Category Archives: Novak Djokovic

The first grand slam of the year has arrived and the number one ranking is already in question.

Think about this for a minute: Roger Federer could lose the number one ranking to Rafael Nadal by the end of the Australian Open. Will it happen? Let’s see.

Roger Federer’s Quarter

Juan Monaco and Tomas Berdych are waiting around in the top half of Federer’s quarter but Monaco still isn’t good enough on hard court and 2004 was the last time Berdych beat Federer.

In the bottom half of Federer’s quarter there are a few stories. Ivan Ljubicic’s ranking has been sinking since last August and I don’t expect him to recover. James Blake dropped out of the top ten last October and is currently ranked number 15. I don’t expect him to drop further but I also don’t expect him to get back to the top ten. Ljubicic has a 4-1 record over Blake but his victories came over two years ago and Blake won their last match. If they meet in the fourth round, Blake should win.

Then we come to Fernando Gonzalez. He reached the final here last year then played through the most wildly inconsistent year I’ve every seen from a top player. He lost his first match in eight tournaments yet still ended up in the top ten. Well, except for Nikolay Davydenko who also lost his first match in eight tournaments but we expect that from him.

If Gonzalez gets to the fourth round and meets Blake, he should be golden because he’s won their last five matches. That would put him in the quarterfinals against Federer but Gonzalez can’t win that match.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

Marcos Baghdatis is in Novak Djokovic’s half of this quarter but he’s right up there with Gonzalez and Davydenko for inconsistency. Still, Baghdatis should be able to beat Lleyton Hewitt and that should put him in the fourth round against Djokovic. That will be as far as Baghdatis gets because he’s lost both of his matches to Djokovic.

I think Nicolas Kiefer will take out Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first round. Kiefer is one of my two dark horses. He could get to the fourth round because David Nalbandian is having trouble with back spasms. That wouldn’t be shocking because Kiefer got to the semifinals here in 2006. He’d meet David Ferrer and though he beat Ferrer in their only meeting, this time Ferrer should prevail.

I’d love to tell you that Ferrer could beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals but I’d be lying. Djokovic has beaten Ferrer every time they’ve met on hard courts and he beat him in straight sets at last year’s U.S. Open.

Nikolay Davydenko’s Quarter

My second dark horse is Stanislas Wawrinka. I say he beats Davydenko in the third round then loses to Mikhail Youzhny. The big match here is a possible fourth round matchup between Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray. I think one of them gets out of this quarter and into the semifinals. Which one?

This is the toughest match in the draw to call because Gasquet and Murray have similar hard court records. Gasquet has beaten Murray both times they’ve met but that’s not why I’m choosing him. I just think Gasquet is a bit more mature than Murray and is ready to reach the semifinals here.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

We’ve been concerned about Nadal’s fragility on hard courts and we saw it again in Chennai two weeks ago. Nadal survived a four hour semifinal with Carlos Moya then suffered a lopsided loss in the final the day after. This doesn’t happen on clay and it doesn’t even happen at Wimbledon. Nadal played seven straight days in Wimbledon last year due to the rain and still got to the final.

Given Nadal’s fragility I didn’t think he’d go far here but now I’ve changed my mind. I was expecting a knock down drag out fight between Moya and Nadal in the fourth round but Moya has bombed out in the first round the last three years. He just beat his first round opponent, Stefan Koubek, in Sydney last week but Koubek won both their hard court matches last year. And Moya lost to his second round opponent, Agustin Calleri, in Sydney.

That leaves Andy Roddick in the top half of Nadal’s quarter. Philipp Kohlschreiber should be Roddick’s third round opponent and I wanted to pick him as one of my dark horses because he just won Auckland. But Roddick takes care of business in slams so let’s look at Roddick versus Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Nadal beat Roddick in the semifinals at Indian Wells last year so I’m going with Nadal to get to the semis.

Australian Open Draw

My Picks

Semifinalists: Roger Federer plays Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet plays Rafael Nadal.
Finalists: Federer, Gasquet
Winner: Federer

The answer is no, Federer won’t lose his number one ranking but Nadal may get even closer to the top.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 179 user reviews.

Let’s hand out the Teddy Awards. Tomorrow I’ll look at the contrasting way that Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens are handling their illegal drug use problems.

I’m disappointed that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Iowa presidential caucus – the opening state primary for the U.S. presidential election. But the Teddy Awards votes are finally in and I can’t complain about them.

1. Best Player: Justine Henin and David Ferrer

Both players got the same number of votes and, really, the only surprise here is Ferrer. He deserves the vote even if he was helped along by Federer-fatigue (the state of being tired of talking about Roger Federer).

2. Most Improved Player: Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer

Another tie for this category. Fair enough though Anna Chakvetadze probably suffered because we didn’t have separate categories for men and women. Djokovic shot up like a rocket. He won two Masters series events, five tournaments, and, unbelievably, reached the semifinals in two slams and the final in another. What more can you say about Ferrer? While Djokovic jumped by leaps and bounds in his physical and mental play, Ferrer aged. What else can you call it when a player doesn’t figure out he’s a top five player until he’s 25-years-old?

3. Most Disappointing Player: Marat Safin

I personally am over my disappointment in Safin. I’ve been disappointed for too many years. Besides, he really hasn’t been the same since his knee surgery.

4. Most Surprising Player: David Ferrer

No need for more comment except that David Nalbandian got more than a few votes in this category and Marion Bartoli might have done well if she’s had any good results after her Wimbledon final appearance.

5. Male Centerfold of the Year: Feliciano Lopez

6. Female Centerfold of the Year: Ana Ivanovic

There wasn’t much competition in the centerfold category. There was a little Rafael Nadal and some Carlos Moya in the mix but Ana was the unanimous choice for the women.

7. Player in Most Need of a New Coach: James Blake

Poor Brian Barker. People have been trying to take James Blake away from him ever since Blake hit the top 20. Blake will never leave his coach. Barker has drilled the idea of improving as the main goal into Blake’s head since he was an adolescent. Improving is just nebulous enough that Blake feels comfortable with it. If Barker had set the goal of winning a slam instead, Blake might have fulfilled it by now. As it is, Blake will continue to justify playing poorly in high profile events by coming up with something, anything, that can be counted as improvement. Lose yet another five set match in the fourth round at the U.S. Open? No problem, at least he won his first career five set match in the second round and that’s an improvement. See what I mean?

8. Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008:

There’s no winner here because I asked the question incorrectly. Some people thought I was asking who’d win the most slams in 2008 – Federer got those votes – and some people thought I was asking who would improve the most in 2008 – Andy Murray got those votes. I meant to ask who would improve the most and I agree with the choice of Murray. I think he can compete with Djokovic in finally taking a slam from Federer and Nadal. Then again, that’s what I said last year.

9. Player Who Should Really Think About Retiring: Mark Philippoussis

Philippoussis won by a landslide and deservedly so. Last year he was heard saying that he thinks his best tennis is still ahead of him. I believe in pumping yourself up but that comment was surreal. Anyway, he reinjured his knee during the competition for an Australian Open wild card so it’s probably the Outback Series for him from now on.

Pollster

Since I botched the Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008 award, let’s do this. Mosey on over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player most likely to break Federer and Nadal’s stronghold on slam titles. Ferrer is ranked number five in the world but I just don’t think he’s got enough offense to win a slam. You could say the same thing about Murray and he’s only got three titles to his name so far though that might change tomorrow – he’s in the Doha final. But he’s one of my two choices. Djokovic is the other. I just can’t picture Nalbandian doing it.

What say you?

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 167 user reviews.

Why Marat Safin has a few slams and David Nalbandian does not.

Our intrepid reader Jenny placed David Nalbandian in the same category as Marat Safin: supremely gifted but lacking in commitment. I had never really thought to compare Nalbandian and Safin but after I thought about it for a while, I realized the comparison may explain why Safin has two slams and Nalbandian has none.

When I look at Safin I think to myself: “Extreme talent but, Lord, can he ever get out of his own way?” When I look at Nalbandian I think: “Solid, solid player but he’s missing the world class monster-eating-must-win-at-any-cost gene.”

One of them has too much fire and the other doesn’t have enough. I’m not sure it’s fiery competition that gnaws at Safin. He’d have a tortured soul if we’d never heard of him and he worked at a fish market. That’s just his personality. And he’s Russian. Russian literature is crawling with tortured souls.

Tennis has had a few of its own. Boris Becker qualified. Becker railed at himself on court and put himself in difficult positions off it. He married a black woman in post-war Germany and suffered through silly misdeeds such as fathering a child from a quickie encounter in a restaurant while his pregnant wife was in the hospital.

Nalbandian is missing that fire. Nadal has it, Djokovic has it, Henin lives and breathes it. I think Mauresmo had it too though not any more. Nalbandian is a bit removed. There’s nothing cerebral about wanting to kill your opponent. It’s a very visceral feeling and there’s something about Nalbandian that isn’t visceral. He’s there but floating just a bit above himself looking down and watching instead of being down and dirty in the mud slogging it out for all he’s worth.

Some people are more comfortable being runners-up. Nalbandian may be one of them. I used to play tennis with my friend Tremell every week. He was a much better player so I started each set with a three game lead. I was very proud when I reached the day that I didn’t need a three game handicap but there was a problem. Tremell preferred starting each set down three games because he was more motivated when he was behind.

Once you’ve reached a number one ranking or won a slam and have to defend it, your job description changes. You’re no longer part of the crowd trying to knock off the top player, you’re job is fending off challengers. That requires even more confidence than it took to get to the top and that’s why players like Safin and Mauresmo win one or two slams then stop. Their talent got them there but they don’t have the personality to stay for any amount of time.

It’s getting harder to say that Nalbandian doesn’t have the personality to win a slam. He won the Madrid and Paris Masters Series events this fall and that ain’t half bad. But I’m still gonna say it. I don’t think he gets a slam.

I expect Andy Murray, one of those other tortured souls, to win one first.

Teddy Awards

Let’s continue with our Teddy Awards voting. Next up: Most Surprising Player. Please go to the right side of the page and vote.

Also, if you’d help me out I’d appreciate it. I’ve been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please go here and vote for moi (Nina Rota).

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

Twenty-five game winning streak, 63-4 record, 14 out of the 16 tournament wins, two slams and a year end championship title. This is not the ATP, this is not Roger Federer, this is Justine Henin and it could have been three slams if she hadn’t skipped the Australian Open to deal with her divorce.

I spent a fair amount of time looking up comparable records on the women’s side this morning. As far as I can tell, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova are the only women players with a better won loss record. Graf’s record was 86-2 in 1989 and Navratilova was 86-1 in 1983. Notice how many more matches women played in that era, by the way, and yet they didn’t appear to break down anywhere near as much as today’s players do.

We’ll see if Justine goes on to surpass, say, the Williams sisters in slams – go to the sidebar and cast your vote on the question – but it’s more interesting to look at Justine’s emotional arc than her numbers.

The Williams sisters have their own compelling story: hardscrabble childhood, crazy like a fox tennis coach father, competing careers in fashion and entertainment. But Justine has somehow managed to play out her emotional life in front of us as she’s made her way to the top, and unlike Serena and Venus, she’s done it by revealing as little as possible about herself. No reality show for Justine just yet.

These days Justine is a veritable fountain of sharing relative to the early part of her career. At that time we knew her mother had died when she was 12 years old, and we knew she was estranged from her father and siblings, but that’s about it, and she wasn’t going to tell us much more than necessary. If you saw her in the players’ cafeteria, there she was with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, the two of them a little island in a sea of players. Even now she’s one of those people who close her eyes when she talks to you as if to be sure she doesn’t give away too much.

Many players fall apart when life intervenes in their career. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of an ongoing gambling investigation as we speak. Henin, though, just appears to be getting stronger.

This year she divorced her husband and created a bit more independence from Rodriguez and his family – which was her substitute family after all. At the same time she welcomed her father and siblings back into her life. In the process of opening her heart a bit more to herself and to the public, she seems to have learned that the stoicism that carried her through the early part of her career was a brittle strength. It didn’t allow her to stand on her own.

For most players on the tour, though not all, tennis is an all-consuming passion. For Justine I think it goes one step farther and it’s the key to why she’s been able to keep rising up the ranks despite an emotionally wrenching journey.

Tennis has been the substitute for some of Justine’s life outside of tennis and now that the outside world is creeping back into her life, her tennis is secure enough that it enhances her game. Most people need their personal lives in order to perform well in their career. Some people do it the other way around. Success in their career gives them the confidence to open their hearts to those in their personal lives.

Justine doesn’t need a reality TV show, we’ve been watching it all along.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 237 user reviews.

Join us for the Tennis Masters Cup final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 18th, at 9 am (PT)/12 pm (ET).

What to do when a match fixer approaches you and how Roger Federer made it to the semis in Shanghai.

Call 1-800-FIX-MATCH

After Novak Djokovic lost his third match at the Tennis Masters Cup on Thursday, someone in the post-match media session asked him this question:

Q. Let’s say someone approaches you and asks you to lose a match. …what do you think you should do at that moment? Go and say to someone that someone approached you? Would you be afraid to do that because maybe he’s a criminal and he could do some damage to you, to your family?

Djoko was noncommittal in his answer but the question does explain why players never called up the ATP and said: “Hey, this guy just walked up to me and offered me $50, 000 to throw a match.” The players were rightfully careful about pissing off the wrong person.

The ATP rules currently require a player to call the ATP or the police but I’m guessing the ATP won’t get very many calls.

Match of Futility

Speaking of gambling, in the first match on Friday evening in Shanghai, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez met to see whether Davydenko could knock Gonzo out and therefore pass Roger Federer onto the semifinals.

It was a match of futility. Gonzo injured his right knee and lower back in Paris and that explains why he kept falling down in his loss to Andy Roddick two days ago. He didn’t do much better on Friday, falling down a few more times.

Davydenko couldn’t hit the side of a barn. He had almost twenty unforced errors in the first five games. When you know your opponent is injured, sometimes it takes you out of your game. Davydenko was attacking more than usual because he knew Gonzo was having trouble pushing off on his right knee and it threw his game off.

Gonzo had trouble warming up and Davydenko broke him right away and won the first set with the break. Once Gonzo got going, though, he fought hard. He lasted until the late in the second set when he started to tire. You could tell because he was going for winners on every shot.

Davydenko broke him to go up 5-3 and served out the second set to win the match, 6-4, 6-3.

Practice Match

Since Federer was now through to the semifinals and his Friday night opponent, Andy Roddick, had already qualified for the semifinals, Roddick’s brother John called this a practice match.

Didn’t look much like a practice match. It looked pretty the same as they’re previous ten matches, all of which Federer won. Whereas the match between Davydenko and Gonzo was full of missed shots, break points and deuces, this match was as fast as a speeding bullet. It lasted about half as long.

Federer got 83% of his first serves in and won an incredible 88% of the points on his second serve. Roddick, on the other hand, won only 35% of his second serve points because Federer jumped all over them. This is how bad it was: Roddick didn’t win a point at the net in the first set.

Roddick must have felt like he was being served up for whatever was ailing Federer. It’s been a rough week for Federer. He lost his first match to Gonzo and beat Davydenko in his second match but looked shaky doing it. He hit 38 unforced errors..

One look at Roddick, though, and Federer’s game seems to flow off his racket. Federer’s next opponent, Rafael Nadal, has no chance if Federer plays this well but he won’t play this well because it’s the power players he eats up. Those annoying energizer bunnies make life much harder for him.

Roddick will face his own energizer bunny in David Ferrer. Ferrer is on fire and Roddick has to be a little discouraged. Federer and Ferrer final anyone?


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Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 239 user reviews.