There are many points to ponder in the wake of Novak Djokovic’s loss to Kyle Edmund on Wednesday at the Madrid Open.
How concerned should Djokovic be about the velocity of his second serves and his ability to win second-serve points? How close is Djokovic to restoring his game? He did not play that poorly against Edmund, but in a reversal of the natural order of tennis relative to when he dominated the tour two years ago, he didn’t win the points he needed to win, chiefly a 30-40 point on Edmund’s serve at 2-2 in the third set. As soon as Edmund escaped a love-40 hole to somehow stay on serve, he never encountered another moment of great difficulty for the remainder of the match.
Purely in terms of tactics, Djokovic didn’t trust the shot which reveals him at his best: the down-the-line backhand which opens up the court and forces opponents to reconsider crosscourt backhand exchanges, forcing them to worry a lot more about their court positioning. Trusting that shot is a cornerstone of Djokovic’s game. The overall form is better, but complete confidence is not something which comes back immediately. Building it to the 2015-2016 height is a process which was always going to take time. Nothing has fundamentally changed in that regard as Nole leaves Madrid.
There is no reason for Djokovic to panic. He knows better than anyone that a full restoration of his game — a complete rediscovery of the fluid mind-body dualism all great athletes need — is not a fast-food meal. This is exactly the opposite, slowly cooking barbecued meat over the course of multiple days so that at the end of the elongated process, the meat falls off the bone, juicy and tender. Patience is the central ingredient in this project. This was never going to be a quick fix. Djokovic should enjoy the reality of being pain-free on the court. Relishing the simple experience of playing tennis without physical discomfort will do wonders for him in the course of time.
Djokovic’s main problem is not his game itself. A bigger problem is the relative lack of match play in Barcelona and Madrid. Djokovic needs tournaments with at least three or four matches to fine-tune the body and regain a sense of timing. Yet, even more than that lack of match play, Djokovic’s foremost problem — in one person’s opinion — is his place in the ATP rankings. Let’s realize what Djokovic is up against in light of his inability to defend Madrid’s 2017 semifinal points.
Djokovic is defending 600 points in Rome. Even if he gets a good draw, making the final will be a challenge simply because of where Djokovic’s game is right now. Even a relatively solid result such as a semifinal would result in a loss of 240 points. Under that circumstance — should it occur — Djokovic will not be a top-16 seed at the French Open, and very likely outside the top 20.
Djokovic’s ranking and subsequent Roland Garros seeding obviously put him at risk of playing Rafael Nadal or Dominic Thiem at a relatively early stage of the French Open, but let’s say for the sake of argument that Djokovic steers clear of those two players and falls in a different half and/or quarter of the draw. His Roland Garros campaign could still be a rousing success if the draw falls in his favor (which it hasn’t in recent months at various tournaments). Like Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic can use the five-set format to get more time on court and play his way into form. A good draw would enable him to chase a title — not just a second-week result — in Paris.
The problem? If he doesn’t get that good draw, it will then become hard for him to quickly climb back up the rankings.
If Djokovic can’t gain points in Paris — he will need a semifinal result to achieve that goal — he will go to Wimbledon having to defend quarterfinalist points with another mid-level seeding. Remember: Djokovic didn’t go deep at Wimbledon in 2016, so the adjusted grass formula won’t help him this year the way it did last year, when he had a 2015 title as part of the formula.
Djokovic — if he doesn’t get a good draw and a subsequently strong result at the French Open — will find it hard to substantially increase his point total through Wimbledon. Maybe his game will be on the verge of full restoration by then, but if he doesn’t win either Canada or Cincinnati, he will not have enough time (or tournaments) to get a very favorable seeding slot for the U.S. Open.
Djokovic could become the foremost player of the 2019 ATP season. A year from now, he might be able to match Rafael Nadal on clay again. Great champions should not ever surprise us when they rise again, overcoming great hardships in the process. Yet, with all of that having been said, Djokovic’s 2018 outlook at the major tournaments is not becoming brighter. Djokovic should be patient with his game as he heads to Rome, but the looming problem of ATP rankings points means that even if his game improves, his draws and results might not.
Djokovic, if he loses points in Rome, will need Roland Garros to be the draw where the chips fall in his favor.
Image taken from Zimbio.com
THE CAPACITY FOR GROWTH
Whether you are watching the NBA basketball playoffs or not, it is worth sharing this small collection of statistics with a tennis-loving audience:
The Boston Celtics, through two completed and successful rounds of the NBA playoffs, have played 12 games, seven at home and five on the road. In the seven home games, the Celtics hit 47 percent of all their shots and 40 percent of all 3-point shots, averaging roughly 111 points per game. In the five road games, the Celtics hit 41 percent of all shots and just 31 percent of all 3-point shots, averaging just under 95 points per game. The Celtics won all seven home games and went 1-4 in their five road games. In the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics went 4-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. Being able to play Game 7 at home mattered a great deal in that series. (more…)
And the Oscar goes to….
by Anand Mamidipudi
The Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay has been awarded to some of the most distinguished and gifted writers in history. Past winners include titans such as Woody Allen, the Coen brothers and, the youngest winner, Ben Affleck. The clear leader in this year’s race is another titan who, in real time, continues to script one of the most dramatic screenplays we have seen. (more…)
Back to the future
by Anand Mamidipudi
If you are the sort of person that is nostalgic about those epic matches between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, then we have good news for you. Yes, we managed to sneak in the word “epic” into the previous sentence because Federer merely led Roddick 21-3 in their rivalry! But there is hope for the A-Rod fans coming from the next generation.Yesterday Jack Sock, of Lincoln, Nebraska, born not far from the birthplace of the great Andy Roddick, defeated Grigor Dimitrov, the Roger clone also fondly known as “Baby Fed” to many fans who just can’t seem to have enough with one Federer in their universe.
Sock relies on a big serve, a whiplash forehand, a prayer of a backhand and oodles of gumption to compete against some of the top players in the world. If this all sounds very familiar to Roddick fans, then they would have been terrified by the sight of his opponent, Dimitrov, who plays with balletic grace, oozes creativity and flashes a single-hander like he was the second coming of Zorro. The difference, then, is that Grigor, while not quite an impostor, is not touched by genius like his idol, Roger. On the other hand, Sock is a reasonable facsimile of his Nebraskan predecessor, with a lesser serve, but a more devastating forehand.
Mentally, Sock and Dimitrov are poles apart. Sock is making a career out of nerveless comebacks (a case in point would be his win against Cilic in Davis Cup), while Dimitrov’s creativity extends to finding new ways to lose. This factor evens out an obvious gap in talent and Sock now leads their head-to-head 3-1, the last two on hard courts being epics (that word again) that would sit comfortably alongside the greatest hard court matches if these two ever progress to the next level and win a few slams.
Yesterday, they met for the fourth time in their budding rivalry and played their best match. Grigor made a statement with his pristine shot-making to take the first set 6-3. Sock was looking flat as a noodle. Then the young American pulled up his socks and began to show why his bazooka forehand is so feared in men’s tennis. Sock won the second set and seemingly had the momentum when Dimitrov stepped it up another notch to lead 3-0 in the third set.
In the past decade, Andy Roddick fans would be shaking their heads and heading for the exits when Roger found that imaginary sixth gear. Luckily, we’re talking Sock-Dimitrov here. Two simultaneous switches turned on and off as Sock hit his way back into the match while Dimitrov took a mid-deciding set siesta. Dimitrov woke up just in time to suddenly hold three match points on Sock’s serve at 5-4, 0-40. Surely there was no Houdini act coming from the young American this time. Wrong. Sock hit three of his specialty forehands to pull himself even at 5-5. Atlanta Falcons fans know the moment when the tide changes. This was that moment in the match. In the tie-break, Grigor fought hard and even held a match point at 7-6. But sport’s cruel karma always rewards the guy that really wants to win and not the one who is trying not to lose.
Roddick fans will remind you that Andy had the last laugh against Federer, defeating him in the Miami Masters in three sets. Yesterday, Sock beat Dimitrov, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7).