Federer massacres Hewitt (again) before Australia Day

January 25, 2010 in Tennis

Did anyone seriously expect a different result?

For the 15th consecutive time, Roger Federer has ripped the hearts out of the Australian public by annihilating Lleyton Hewitt –  6-2, 6-3, 6-4 – in the fourth round of the 2010 Australian Open.

On the same day Sam Stosur was handed a similar fate by Serena Williams (6-4, 6-2) on the women’s side.  A day before Australia Day.

You have to hand it to Hewitt though.  Despite not having beaten Federer since the 2003 Davis Cup, every single time he faces the man he talks it up as though he has a legitimate chance.  And the amazing thing is that every time, he has us believing it, even if it’s just for a split second.

There was a glimmer of hope in their latest match when Hewitt finally broke (back) Federer’s serve in the eighth game of the third set.  But Federer broke again immediately and sealed the match with ease.

The fact is – no matter how hard he fights, no matter how tough he is mentally – the physical gap between Hewitt and the top players of today is just too much.  He is still capable of cruising through the mid-tier players and beating the lower top-tier players.  Once in a blue moon, he could even beat a top top-tier player if mitigating circumstances are present (eg injury).  But in a grand slam event, Hewitt will need all the stars aligned to ever get close to winning again.

Nevertheless, even though he was just handed another drubbing, Hewitt is optimistic as he is returning to the top 20 in the ATP rankings.

“Obviously I’ve been able to work my ranking back up.  I feel good about that.  I don’t have a lot of points to defend really through to Wimbledon, the quarters there.  So I feel comfortable I can do some damage. The way I hit the ball tonight, I still think I could have taken a lot of other guys still left in the draw. That’s probably a little bit more frustrating.”

I think this is why, despite his less-than-ideal personality, Aussies still want to support him.  No matter how ridiculous his assertions sound (I mean, come on, does anyone think Hewitt can still beat the likes to Djokovic, Del Potro or Murray, let alone Federer and Nadal?), we want to believe Hewitt because he seems to honestly believe in himself.  And that’s an admirable trait.

Besides, who else are we going to support?  Bernard Tomic?

2010 Australian Open Predictions

January 19, 2010 in Tennis

Look, for some reason I can’t get revved up for the Australian Open this year.  I don’t know why.

It’s already started and I can barely force myself to follow the results, let alone watch it on TV.

Nevertheless, I sought advice from a tennis expert (okay, he’s just a friend who really likes tennis and has been quite spot on in the past, except when he puts money on it) on what he thinks will happen.  Here is what he said.

Who do you see coming through on the men’s side?

I expect Murray v Nadal in the QF for an epic match.  I also see Roddick making it to the SFs. I think Del Potro is not prepared enough to go far.

Davydenko or Verdasco to get through in the top half, but the winner is out of Nadal, Murray or Roddick.

What about the great man Federer?

As you know, I am as anti-federer as I have ever been now so I am hoping his GS semi final run ends here.

What about the ladies?

Elena to beat Henin in the next match.  Can’t help but think that if Elena didn’t have tennis player arms and not stayed in the sun all day, she’d be quite attractive.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.

Davydenko wins ATP World Tour Finals; did Federer tank?

November 30, 2009 in Tennis

Davydenko wins!

I wish I was there to witness it.  Nikolay Davykendo, one of the best players on tour without a Grand Slam, took out the last big event of the tennis calendar, ATP World Tour Finals, by defeating US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro in the final, 6-3, 6-4.

When the tournament began, few gave the No. 7 (out of 8 men in the draw) a chance, and he stumbled out of the gates, losing to Novak Djokovic in his opening round robin match.  However, he managed to regroup and defeat Aussie Open winner Rafael Nadal and French Open finalist Robin Soderling to advance to the semi-finals.  There, he finally beat French Open, Wimbledon winner and World No. 1 Roger Federer for the first time ever (in 13 career meetings).

So congrats to Davydenko, one of those underrated guys who plays consistently well but never seems to be able to pull out the big games against the top players.  That said, he had actually won all 5 of his championship matches in 2009, the last (before this one) coming at the Shanghai Masters, which he needed to qualify for the end of year tournament.

Did Federer tank his match against Del Potro?

I’d just to take a step back for a moment back to the round robin section of the tournament to talk about Roger Federer (who finished the year ranked no. 1).

The ATP World Tour Finals has a strange (not not overly complex) system where the top 8 players are split into Group A and Group B, with the top 2 from each group advancing to the semi-finals.  As each player has 3 matches in the round robin, it is not uncommon for players to end up with identical win-loss records.  Where there are 3 players with identical records (as was the case this year in both Groups A and B), the tie-breaker provides that the 2 players with the highest percentage of sets won will advance.  If that does not resolve things, then it’s the top 2 with the highest percentage of games won.

In his final round robin match, Federer lost to Del Potro 6-2, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3.  This meant Federer, Del Potro and Murray all finished with a record of 2-1 in the round robin round.  All three men also had identical set records of 5-4.  This meant that the tie-break came down to the percentage of games won.  Federer ensured he would go through by winning 44 from 80 games (55%), thanks in part to a couple of 6-1 sets in his wins against Verdasco and Murray.  Del Potro, the other man to make it through, won 45 out of 88 games (51.1%), knocking out Andy Murray, who had won 44 out of 87 games (50.6%).  If Federer had taken just 1 more game against Del Potro, Andy Murray would have been the one to make it through instead.  Just 1 game!

Though the conspiracy chatter has been relatively subdued (and mostly in jest), there are those who believe Federer tanked the last 3 games of his match against Del Potro in order to knock Andy Murray out of the tournament.

In the final set, with the score tied 3-3, Federer fell apart, losing 3 straight to end the match.  However, it was the way Federer lost those games that began raising eyebrows.  As a furious friend told me after the match in an email entitled “Federer is a disgrace”:

“I watched the entire match, and he played entirely different in the last 3 games.  He double faulted, charged the net kamikaze style (ala Andy Roddick) and got passed, dumped return of serves into the net…I don’t understand why he did it but he is not a sportsman.  So upset by this!

I admit, it does sound a little far-fetched that Federer would do this, and even more far-fetched that he could purposely lose in a way that would knock Andy Murray out.  Nevertheless, the way in which Federer played to end the match is highly uncharacteristic, especially the way he botched his service game when down 3-4 in the final set to hand the match to Del Potro on a platter.

It is probable that before the match Federer and his team would have done some calculations to see what he and the other players in his group needed to advance (and remember that Murray’s game finished first).  Federer admitted that he knew he had to win the second set or else he would be knocked out (which explains his celebratory fist pumps after winning it 7-6). As he said himself:

“I knew I couldn’t lose in two sets because I knew that was going to knock me out.  That’s why I was very excited.”

However, if Federer did indeed make such calculations, then he must have also known that even a 0-6 third set would not have stopped him from advancing to the semi-finals.

Federer’s post-match words are somewhat telling:

“I asked Juan Martin myself at the net, ‘Did you make it or not?’  He said, ‘I don’t think so.’ … Of course, you got to feel sorry for the guy who didn’t make it.  At the same time, Del Potro beat the No. 1 player in the world in the group, and I guess also deserves to go through.  There’s only two places, and that’s the way it is.”

Notice how Federer had only questioned whether Del Potro had made it – which means he had no doubt that he had already made it through himself (ie confirms calculations were made).  And notice how he suggested that Del Potro deserves to go through (instead of Murray) because Juan Martin had beaten the ‘No. 1 player in the world’ (ie himself).  Maybe it’s just my imagination (and it’s not the image of Roger I want to have), but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, is it?

If Federer did indeed attempt to tank his match against Del Potro, even just a little, then I suppose you could say karma struck back.  With 12 straight victories against Davydenko, you could be forgiven for thinking the match was in the bag.  Who would have thought Davydenko would finally get him on try number lucky 13?

Del Potro downs Federer in US Open Final!

September 15, 2009 in Tennis

Del Potro wins the 2009 US Open!

Del Potro wins the 2009 US Open!

In one of the more exciting US Open Finals in recent memory, 20-year-old Juan Martin Del Potro dethroned 5-time defending champion Roger Federer- in 5 sets, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. The win marked Del Potro’s first ever Grand Slam title, and denied Federer his 6th consecutive US Open title, his 41st consecutive win at the US Open, and his 16th career Grand Slam title.

Personally, I think few people expected Del Potro to win.  Federer had never lost to anyone other than Nadal (disposed of by Del Potro in the semis) in a Grand Slam final and had never lost to Del Potro in 6 previous matches.  However, the agile 6-6 giant was able to keep his composure despite being down 1 set to love and 2 sets to 1, and rallied down the stretch for a memorable victory.  The win is certainly great for tennis and marks the official arrival of Del Potro into tennis superstardom.  He definitely has the size, talent and potential to be a multiple GS winner, so let’s hope the young Argentine can keep his head on straight and excite us for many more years to come.

Wrapping up a fantastic year in tennis

What a weird, fantastic and memorable year this has been in tennis!  It started off with Nadal capturing the Australian Open in January over Federer, with the latter reduced to a sobbing wreck at the presentation ceremony.  Most believed at the time that it signalled the end of Federer’s dominance of men’s tennis and some suggested that he’d never win another Grand Slam.

Then what do you know, Nadal gets bounced in the French Open unexpectedly by Robin Soderling, and Federer delivers in the final to win his first ever French Open, adding the last trophy missing in his cabinet and tying Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slams.

Next, Nadal shockingly pulls out of Wimbledon due to injury, and Federer battles a rejuvenated Andy Roddick in another epic 5-set Wimbledon Final.  Federer wins his record-breaking 15th career Grand Slam, and ends up in a position no one thought he would be in after the Australian Open.  Guys like Djokovic and Murray keep hanging around but they never seem to have it when it comes to the Grand Slams.

And finally now, Del Potro spoils the end of what would have a fairy-tale year for Federer by coming from behind to snatch the US Open from his grasp!  Who could have imagined all this drama at the start of the season?

ATP World Tennis

The end-of-year event is now called Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

So now men’s tennis heads into a period of uncertainty.  Will Roger finally start to lose his edge in Grand Slams?  Will Nadal ever be the same again after his injury woes?  Can Djokovic be a serious Grand Slam threat again or just consistently good?  Will Roddick ever recapture his Wimbledon final form and win his second Grand Slam?  Is Del Potro for real or a one-slam wonder?  Can the young guns like Soderling, Tsonga, Simon and Monfils break through and win a major?  And will Andy Murray ever win anything?

Bring on the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (the heck?) and 2010!

Doubting Federer in the French Open Final (2009)

June 6, 2009 in Tennis

Roger-Federer-002

Tomorrow afternoon, Roger Federer will face Robin Soderling in the French Open Final.

For once, the guy that beat him in the 3 previous finals (and the semi-final before that), Rafael Nadal, won’t be there (and he’s also dropped out of Queens and may now miss Wimbledon!).

But does this mean Roger will finally get his hands on that last remaining piece of silverware missing from his trophy cabinet and complete the career Grand Slam?  Does it mean he will finally tie Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles and be regarded as the undisputed greatest player of all time?

Not so fast.

I for one would love to see Roger hoist that trophy tomorrow.  And judging from the way the Parisian crowd has treated him the last couple of weeks, so would the French public.  Roger’s run to the French Open Final this year seems like a fairytale.  Almost too perfect, too dramatic, too good to be true.  Too much like destiny.

Think about it.  He had lost the 3 previous French Open finals against Nadal, not to mention last year’s Wimbledon Final and this year’s Australian Open Final.  He was a player in decline, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ready to pounce on his number 2 ranking and getting the best of him in their last few encounters.  Even though he beat a weary Nadal in the Rome Masters leading up to the French Open, he was considered an outside chance at best by most, and the majority of experts and commentators had already written him off.

He then goes about winning the first round in straight sets, but struggles in the second, winning in 4 but 2 of the sets were tiebreakers.  In the third round, he loses the first set but then rallies to win the next 3.  He’s getting through but hardly in dominating fashion.  Meanwhile, Djokovic, a guy who almost beat Nadal in Rome, is shockingly defeated.

And in the fourth round, the whole world turned upside-down.  Nadal bows out, changing the landscape for everyone, especially Roger.  If he’s ever going to win, it’s going to be now, people said.  And what happens next?  He falls down 2 sets to love against Tommy Haas, a guy he rarely ever has trouble with.  Just when it looked like Federer was about to crumble under the weight of new expectations, he roars back to win the match from the brink of elimination.

Next, in the quarterfinals, his next biggest threat, Andy Murray, is ousted.  Federer plays Gael Monfils, a guy who had been playing great tennis (and I thought would beat the seemingly unstable Roger).  The French crowd, instead of supporting local player Monfils, were actually on Federer’s side, rallying him to a straight sets victory.  Things were starting to get a little eerie.

But then it got downright scary.  I was convinced that Juan Martin Del Potro, the fifth seed and a guy who had never beaten Federer, would finally get him this time.  Things were just too good to be true.  Roger falls down 2 sets to 1, then once again, against all odds, like a Hollywood script (and an unrealistic one at that), storms back to claim the final 2 sets.  On the other side of the draw, it was only fitting that the guy who dethroned Nadal, Mr Soderling, would come through against Fernando Gonzalez, also in 5 riveting sets.

If you had told anyone that this would happen before the tournament began – that Federer would be facing some relative unknown who beat Nadal, in the final, after overcoming all odds including 2 come-from-behind 5-setters – they would have said you were crazy.  You couldn’t have dreamed of such a perfectly dramatic scenario even if you tried.  And yet, tomorrow afternoon, fantasy becomes reality.

Can Roger Federer fulfil what seems frighteningly like destiny?  Will he be coming this far, only to crash back down to earth again?  Normally, I would say all the warning signs are there.  The lead-up to the final was just too perfect, too scripted, too unbelievable.  Usually when things are like this it never turns out the way we want it to.  But after doubting Roger in the previous 2 rounds, I’m starting to believe in destiny too.