Thursday, April 3, 2014

Topsy Turvy at the Top of Men's Tennis

The state of utter confusion at the helm of Men's tennis. No Stan Wawrinka is not the World No.1 and David Ferrer is not beating the shit out of Rafael Nadal, yet there is a lot of cat and mouse chase and games happening at the top. With one Grand Slam down and US hard court swing dusted, lots have happened that will define the clay play. 

Let's first feel for the Brit who arrived as the Messiah for Grand Slam thirsty British Men's Tennis and ended the epic draught since almost the dinosaur era. Thanks to Ivan Lendl. Andy Murray got a back surgery at the end of last year and was just planning to make a solid run against the top opponents when Lendl decided to leave. Shocking and breaking. This was one of the most rewarding player-coach relation recently and it's sad to see this happen. Andy has now slipped to 8th in the rankings and the climb without Lendl will undoubtedly put a stress on his already hurting back. No titles so far this year for Muzz and with clay around not much hope for the recent future.

Yet Andy is fit and playing on the tour and that could be a bigger blessing than anything else if you look only as far a Juan Martin Del Potro. 2009 US Open Champion - blasting away Nadal and Federer in consecutive matches - the next big thing - lost 2010 to a wrist injury and is out again for the same surgery in his other hand. Poor thing. Just to say that he being in the mix makes things much more exciting than otherwise. Wishing him luck, hope he returns sooner than later.

The breakthrough of Stan Wawrinka in the ranks of Grand Slam title holders was credited to the back spasm of Rafael 'chasing his 14th crown' Nadal. Those who have seen the first set and a half of that Final will give him a bit more credit. Unsurprisingly, great endeavours can easily lead to lethargy and slump. At the US Hard Courts Stan wasn't the same man as he was down under. He is the No.1 Swiss player now which is a lot to say while a certain 'RF' is still hanging around. Stan has to be hungry again and up his mojo if he wants to even stay where he is.

With that, let's talk about a happy go lucky man who also happens to be 'a legend already from some time'. Yes the ageing, declining, losing his GOAT status to a Spanish bull - Federer. What makes him so 'happy go lucky' if he isn't what he once was. Fit again at almost 33, the back problems of last year gone, a new stick working better and a new coach, a childhood idol sitting in the box. To top that, two 4 year old twin daughters and a once again expecting wife can be also be seen when he plays. With virtually a lot less points to defend this year than usual, an upward climb is what many are expecting. From slipping to 8th and returning to top four post AO, not bad. Still Fed beating Nole to grab an ATP 500 was a tad bit soured for him by losing to Nole in ATP 1000 Final and surrendering a comfortable lead to Kei Nishikori in another. He is better than last year but not until Grass should we come to expect anything really remarkable, if at all. Except for Kryptonite Rafa, Fed can run deep into the clay season as well.

That brings us to our beloved top two seeds Rafa and Nole who are so like Tom and Jerry for some time now. Just as we see and assume one player dominating the other, we also see the other turning on the tables and bounce back from the dead. Rafa rampaged last year, torn down Nole's dream of winning at French clay, beat him hands down at his favoured US Open hard courts, snatched the No. 1 ranking from him and it seemed Rafa had solved Nole. The ugly memories of 7 consecutive losses to Novak and the potential threat to clay dominance seemed like another lifetime. Rafa has found the solution to Djokovic's most dangerous weapon against him - the backhand down the line - with his own forehand bullets down the line. And just when that seemed enough, Djokovic - having lost all (metaphorically) - shed all his inhibitions and came out on top of Nadal in Beijing, World Tour Finals and Miami. That and that too in straight sets. 

This time Djokovic is targeting Nadal's forehand rather than the presumably weaker backhand. From the famed backhand down the line, its his backhand cross court that is hurting Nadal the most. Why so? Because Nadal stands closer to his backhand side to cover his slightly weaker shot and count himself to run down the forehands. Nole has thus ripped his cross court backhand, depriving Rafa of a split second and deriving errors from Nadal's long swing forehand. 

With the trusted Marian Vajda in Djokovic's box he seems an assured player. The world is still wondering the reason of why they have to bear the sight of a grumpy, stuffed, more nervous than Nole himself - Boris 'the not so booming or beaming' Baker. How long we'll see! The Bull from Spain however still has the ever trusted, eternally aligned, the 'we' speaking Uncle Toni at his box but it's his game which hasn't been top notch. With even the organizers of Australian Open expecting him to grab his 14th GS and Pete Sampras flying all the way across the globe to do the honours, that loss (for whatever reason) must have hurt. While some would say he hasn't recovered physically from AO'14 but that seemingly is a lame argument. The next however is clay, and we all know who rules the roost there. The Greatest Clay Courter of All Time has some match-up issues to resolve but the red dirt is the perfect setting he can expect to turn the tables again.

*FACT: Match-ups mean a lot in Tennis. While Nadal easily scrapes aside Federer (on any surface these days), Nole gives him a terrible time. While a confident Novak can beat a confident Nadal more comfortably than a confident Federer - we know it's not just about who is a better player. While Nadal can exploit Federer's backhand as he wishes, no other player has been able to take much advantage of that. Djokovic's backhand doesn't hurt Federer as much as it hurts Nadal and Murray would be much happy to see Novak on the other side any day over Nadal.

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