Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Thoughts From Dubai and Acapulco

Ryan Harrison:  To say Ryan Harrison needed a big week is an understatement, and he more than delivered.  He battled through qualifying to reach the semifinals of Acapulco, before going down to David Ferrer.  At this point, we don't know if this week was a fluke or a sign of things to come.  In the last two months he has losses to Dennis Novikov and Wayne Odesnik, but looked to be in better form in Memphis as well as AcapulcoHarrison clearly lost confidence in himself over the last couple of years, but maybe a few good results is all he needs to get it back.  It's too soon to say Harrison is officially back, but he's starting to put himself back into the conversation of being relevant.

Borna Coric:  18 year old Coric had been struggling early in 2015, and it looked like Dubai would be more of the same after he failed to qualify.  However, he took advantage of a lucky loser spot and easily defeated Andy Murray on his way to the semis.  While Federer showed him he still has a few things to learn, it was a very impressive run for Coric.  It seems like Coric is still a couple of years away from going deep in tournaments on a consistent basis, but is capable of beating nearly anyone on a particular day.  By the time he's 21 or 22, no one should be surprised if he's competing for grand slam titles. 

Roger Federer:  Federer was back in peak form at Dubai, taking out Djokovic to win the title.  He sent a signal that his loss to Seppi in Australia was a fluke, and he's going to once again be one of the best players in the world in 2015.  While the fast court in Dubai clearly gave Federer an advantage against Djokovic that he won't have nearly anywhere else, it was an impressive victory nonetheless.  Federer's competition may have been hoping he was beginning to decline, but it's clear the Swiss legend has lost more to give.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Before 2015 began, many people (myself included) thought Dimitrov was going to take another big step forward and become one of the best players in the world.  While he tailed off a bit at the end of 2014, it seemed like Dimitrov was in peak position to take off in 2015.  After losses to Gilles Muller and Ryan Harrison in his last two events, Dimitrov must be wondering what's going wrong.  Maybe he'll turn his season around with strong performances in Indian Wells and Miami, but if he goes out early in these events it will officially be time to worry.  It's not clear if his struggles are stemming from technical problems (a backhand that can be exposed despite its smoothness), a simple lack of consistency or a lack of mental toughness, but the Tour better hope Dimitrov gets it figured out quickly.    

Monday, February 23, 2015

Acapulco Preview

The Acapulco field isn't particularly strong for a 500 level tournament, partially because the big four are all playing elsewhere.  However, there are plenty of big names, including Nishikori, Ferrer and Dimitrov.  Dimitrov is the defending champion, but will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to repeat. 

In the top section, Nishikori should reach the semifinals without too much trouble.  The fifth seeded Dolgopolov is in his section, but Dolgopolov is not the same player he was last year.  He is yet to beat someone in the top 70 so far this year, and is unlikely to trouble Nishikori should he even make it that far. 

In the next section, Kevin Anderson and Steve Johnson are once again near each other in the draw.  Anderson has already beaten Johnson twice this year, and Johnson must be getting sick of running into Anderson so often.  Maybe Johnson has learned something from his past meetings with the South African, but it's hard to pick the American based on what we've seen so far this year.  Victor Troicki will likely take 7th seeded Santiago Giraldo's place in the quarterfinals, before going down to Anderson.

In the bottom half, the first quarterfinal could pit Delray Beach champion Ivo Karlovic against third seeded Dimitrov.  It's hard to see anyone stopping either player from reaching the quarters, unless Karlovic is feeling the effects of playing back to back weeks.  Dimitrov has struggled against Karlovic in the past, losing to him in the first round of last year's French Open.  However, Karlovic is due for a let down after taking the title the previous week.  Dimitrov gets the edge in three sets.

David Ferrer and Benjamin Becker are your seeds in the bottom quarter, but look for Tomic to reach the quarters instead of Becker.  The 22 year old Australian is in better form than Becker at the moment, and appears to be heading in the right direction.  Tomic has a chance to upset Ferrer in the quarters, especially given that Ferrer was playing a clay court tournament in Brazil last week.  But it's hard to actually pick the youngster to take out the extremely steady veteran, and Ferrer should find a way to squeak past the Australian.

In the top half semifinals, Nishikori vs Anderson would be a rematch of the Memphis final earlier this month.  Nishikori won that match in straights, and there's no reason to think the result in Acapulco will be any different.  While Anderson can overpower anybody at his best, the more consistent Nishikori is the better bet to reach the finals. 

In the other semifinals, Dimitrov and Ferrer would make for a compelling match up.  Dimitrov is at the point of his career where he should be beating Ferrer on a hard court, but it's hard to feel overly confident picking him based on his mediocre form so far this year.  The Bulgarian will be feeling the pressure as the defending champion, and will be anxious to get his season going with a strong result.  Dimitrov is the pick in three sets, but he'll have to play at a higher level than he has been for most of the year.

A Nishikori vs. Dimitrov finals would pit two of the sports biggest future stars against each other.  Surprisingly they've only played twice to date, with Nishikori winning both matches in straights.  On paper it's not a particularly bad matchup for the Bulgarian, and there's a good chance when their careers are over Dimitrov has the better head-to-head.   He has more variety, a bigger game, and is the better athlete (not that Nishikori doesn't crack the ball himself).  However, at this point Nishikori is the steadier player, and he has posted the better results of the two over the last year.  It wouldn't be surprising to see the two play an exciting three setter, with Nishikori emerging in the end.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Argentina Open Preview

While the other tour events this week are 500 level tournaments, the Argentina Open is the lone 250.  Rafael Nadal headlines the field, and is your heavy favorite despite his upset loss to Fabio Fognini last week in Rio de Janeiro

The next highest seed in Nadal's quarter is Pablo Carreno-Busta, and Nadal should coast into the semifinals.  Thomaz Belluci, Federico Delbonis and Carreno-Busta are all talented players, but none have started particularly well to begin 2015.  It's hard to see Nadal even losing a set on his way to the semis.

The next quarter contains Rio finalist Fabio Fognini and the talented Jiri Vesely.  Fognini may be a bit worn down physically and mentally following his dramatic win over Nadal and run to the finals in Rio, so Vesely gets the edge here.  Vesely has cooled down considerably since taking the title in Auckland earlier this year, but he is still a dangerous player who should be able to take advantage of this draw.

In the bottom half, third seeded Pablo Cuevas (is he really 23 in the world?) could face Argentinean Leonardo Mayer in one of the quarterfinals.  Cuevas has already won a 250 level tournament on clay this year in Sao Paulo, and has had lots of success on clay over the last year.  Mayer isn't far behind in the rankings, but Cuevas (who lost to Nadal in three sets last week) should get past the fifth seeded Mayer. 

The bottom quarter is relatively weak, and is led by second seeded Tommy Robredo.  Robredo has only won one match so far this year, and is vulnerable to an upset.  Look for Nicolas Almagro (making a comeback after missing much of 2014) to upset seventh seeded Pablo Andjuar and Robredo on his way to the semis.  Almagro has already beaten Robredo this year, and seems ready to make his move in 2015 after getting a few tournaments under his belt.

In the semifinals Vesely won't have enough to get past Nadal, although he should put up a good fight.  Nadal is beginning to find his form, and his loss to Fognini after playing past 3 in the morning the night before is understandable.  In the other semis, expect Cuevas to get past Almagro for the third time already this year.  Almagro should get better as the year progresses, but doesn't seem quite ready to get past Cuevas at this point in the season.

The finals will be a rematch of last week's Rio de Janeiro quarterfinals between Nadal and Cuevas.  While Nadal prevailed 6-0 in the third, he wasn't far from losing in straights.  However, Nadal should be in better form than he was last week after shaking off some of the rust.  Cuevas plays somewhat like Tommy Robredo, which would be a compliment unless you're facing Rafael Nadal.  Nadal will work over the Cuevas one-handed backhand for a straight set victory, and will be your 2015 Argentina Open champion.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dubai Preview

The Dubai Field is generally one of the strongest 500 level fields of the year, and once again claims many of the world's top players.  However, thanks to its generous appearance fees for the top players it's always a little top heavy, and this year is no different.  Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Berdych are your top 4 seeds, and there is a big gap between these four and the rest of the field.  The still winless in 2015 Gulbis is the 5th seeed, and Feliciano Lopez, Roberto Bautista-Agut and David Goffin round out your top eight.

In the top section, Djokovic should coast to the quarters where Feliciano Lopez likely awaits.  While the fast surface at Dubai will be beneficial for Lopez, he has never beaten Djokovic in five tries and only has taken a set on one occasion.  That won't change here, and Djokovic should get past Lopez without too much trouble. 

Berdych's first round opponent is Jeremy Chardy, who has one his first round match and lost his second at every tournament so far this year.  That trend won't continue in Dubai, as Berdych should get past Chardy in straights on his way to the semifinals.  Expect Sergiy Stakhovsky to be Berdych's quarterfinals opponent (taking the spot of the seriously struggling Gulbis), but not for him to put up much resistance against the Czech in the quarters.

In the next quarter, Andy Murray opens against Gilles Muller, who has been playing very well to start 2015.  Muller should be Murray's trickiest match on the way to the semis, as 8th seed David Goffin has struggled to maintain the momentum from his very strong 2014 campaign.  Muller may put up a good fight, but Murray's returning should neutralize Muller's biggest weapon.  No one else in this section will trouble Murray, and he'll make his way to the semifinals.

Federer's section has some talent, and potential second round opponent Guillermo Garcia- Lopez is off to a fine start in 2015.  The two surprisingly haven't played since 2009, and unlike Federer, Garcia-Lopez holds a win over Andreas Seppi in 2015.  Since it's boring to pick the top four to all make the semifinals, lets go with Garcia-Lopez with the major second round upset over the Swiss.  Garcia-Lopez will then take out Richard Gasquet to make the semis, who gets the edge out of the tricky section consisting of Gasquet, Seppi, Thiem and Bautista-Agut. 

While Berdych has been playing very well to start the year, Djokovic should once again be too much.  There's a reason Djokovic has a 17-2 edge in their head-to-head matchup, as Djokovic's stellar defense tends to neutralize Berdych's easy power.  Berdych may steal a set, but in the end Djokovic will find himself in the finals.

The last time Garcia-Lopez and Murray played the Spaniard won in straight sets.  His confidence will be high, but taking out Federer and Murray in the same week seems like asking for a bit much.  Murray should be over his Australian Open hangover by now, and gets the edge in three tough sets.

That makes the finals a rematch of the Australian Open finals, where Djokovic wore down Murray both mentally and physically.  Murray will be looking for revenge, but that won't be enough to get past the stronger Djokovic.  Murray will put up a fight, but the faster surface at Dubai won't do him any favors.  Djokovic loves playing in Dubai, and should regain the title after his semifinal loss in last year's event.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Should Tennis Consider Rotating the Locations of its Grand Slams?

When tennis was in its earlier days, most of the top players came from the United States, Australia and Western Europe.  Naturally, it made sense that all four grand slams were held within these places.  It's no secret that tennis is now more global than ever, and some have begun to float the idea of rotating the locations of the grand slams (at least once every few years) to take advantage of and bolster the sport's worldwide popularity.    

Wimbledon would be the least likely of the grand slams to move, based on its deep tradition and the lack of other places that have suitable grass courts for such a big event.  It could be like the Masters in golf, which is always played in Augusta even though the other Majors rotate locations. 

Moving the Australian Open to somewhere in Asia every so often is the most realistic scenario, and the marketing for the tournament has even begun to refer to it as the "Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific."  While hosting the Australian Open in Asia may be confusing from a marketing perspective (stay tuned for the "Australian/Asian Open" on ESPN2), it may otherwise be a smart idea.  The ATP and WTA tours have been working feverishly to take advantage of the growing tennis markets in Asia, and hosting a grand slam there once every 3 or 4 years would be the next logical step. 

Australia obviously wouldn't be happy about this, and the Australian Open has done a great job of closing the gap with the other slams over the last several years.  However, a generous financial deal could presumably be worked out with Australia's tennis federation to lessen their anger.

The US Open would obviously stay in America, but it might be interesting to let a different city than New York host the event every 4 or 5 years.  There are a few other cities in the country capable of hosting, even though New Yorkers would certainly object.  Indian Wells is close to grand slam status already, so why not make it official and let it host the Open at one point.  Cincinnati and Miami would be the other possible options, given that they also host Masters 1000s and have the facilities in place.  However, Indian Wells would make the most sense given its Southern California location, prestige and ability to ensure a strong turnout.

It's also well known that the tours are trying to take advantage of tennis' popularity in South America, so the French Open (name change required) could potentially be moved to clay courts in Brazil or Argentina once every four years as well.  Confusion could be an issue for the casual sports fan, but tennis is largely watched by diehard fans who would adjust to the concept.  (Doesn't the "French/South American Clay Court Open" just roll off the tongue?).

This isn't to say moving locations of the Grand Slams is necessarily the best idea, but it's a conversation worth having.  Tennis players and fans aren't concentrated in a few powerhouse countries like they used to be, and it may help further grow the sport by hosting tennis' biggest events in some new locations.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Which Swiss Will Finish 2015 On Top?

With his titles at Rotterdam and Chennai to go along with his Australian Open semifinals performance, Stan Wawrinka isn't messing around to begin 2015.  His only loss so far is to Novak Djokovic in 5 sets at the Australian Open, which is as good of a loss as someone can have.  He's scheduled to play in Marseille this coming week, and if he has enough left in the tank has a good chance to add yet another title to his 2015 resume.

Roger Federer has only played two tournaments so far this year, and his stay at the Australian Open was surprisingly short thanks to Seppi playing the match of his life.  Before that, Federer looked to be off to a strong start to the year by taking the title in Brisbane.  It's quite possible (if not likely) that Federer's loss to Seppi was merely a fluke and not a sign of things to come.  However, it does raise some questions as to whether Federer will be quite as strong this year as he was in 2014.  Federer may not feel (at least subconsciously) like he has quite as much to prove in 2015, and could accordingly be due for a slight letdown.

Based on his strong start, Wawrinka seems like a good bet to finish 2015 as the highest ranked Swiss player.  His confidence and focus seem to have returned, and assuming he's moved past the physical and emotional fatigue he referenced in Australia, seems poised for a huge year.  Wawrinka knows his time is now, as he'll be turning 30 in March.  Not that he hasn't had an excellent career already, but the late blooming Wawrinka likely realizes he's only got about two years left in his prime.

Even if Federer puts together a top 5 year, that may not be enough to hold off Wawrinka.  Depending on Nadal's health and how soon he returns to form, Wawrinka could finish this year as high as two or three in the world.  (If Nadal is healthy and racks up a huge amount of points during the clay season like he always does, the number three spot may be more realistic).  Wawrinka will need a couple of outstanding results at the majors and Masters events to finish in the top 3, but the draws at these tournaments may begin to open up.  Nadal doesn't look like he'll be a consistent presence at big tournaments outside of clay at the moment, and Federer suddenly looks vulnerable.  Wawrinka currently looks to be a step above Berdych, Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov, and on par with Andy Murray.  He's more than capable of winning a Masters tournament at some point this year, and making the finals of a grand slam.

Finishing higher than Federer may not mean a whole lot in the grand tennis scheme of things, but it would be meaningful for Wawrinka.  For a guy whose been overshadowed by Federer his whole career, he'd at least be able to tell his grandkids that just once he managed to surpass the legend in the year end rankings before he retired.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Previewing the Marseille Open 13

Marseille's draw is clearly stronger than Delray Beach's, as it claims two players in the top ten.  Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka are the top seeds and the fairly heavy favorites to reach the finals.  Raonic could face the always tricky Gael Monfils in the quarters, but Raonic's serve should carry him through on an indoor hard court.

The next quarter is full of talented players, including Bautista-Agut, Robin Haase, Vasek Pospisil, Dominic Thiem, Joao Sousa, Jerzy Janowicz and David Goffin.  Despite their talent, no one in this group has been playing particularly well so far this year.  Big things were expected of Goffin after his incredible second half to 2014, but he's been a disappointment so far.  Janowicz gets the edge out of this quarter, as he makes his living on indoor hard courts in France (don't forget his breakout performance in the Paris Masters a few years back).

Look for Gilles Simon to come out of the third quarter and reach the semis.  Third seeded Ernests Gulbis is still winless on the year, and talented young gun Borna Coric only has one win himself in 2015. 

Wawrinka is clearly the best player in the bottom quarter, but it's possible he'll be a bit tired (or lack motivation) playing back to back weeks.  Still, it's hard to see someone knocking him out before the semis given his relatively weak section of the draw.

In the semis, look for Raonic to get past Janowicz in three, and for Simon to squeak past Wawrinka.  Simon would put up a good fight, but Raonic has never lost to Simon in their three career meetings.  This isn't likely to change indoors, and Raonic should be able to escape with the title.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Previewing Delray Beach

No one is going to look at the Delray Beach draw and confuse it for a Masters tournament. (If anything it looks more like the draw from a really strong Challenger).  That said, despite the lack of top players there is plenty to look forward to.

Kevin Anderson is your top seed, and it wouldn't be surprising if he coasts into the finals.  Adrian Mannarino is his potential quarterfinal opponent, with Ivo Karlovic or Steve Johnson likely waiting in the semis.  Johnson better hope someone else takes out Anderson first, since he's quickly assuming the role against Anderson that Anderson plays against Berdych.  Unless Anderson is tired from his week in Memphis, he should be representing the top half in the finals.

The bottom half is more interesting, and contains a handful of Americans.  Querrey and Young, both semifinalists in Memphis, could play in the second round.  Tim Smyczek should get through the up and coming Kozlov in the first round (though this is a sentence you'll probably only see for another year or two).

Third seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov has a relatively easy path to the semis, but doesn't seem to be in good enough form to take advantage of it.  It's not clear who exactly he'll lose to, but it won't be surprising if he has an early exit.  The bottom quarter contains Victor Troicki, Bernard Tomic and John Isner, one of whom will likely make the finals. 

Based on recent form, look for Victor Troicki to come out of the bottom half.  Troicki has been playing well since returning from his suspension and has already won a 250 level tournament this year.  An Anderson vs. Troicki final could go either way, but Troicki gets the edge.  He should be fresher (Anderson is still playing in Memphis) and seems to be on a mission to make up for lost time.

Also of note, Malez Jaziri's elbow (or is it shoulder?) can rest easy as Dudi Sela is in the other half of the draw.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Memphis Time Machine: 1990s Style Success for American Men

It's no secret that American men haven't exactly been dominating the sport for the last decade.  Even the occasional bright moments have been few and far between, as it's hard to remember the last time an American man made even the quarters of a grand slam.  (Fish and/or Isner making the quarters of the US Open 3-4 years ago sounds vaguely familiar).  However, there must be something in the water in Memphis, as five of the eight quarterfinalists are American. 

We have the (somewhat) usual suspects in Isner and Querrey, who are set to play each other in the quarters.  Then we have the steadily improving Donald Young and Steve Johnson, who both seem to have settled in nicely on the ATP Tour.  Most surprising is 24 year old Austin Krajicek, who qualified and beat Karlovic on his way to the quarters.  Krajicek, a former Kalamazoo champion, has been slowly working his way up the rankings since starring for Texas A&M.  He's closing in on the top 150, and should pass that mark following his strong week.

We also got a glimpse of the future, as young guns Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov battled in the first round.  The older and higher ranked Donaldson prevailed in straights, before going down easily to Querrey in the second round.  Donaldson and Kozlov may end up being the best of the bunch, but are still likely a few years away from making serious noise on the ATP Tour. 

Fans of American tennis should probably enjoy this while it lasts, because it's quite possible only Isner/Querrey will be standing by the semis.  Krajicek will likely go down easily to Nishikori, Young will have his hands full against Tomic, and Johnson has already lost to Kevin Anderson this year.  Regardless, it's nice that Americans are showing some positive signs, even if it is just a 250 level tournament in Memphis.  If they keep this up, we may start feeling like we're back in the 1990s.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament-Rotterdam Preview

Rotterdam is the lone 500 level tournament this week, and there's no denying it's a loaded field.  Murray, Raonic, Berdych, Wawrinka and Dimitrov are all playing, and the draw is full with players capable of doing damage.

After his strong run to the finals at the Australian Open, Murray is the clear favorite.  He has a fairly straightforward path to the semifinals where Berdych likely awaits.  A Murray vs. Berdych semifinal would definitely be interesting following their tense Australian Open semifinal exchange (though likely less dramatic).  Based on recent form, the winner of this match should be the favorite to win the title.  Murray will have his hands full against the huge hitting Czech, but he should get through this one in three sets. 

The most interesting match in the bottom half would be the potential quarterfinal matchup of Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov.  Wawrinka was once again in good form in Australia, falling to Djokovic in the semifinals.  However, his post match comments about being mentally and physically exhausted indicate Dimitrov has a good chance to get the win.  If Wawrinka couldn't get past his mental exhaustion at a grand slam, it's doubtful he'll be completely invested in a 500 level tournament.  Moreover, Dimitrov's start to 2015 has been somewhat uneventful, and he'll be looking to start making some noise. 

Raonic should be waiting to play Dimitrov in the semis, as the most dangerous players in his section have been struggling.  There's no denying the talent of Ernests Gulbis and Dominic Thiem, but neither has won a match so far this year.  While Dimitrov has matched up well against Raonic in the past and is the more diverse player, the big serving Raonic gets the slight edge on an indoor hard court. 

A Murray vs. Raonic final would be a good one, and Raonic has given Murray problems in the past (holding a 3-2 edge).  However, Murray beat Raonic in straights last time they played, and looks to be in the better form.  Assuming Murray has recovered emotionally and physically from his draining Australian Open finals match against Djokovic, he should be the last one standing in Rotterdam.  

Memphis Open Predictions

The Memphis Open is headlined by Kei Nishikori, and he is the clear favorite to take home the title.  However, Nishikori better hope he is returning well this week, as he could potentially have to face big serving Ivo Karlovic and John Isner on his way to the finals.  Facing both seems relatively likely for Nishikori, as neither Karlovic nor Isner has a particularly difficult draw before reaching Nishikori. 

Kevin Anderson is the number two seed, and his half of the draw isn't overly menacing.  The struggling Dolgopolov is the next highest seed in his half, followed by Steve Johnson and Adrian Mannarino.  More dangerous to Anderson should be 22 year old Australian Bernard Tomic.  Tomic has been playing better lately, and looks to be reinvigorated following the emergence of even younger Aussie Nick Kyrgios. 

Expect Nishikori to play Isner in the top half semifinals, and Anderson to play Tomic in the bottom half.  In the finals, Nishikori should be able to get past Anderson in straights, although the big hitting South African is capable of giving nearly anyone problems on his best days. 

While the first round matchup of wildcards Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov won't have title implications this week (the winner will likely go down to Querrey or Becker in the second round), it is one of the most interesting matches of the tournament for fans of American tennis.  Donaldson (18) and Kozlov (17) may be the two best young American tennis players, and big things are expected from both of them.  While it's not yet clear which one is the best prospect, Donaldson should prevail in this one.  He just won a challenger and is up to 178 in the world rankings.  The younger Kozlov has shown he can compete with players ranked well above him, but he is currently outside the top 400 in the rankings.  Donaldson definitely has the pressure in this one, but he should be able to get past Kozlov in straights.

How Successful Could Mardy Fish be in his Return to Professional Tennis?

Mardy Fish has recently reentered the waters of professional tennis, playing doubles in a challenger and planning to play Indian Wells.  At this point it isn't clear whether his comeback is a short term thing, or if he's seriously committed to becoming a full time pro.  Assuming his anxiety and other health issues aren't a factor, Fish is fully capable of making his return a successful one. 

Fish is currently 33 years old, and didn't play on the tour during the 2014 season.  He had been playing some of the best tennis of his career during his last few years, and likely feels he still had more to give.  Fish certainly isn't young, but there are several other players still having success in their early to mid-thirties. 

Before his shoulder injury sidelined him, Tommy Haas was still going strong at 35.  Federer, Ferrer, Lopez and a handful of others show little to no signs of slowing down, and all are near Fish in age.  Benjamin Becker (not exactly a superstar during his twenties) is currently top 40 in the world at age 33.

To become a top 30 pro once again, Fish would have to be fully committed in terms of rebuilding his fitness and practice regimen.  He's always had a strong serve, and he'd need all the easy points he can get in his comeback.  The key for Fish would be how hungry he is to make another serious run on the tour.  If he just picks and chooses a handful of tournaments, it would be tough for him to gain the match experience necessary to compete at a high level.  No matter how well someone thinks they're hitting the ball in practice, it's extremely difficult to sustain a high level of play in matches without being match tough.  Fish certainly knows this, but whether he wants to return to the grind of the tour remains to be seen.  However, a fully committed and healthy Fish would certainly be capable of returning to the top 30.

Were he interested, Fish could likely become a successful doubles player as well.  His game is well suited to it, as he's always had great volleys to go along with his solid serve.  In his dabbles into doubles during his singles career, he managed to reach the semifinals of Wimbledon and win a Masters title, amongst other successes.  We can't yet know if Fish would be interested in travelling around the world as a doubles player, but it could be a great fit for someone of Fish's talents. 

Fish's return could prove to just be a short stop, with Fish wanting to end things on his own terms.  However, more success awaits Fish if he wants it, and he may find the possibility too hard to resist.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What We Learned from the Australian Open- "Next Three" Edition

Big things were expected from the emerging trifecta of Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov heading into 2015.  They all made great strides in 2014, and seemed poised to take the next step this year.  While they all had decent Australian Opens, it looks like 2015 might be more of the same for this threesome, as opposed to another big step forward.

Kei Nishikori:  There's nothing wrong per se with Nishikori merely making the quarterfinals of a grand slam.  It's certainly a big step back from making the finals (as he did during the US Open) but it's not realistic to expect him to reach the finals of every grand slam he plays with such a deep field.  More concerning is how easily Wawrinka took him out in the quarters.  Nishikori simply got outclassed by Wawrinka, who consistently hit a harder and heavier ball than Nishikori.  After a straight set win over Ferrer it appeared Nishikori was finding his form in time for the latter stages of the tournament.  Instead, there are now some doubts as to whether Nishikori can consistently compete with the best few players in the world. 

Milos Raonic:  Raonic did what he was supposed to do, and it's hard to knock someone for losing to Djokovic at the Australian Open.  It would have been nice if he gave Djokovic a more competitive match, but he wasn't able to put up much of a fight in the quarterfinals.  Raonic is well positioned to have a big 2015, but "big" will likely be a spot between 5-10 in the rankings as opposed to the top four.  Raonic is at the point where he consistently beats players below him in the rankings, but rarely beats players ranked above him.  Some thought this might change in 2015, but it looks like we can expect a lot of quarterfinal (and a few semifinal) performances from Raonic at the big events throughout the rest of the year.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Dimitrov never seemed at his best at this Australian Open, but the loss to Murray now seems better than it did at the time.  Regardless, if Dimitrov is ever going to live up to the hype he'll have to start beating the Murrays and Federers of the world at some point.  He is several years younger, but the Big Four isn't going away anytime soon.  Dimitrov does appear to be closing the gap, but it's clear there is still a gap between him and the very best players in the world.  Dimitrov's start to 2015 hasn't been a disaster by any means, but it has been fairly mediocre.  He's too talented (and now a hard enough worker) not to post plenty of big results during the rest of the season, but still doesn't seem ready to win the biggest matches when it matters most.

Monday, February 2, 2015

What We Learned from the Australian Open-the Semifinalists Edition

Novak Djokovic: Djokovic had a lot riding on this Australian Open, and he has clearly separated himself from the rest of the field.  Had he failed to take home the title, he would have let both the US Open and Australian Open slip away despite clearly being the best hard court player in the world.  Djokovic is now on track to have a huge 2015, as he should have a great opportunity to pick up another major or two during the season.  The Grand Slam is in play, and while Nadal will still likely be the favorite at the French, Djokovic appears to be closing the gap on clay.  Djokovic at his best is almost never going to lose, and perhaps more importantly, he has become the best in the world at finding ways to win when he's having an off day.  Djokovic now has to be included in the conversation when talking about the best players of all time, and while he is still a tier below Federer, Sampras, Laver and Nadal, he may not end up very far behind.

Andy Murray:  Murray ran out of steam against Djokovic, but he took a significant step forward with his run to the finals.  After his poor 2014, there were questions whether Murray still belonged as a member of the Big Four.  He has made clear he's currently a top four player (if not higher), and should be a threat to win several big tournaments throughout the year.  Djokovic has always been a tough matchup for Murray, as Djokovic does nearly everything just as well if not better.  However, Murray should believe he's the favorite against nearly everyone else he plays on hard courts throughout the rest of the year.  Murray announced he's back amongst the elite, and with the right draw should be capable of adding a third major at some point this year.

Stan Wawrinka:  It was surprising to hear Wawrinka admit to being physically and mentally drained after his semifinal loss to Djokovic, but it wasn't a bad tournament by any means for the Swiss.  He looked great taking out Nishikori in the quarters, and is back to playing at a top 5 level.  Wawrinka shouldn't be criticized for a semifinal performance, and with a little time off should be able to regroup in time for Indian Wells and Miami.  Wawrinka may well turn out to be a one slam wonder, but it's clear he's going to be an extremely tough out for anyone at the grand slams for the next couple of years.

Tomas Berdych:  Berdych will likely have mixed feelings following his semifinal run in Australia.  He finally broke the streak against Nadal, but it was clear Nadal hadn't yet returned to peak form.  He has a solid career record against Murray, and was certainly capable of topping Murray to reach the finals.  Beating Murray and Djokovic back to back may have been asking a bit much, but such a feat will likely be necessary if Berdych is ever going to break through and win a slam.  Berdych appears well on his way to another year in the top 10, and still seems as dangerous as any of the younger Nishikori, Raonic, Dimitrov trifecta.  It looks like Berdych remains capable of beating one top player per tournament, but navigating through two or three elite players on his way to a major title is beyond his abilities.