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Observations In The Arena — Scenes From An ATP Finals Weekend

Skip Schwarzman

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Skip Schwarzman

Friday’s matches weren’t particularly compelling – which is not a requirement of sport but vital to even mildly readable journalism – so between that and plans for the pub on Friday night, there was little reason or opportunity to write a standalone journal entry on Friday.

I will say, however, that tennis does itself proud by the tradition of having young children accompany the pros out onto court for matches. The kids are always glowing with such unbridled joy that it looks as though they’re about to burst. Full marks to both tours for this — it’s as good an example as there is of doing good for no reason other than to make someone else happy, and in this case the beneficiaries are children. That’s as good as it gets.

Both of Friday’s day matches, which is what we saw, were of the Bauhaus sort; form followed function. Or, as an alternative, think of architectural brutalism; get the point won in the quickest, simplest, most direct way possible, and if you failed in one attempt then rinse and repeat. Do it again until you get enough points to take the game or set: big serves, big returns, and especially in the doubles, big volleys. Just big, big, big.

In the doubles it was Marcelo Melo-Lukasz Kubot versus Oliver Marach-Mate Pavic.

The singles was John Isner against Alexander Zverev.

Not surprisingly the Isner-Zverev match didn’t feature too much nuance. Both of them were raining down aces (18 for Zverev and 10 for Isner) and unreturnable serves. At one point the O2 staff seemed to have decided not to flash the lights after every ace, which is what it otherwise did. We assumed it was because there were just so many aces occurring they didn’t want to blind the audience. Serving at set point out, Zverev hit an ace to the outside in the ad court, at 143! It was like watching someone gonging a bell with a sledgehammer at a carny: not a lot of narrative or tension leading up to the effort, just 1-2-3-BOOM, repeated over and over. Interesting, impressive, but not edge-of-your-seat gripping stuff.

Isner’s game dropped a bit, especially his serve (surprise!), and he blinked.  Zverev pounced, took the one break point he earned all afternoon, and won 7-6, 6-3. For Zverev, a win is a win, beauty not required. For Isner: Live by the serve, die by the serve.

— General comment on doubles: Friday, James announced that he was rooting for Melo-Kubot because their outfits were at least the same color. Yes, my personal bugaboo surfaced again: Why aren’t doubles teams required to at least wear the same colors? Someone at the ATP should be tasked with writing an essay on how team uniforms work in other sports. On Saturday our collective vote went to Herbert-Mahut. Earlier Mike Bryan wore a navy top while Jack Sock wore red – that’s bad. Murray-Soares were in the same dark color, but not the same clothing company – that’s acceptable. Cabal-Farah had matching kits, so 100 percent to them, but Herbert-Mahut had matching sweatbands and sneakers; bingo, the proverbial but otherwise impossible 110 percent! Plus, how can you not root for Nicolas Mahut?

Jamie Murray-Bruno Soares vs. Mike Bryan-Jack Sock

— Jack Sock’s forehand is a nuclear rocket on steroids. Murray-Soares avoided it at all costs, and it’s easy to understand why. Sock didn’t make every forehand, but the odds of him opening up the point or hitting a winner were pretty high. On the other hand, he launched a missile at Murray, who managed to mishit it (the best he could do, really). It dribbled over the net. A dirty little secret of volleying: When you’re up front, the ball doesn’t have to travel very far to land in court.

— I get nationalism, properly applied, and understand unqualified support for your favorite team. But calling out, “How about a double fault?”, to Mike Bryan, as one nob in the audience did, is just not okay. The crowd was about to lynch the guy. (This was far different than the night crowd – more about that later.)

— Serving at 3-4 in the second set and down 0-40, Mike Bryan put in four first serves and escaped. Now there is a lesson for every single tennis player all around the world.

— Having said the above, it helps to have Jack Sock as your doubles partner. The guy has fabulous hands (they all do on this court, to be fair), and is super seriously fast on his feet. It’s weird how doubles might have saved his emotional well-being in 2018, given his well-recorded tribulations in singles. I’m not the first to make that comment, by the way. Even he suggested as much in the postmatch interview.

— While avoiding Sock’s forehand, it’s pretty obvious Murray and Soares were targeting Mike Bryan’s forehand. With his brother, Bob, with whom Mike plays the ad court, it’s a crosscourt powerhouse to be avoided. But with Sock, who plays the ad court in this pairing, daring other teams to find his backhand, Mike Bryan’s forehand simply doesn’t present the same danger from the outside.

— An interesting twist of the rules: Bryan served (to Soares?). The serve was a let and called out. Soares hit it back, reflexively, and as it went by Bryan in the air he reached out and knocked it aside with his hand. But wait, was the serve really in? Bryan-Sock can’t challenge, since if the ball was in play Bryan would lose the point for having touched the ball. Weird.

— In the match tiebreak, both teams reversed their serving order, having Murray and Sock serve first for both teams when the normal rotation would have been Soares and Bryan. I’m not sure what that says about both teams’ views of their serving – it could be argued that they put their best servers first, or kept them for the second two-serve combo – but it was a noticeable strategy chosen by both teams, oddly.

— Bryan-Sock came through, losing the second set but taking the match tiebreak. As Graham said of the Murray-Soares performance in the second set, “If you can’t win one out of seven break points you might not deserve the win.”

— Maybe it’s modern day tennis heresy, but I say that by the semis the doubles teams should be playing a full three-set match and dumping the match tiebreak. There’s enough time, no “128” draw’s worth of matches to schedule, and the drama is lengthened while chances of a team grabbing a match by getting a hot hand for a few points is avoided. Call me old-fashioned.

Roger Federer vs. Alexander Zverev

— The O2 has been running a contest, such as it is, urging the crowds to cheer loudly and be crowned the loudest crowd of the week thanks to a decibel monitor the tournament puts up on the giant scoreboard. Up until Saturday afternoon’s match it hadn’t cracked 99 dB. Federer is announced on court. The meter hits 105.

That’s got to hurt Zverev. Poor guy has to play Federer and 10,000 fans. Lendl’s going to have to cheer really loudly.

— The head-to-head for these two doesn’t give much indication about what will happen. Fed leads 3-2, not a big margin, and the last combat between them was here at the O2 a year ago, when Federer won in three.

— There’s not much between them as the match starts. Zverev, notably, was coming in to net more than he probably had in the past seven months; 3 out of the 5 points in the 2-2 game. It’s ironic that he’s doing that now, with Lendl in his corner, of all people. But it’s effective. The kid has solid volleying skills. (And he’s still only 21 [!], so I get to call him “kid.”)

— Zverev was trying to punish the ball, Federer was replying in kind, though primarily at the same or lesser pace, not ramping it up in his ripostes, while throwing in a good assortment of off-speed balls and a drop shot or two.

“Just because you want to go hammer-and-tong doesn’t mean I have to play that way.”

Twice, early in the first set, Sasha came in and Fed sliced soft backhands low to the German’s forehand, eliciting errors each time. Sneaky and effective.

— Following on my comment above, the crowd groaned with every Federer mistake or missed opportunity.

— 5-all in the first set, Fed’s game dropped two percent as Zverev’s improved by two percent. Result: Zverev got the break and the first set. Those two-percent shifts for each, in different directions, were all it took.

— Federer broke to open the second set. The crowd went wild. 105 dB again. His service stats for the first set weren’t stellar. It looked as though he was taking something off his firsts to bring up the average and deprive Zverev of a look at second serves. Serving at three-fourths pace, he puts in a 93-mph kick first serve and wins the point. Clearly he knows a thing or two about playing tennis.

— The German broke back, however, and the second set went much as the first. There is the episode with Zverev halting play midway through a key point in the tiebreak, having seen a ball kid drop a ball and move to pick it up. No one was sure what happened at first, and the umpire, Carlos Benardes, explained afterward as he said to replay the point.

It’s worth noting that Zverev hit a forehand to return the ball Federer had hit to him and then put up his hand, and that the ball kid was behind Federer, right down Zverev’s forehand sideline. The distraction was legitimate, if not obvious to the crowd or Federer.

— Federer played close to Zverev all match, but never really hit any kind of stride. He had no break points in the first set, failed to defend the only break point against him, and in general was never playing with his nose truly out front. The tournament’s site isn’t listing unforced errors, but Federer probably doesn’t want to see that number. It can’t be good. The German, on the other hand, was the braver player, going for his shots (and yeah, making them), serving well, and moving out of his comfort zone to attack the net.

Yes, Federer botched a simple forehand volley in the second-set tiebreaker to hand the mini-break to Zverev, but his play had been spotty enough that taking the “W” would have been a matter of scratching out the win unless things changed radically. Would that have mattered? No, a win is a win. But it didn’t seem to be in the cards.

— About the booing Zverev received during the on-court postmatch interview: It was appalling. It was undeserved, rude, ill-informed, and contrary to the best of the spirit of competition and tennis’s traditions. Thankfully, it was countered by a larger portion of the crowd clapping and cheering for Zverev as he apologized, more than once, for having stopped play. He was entirely within his rights, and the rules, and if Bernardes had thought to have the tournament play the clip showing the ball boy’s gaffe, as it did after the match, the ugliness might have been avoided. Chalk this up to the less pretty side of fanaticism. The most rabid Federeristas in the crowd did not reflect glory on their hero.

— A word about mid-game and between-match music: The bulk of what was played said the tourney sees its demographic as way different than the youngsters all of tennis moans about needing to attract. (And yes, I myself moaned as I typed “youngsters.”)

Here’s the playlist from Saturday, which is not 100-percent complete but close to it: Rolling Stones Aretha, The Who, Blondie, Stones again, Stealers Wheel (“Stuck In The Middle With You,” which I’m proud to say I pulled from my memory banks), Bowie, Lou Reed, The Jam, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Slydigs, AC/DC, and what is the apparent theme song, “Legendary” by Welshly Arms.

I can’t say what the soundtrack should have been. I’m not that current over the music scene. Yet, disenfranchising some of the older folks over music choices might go a little way in appealing to younger ticket buyers.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert-Nicolas Mahut vs. Juan Sebastian Cabal-Robert Farah

— The doubles brought out a Colombian cheering section which would have cheered its team’s breathing if it had been able to hear it. Eh, it wasn’t rude or bothersome. Mostly funny. But the coordination of Herbert and Mahut’s outfits clearly tilted the balance and they made their way into the final, where they would meet Mike Bryan and Jack Sock.

Novak Djokovic vs. Kevin Anderson

This is all I’m going to say about the contest between Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson, won by Djokovic 6-2, 6-2: The match wasn’t as close as the score suggests. It was a thrashing. Anderson may be the most earnest, diligent pro on the ATP Tour, but he had nothing. Anytime he mounted a slight pushback Djokovic would fire a groundstroke, or ace, and shut down the insurgence straightaway. Quite frankly, it was boring. Anderson was game for the fight, but he was on the short end of a contest between unequals.

And so our sojourn ends, Saturday being our last day of matches. We head home not having had a match in five sessions that caught fire, not one where you’d say, “Hey, I was there for that one, and it was epic!” There have been fine moments, but nothing momentous.

That’s not why I came to London, though. I’ve spent almost six days with guys I’ve been playing tennis with, and teaching with, for decades. I’ve caught up with their families’ stories, teased them about how they missed long-ago volleys, and hugged them as we parted, promising to meet up again soon. If the tennis wasn’t scintillating, and our own efforts to find an open public court for a hit were futile, well, that ain’t no big deal.

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ATP Tour

Marin Cilic Knows The Sunshine As Well As The Shadow

Matt Zemek

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Danielle Parhizkaran - USA TODAY SPORTS

It is not easy to concisely summarize many athletes’ careers — not when those careers defy a neat and tidy form of categorization.

What does one say about Gilles Simon, so dogged and relentless yet prone to lapses in concentration? What does one say about Marius Copil, so clearly talented yet only beginning to (potentially) find his range and rhythm on a sustained basis as a professional?

Even the Big 3 are not easy to process — not in relationship to each other. Alone, their stories might be able to be digested and explained with great clarity, but in connection to their two great rivals, each man in that trio becomes a much more layered mystery. If the Big 3 were easy to define as a group, fans would not debate their levels of greatness to the extent they do.

At various tiers of men’s tennis, making sense of a career is not simple.

Of any prominent ATP career this century, few are harder to grasp than Marin Cilic, the king of complexity.

I hasten to say at the outset: Complexity is not bad. Complexity is part of life. Complexity invites us to not settle for the easy conclusion if the reality of a situation demands a more layered assessment.

So it is with Cilic, who helped Croatia win a Davis Cup for the first time in 2018, culminating in his two-point tie on the opponent’s soil against France. As I wrote on Sunday — and as I always stress with Davis Cup — this is not something to check off on a laundry list, a “to-do item” one coldly eliminates in a businesslike manner. This is a moment of profound national meaning for Croatia, especially since it was the last Davis Cup, and even more particularly because earlier in 2018, France had defeated Croatia in the World Cup Final. It meant a lot to the whole Croatian team to win the global championship in another sport. The fact that France happened to be the last obstacle was a bonus — for Cilic, and Borna Coric, and everyone else.

Yet, while this is a team competition, let’s not pretend that of the many dramatis personae in Lille, France, Cilic stood above them. His gut-wrenching loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2016 Davis Cup Final against Argentina was supremely shattering. Carrying that scar isn’t easy to do for athletes. We can see, in the second half of Cilic’s 2018 season, a lingering inability to straightforwardly finish sets and matches. “Is he going to blow it again?” is not a rare or infrequent question raised during many Cilic matches.

Yet, for all the questions Cilic elicits when he fails to make the ATP Finals semifinal round (zero appearances in four attempts), or fails to go deeper in a Masters 1000 than he could or should, this man just keeps coming back with notable resilience.

For much of the rest of the world, American individualism is a very ugly thing — not on a conceptual level (individualism can and does represent personal striving to break free of repression or groupthink), but on an applied level. No one needs to wonder which American person represents the excesses of individualism more than any other.

Tennis, however — even in a team concept — is an individual sport. (You might roll your eyes and groan when you read this, but, for the 9,734th time, the American sport of baseball is so much like tennis in this way: Baseball is a team sport defined by individual confrontations and performances. One pitcher goes up against one hitter.) Even with Davis Cup teammates cheering you on and a coach at courtside offering advice on sitdowns, the player has to go out and execute the game plan.

Few American artists are more associated with individualism than Frank Sinatra, who dominated the nation’s cultural consciousness during the decades-long prime of his career. You could ask, “Why select Sinatra out of various other entertainers or singers as an emblem of American individualism?” The answer: Sinatra’s life on and off stage was equally bold, consumed by a runaway appetite for success and pleasure. That doesn’t make him one of a kind, but Sinatra represented that way of being as well as any prominent American public figure in the 20th century. Moreover, unlike Elvis Presley — who exists on the same plane of global fame and American individualism — Sinatra also sang songs which were anthems of American individualism.

Purely as a reflection of a cultural ideal, no Elvis song from his own lengthy canon can match Sinatra’s tribute to American individual striving, “My Way,” which concludes with the following lyric:

The record shoowwws…

I took the blooowwws…

And did it myyyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyy…

This is American individualism, defined.

It is also the story of Marin Cilic. He does keep taking some very significant and high-impact punches, the punches which have caused many other careers to wither and die.

Consider, in the history of tennis, just a few examples of players who absorbed devastating losses and never really recovered from them: Nicole Vaidisova at Wimbledon in 2007 against Ana Ivanovic. Marcelo Rios to Dominik Hrbaty at the 1999 French Open. David Nalbandian in the 2006 Australian Open against Marcos Baghdatis.

So many athletes in various sports never recover from a major psychic blow. We’re only human, after all. We are not gods or monsters.

Cilic? He takes some very big, fat roundhouse punches to the jaw… but undeterred, he finds ways to keep coming back in a meaningful way. He has, to be very clear, redefined his career such that he won’t merely be remembered as “The guy who caught fire for one week at the 2014 U.S. Open, muddling through week one but then torching the field in week two with untouchably great tennis.”

No, he has transcended that narrow categorization and its accordingly limited narrative arc.

Cilic is a lot more than that.

The complexity of his career is not a bad thing. If anything, it is a virtue… because if his career had been easy to categorize, the negative probably would have outweighed the positive.

I don’t think you can make that claim about Cilic — not now. Not at the end of 2018.

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ATP Tour

Zverev Roundtable — Tennis With A German Accent

Tennis Accent Staff

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

German translation of our Sascha Zverev roundtable by @daflurl:

Runder Tisch – Wird Sascha Zverev 2019 ein Major gewinnen?

JANE VOIGT — @downthetee

Die Grand Slam Zukunft eines Spielers vorherzusagen gleicht einem Glücksspiel. Alexander Zverevs Chancen, 2019 ein Grand Slam Turnier zu gewinnen, sind letzten Sonntag bei den Nitto ATP Finals mit seinem 6-4, 6-3 Finalsieg über den 5-fach Sieger und die Nummer 1 der Welt dennoch gestiegen. Dieses Ergebnis gegen den stärksten Spieler auf der Tour seit Wimbledon war nicht unbedingt zu erwarten.

Der 21 Jahre alte Zverev zeigte allerdings mentale Stärke, eine Vorhand mit viel mehr Punch als noch vor einem Monat sowie ein sehr gutes Stellungsspiel näher an der Grundlinie, mit dem er Djokovic wichtige Zeit für seine Schläge und damit den gewohnten Komfort genommen hat.

Der Finalsieg war aber noch nicht alles.  Im Semifinale hat er Roger Federer geschlagen, der das prestigeträchtige ATP Abschlussturnier ganze 6 Mal gewonnen hat. Die direkt aufeinanderfolgenden Siege über diese beiden Größen, die gemeinsam eine Sammlung von 34 Grand Slam Titel vorweisen können, geben dem 1,98m großen Deutschen bestimmt viel Vertrauen in sich selbst, in sein Team und seinen neuen Trainer Ivan Lendl, das es in die kommende Saison mitzunehmen gilt.

Sport Experten sprechen schon seit mehr als einem Jahr davon, dass Zverev ein Grand Slam Turnier gewinnen wird. Mit dem Viertelfinale in Roland Garros ist er diesem Ziel schon etwas näher gekommen, seine Schwäche in 5-Satz Matches hat aber weitere Vorstöße auf dieser Ebene verhindert.

Möglicherweise war Lendl derjenige in seinem Team, der ihm nahegelegt hat, näher an der Grundlinie zu stehen. Möglicherweise war er es, der ihm geraten hat, auf sich zu vertrauen,  ans Netz zu kommen und Punkte schneller abzuschließen.

Sollte das der Fall gewesen sein und Zverev diese Ratschläge weiterhin befolgen, dann wird er auch bald auf Grand Slam Ebene zur Spitze gehören.

ANDREW BURTON – @burtonad

Zverev war erst 20, da wurde schon so viel von ihm erwartet. Heuer konnte er sich zum 2. Mal für das Turnier der 8 besten Spielern qualifizieren; nun hat er den Publikumsliebling im Semifinale und den aktuell Besten Spieler (gegen den er schon in der Gruppenphase gespielt hat) im Finale direkt hintereinander geschlagen. Die ATP hat einen neuen, leuchtenden Stern. Aber wird sein Aufstieg nächstes Jahr weitergehen?

Wäre nächstes Jahr 2004, wäre die Antwort JA.

Mit seinen Sieg 2003 in Houston hat Roger Federer einen 4-jährigen Erfolgslauf gestartet, in dem er 11 Majors, 3 davon im Jahr 2004, gewonnen hat. Schon 2005 wurde Federer als möglicher „Bester aller Zeiten“ Kandidat gehandelt. Obwohl er seinen ersten Majortitel schon früher im Jahr 2003 (in Wimbledon) gewonnen hat, war er in Houston nicht die Hauptattraktion. Andre Agassi und Andy Roddick (die 2003 auch Majortitel gewonnen haben) gehörten die Herzen des texanischen Publikums und Turnierpromotor, Mattress Mac“ Jim McIngvale.

McIngvale hat Federer während der Siegerehrung fast ignoriert, da er sich in seinem Stolz verletzt fühlte weil sich der junge Schweizer in Interviews negativ zu den Bedingungen des Platzes geäußert hatte. Im November 2004 als Federer zweifellos der größte Star im Herrentennis war, versöhnten sich die beiden. McIngvale lud Federer und den ehemaligen Präsidenten George Bush sowie First Lady Barbara Bush zu einem Mittagessen in seinen Club. (der aus Houston stammende Bush war ein ehemaliger Topspieler in seinen jüngeren Jahren).

Steht diese Zukunft auch Sascha Zverev bevor? Möglicherweise noch nicht. Im Gegensatz zu Federer hat Zverev noch kein Major gewonnen: Sein bestes Resultat ist nur ein Viertelfinale in Roland Garros im heurigen Jahr. Zverev spielte heuer eine ordentliche Saison, die er als Nummer 4 im Ranking beendete: Abgesehen vom Titel in London hat er das M-1000 in Madrid, das 500er Turnier in Washington und das 250er in München gewonnen. Zudem stand er im Finale der beiden M-1000 Turniere in Miami und Rom. Seine Bilanz war 58-19: Federers Bilanz 2003 war 78-17.

Zverevs Ausgangslage ist klar. Er ist ein klassischer Topspieler der späten 2010er Jahre. Mit 1,98m ist er genauso groß wie Juan Martin del Potro, bewegt sich aber deutlich besser als der Argentinier. Bei seinem Sieg am Samstag gegen Federer sagte ich, dass er mich an eine verbesserte Version von Tomas Berdych erinnert. Mit 21 Jahren ist er weit und breit der kompletteste aller jungen Spieler auf der Tour, der große Titel vor sich hat. Mit seinem Sieg am Sonntag ist er der erst 4. Spieler nach Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal und David Nalbandian, der Federer und Djokovic im Semifinale und Finale des gleichen Turnieres geschlagen hat.

Die Gegenargumente (für 2019) liegen jedoch auch auf der Hand. Das 7-Spiele Format bei den Majors hat er bis jetzt noch nicht optimal gemeistert. Dabei gilt es, in den frühen Runden nur so viel zu investieren um die 2. Woche mit einem fast vollen körperlichen und mentalen Akku zu erreichen. Auf dem Weg ins Viertelfinale von Paris musste er in den 3 vorhergehenden Runden jeweils einen 2 zu 1 Satzrückstand aufholen, wodurch er Dominic Thiem nichts mehr entgegenzusetzen hatte. Anfangs der Woche in London habe ich geschrieben, dass Zverev imstande ist, aggressiv zu spielen aber gerne in konservatives Spiel verfällt. Im Montreal Finale 2017 hat er gegen Federer von Anfang an aggressiv gespielt: Das würde ich gerne öfter von ihm sehen.

Wird er 2019 ein Grand Slam Turnier gewinnen? Von mir kommt ein klares „vielleicht“: um genauer zu sein würde ich sagen, dass die Wahrscheinlichkeit in etwa bei 35% liegt.

Heutzutage stellt sich Erfolg erst später ein als noch in den 2000er oder den 1990er Jahren. Vielleicht ist 21 das neue 18 oder 19. Und vielleicht steht 2019, 2020, 2021 und 2022 – und darüber hinaus – ganz im Zeichen von Sascha Zverev.

MERT ERTUNGA – @MertovsTDesk

Ich hasse es der weniger Enthusiastische hier zu sein, aber ein Major zu gewinnen – 5-Satz Matches zu spielen – ist eine ganz andere Herausforderung als sie Zverev in der O2 Arena zu überstehen hatte. Zudem war die Herausforderung in der O2 Arena eine Premiere für ihn. Infolge eines Erfolgslaufes wie ihn Sascha gerade in London hatte, neigen wird dazu zu vergessen, wie jung und nach wie vor neu er auf der Tour ist. Ich würde seine Chancen, 2019 ein Major zu gewinnen, deutlich besser einschätzen wenn er in den letzten zwei Jahren mehr als nur ein Viertelfinale gewonnen hätte bzw. noch weiter gekommen wäre.

Abgesehen davon, gibt es keinen Grund warum es nächstes Jahr nicht passieren könnte. Jedoch müsste er sich dafür in der ersten Jahreshälfte stetig weiterentwickeln und verletzungsfrei bleiben. Ehrlicherweise glaube ich aus den oben angeführten Gründen nicht, dass es schon bei den Australien Open soweit ist. Ich nehme aber an, dass er dennoch ein gutes Turnier in Melbourne spielt und danach können wir unsere Aufmerksamkeit den nächsten 3 Majors widmen. Roland Garros wird extrem schwer zu gewinnen sein wenn Novak Djokovic und Rafael Nadal gesund und in Form sind.

In Wimbledon könnte seine erste gute Chance sein, den Titel zu gewinnen, abhängig davon wer in welcher Form dabei ist. Denn dann sind 6 Monate der Saison vergangen und Sascha könnte durch gute Ergebnisse viel Selbstvertrauen aufgebaut haben. Mit seinem starken Aufschlag und der Fähigkeit den Ball zu beschleunigen, erscheinen mir Wimbledon und die U.S. Open als die beiden besten Möglichkeiten für einen Titel. Allerdings ist meine Definition von „Möglichkeit“ in diesem Zusammenhang eher ein kleiner Hoffnungsschimmer. Ich sage nicht nein, aber empfehle vorsichtigen Enthusiasmus.

MATT ZEMEK – @mzemek

Sascha Zverev wird ein Major gewinnen…aber nicht nächstes Jahr.

Als Zverev Novak Djokovic im Finale abfertigte – dem Rom Finale 2017 – glaubte  ich fest daran, dass er eines Tages eine der prestigeträchtigsten Trophäen im Tennis in die Höhe stemmen wird. Zverev war an diesem Tag eiskalt und unbeeindruckt. Auch wenn Djokovic nicht 100 prozentig fit war, wie wir im Nachhinein erfahren haben, hat Zverev diese schwierige Aufgabe mit einer unglaublichen Gelassenheit und Klarheit bewältigt. Als ich gesehen habe, wie er im Titelmatch der ATP Finals die langen Ballwechsel gegen Djokovic kontrolliert hat, erinnerte ich mich wieder daran.

Dieser Spieler wird es schaffen. Er wird eines der 4 wichtigsten Turniere im Tennis gewinnen. Die Frage ist nicht OB, sondern WANN.

Ich glaube aber nicht, dass es schon 2019 soweit sein wird.

Rafael Nadal, sofern er für die Sandsaison fit ist, wird Zverev in Roland Garros in die Schranken weisen. Djokovic ist der klare Favorit bei den Australien Open, wo er nach 2018 wieder gesund dabei ist. Roger Federer wird in Wimbledon angreifen, wo vermutlich aber auch Djokovic der Favorit ist.

Ich glaube wenn 2019 alles gut läuft für Zverev, sind die U.S. Open seine beste Chance. Wenn die „Big 3“ viel gespielt und viele Turniere gewonnen haben, könnte Zverev zur Stelle sein und einen Vorteil aus deren Müdigkeit ziehen… aber ich bezweifle es.

In Zverevs einzigem Grand Slam Viertelfinale letztes Jahr war sein Akku leer, da der Aufwand dieses eine Major Viertelfinale zu erreichen enorm war. Er hat so viel Energie verbraucht, sich durch 5-Satz Matches zu kämpfen, dass er seine Chancen das Turnier zu gewinnen vergeben hat.

Zverev ist die ATP Finals richtig angegangen. So muss er auch bei den Majors spielen… aber bei Grand Slam Turnieren so zu spielen ist etwas womit er nicht vertraut ist. Die Anpassung an ein Turnier stellt ein Puzzle dar, das er lösen muss, und das kostet Zeit – möglicherweise mehr Zeit als ein Jahr.

Was wäre ein gutes Grand Slam Jahr 2019 für Zverev? Ich glaube nicht, dass er unbedingt eines gewinnen muss, er muss nur konstant stark spielen und die Weichen für den nächsten Sprung 2020 stellen.

Zwei Viertelfinali und zwei Semifinali bei den Grand Slams 2019 wäre gut – ein Finale wäre ideal, aber nicht unbedingt notwendig. Dann wird er mit dem Wissen, bereit für große Titel zu sein, in die Saison 2020 gehen. In 2019 muss er nicht sämtliche Zweifel ausräumen, er muss nur seine Grand Slam Blockade überwinden, nicht konstant über 2 Wochen bei den großen Turniere spielen zu können.

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2018 Embodied Everything Great About Novak Djokovic

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Go back to that cramped press room in Stade Roland Garros. Go back to that scene in Paris. Go back to the moment when Novak Djokovic had just lost to Marco Cecchinato at the French Open after having a 5-2 lead in the fourth set.

That was not a happy time for Djokovic. How could it have been? Matches he didn’t normally lose were lost. Situations he normally handled were unable to be contained and managed. No, he was not in the same place as March in the United States — his game was clearly getting better — but no one thought he was ready for Wimbledon.

In fact, in the aftermath of that loss to Cecchinato, Djokovic gave a throwaway line — obviously in frustration and laced with sarcasm, not reflecting anything close to actual intent — about possibly not playing the grass season. No one should have taken that statement at face value. Some did.

The point of the statement was not what Djokovic’s words literally meant. The point of the statement was the frustration beneath the words. A great champion was growing tired of not being able to unleash his best tennis, after having laid the tennis world at his feet two years earlier, in June of 2016.

It was in that same place — Roland Garros, Paris — where Djokovic completed his seminal “Novak Slam” and did what neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal had ever been able to do, and will almost certainly never do before they retire as professional tennis players: Win four straight major tournaments. Only Rod Laver gets to share that distinction among male tennis players in the Open Era.

Djokovic set the bar so high — and busted through the Fedal axis of power so thoroughly and convincingly — that his status in the sport’s history had forever changed, even if the media lavished more attention upon Federer. People who knew what Djokovic was up against at the end of the 2010 tennis season — who knew how hard it had been for him to coexist in a competitive sense with these two giants of the sport — could appreciate the enormity of what Djokovic subsequently achieved from 2011 through 2016, and HOW he achieved it.

In a long introductory essay to my 2017 book on Djokovic, I spent time focusing on this process of absorbing how hard it would be to conquer Federer and Nadal… and then actually doing it as Djokovic did. This feat is one of the most remarkable transformations in sports (not just tennis) history.

It belongs to Novak Djokovic alone.

No wonder he was frustrated after losing to Marco Cecchinato.

Go back to that moment. Djokovic had not just lost to Nadal or Federer, but with Wimbledon just around the bend, Djokovic knew he would likely have to go through one or both to return to the mountaintop of tennis.

A lot of people thought he was on the way back. What a lot FEWER people thought in Paris, in early June of 2018, was that he would restore his empire so quickly, chiefly at the All-England Club.

But he did… and he did so by going through Nadal… and he did so by winning an epic match which very likely denied Rafa an 18th major title. Djokovic — in a manner very similar to the 2007 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal — won a third-set tiebreaker, served his way out of deep trouble in a fifth set, and then broke Nadal to put his hands on another Wimbledon trophy. He continued a decade-long pattern of absorbing a rough loss in Paris but then transforming the trajectory of his season and career at Wimbledon.

Djokovic used his emergence at Wimbledon as emotional fuel for a run to his first-ever Cincinnati title and the completion of the Golden Set of Masters 1000 championships, nine out of nine, the only player to pull off the feat. Djokovic was nearly felled by the New York heat and humidity, but he survived in more ways than one. As soon as the weather became remotely normal in the semifinals and final, he destroyed Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin del Potro. He vanquished everyone in his path in Shanghai.

No, he did not win Bercy or the 2018 ATP Finals, but he left 2018 as the No. 1 player in the world and the only member of the Big 3 to win two major titles.

He is — indisputably — the 2018 ATP Player of the Year. In half a season — from the rubble of Roland Garros — he reestablished his place not just in the top tier of men’s tennis, but at the very top of the mountain, looking down on everyone else, including and especially the Fedal Axis.

That he regained his place as No. 1 is not the surprise of the 2018 season for Djokovic. That he did so with such speed and immediacy is the remarkable part of a season which, at the start of April, lacked Marian Vajda and lacked the ability to beat Taro Daniel or Benoit Paire on hardcourts.

Vajda, of course, is the man who began to set the wheels in motion for this renaissance. As soon as Djokovic returned to Vajda, he had already made the coaching decision which enabled this transformation to occur.

That said, the athlete still has to execute what the coach wants him to do. The athlete still has to perform in pressure situations, no matter what the coach says. Djokovic still had to turn frustration into inspiration at the start of the summer of 2018. That he engineered the transformation is not remarkable. That he made it happen so decisively and profoundly in the span of just five months — wresting World No. 1 and Player of the Year honors from the Fedal Axis — is the true marker of iconic greatness at the level Novak Djokovic has established.

The man who — staring at an Everest-sized climb at the end of 2010 — scaled every inch of rock to rise above his two fabled rivals over the next six years has, in 2018, replicated that same massive ascent up the mountain, only in a compressed amount of time.

The 2018 tennis season embodied everything great about Novak Djokovic. It offered, within the context of 10 months, a perfect representation of the journey which has defined — and immortalized — a career which, in the course of history, could still become the greatest that has ever existed.

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