Monthly Archives: July 27, 2021

Nikolay Davydenko lost a brilliant battle to Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal while Roger Federer fired his coach two weeks before the French Open.

Nikolay Davydenko had the right game plan to beat Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal and he played the match of his life, but he was one skill short: attack mode. He came to the net when he was assured that Nadal was out of position but again and again he found himself inside the baseline and decided to backpedal instead of move forward and attack.

Davydenko got all those short balls because he pushed Nadal by taking the ball early and hitting wide to Nadal’s backhand. Once he got Nadal on the run, he kept him on the run. But he didn’t attack quite enough and that uncovered one more problem: size. Davydenko is a small guy and Nadal is a big, bruising hitter. If Davydenko had attacked just a bit more he might have been able to win the first set. But he lost it in a tiebreaker and by the third set, he’d run out of the strength he needed to push Nadal around the court while Nadal was still humming.

This was the match we’ve been waiting for since last year’s five hour, five set final between Nadal and Roger Federer. When Nadal had time to run around his forehand and set up shop, Davydenko found a way to get the ball back. When the rally went on forever, Davydenko hit away until Nadal made an error. When Nadal served for the first and second set, Davydenko broke him.

It was everything Davydenko had but it wasn’t enough and it must have been a bitter loss. As he walked off the court the crowd yelled and clapped for him. He threw his hands up halfway and out to the side and half grimaced/half smiled in response, a gesture expressing the appreciation and the pain.

I’m sure Roger Federer saw the match and it might have been bittersweet for him too because he has the skill that Davydenko doesn’t. Federer-Nadal is a fascinating twosome in that regard. The fiery but one-dimensional Nadal drives himself to excellence and the supremely skilled Federer stays calm enough for his tennis brilliance to emerge.

Desire trumps finesse on clay, though, and Federer’s attempt to change his game to win the French Open appears to have come to a sticking point. He hired Tony Roche to improve his net play and he fired him this weekend just two weeks before the French Open.

There are rumors that Lleyton Hewitt will hire Roche and Federer will hire Darren Cahill. I’m not sure why Roche would want to work with Hewitt and it’s not Federer’s style to be desperate for help. It’s just the opposite, he’s gone for long stretches without a coach. Still, it leaves Federer without direction at the moment and sets up a curious situation for someone with the best shot in his career at a calendar grand slam.

Perhaps last year was his best shot.


See also:
Federer’s Slump
Federer Loses Again, This Time to a Wild Card
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks

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Is Federer in a slump?

I had hoped to talk about a new rivalry today. I didn’t expect Novak Djokovic to beat Rafael Nadal in Rome but I thought he could give him a good match. Djokovic played much better in the second set than the first and he showed promise, but he still lost their quarterfinal match, 6-2, 6-3. Instead of talking about that rivalry, let’s go back and revisit Federer’s latest loss.

Is Federer in a slump? This year he has two titles in six tournaments and lost in Rome to wild card Filippo Volandri, a very unFederer-like state of affairs.

Our reader Maria thinks he’s in a state of denial and unwilling to admit that he has a problem. My co-writer Pat thinks Federer has the existential problem of having himself as his biggest challenger because there are so few other challengers out there. A tough situation if you think about it. If his challenger is inside, if it’s his inner self, is that enough to propel him to his two remaining goals: a calendar grand slam and fifteen slam wins (one more than Pete Sampras’ record)?

Federer has two problems at the moment. On hard court he doesn’t have a credible challenger which makes it hard to maintain a high level of emotional drive for winning. On clay his challenger is a fierce competitor who favors eccentric attire and tied the record for consecutive wins on a single surface today with his victory over Novak Djokovic. Nadal tied John McEnroe’s record of 75 consecutive wins on indoor carpet.

Federer hired Tony Roche and improved his game in order to beat Nadal on clay court but so far he has failed. This year he is regressing instead of progressing. Federer’s two challengers appear to have ganged up on him and left him reeling a bit.

Nadal has improved his clay court game while Federer has not and Federer’s inner self is suffering a lack of drive. That’s a pretty big one-two punch. Add one more goal that Federer may be pursuing: greatest of all time. He will not be the greatest of all time as long as Nadal is supreme on clay and that could be eating at Federer’s inner self too.

You can see why Federer befriended Tiger Woods. On two occasions Woods changed his stroke to improve his game and on both occasions he went into a slump while he remade himself only to emerge and return to dominating the PGA tour. Woods is trying to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of eighteen major wins, he currently has twelve. Federer currently has ten slam titles.

Maybe Federer’s competition with Woods to see who can reach their goal first will prop up Federer’s inner self. And maybe Woods can help Federer figure out how to muck his way through a slump and return to domination.

I don’t think it will be enough to help Federer win a French Open as long as Nadal is healthy, but anything can happen, and I’d bet a whole lot on Federer breaking Pete Sampras’ record.

See Also:
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome
Federer Loses Again, This Time to a Wild Card

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 194 user reviews.

How did Roger Federer lose to wild card Filippo Volandri in the Masters Series event in Rome? Let me count the ways.

1. Mistaken Identity

Federer couldn’t hit the side of a barn with his forehand – he hit two forehand winners all day – but he kept going for big shots. If he’d been playing Rafael Nadal that would have made sense, but it wasn’t Nadal, it was Filippo Volandri who is currently number 53 in the world. Federer should have made the adjustment any amateur knows how to make: get the ball in play and let your opponent make an error. At the very least, make your opponent hit some shots. Volandri had no opportunity to lose his nerve because Federer didn’t make him hit enough balls to lose his nerve.

2. No Returns Accepted

Volandri is a weak server. When he was serving for the match, one of his first serves came in at 86 mph. Olivier Rochus is 5ft5in and his serve is more intimidating. Yet Federer got exactly one break because he couldn’t return the ball and he didn’t pressure Volandri’s second serve (which is barely stronger than my second serve).

3. Server Down

Federer’s first serve percentage was 44%. It’s clay court tennis, if you can’t get your first serve in it’s not like the lighting fast court gives you a second opportunity to hit a big serve. Here’s the stubbornness again. Take something off the first serve and just get it in! Works for Rafael Nadal.

4. Can’t Get a Break

When Federer lost to Guillermo Canas earlier this year, he said he wasn’t playing the big points well. Today Federer had seven break points and he converted exactly one. Volandri, on the other hand, had eight break opportunities and converted four.

5. Wrong Side of the Bed

Maybe Federer fell out of bed and knocked himself unconscious without knowing it because he forgot how to slide. Clay court movement is not his forte but again and again Volandri hit a deep cross court shot and Federer couldn’t get himself close enough to slide into the ball on the soft red clay. I’ve never seen him play so badly. Forty-four unforced errors in two sets with four double faults and only twelve winners.

Volandri is not one of those wild cards who’s ranked two or three hundred and something, he’s a pretty good clay court player. He won more clay court matches than Nadal last year and took the title at Palermo. Of course, Nadal was undefeated and Volandri lost fifteen matches but still, he’s not chopped liver.

Right about now, Federer is chopped liver. His last four tournaments ended with four Federer losses and today, a meltdown. The edge is gone, at least for the time being. There’s no longer that feeling that Federer will pull a win out by suddenly taking over a match and easily dispatching his opponent. His opponents frequently show more desire than he does. His clay court season is in tatters and Nadal is running away with every tournament.

The best we can do is hope that Novak Djokovic can beat Rafael Nadal – they play each other next. That’s not likely but then neither was today’s result.

See Also:
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 252 user reviews.

Announcing our new feature: Pollster. A weekly poll on subjects from the serious to the frivolous in the game of tennis. This week we look at drug use.

Richard Gasquet and Guillermo Canas lost in Rome today but I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Right now I’m a bit exhausted. The Hollywood Hills fire is less than five minutes from my house – the house I lived in last year had to be evacuated – and I’m a bit worn out from the worry.

However, I do have enough energy left to introduce our new weekly feature: Pollster. Yep, every week we’ll put up a new poll and you can poll to your heart’s content (the poll is located on the right sidebar). If you have any suggestions for new polls or complaints about them or even a bit of appreciation, just leave a comment. Here goes.

In the 2003, the Balco Scandal uncovered wide spread use of performance enhancing drugs in track and field and baseball. Recently, a former New York Mets employee named Kirk Radomski pleaded guilty to distributing drugs to dozens of professional baseball players between the years 1995 and 2005. Radomski has been working undercover for Federal authorities since they raided his home in late 2005.

Baseball started testing for steroids in 2003 and suspending players for positive tests in 2005, yet Radomski was doing a hearty business until his guilty plea. One of the substances he distributed was human growth hormone and there is no test for that, but he also distributed steroids and amphetamines. Only fifteen players have received suspensions so far which means there are a number of players doing these substances and not getting caught.

Testing for performance enhancing drugs does not appear to work very well. Those players who do get caught are probably ill-informed and unsophisticated users. So here’s the question:

Baseball players appear to be using drugs without getting caught. How many tennis players use performance enhancing drugs: 5% 15% 30% 50%?

Note: I’m not objecting to steroid use necessarily, I’m more interested in the cat and mouse game between players and anti-doping organizations. It’s a modern version of cops and robbers with the players barely, but more or less successfully, staying ahead of authorities. We spend a lot of time and energy testing for performance enhancing drugs but it’s not clear that it works.Richard Gasquet and Guillermo Canas lost in Rome today but I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Right now I’m a bit exhausted. The Hollywood Hills fire is less than five minutes from my house – the house I lived in last year had to be evacuated – and I’m a bit worn out from the worry.

However, I do have enough energy left to introduce our new weekly feature: Pollster. Yep, every week we’ll put up a new poll and you can poll to your heart’s content (the poll is located on the right sidebar). If you have any suggestions for new polls or complaints about them or even a bit of appreciation, just leave a comment. Here goes.

In the 2003, the Balco Scandal uncovered wide spread use of performance enhancing drugs in track and field and baseball. Recently, a former New York Mets employee named Kirk Radomski pleaded guilty to distributing drugs to dozens of professional baseball players between the years 1995 and 2005. Radomski has been working undercover for Federal authorities since they raided his home in late 2005.

Baseball started testing for steroids in 2003 and suspending players for positive tests in 2005, yet Radomski was doing a hearty business until his guilty plea. One of the substances he distributed was human growth hormone and there is no test for that, but he also distributed steroids and amphetamines. Only fifteen players have received suspensions so far which means there are a number of players doing these substances and not getting caught.

Testing for performance enhancing drugs does not appear to work very well. Those players who do get caught are probably ill-informed and unsophisticated users. So here’s the question:

Baseball players appear to be using drugs without getting caught. How many tennis players use performance enhancing drugs: 5% 15% 30% 50%?

Note: I’m not objecting to steroid use necessarily, I’m more interested in the cat and mouse game between players and anti-doping organizations. It’s a modern version of cops and robbers with the players barely, but more or less successfully, staying ahead of authorities. We spend a lot of time and energy testing for performance enhancing drugs but it’s not clear that it works.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 185 user reviews.

When the draw came out this weekend for the ATP Masters event in Rome, several matches leaped out right away from the opening round as promising good battles. Roger Federer faced Nicholas Almagro, a Spaniard with a pretty huge forehand and a good record on clay. Ivan Ljubicic got to see another huge guy in his opener, Jose Acasuso of Argentina. Marat Safin faced a younger version of himself in Amer Delic, formerly of Bosnia, now a U.S. citizen. Tommy Haas faced off against the crafty Radek Stepanek. Marcos Baghdatis got Carlos Moya. Richard Gasquet drew Fernando Verdasco and James Blake faced off against Frenchman Gael Monfils.

It never occurred to anyone, certainly not to me, that Andy Murray would be the one who ended up in a barrel of trouble against Gilles Simon, or that Lleyton Hewitt would go out against Oscar Hernandez. Their matches looked relatively easy. But unfortunately the one bad day of weather – the opening day – saw sun, then clouds, then rain and delays affect play. After dropping the first set, Murray grabbed the second 6-1 and had the momentum then the rain delay came. He could not keep it going and Simon ran away with the third set, 6-3. Goodbye, Mr. Murray. He arrived in the Top Ten just recently only to lose his first match here. A poor omen, no? So far the only changes he seems to be showing in his game are that he’s incorporating more black into his wardrobe. Brad Gilbert would hope he incorporates a little more. It has not been an auspicious start to his year.

Hewitt should have handled Hernandez even though Oscar has been showing up in the later rounds lately and we are starting to remember his name. It was fun to see Hernandez play for the first time. He’s got a quaint roly-poly windup on his forehand and his backhand, but he hits through the ball well and kept Hewitt pinned behind the baseline. The rain delay compromised Hewitt too. He never found his rhythm. The upshot of these upsets is that Tommy Robredo, the top seed in this portion of the draw, has a better road ahead of him. Now he only has to worry about Guillermo Canas, who blistered his way through another qualifying round and found himself in Robredo’s section. They could meet in the Round of 16.

Ljubicic had a few decent results last year on clay but Acasuso is more comfortable on this surface. Ivan had an off day serving and was not nearly aggressive enough against the big-hitting Argentinian. Acasuso kept his nerve and his serve and closed Ljubicic out in two sets. Thank you, Comcast, for cutting away to your monthly testing of the emergency response system right when Acasuso had two match points on Ljubicic’s serve. I don’t know which one he closed on, but he had two chances. Sigh. At least I am safe in my bed!

Haas against Stepanek promised an interesting battle of experienced hands at the all-court play but Haas’ problems continue. After a good start early in the year, Tommy is now taking two steps backward. Injuries are creeping in and today he retired with a shoulder problem after dropping the first set. Carlos Moya is another veteran on the clay but today Baghdatis kept his mental house in order and offed the Mallorcan in two brisk sets.

James Blake against Gael Monfils should have gladdened our hearts – had they met a year ago when both were doing better. Now they look as shaky as lambs off to slaughter. Lucky for James he ran into a guy today who is even more of a Head Case than he is right now. Monfils has lost six times in a row in the first round of the tournaments he has played. Blake closed it out relatively easily in two sets.

One of the more entertaining matches featured Safin against Delic. Both are big guys with smooth deep strokes and powerful serves. Today it was a battle to see which forehand would head south first. Delic impressively captured the first set then saw his forehand nearly break down completely in the second. In the third he lost the break early to Safin but showed some fortitude in preventing any more hemorrhaging of games. Safin kept it together when he needed to and squeaked out the victory, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Next up for Safin is countryman Davydenko and considering how erratic both have played this year, I would not want to call this match. I hope it’s Safin but don’t bet anything because we never know which Safin will show up.

Richard Gasquet continues to improve this spring on the clay. His match against another big clay court hitter, Fernando Verdasco, could have slipped away from him in the second set tiebreak and spilled over into a third set. Such as what happened in their marathon meeting a few weeks ago in Monte Carlo when Gasquet was stretched to three sets. He seems more aggressive now in recognizing when he needs to close things out, pack his bags up and head back to the hotel. The man who sits next to him in the draw, Tomas Berdych, had an easy time of it too, quietly moving through Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets. Gasquet will most likely meet Federer in the Round of 16 then Federer would have Berdych in the quarterfinals. While they don’t have winning records against the world’s number one – after all, who does except you know who – both youngsters have the games to bother Federer. I look forward to those encounters here.

As for Federer’s play today against big hitter Nicholas Almagro, we can say only one thing: Where were you hiding it, Roger? We should have seen this play in Monte Carlo. He served well, got the first serve in, and had an even better percentage (74% vs. 70%) on winning points off his second serve. The forehand showed a lot of confidence: he ran around it several times to attack Almagro’s big weapon, his forehand. But what impressed me most was that Roger seemed engagé, as the French like to say. He seemed energized and ready to rumble. A few more forays into net and he’ll be just about perfect.

OK, I stick my neck out for no man, but for you, Roger, I’ll say: Play like this on Sunday and you might actually beat that bum-picking, bottle-sorting, line-sweeping, time-eater Nadal.

My picks:
Quarters: Federer-Berdych, Roddick-Blake, Canas-Safin, Djokovic-Nadal.

(I totally agree with my co-writer Nina Rota about the bottom half of Federer’s side. It’s a total mess. Now that David Ferrer was outed today in straight sets by Igor Andreev, I am actually looking at the chances of the Yanks Roddick and Blake. This isn’t patriotism talking, it’s just that Gonzalez is so fragile right now).

Semis: Federer-Roddick, Canas-Nadal
Final: Roger Roger Over And Out

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