what I did” in a way that out-egos even the biggest prima donna in US football or world soccer, but I’m an old fuddy duddy about that. Younger fans seem to like such things. But Jo-Willie has it all: big serve, athleticism, speed, and big shots on big points, and this week he put it all together. He started the week ranked number 13 and made his way to the Paris final despite never having reached a quarterfinal at a Masters Series event, and if he could beat his opponent in the final, David Nalbandian, he’d be in the year end championships, something few people expected. If Nalbandian won the match, he’d be the one flying off to Shanghai for the championships and not many people expected that a few weeks ago either. Nalbandian was the guy who looked nervous at the beginning of the match. He hit a double fault to lose his first service game. Jo-Willie was a bit shaky but, unlike his earlier matches this week, he came out and blanketed the net early and held on to the break of serve to win the first set 6-3. Jo-Willie blanketed the net behind seven aces in that first set and that was huge for him because he struggled this week when his first serve hasn’t been there. It’s not a Sampras-like serve but he won’t be able to beat an un-fatigued Novak Djkovic or a never-fatigued Rafael Nadal without it, he’s just not steady enough from the baseline. Lucky for him the year end championships are indoors on a very slick surface and Nadal and Federer are ailing and Djkovic isn’t playing well. He might do very well at the year end championships but that would be misleading because he skipped the slower courts this year – both clay and hard court, so we don’t know how he’ll do through an entire season. Serving at 3-4 in the second set, Jo-Willie hit and error and followed that up with a double fault and found himself down three break points. He hit four aces to pull himself through the game and that’s the marquee of top players like Sampras and Federer: their serve gets them out of trouble. But both of those players had power and consistency and Jo-Willie has only one of those skills at the moment, and it’s not consistency. Which cost Jo-Willie the second set. He went down three set points while serving at 4-5 to stay in the second set after hitting a few balls out of the court. He hit another ball into the net to give Nalbandian the set, 6-4. Jo-Willie is inconsistent because he insists on pounding every ball as hard as he can and when it works it’s beautiful. Nalbandian couldn’t get his first serve in and Jo-Willie pounded away successfully enough to break Nalbandian early in the third set and go up 2-1. If Jo-Willie could hang on to that break just long enough, he’d have an all expenses paid trip to Shanghai. And he did hang on, literally. Serving for the match, he hit a popup volley then served a double fault and found himself down three break points yet again. Nalbandian gave up the first break point when he couldn’t return a second serve, Jo-Willie then got away with another popup volley and followed that up with tremendous second serve to get back to deuce. Another ace and one more punishing forehand and he’d done it, he’d won his first Masters Series shield. There was no “look at me” celebration, though, just tears and a hug for every member of his family. He’d have hugged every spectator if he could have, and I’d have given him a hug because I’ve been waiting, like all of us, for another shotmaking machine who can rise to the occasion. First, though, Jo-Willie will need a broader ground game and that’ll not only get him through the slower court seasons, but a few finesse shots might also take some pressure off his body and let him actually get through an entire season.
This week’s submission deadline is Monday morning, April 28, 4am (EST) in the U.S. and 10am (CET) in Europe.
I made a mistake last week. Well, I made a few, but one in particular stood out. I picked Carlos Moya for my team without noticing that he’d gone out in the first round the past three years. Pay attention to such information even if I forget. Of course, who’d a thunk that Sam Querrey would beat Moya and I find it interesting that James Blake took a wild card to Barcelona this week. Querrey reached the quarterfinals, for heaven’s sake, and that should embarrass both Blake and Andy Roddick enough to get their butts over to Europe immediately.
Keep slogging along here with your complete season strategy because, remember, there are seven Masters Series events and three slams in the season. For instance, you should probably use Rafael Nadal for the three clay Masters events, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon because you can only use him five times.
There are two tournaments this week. Barcelona is on clay and pays $209,692 for a first prize. Munich is also on clay and pays $90,923 to its winner. Given the disparity in the first prize money, let’s pick five of our eight players from Barcelona and three from Munich.
I keep waiting for Nicolas Almagro to step up at required events and it hasn’t happened yet except for a quarterfinal here and there, so pick him for Barcelona because it’s one of the highest paying optional events. Almagro won’t get past Nadal but he’s a good candidate for the semifinals over Andy Murray who has an 8-13 career record on clay.
I suppose it’s time to start thinking about how to use David Nalbandian and David Ferrer this year. Nalbandian is up and down at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open and hasn’t done well at Hamburg. He’s golden at Madrid – in last four years he’s never done worse than semis – but his win in Paris last year was an anomaly. And forget about the summer hard court Masters events. That means I have to try and get three tournaments out of him in the clay court season and since I didn’t pick him last week – one of those mistakes – I have to use him this week. I just hope Stanislaw Wawrinka doesn’t take him out.
Ferrer is having a good year and he got to the semifinals at the U.S. Open last year so I’d save him for that. The question is whether to save him for the remaining Masters events or not. He hasn’t done well and Rome or Madrid the past few years and he’s never done well in Canada but he has a legitimate shot at the remaining three Masters events. However, I think he’ll make the final in Barcelona because he’s 4-0 over Nalbandian on clay and Barcelona pays more than a quarterfinal in Cincinnati (the dollar ain’t worth much today) so I’m picking him this week and then saving him for Hamburg and Paris.
I’m going with Juan-Carlos Ferrero over Carlos Moya even though Moya is 3-0 over Ferrero in their last three clay matches because, for some reason, Moya cannot seem to play well in Barcelona. Guillermo Canas has been sinking so I’m taking Tommy Robredo over him in their quarter.
Let’s go from the Spanish tournament with all those Spanish clay court players to the German tournament with all those German not-so-good-at-clay court players. I’m hesitant to pick Igor Andreev because he lost to Steve Darcis, who is in his quarter, last year and he’s in Fernando Gonzalez’ quarter. And Fernando is 6-0 on clay this year, but Andreev is on a roll and he beat Fernando the last two times they played on clay.
From the top half I’m going with two players. Paul-Henri Mathieu lost early in Monte Carlo but he’s never gone past the first round in Monte Carlo and he had a big clay court season last year in optional events. Philipp Kohlschreiber is my second pick here because he has good results here and his quarter is weak.
Almagro, Ferrer, Nalbandian, Ferrero, Robredo, Andreev, Mathieu, Kohlschreiber
Let’s finish up this week’s picks and previews for Acapulco and hopefully I’ll get to Maria Sharapova on Wednesday.
I did pick one finalist and one semifinalist in Buenos Aires last week, otherwise everything is a total bloody mess and the week has barely started. Aj, would you please write the picks next week, you seem to know what’s going on. As you correctly predicted, Michael Llodra has withdrawn from Zagreb.
Not only that, but Fabrice Santoro retired against Olivier Rochus in Zagreb with an elbow problem and in Memphis, John Isner has already lost and James Blake pulled out with a knee injury of some sort. That’s three of my picks down and it’s only Monday. Oh, and Tommy Haas looks like his shoulder is o.k. and he eats Memphis up when he’s healthy.
It looks like they packed up last week’s tournament in Buenos Aires and shipped it here. David Nalbandianand Potito Starace sit in the first quarter along with two other players who were also in the top quarter at Buenos Aires. Unless Nalbandian is tired from taking the title at Buenos Aires, he should meet Starace in the quarterfinals again.
Unlike last week, I think Starace wins this because the match was close and Nalbandian struggled a few times in Buenos Aires.
Carlos Moya jumped over Juan Monaco in the rankings so Monaco is anchoring the second quarter with Juan Ignacio Chela. Chela won this tournament last year and got to the finals the year before. Agustin Calleri should be his second round opponent and Chela beat him here last year so Chela should get to the quarterfinals.
I’m picking Chela over Monaco because Monaco has a 1-3 record at this tournament and Chela has beaten him the last two times they’ve met.
Igor Andreev lost his first round match to Alberto Montanes. Montanes had a pretty good year on clay last year but he’s 0-4 against Jose Acasuso who’s in his quarter. If Acasuso can’t take out Guillermo Canas, Montanes is 0-2 against Canas.
Canas hasn’t played on clay this year and Acasuso got to the final last week so I’m putting Acasuso in the semifinals.
The bottom quarter is pretty strong. Nicolas Almagro, Filippo Volandri, and Moya are here. Almagro has a slightly better record than Volandri here and he’s beaten Moya in their last two matches so he’s the final semifinalist.
Semifinalists: Starace, Chela, Acasuso, Almagro
Final: Starace, Almagro
Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.
Roger Federer will not be in his eleventh consecutive slam final thanks to Novak Djokovic. What effect will this loss have on Federer’s legacy?
Novak Djokovic had his own booster club in Rod Laver Arena during his semifinal match against Roger Federer. His parents and two younger brothers each had one letter of Djokovic’s nickname spelled out on the front of their black and white Adidas outfits and when they stood up you could read it: N O L E.
They stood up a lot. Nole knocked Fed out of the semifinals at the Australian Open and for the first time in 10 slams, we will not be asking ourselves if so and so can beat Federer in the final. He’ll be on his way home. The king of tennis has been deposed.
He will not win the grand slam this year and he will not win the golden slam – all four slams plus the Olympic Gold medal. And I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s very unlikely that he’ll win a grand slam in the future and that means something very, very important.
Fed can move ahead of Pete Sampras in the Greatest of All Time conversation with three more slams, but Sampras has always had to share that title with Rod Laver. Laver won two grand slams and Sampras never got close. Laver might be the Greatest of All Time 1a, but the conversation will always have to include him and that makes Fed’s loss to Nole huge. Federer got close to a grand slam, very close, and he still could win the French Open, but he will not stand alone as the best tennis player ever to play the game.
I am eternally thankful that I live in an era where I’ve been able watch Roger Federer do his magic. I liked nothing better than to sit down to a slam semi or final and know, absolutely know, that Fed would come alive at some point and take over the match. He’d hang around and poke and prod his opponent until he turned the switch on and cruised to the finish. And in every match there’d be at least one shot that would make me freeze then turn to the person next to me and ask, “Did I really just see that?”
The truth is that what a champion loses over time is the ability to raise his level on command. There’s no pill for that. None that are legal, anyway. Nole was cracking the ball and Fed couldn’t respond.
There were signs. There were those consecutive losses to Guillermo Canas, a Wimbledon final that Fed won by attrition more than anything, consecutive losses to David Nalbandian, and then the five set squeaker over Janko Tipsarevic, of all people.
The reign is over and now that it is, well, I’m sad. But I also have to say that these last two days have been as exciting as any I can remember in my long love affair with tennis. I can literally feel the body of tennis jump up out of its chair and throw its arms to the sky. The world is watching tennis again.
Everyone is talking about Nole Djokovic and the perfect match unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played to knock Rafael Nadal out of the semifinals. Wimbledon is now up for grabs and people want to know how long it’ll take Nadal to overtake Fed for the number one ranking or will Djokovic be the one to do it and is Tsonga really that good?
Most of the tennis season lays ahead of us and right about now, it looks like it’s gonna be a whole lot of fun.
Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Philipp Kohlschreiber have performed well at the Australian Open. We’re still not sure about Roger Federer.
Is Tsonga Only a Serve and Volleyer?
I let out a sigh of relief after David Nalbandian lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero by the score of 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round at the Australian Open. It’s not that I wish David any ill will, I’d love to see him win a slam, but I would have felt like a total idiot if he’d won this tournament because it would have been the third time I doubted him and paid for it. I didn’t pick him for my fantasy tennis team in Madrid or Paris and that knocked me out of the ATP fantasy tennis game top 100.
What’s up with that lopsided score, and to Ferrero too? Did David’s back spasms finally catch up with him? I couldn’t find any injury information about him and he didn’t talk to the media.
On the other hand, I picked Richard Gasquet to beat Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and now he’s gone. He was beaten by his good friend and countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 6-3 in the fourth round. Tsonga is a serve and volleyer in my mind and I expected the slow court here in Melbourne to limit his results. Either the players are lying and the court is not that slow or Tsonga is a more complete player that I gave him credit for. Let’s see which it is.
On thing is for sure: Tsonga is driving his opponents crazy. He knocked Andy Murray out in the first round by attacking him nonstop early in the match. Something happened to Gasquet too. How else could you explain 73 net approached in one match. I doubt Gasquet has ever done that before but he had no choice, nothing else was working.
Tsonga attacked Gasquet early too and he was also winning the baseline game. Gasquet is the shotmaker but it was Tsonga who made the shots in this match. He was up 4-3 in the third set when he ran Gasquet first to one corner then the next and followed that up with a sweet forehand dropshot winner.
Tsonga is quick and it showed in his defense. In the third set tiebreaker, Tsonga hit his bread and butter shot, an inside out forehand approach. He backed up to get to a deep passing shot then ran to the opposite corner to track down a Gasquet approach. Gasquet followed that up with a pretty hard overhead shot but Tsonga tracked that down too and Gasquet put the ball into the net. On the next point, Tsonga dug another ball out of the corner and Gasquet put the ball into the net again to give Tsonga a set point.
You can see why Gasquet was trying to attack. He was lucky to stay as close as he did in this match .
Tsonga is still a bit inexperienced. He ran around his backhand too much and got himself out of position and he wasn’t always sure when he should attack. But all the tools are there and he deals with pressure very well judging by today’s match. He hit three aces when his serve was under pressure early in the fourth set and he hit another passing shot at the attacking Gasquet to win that game. That’s right, at this point Gasquet was attacking and Tsonga staying back. So much for being a serve and volleyer.
Federer Wins – Roddick Doesn’t
Tsonga is the second player to have a coming out at this party. The first was Philipp Kohlschreiber who beat Andy Roddick in the third round by taking the fifth set 8-6. Roger Federer almost suffered the same result at the hands of Janko Tipsarevic before finally winning 10-8 in the fifth set.
Kohlschreiber played a very good match and Roddick couldn’t do much about it. The question is: Was this a coming out party for Tipsarevic too?
No. Kohlschreiber should keep moving up the ranking but Tipsarevic will most likely continue to ping pong back and forth between the 40’s and 60’s in the rankings.
Tipsarevic played inspired tennis but Federer converted exactly five of 21 break points. That is bad tennis. And he had problems with his forehand. You think David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal – those energizer bunnies of the baseline – didn’t take note of that? Nadal can’t pass Federer in the rankings here even if he wins the title but I’m tellin’ ya, he can taste that number one ranking.
Blake Takes Advantage
James Blake beat Marin Cilic by the score of 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals and that’s exactly where he should be. Both Ivan Ljubicic and Fernando Gonzalez were knocked out before Blake could meet up with them and that’s what we call the luck of the draw. Blake got to the fourth round here last here so it’s fair enough to expect him to reach the quarterfinals.
Lest you think I’m being too demanding, I do not expect him to beat his next opponent: Federer.
Okay, people, here’s the question of the day: Can Federer win this tournament or not? Please chime in.