Monthly Archives: November 30, 2021

Things were a bit topsy turvy last week in Madrid. Andy Murray beat Ivan Ljubicic, Kristof Vliegen beat Dmitry Tursunov then James Blake, and Robbie Ginepri beat Mario Ancic. How was I supposed to know? My entire draw was messed up. One thing is for sure, the surfaces keep slowing down, even indoors. That gives players like Murray an advantage and takes away from Ljubicic’s game.

It’s rather like the end of the baseball season. Teams that are out of the playoffs have one thing to play for – pride. In this case a number of players who have no hope of getting to the year-end tournament in Shanghai knocked off a bunch of players fighting for one of those precious eight spots.

There’s a lot of money to be made again this week: Basel (pays $152, 628 to the winner, indoor carpet), St. Petersburg ($142, 000, indoor carpet), Lyon ($121, 344, indoor carpet). That’s $415, 972 if you picked all three winners. This is the next to last week of the fantasy league season, next week’s Masters Series event in Paris is the end, so make the most of it.

Basel

Our guy Benjamin Becker is playing Paradorn Srichaphan in the first round. Becker is all the way up to a ranking of 62, only five below Srichaphan surprisingly. I’d like to pick Becker because he had a 16-3 record indoors in challengers but Srichaphan has a good record indoors too so I’ll go with experience over potential.

I have Fernando Gonzalez over Andy Murray because he’s on such a roll but Murray has a career record of 13-5 indoors so I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray wins.

Gonzalez vs. David Nalbandian is the more interesting matchup. They are 2-2 on hard court over their last four meetings. Nalbandian beat Gonzalez at the U.S. Open but Gonzalez beat Nalbandian two weeks ago in Vienna. Since Nalbandian appears to have returned to his usual place in the semifinals, I’m picking him.

St. Petersburg

I would not pick Mikhail Youzhny, since his run to the semifinals at the U.S. Open, he’s been very inconsistent. I have him in the quarterfinals but without confidence.

Jarkko Nieminen could go down to Janko Tipsarevic in the first round. Tipsarevic has less experience but his record is better on carpet. I’m going to be brave and pick this upset. If you don’t take chances, you never win the big money.

Since winning in Mumbai, Dmitry Tursunov has lost in the second round in Tokyo and the first round the last two weeks. What is wrong with him? He has a career 16-5 record on carpet.

I’m going to pick a second upset here: Jurgen Melzer over Tommy Robredo. Melzer has a career 3-2 record over Robredo and a 2-1 record indoors. Don’t pick Robredo this week though it’s unlikely you’ve had any Robredos left since the clay court season.

I almost put Melzer in the final but I think Ancic adjusts to carpet this week though not quite well enough to beat Nikolay Davydenko.

Lyon

Marcos Baghdatis is another player who had trouble adjusting to the altitude and lighter ball in Madrid, he lost his first match to Robbie Ginepri. His first round opponent in Lyon, Arnaud Clement, reached the quarterfinals in the last two weeks indoors. I’m picking Baghdatis but it’s tentative.

Marat Safin is 3-0 over Richard Gasquet with two wins on carpet, one of them this year in Davis Cup, so Gasquet is unlikely to get out of the first round.

Marc Gicquel vs. Dominik Hrbaty is hard to pick. Gicquel got to the quarterfinals here last year and the semifinals in Metz. Hrbaty got to the semis in Vienna and both players lost in the second round in Madrid. I’m going with Gicquel because he lives in France and has the home court advantage.

Gaston Gaudio is the second seed here and though he’s not terrible on carpet, he has an 11-11 record, this is the reason why I plan to develop a surface-adjusted ranking – separate rankings for each surface calculated by adding ATP points earned on that surface. Rankings – and seeds -need to reflect the current surface. I have Ginepri over Gaudio in the second round.

Ginepri vs. Julien Benneteau is also hard to pick because they’re both 7-3 on indoor hard court this year and neither of them is effective on carpet. Benneteau is French but I’m going with Ginepri after his strong showing in Madrid last week.

Safin beat Baghdatis this week in Madrid so I have Safin in the final where I say he beats Sebastien Grosjean.

Zero Counter

This week is the worst Zero Counter week we’ve had. Zero Counter adds up the number of matches between players who’ve never met each other before in a regular ATP event. If you consider rivalries important, the Zero Counter gives you one reason why there aren’t many rivalries on the ATP tour. I know, I say it each week, but you can’t have rivalries is players don’t meet. It’s also an indicator that the ATP is putting out a watered down product. If players are all over the world and don’t meet each other, the tour isn’t developing a cohesive product with enough identifiable stars.

In 36 matches this week, players have never met each other before. That’s 38% of the matches. Do we really need three tournaments at this time of the year?

Picks

Top tier picks: Davydenko, Ancic, Haas, Federer, Nalbandian, Gonzalez, Safin, Grosjean. Since I know everyone has used up all their Federers and most every other top ranked player, here are the second tier picks: Baghdatis, Ginepri, Melzer, Robredo, Murray, Berdych.



Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 264 user reviews.

Players have adjusted to Nadal but Nadal hasn’t made any adjustment himself.

After Rafael Nadal reached the Wimbledon final, we were all ready to crown him the all-court player we desperately needed to stave off Federer boredom – “Federer won again? Really? That’s surprising.” But Nadal hasn’t played well since. Last fall he won three hard court tournaments and early this year he won in Dubai. But in the four tournaments since Wimbledon this year, the farthest he’s gone is the quarterfinals.

Is something wrong with Nadal?

Nothing is wrong with him, it’s just that players have figured out how to play him on hard courts. If they serve big they can avoid getting into long rallies with him. If they hit hard, flat shots, they can keep him from retrieving the ball. Juan Carlos Ferrero beat him in Cincinnati by going for winners at every opportunity. Last week, Joachim Johansson, a big server, beat him in the second round at Stockholm. His opponent in the third round here in Madrid, Tomas Berdych, has beaten him the last two times they’ve met, both on hard court.

He beat him again today, 6-3, 7-6(6). Berdych dictated the points from the beginning by playing aggressively. Nadal can usually turn defensive shots into winners but today, his winners total went down as the match progressed. Nadal had his chances in the second set but Berdych kept saving break points with aces.

Berdych may have the answer to Nadal’s problem. Players have adjusted to Nadal but Nadal hasn’t made any adjustment himself. “…he’s just running on the back of the court, and he’s running beside the linesman, ” Berdych said. Meaning that Nadal is playing far behind the baseline instead of moving forward and changing up his attack. As an example, Roger Federer has a 4-1 record over Berdych because, Berdych said, “he’s chipping all the balls and he’s playing more smart on my game.”

Berdych would have more than two titles by now but his physical game is still ahead of his mental game. After the last point of the match today he put his finger to his mouth as if to tell the crowd to be quiet then he kissed off the crowd. He was mad that they’d applauded his mistakes. As Berdych and Nadal shook hands at the net, Nadal told Berdych that he was a bad guy to have gestured as he did.

Berdych isn’t the first person to gesture to the crowd this week. Robbie Ginepri gave them the hook’em horns hand sign during his match with Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. But Ginepri is not that mature either and it doesn’t serve much purpose to piss off the number two player in the world, it just makes Berdych’s job that much harder.

Is Berdych better than Nadal? Considering that Nadal has seventeen titles and Berdych has two, the answer would have to be no. Not yet, anyway, and he’s never going to match Nadal’s title count on clay, but he should be able to compile more hard court titles in his career than Nadal.

Nadal isn’t the all-round player we’ve been pining for and that’s not a bad thing because the answer will come from a number of different places. It won’t be just Federer and Nadal, it’ll be Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis.

As for the other quarterfinals, well, Federer won again. He beat Robbie Ginepri, 6-3, 7-6(4). David Nalbandian stopped Marat Safin in a very tough match, 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(2), and Djokovic almost made it a “young talent” semifinal with Berdych but lost to Fernando Gonzalez, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5.

See also:
2006 Madrid Third Round: The Young And The Talented
2006 Madrid Second Round: Everything Is Upside Down
2006 Madrid First Round: Don’t Jump
2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Madrid Masters

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 156 user reviews.

I think I have Robbie Ginepri figured out. Give him a hostile crowd and move him onto indoor courts and he shines. He reached the semifinals last year here in Madrid and he’s made the third round this year where he played his second Spaniard of the week, Tommy Robredo.

So here is a conundrum: Ginepri doesn’t do well under pressure and yet he needs external pressure to distract him from his inner demons.

When Ginepri played Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round, all hell broke loose. The partisan crowd whistled and booed Ginepri after he asked for clarification on a Lopez challenge then gave the crowd the horns hand sign. The chair umpire for the match, Lars Graf, let the crowd get out of control and couldn’t rein it back in.

Graf is in the umpire’s chair again today. Maybe that’s why Ginepri was intelligent enough to keep his hands to himself; he couldn’t count on Graf to help him if the crowd turned on him.

Ginepri broke Robredo in his first service game and attacked the net to win the first set 6-3. On the last point of the first set, Robredo floated a return deep to the ad corner and Ginepri calmly ran around the ball and whacked it down the line for a winner. No fuss, no stress.

That’s good for most tennis players but Ginepri seems to prefer stress from external sources such as the crowd because it distracts him from his inner voices. Some of us tortured souls like distractions because it takes us away from our inner turmoil.

On the other hand, Ginepri did not fare well with the pressure of being a top twenty player. After starting the year ranked number sixteen, he’s been to only one semifinal and his ranking dropped into the forties after the U.S. Open.

So here is a conundrum: Ginepri doesn’t do well under pressure and yet he needs external pressure to distract him from his inner demons. It’s a no win situation. Reminds me of a woman I once saw on a street corner in mid-town Manhattan. She put out her hand to ask people for money but when they tried to give it to her, she put her hand up to refuse it. She needed medication. Ginepri needs a sports psychologist and a library of self-help books.

Here’s another pressure Ginepri has trouble with. He served for the match at 5-3 in the second set and unraveled. He lost a challenge on his serve then immediately double faulted. He never got a first serve in and lost the game at love.

Like many of us tortured souls, however, Ginepri has a saving grace. He’s a grinder, he keeps working and working knowing that eventually he’ll be alright and everything will work out. And it did.

Ginepri was up 5-3 in the second set tiebreaker when Robredo stopped playing in the middle of the rally after he thought a Ginepri shot went long. A player has to stop play immediately if he wants to challenge a call. Robredo lost the challenge – the ball clearly hit the line – thereby handing match point to Ginepri who gladly took it and won the tiebreaker and the match, 6-3, 7-6(3).

That was a terrible decision. Robredo was still in the point and could easily have hit the ball. Unless that ball was absolutely, clearly out, he should have played it. Ginepri received a gift.

James Blake received a gift too. Robredo would have moved ahead of Blake in the race for the remaining six spots at the year-end tournament in Shanghai if he’d won today. Challenging a close call at a critical point in the match is like hoping your opponent is going to double fault. You’re trying to back into a victory instead of taking it. That’s not the kind of thinking that will get Robredo into the year-end championship.

Roger Federer doesn’t have problems with pressure or inner voices. He had an incredibly tight match with Robin Soderling. There were no breaks in the match, a 7-6(5), 7-6(8) win for Federer (of course), as Soderling saved eight break points. I expected Soderling to make his push at the U.S. Open because he’s been matching up well head-to-head with a lot of players, but it looks like he might make a more progressive climb up the rankings.

Tomas Berdych seems to be taking a slow but continuous crawl to the top ten also. He beat Andy Roddick 7-6(7), 6-3, in the third round. Unlike other talented players like Marcos Baghdatis, who rocketed to the top with a monster Australian Open this year, and Novak Djokovic, who started the year ranked number seventy-eight and is now at seventeen, Berdych started the year ranked number twenty-four and is now at number eleven. Except for a leap from twenty to fifteen, he hasn’t skipped any numbers in between, that’s methodical.

[blockquote]We expect talented players to take longer to find their stride because they have more skills to harness, but once they do, we expect a quick run up the rankings as if everything will magically fallen into place. Once Federer won a grand slam, there was no looking back and we expect the same thing of Berdych.

But Berdych’s career isn’t playing out that way. He won the Paris Masters last year and that could have been his take-off point but when the new year came around, Berdych returned to normalcy. His game has matured but his personality doesn’t seem completely formed yet. He’s rather quiet on the court but he’s not a calm person. His on-court demeanor might not match his personality. If so, he should let a bit more of himself show before he develops the “Alex Rodriguez complex” – trying to appear perfect when you’re far from it.

The ideal player would be a clone taken from both Djokovic and Murray.

That other young talent, Djokovic, was at a disadvantage in his match with Andy Murray. First of all he played a horrendous first set and lost it 6-1. Secondly, David Beckham, who plays for the Real Madrid soccer team, sat in the stands and cheered for Murray. If Djokovic’s family had transferred their allegiance from Serbia-Montenegro to England as they were rumored to be considering earlier this year, Djokovic could have claimed Beckham too.

After the first set, I assumed Djokovic would lose the match because Murray was outplaying him so badly, Djokovic couldn’t keep a forehand in the court – must be that altitude again. But in his first service game in the second set, Djokovic fought off three break points to hold serve. In the next game he pulled a Robredo and stopped playing in mid-rally to challenge a point. He got it right, though, the ball was out.

Murray broke Djokovic at love to go up 4-3 in the second set as Djokovic starting hitting backhands out too and I was sure it was over. But Murray is another of those young talented players, the theme of this tournament, and he has a few problems himself. In particular, closing out matches. He lost the next game to give back the break.

This is an interesting match to watch because Djokovic is a power player and Murray a strategist. Being a strategist can put you in position to win a match but when you do get ahead, you have to be more aggressive.

The ideal player would be a clone taken from both Djokovic and Murray. The downside of the clone would be its horrendous temper; it would yell in exasperation as Djokovic does and berate itself, albeit humorously, as Murray does. But the Murray part would put the clone ahead in the game with guile and strategy then the Djokovic part could close the match out. Also, if Murray got behind, the fighter in Djokovic would get the clone back into the match.

It’s not that Murray can’t play aggressively, he just doesn’t do it when he should. For instance, Murray was serving to stay in the second set at 5-6 when he gave Djokovic a break point with a double fault then hit an ill-advised drop shot to lose the second set 7-5.

By now Murray had lost his temper. He was yelling at himself worse than I’ve ever seen. He was dropping f-bombs and, worst of all, missing first serves. Djokovic broke him in his first service game in the third set and that was all he needed to win, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

We might not see any of the young and talented in the final this week but it won’t be much longer.

See also:
2006 Madrid Second Round: Everything Is Upside Down
2006 Madrid First Round: Don’t Jump

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 155 user reviews.

When Vliegen concentrated on aggressive tennis instead of trying to hit drop shots, he controlled the match, so you have to give the edge to Vliegen’s game rather than Blake’s malaise.


I couldn’t get out of bed this morning because I’ve been ill and by the time I looked at the matches in the second round in Madrid, I thought maybe the illness had gone to my brain. The scores looked upside down. Andy Murray over Ivan Ljubicic? Kristof Vliegen over James Blake? Robbie Ginepri over Mario Ancic? Was I dreaming? Rafael Nadal beat Mardy Fish easily so it looked like everything was alright but then I saw that Joachim Johansson beat Nikolay Davydenko. Wha’ happened?

When I pick the draws for each week’s tournaments, I usually look at the head-to-head record for each match but apparently I skipped the head-to-head record for Vliegen and Blake. Turns out that Vliegen beat Blake in the first round at Memphis this year. Vliegen looks like a young kid who hasn’t quite grown into his body. He’s all arms and legs and those legs look even longer underneath his unfashionably short pants. But he’s a well-rounded player – he’s reached semifinals on four different surfaces this year – and he beat Dmitry Tursunov in the first round easily, 6-3, 6-1.

Vliegen broke Blake in the first game of the match and that was enough to win the first set. Blake looked befuddled, he had trouble with Vliegen’s serve and couldn’t find any rhythm on his ground strokes. Was it Vliegen’s game or has Blake been running around the world a bit too much lately trying to win a spot in the final eight at the year-end tournament in Shanghai?

Vliegen fooled around in the second set. He hit a backhand slice four straight times during his second service game and hit other balls out allowing Blake to break him and take the second set.

Blake broke Vliegen twice in the third set as Vliegen kept hitting drop shots into the net. After the third or fourth drop shot you’d think he would have realized they weren’t working. Not only that but why was he trying drop shots against one of the fastest guys on the tour? Vliegen may not have been smart but he was lucky. Blake missed enough serves to give one of the breaks back and Vliegen earned the second break by hitting a bunch of winners as Blake served for the match at 6-5. In the tiebreaker, Vliegen continued to hit winners won the match, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5).

Blake took a week and a half off after the U.S. Open and another week off after Bangkok. When Vliegen concentrated on aggressive tennis instead of trying to hit drop shots, he controlled the match, so you have to give the edge to Vliegen’s game rather than Blake’s malaise.

To put it another way, a 150 mph serve by Andy Roddick drops down to about 55 mph by the time it reaches his opponent on this court.

Ljubicic should have reached the final here for the second year in a row because he thrives on faster indoor courts and, besides, I picked him to get to the final. But the court here is not that fast which brings up the question, how do you measure court speed? The Tennis Channel measured one of Vliegen’s serve at 187 kmh (116 mph) as the ball left his racket. By the time the ball hit the Madrid court, the speed had slowed down to 140 kmh (89 mph). As the ball bounced up off the court, the speed was 103 kmh (64 mph) and, finally, it dipped to 70 kmh (43 mph) as it reached his opponent.

To put it another way, a 150 mph serve by Andy Roddick drops down to about 55 mph by the time it reaches his opponent on this court. 55mph may be a lot slower than 150 mph but it’s still highway speed. A clay court slows the ball down around 6% more so Roddick’s serve would reach his opponent at about 45 mph at Roland Garros. That’s ten miles per hour slower and a big reason Roddick has never made it past the third round at the French Open.

Ljubicic’s opponent, Murray, is often described as having a non-descript game. People say things such as, “He doesn’t do anything special, he just wins.” He does do something special. After Roger Federer and Nikolay Davydenko, he’s the best returner on the tour. Ljubicic knew he had to serve well and it pressured him into serving seven double faults.

Murray’s other big asset is court strategy. Unlike Vliegen, Murray uses the drop shot effectively. And Ljubicic’s serve may be fast but his feet certainly are not.

Murray used a drop shot and his ground strokes to break Ljubicic at 4-4 in the first set then served out for a one set lead.

But Murray can also be lazy. He hit an unsuccessful drop shot to give Ljubicic a break point in the first service game in the second set then, a few points later, hit another drop shot easily within Ljubicic’s reach and lost his serve. Murray could be using the drop shot to bring his opponent to the net and he could be using it when he sees that his opponent is far behind the baseline, but most of the time he’s using it to finish the point as early as possible. Another good reason for his coach Brad Gilbert to focus on improving Murray’s conditioning in the very near future.

After the match Murray said: “Against some guys it is really difficult to work at the tactics. But against Ljubicic, it’s not that difficult. You just try and hold on to your own serve and try and get his serve back and see what happens.” What happened is that Ljubicic had 44 unforced errors, 21 from his backhand and that’s usually his better side.

Players are complaining that the ball is sailing in the high altitude in Madrid and that might have something to do with the upsets early in the tournament. It takes a few matches to adjust to different conditions and this time of the year conditions change quickly. A player could go from Tokyo to Moscow to Madrid on consecutive weeks. Tokyo is warm, Moscow is cold, and Madrid has thin air.

Anyone who thinks this is a cushy job should try it some time.

See also:
2006 Madrid First Round: Don’t Jump
2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Madrid Masters

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 258 user reviews.

I don’t know if the surface is fast in Madrid or not, for some reason they didn’t let me into the draw, but the players are certainly acting like it’s as slick as a bowling alley. Paradorn Srichaphan spent his entire match with qualifier Gorka Fraile hitting ever ball as hard as he possibly could. Even Gael Monfils got into the act. He’s typically a defensive player and scampers all over the court running down balls with those long legs but he looked more like Fernando “the hammer” Gonzalez in his match against Dominik Hrbaty. Up 4-2, 40-15 in the first set, Monfils hit a hard serve that Hrbaty managed to mis-hit deep to the corner. Monfils retreated six or seven feet behind the baseline, leaped in the air and and hit a 116 mph forehand straight downhill.

Monfils is a pretty excitable guy, he looks like a young colt prancing around the court at times and the last thing you want to do is dampen a young player’s enthusiasm.

Monfils won the first set 6-3 and the second set was tied at 2-2 when he jumped into the air one more time while he was pretending to go after a Hrbaty overhead that was out of reach. This time it cost him, he twisted his right foot as he landed and there went the match, he left the court in a wheelchair.

Monfils is a pretty excitable guy, he looks like a young colt prancing around the court at times and the last thing you want to do is dampen a young player’s enthusiasm. It was difficult enough to watch Boris Becker change from a young guy who loved to celebrate his winners on court into a brooding presence who screamed at himself during matches. But this is Monfils’ third foot injury in the last few months, he had a stress fracture in one foot and a torn ligament in the other. At the very least he has to tape his ankles and more importantly, he has to focus on the job at hand – winning the match. If you watch a tennis match between top players you don’t see a lot of jumping. Players jump into their forehands and sometimes leap up to get to hit an overhead, but if you see a player hit a jump backhand, that’s usually because he or she is out of position. Monfils should choose more earthbound forms of celebration and work on his footwork.

The horns hand sign essentially substituted for a middle finger and he must have known that.

If Rafael Nadal gets to the final again this year, he’ll have a lot of help. The Madrid crowd cannot be described as bi-partisan. Robbie Ginepri broke Feliciano Lopez, a Spaniard, to go up 3-1 in the third set then waited for Lopez to go through his “injury time out when you’ve just been broken” delay tactic. Lopez challenged the call on the first point of the next game and won the challenge so the point had to be played over. Ginepri approached the chair for clarification as the chair umpire had called the score as deuce, which was clearly wrong. The Madrid crowd was already whistling at Ginepri but then he held up his hand and gave them the horns hand sign and the crowd went crazy. For the next few points they yelled as loud as they could every time Ginepri hit the ball and the umpire did very little except say “gracias”.

The umpire lost control of the match, the crowd was still whistling while Ginepri was serving at match point. Ginepri won the match 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, and it was a good win for him considering his fragile mental state this year but he certainly could have made it easier on himself. The horns hand sign essentially substituted for a middle finger and he must have known that. Ginepri was either telling the crowd “I love you” – doubtful under the circumstances and he didn’t have his thumb extended – or he was giving them the hook-em horns sign for the University of Texas – again doubtful as he has lived in Georgia since he was three years old. In Italy and Brazil the horns hand sign is an insult flashed to someone whose wife has been cheating on him.

Next time Ginepri might want to keep his hands to himself when he plays in Europe or South America.

See also: 2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Madrid Masters

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 154 user reviews.