Grigor Dimitrov Gave Nadal All He Could Handle - UBITENNIS
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Grigor Dimitrov Gave Nadal All He Could Handle

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Grigor Dimitrov celebrates winning the fourth set in his semifinal match against Rafael Nadal on day 12 of the 2017 Australian Open (source: Jack Thomas/zimbio.com)

Rafa Nadal is back for at least awhile.
Grigor Dimitrov almost surprisingly gave Nadal all he could handle in the Australian Open semifinals. Dimitrov played well enough to have won this match, even if vintage Nadal did show up to save Rafa late in the fifth set.
Dimitrov may be the next Novak Djokovic. He has firepower coming from every direction to go along with his Novak-like movement. He may even be quicker and stronger than Novak.

DIMITROV DROVE NADAL OFF COURT WITH HIS POWER
Dimitrov practically drove Nadal off the court with his thundering forehands, backhands and serves, not to mention his athletic ability. At times, the Bulgarian seemed to almost bully Nadal around the court with his power and athletic ability.

Dimitrov always appeared to have a weapon in reserve, whether a powerful or a twisting serve that took Rafa off the court, or powerful forehands and backhands to all corners.
Nadal did what he does best. He never quit, even at times when his plight appeared to be almost hopeless. But that’s Rafa.

His forehand might not be as deadly or as accurate as it once was, but Nadal was able to come up with enough big points to earn his way into his 21 major final with his 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 conquest of the 25-year-old Dimitrov.

The problem with the forehand might be solved if Nadal can defeat Federer. The forehand is there. It’s just a matter of confidence.

HELP MAY HAVE SAVED NADAL DOWN UNDER
Nadal probably is lucky that someone else took care of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic, leaving only his old pal Roger Federer between him and a 15th Grand Slam title that would make Nadal the only double career Grand Slam holder in the open era of tennis.

I don’t know if Nadal could handle any of the younger trio of Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka — at least, maybe not this early in his return from a wrist injury.

But Federer? If the past holds up, Nadal will be just fine physically and otherwise in Sunday night’s final, even after his five-hour struggle with Dimitrov.

FEDERER’S ONLY WINS OVER NADAL IN MAJOR FINALS CAME AT WIMBLEDON
Nadal has practically owned Federer from the very beginning and has defeated Federer in their last four meetings in Grand Slam finals. Federer’s only two victories over Nadal in their eight previous head-to-head major finals came on the grass of Wimbledon where Federer felt so at home.

Although Nadal is 30 years old now, he may still have a few Grand Slam titles left in him, that is, if he can get the kind of outside help he had Down Under the last two weeks. True, he’s not quite as quick and relentless as he was before a string of injuries limited his time on the tour, but Nadal may actually be serving better these days, at least, late in the fifth set and the entire first set as well as some other key moments.

And, of course, Rafa is still humble and a refreshing entity in a Grand Slam final.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at
http://www.postandcourier.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=search&text=james+beck&facet.filter=&facet.filter=&sortbydate=1

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Editorial

Is Marin Cilic The Biggest Loser At The ATP Finals?

Ubitennis analyses the performance of the 30-year-old heading into the season-ending finale.

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Monday at The O2 Arena was an all too familiar situation for former US Open champion Marin Cilic. Taking on Germany’s Alexander Zverev, he lead by 5-3 before eventually losing in straight sets.

At a glimpse, it could be argued that the outcome wasn’t significant considering he was taking on the world No.5 at an event dubbed the fifth grand slam of men’s tennis. However, a closer analysis of Cilic’s last 10 losses on the tour identifies an interesting, as well as worrying, trend developing.

It all started at this year’s Wimbledon championships. Taking on Guido Pella in the second round, Cilic was the overwhelming favourite to win and lead the match by two sets. Winning 12 out of the first 15 games played against the Argentine before rain halted play. Despite the lead, Cilic ended up crashing out in five sets in what was his worst result at the tournament since 2013.

“I was not as accurate. I was just missing some balls, some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back.” He commented after that match.

Since Wimbledon, Cilic has gone on to suffer nine losses on the tour. In most of which he either lead the match or had match points. His opponents have ranged from grand slam champions Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, to Jan-Lennard Struff.

“I feel with my game that I need to be more stubborn, a little bit more consistent when having also a lead,” Cilic told reporters in London earlier this week.
“Maybe I drop my focus a bit. That gives an opportunity for the player to come back. It’s not easy for just mentally as well, working for it and creating chances and then dropping them, so its up-and-down with the emotions.”

Cilic’s last 10 losses

  • Had a two-set lead against Pella (Wimbledon)
  • Lead Nadal by a set (Toronto)
  • Took Djokovic to three sets (Cincinnati)
  • Lead Kei Nishikori by a set and 4-2 (US Open)
  • Lead Struff by 4-2 in the deciding set (Tokyo)
  • Had match points against Nicolas Jarry (Shanghai)
  • Had set points against Marius Copil (Basel)
  • Lead Djokovic by a break in the final set (Paris)
  • Had an initial 5-3 lead over Zverev (London)

Nightmares At The O2

The irony in Cilic’s losses is that it leads up to one of his weakest tournaments in terms of wins. This year is his fourth appearance at the ATP Finals. Overall, he has only managed to win one out of 10 matches at the event. That was against Nishikori back in 2016.

I know the score. Having another match with chances and not taking them. That’s something that I’m not happy about. Cilic commented about his record following his loss to Zverev. “Also, last year, it happened a couple of times. And the year before that. So, against top guys like this, it hits me back.
“It’s not the best thing that I’m doing, creating opportunities and having most of the time leads in the match and then I drop them. So, that’s what I need to just get better at.”

Despite the results, the 30-year-old is refusing to let it hinder his motivation. During his career, Cilic has won a total of 18 ATP titles. He is also the highest earning Croatian player in ATP history (in terms of prize money) with more than $25 million. Overall, he is 10th on the all-time list.

“It’s not easy also to come back again and push yourself. But, you know, that’s also part of the game. And looking forward to the next two matches in the group. Hopefully, I can build upon this match and that I can play better.”

So is he the worst in London?

Marin Cilic at The 2018 Fever-Tree Championships (photo by Alberto Pezzali )

It can be difficult to deem a player the worst in the tournament because it depends on the measure. For example, John Isner might be classed as the strongest server, but not the best returner. One measure that helps to draw a conclusion is the Infosys ranking system that is done in partnership with the ATP. Which oversee the leaderboards of these three categories:-

  • Serve leaders (four service metrics percentages + average number of aces per match – average number of double faults per match)
  • Return leaders (winning percentage in the four service return categories added together)
  • Under pressure leaders (percentage of break points converted and saved + percentage of tie-breaks won + percentage of deciding sets won).

Based on the past 52 weeks, Cilic is the worst player in the Under Pressure category among those participating in this week’s ATP Finals. He is the only player ranked outside of the top 40 at 45th. On the other hand, he fares better in the other two categories. He has a better rating than Isner and Kevin Anderson in Returns (overall rank 39th), and has the fourth highest score when it comes to serving (10th on the tour).

It is easy to blast the former grand slam winner, but awknoledgement should also be given to his achievements in 2018. Including winning The Fever-Tree Championships in London (Queen’s), finishing runner-up at the Australian Open and reaching the semifinals at three other tournaments. He also achieved a career ranking high of third in January.

Cilic will play Isner in his second match at the ATP Finals on Wednesday.

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Editorial

Who Will Stop Novak Djokovic?

The Serb dominated this year’s US Open dropping only a couple of sets in the early rounds. With Djokovic at 14 and Nadal at 17, Novak is now closing in on the Spaniard in the all-time list of Grand Slam champions.

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Flushing Meadows – Novak Djokovic captured his 14th Grand Slam title on Sunday in New York equaling the great Pete Sampras in the all-time list of major champions. When Sampras won his 14th title in 2002, at the time his record was so astonishing that it seemed impossible for anybody to match it, let alone surpass it. Fast forward to 2018 and you will find Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles, Rafael Nadal with 17 and Novak Djokovic with 14 in a truly Golden Era for men’s tennis.

Djokovic only dropped two sets on his way to his third US Open title: The first to Fucsovics and the second to Sandgren in the early rounds, when the players had to deal with atrocious playing conditions caused by a brutal heat wave. In the following five matches, Novak dominated the field in extraordinary fashion, solidifying his position at the top of the game.

After struggling for more than a year with an elbow injury, Djokovic is now back to his best level. He is the top player that can better adjust his game to all of the different playing surfaces, winning six titles on the Australian hard courts, three on the American hard courts, one on the French red clay and four on the Wimbledon grass.

Djokovic’s game is certainly less elegant than Federer’s or less muscular than Nadal’s, but it is probably more complete and solid. While Novak’s passion and emotions often show his human side, he is also capable of shifting gear to automatic pilot mode that allows him to make zero mistakes even against four or five consecutive forehand bombs by Juan Martin del Potro.

In the first set of yesterday’s final, Nole was tactically perfect. He kept targeting del Potro’s backhand with pinpoint accuracy and as soon as the Argentine dropped the ball short, Novak jumped on top of it and forced his opponent to hit improbable low percentage passing shots from way far back in the court. It was a pattern that Djokovic successfully used at least ten times in the match. The Serb also showed that he wasn’t afraid to engage in cross-court rallies against del Potro’s forehand. The Argentine is usually lethal from the center or left side of the court, but he is less effective when he has to go cross-court. As a result, it was Juan Martin that hit his forehand into the net more often than Novak.

After Djokovic comfortably won the first set, the patterns of play were clear: Del Potro had to hit four or five consecutive monster forehands to break down Djokovic’s defense and win the point. Such incredibly difficult task forced del Potro to over-hit and miss too many shots.

The “Tower of Tandil” showed tremendous pride when he tried to level the match with an unbelievable second set, setting Arthur Ashe Stadium on fire and taking advantage of a few nerves that started to creep in Djokovic’s game. Despite del Potro’s efforts, the Serb managed to close out the 1 hour and 35 minutes set in an enthralling tie-breaker.

Novak went up a break at the beginning of the third set, but del Potro never gave up and managed to break right back. At that point, Djokovic took control of the match and never looked back. 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 was the final score in Djokovic’s favor after 3 hours and 16 minutes of play.

“I played to my limits for almost the entire match, trying to hit winners with both the forehand and backhand, but Nole was always everywhere. He’s a great champion, I am very happy for him,” an extremely sad Juan Martin del Potro said in his post-match press conference.

After capturing two of the four Grand Slams, Novak Djokovic is now the player of the year, despite the fact that he had a shaky start in the early months due to this elbow injury and inactivity. He is now ranked No. 3 behind Nadal and Federer, but if he plays well in Asia and at the ATP Finals, he will have the chance to finish the year as the world No. 1.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global, www.t-lglobal.com )

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Editorial

From Serena’s Meltdown To Kyrgios’ Pep Talk – 10 US Open Break Points

These are the topics worth further discussion following the 2018 tournament.

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The past two weeks of the US Open will forever be remembered, but not all of it will be for a good reason. Arguments over shirt changes, umpire rulings and tournament rules at times overshadowed the brilliant performance by some players. Now the tournament has concluded with Novak Djokovic winning the men’s trophy, there remains a series of issues that needs to be addressed. 

1) In a surreal women’s final, Serena Williams and Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos both handled the situation remarkably poorly

Nowadays, it’s commonplace for people to choose one side in a debate, vehemently defend it, and refuse to look for common ground. But in most situations, many shades of grey exist, which is certainly true in the debacle that was the women’s singles championship match. Let’s begin with the code violation for illegal coaching, which was completely valid. Patrick Mouratoglou admitted he was coaching to ESPN’s Pam Shriver after the match. His excuse was that “everybody does it” and nobody gets called for it. But as Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel in the US, the “everybody does it” excuse is never a good one. Patrick cited Toni Nadal not being called for his constant illegal coaching of Rafa over the years, but actually Nadal has received code violations for illegal coaching in the past. As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times pointed out, even Carlos Ramos himself has made this call against Nadal before.

Serena completely overreacted to this, launching into multiple diatribes throughout the rest of the second set about how she’s not a cheater. But this violation was called on her coach, not on her. And while it doesn’t matter if she saw the hand signals from Mouratoglou for the sake of the violation, I don’t buy the argument that she didn’t see it. How would she know to excuse the hand signals as a thumbs up if she didn’t see him? Serena’s had to overcome more sexism and racism during her career than I could ever begin to grasp, so her offensive-minded defense is understandable. But in the context of the match, all it did was escalate the situation, which served to distract herself and take away from Naomi Osaka’s victory.

The third code violation is where the match really spiraled into utter chaos, which the chair umpire cannot allow to occur. Yes, Serena was verbally abusive towards Ramos. Calling him a liar and a thief does qualify as verbal abuse accordingly to the rulebook. And I’m all for chair umpires taking less abuse from players, and asserting more authority. But this was not the time to make that point. This was a situation that called for more discretion from Carlos Ramos. Awarding a game to Osaka in such an important match, with history on the line, was unnecessary. He should have given her further warnings or involved the tournament officials to help diffuse the situation before resorting to a game penalty. After this third code violation was called, I kept waiting to see a replay of Serena saying something worse to Ramos, but such audio never surfaced.

Was sexism at play? That’s a fair claim, as there’s certainly still plenty of double standards in tennis. And as Patrick McEnroe of ESPN highlighted, a male player likely would have been treated differently in this situation. But Serena fully lost her composure, as we’ve seen many times before on the same court. She was more concerned with voicing how unfairly she felt she was being treated than winning a tennis match. Those complaints should have been curtailed and continued after the match. Serena repeatedly demanded an apology from Ramos for damaging her character. I suggest both Ramos and Serena owe Osaka an apology for ruining what should have been her moment.

2) Full credit to Serena for saving the trophy presentation

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When the fans began to boo at the mere announcement of the trophy presentation, I cringed for what was ahead. Thankfully, Serena stepped up and told the crowd to stop booing, and that Naomi is a deserving champion. The crowd followed Serena’s lead, and cheered the awarding of the trophy to Osaka. That could not have been an easy speech for Serena to give, but her gracious words here were spot on.

3) Naomi Osaka is an incredibly deserving and likeable champion

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What a delight Naomi has been this year, especially with her endearing honesty during her post-match words at Indian Wells and during this fortnight. It’s a shame we’ll never know if she would have finished off Serena in the final without all the hoopla. However, she was thoroughly in control of the biggest match of her career before the mayhem erupted, and against the greatest women’s singles player of all-time. Luckily, she likely has many more Major titles in her future where she’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy her triumphs.

4) This unfortunate situation should not be used to change the coaching rules

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On-court and mid-match coaching have been creeping their way into tennis in recent years. Following Saturday’s incident, some are now calling for the coaching ban to be done away with. Billie Jean King tweeted, “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis.” In a press release, WTA CEO Steve Simon also called for coaching to be allowed during a match at all tournaments. I vehemently disagree: please don’t let this happen. The lack of coaching during a match is what makes tennis unique. You’re out there without teammates and without a coach, and need to figure things out on your own. It’s revealing of character, and adds to the drama of the sport. Instead of eliminating the coaching rule, let’s more heavily and equally enforce it. Yes, it happens often without being called, and some umpires call it out more than others. But it’s also impossible for chair umpires to keep their eyes on both players’ coaching boxes at all times with everything else they have to watch on the court. Let’s have an official watch both players’ boxes to monitor illegal coaching. I’m sure electronic line calling is just a few years away, so this could be a good use of line judges who will be otherwise out of a job. And overall, this entire situation should lead to a review of how we can make the rules in tennis less ambiguous and simpler for all to understand.

5) Mohamed Lahyani crossed the line in encouraging Nick Kyrgios to compete

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In another case of good umpires making bad decisions, Lahyani stepped down from his chair to motivate Nick Kyrgios during his second round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Kyrgios was down a set and a break to the Frenchman, and was again displaying a lack of effort on-court. But it is not the chair umpire’s place to impel a player to try their best. Following this inappropriate pep talk, the match completely turned around, with Kyrgios winning in four sets. By all accounts, Lahyana is an extremely well-liked and respected umpire. I myself enjoy seeing him in the chair, as I enjoy his signature score and line calls. But this simply cannot happen. And no matter how much goodwill a chair umpire has earned, an infraction like this is deserving of punishment in some form.

6) Alize Cornet should be allowed to change her shirt on-court

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Geez, it was a rough tournament for the chair umpires. Alize Cornet returned to the court from a heat break only to realize she had put her shirt on backwards. Instead of asking to return to the bathroom to turn it around, she quickly took it off on-court and put it on the right way. Chair Umpire Christian Rask cited Cornet for a code violation, as the USTA rulebook states this is not allowed. The double standard here was quickly highlighted by many, as male players take their shirt off on the court all the time. And in the year 2018, we really can’t be offended by seeing a woman in a sports bra, can we? Fortunately common sense prevailed here, and this rule will be expunged.

7) Rafael Nadal will not win another hard court Major

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Some will consider this opinion too bold, but hear me out. Over the past 12 months, Nadal has retired or withdrawn from nine of the 12 hard court tournaments he’s entered. And with his knees acting up again at this tournament, I doubt we’ll see him play much during the rest of 2018, with all remaining tournaments played on hard courts. I realize he won the US Open just one year ago, but he really wasn’t tested in that event, and only had one match early in the tournament that lasted more than three hours. And yes, he won the Rogers Cup earlier this summer, but that’s a best-of-three set event. Nadal’s knee pain on hard courts has become a troubling pattern, to the point where I expect he’ll soon pull a reverse-Federer in managing his schedule. If this pattern continues, he may focus the majority of his efforts on the clay court season, and perhaps the short grass court season, where his knees take less punishment.

8) For goodness sake, use the roofs for more than just protection from the rain

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As someone who attended the Open this year, I can attest to how brutal the heat and humidity were on many days. Even sitting still while watching a match in the evening was terribly uncomfortable, especially in Arthur Ashe Stadium where there was almost no air circulation. And beyond the discomfort of the fans, the quality of tennis on the hottest days suffered significantly. The US Open has two courts with roofs now, and those roofs should be closed on severely hot days. As Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel, these rising temperatures are the new normal, and not a one-time fluke. For the sake of the players, for the sake of the officials, and for the sake of the fans, let’s make the sensible decision here before someone’s health is seriously jeopardized.

9) The serve clock is not speeding up play. Actually, it’s slowing play down

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As I feared, the 25-second serve clock that’s been utilized during the US Open Series has not fully served its purpose. I applaud the effort to be transparent in calling time violations, but the result of the visible on-court clock has been many players watching the clock count down and not serving until it almost expires. In the past, these players wouldn’t be aware of how much time they had left, and wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting the full 25 seconds to hit their serve. The worst offenders of this during this tournament were Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, who consistently kept their eyes on the winding-down clock. Now I’m not suggesting the removal of the serve clock, but rather some adjustments to this new innovation. The clock should be started with 20 seconds rather than 25 in an effort to further expedite matters. And while chair umpires have exercised good discretion in most cases as to when to start and pause the serve clock, there’s still too much discretion to be exercised here. Let’s make more specific rules as to when the clock should begin, and when the clock should be paused, to align enforcement amongst umpires.

10) The bathroom breaks have gotten entirely out of control

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I lost count of how many times during this fortnight the player who lost a set initiated a bathroom break in between sets. This amounts to a self-imposed timeout, and is being used as gamesmanship to disrupt the flow of a match that’s not going their way. And apparently there’s no enforced limit as to the length of these bathroom timeouts, as they can easily last up to 10 minutes. Both men and women are utilizing this tactic, and it needs to stop. Let’s make use of the new serve clock, and use it for bathroom breaks. Give players three minutes to leave the court and return ready to play. If they go over the time limit, start with a warning, and then deduct a point for every 30 seconds thereafter. I assure you the prolonged bathroom breaks will quickly become a thing of the past.

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