Category Archives: Novak Djokovic

WIMBLEDON: That Wasn’t an End for Roger Federer. It was the Start of his Agassi Phase

 

We are too fast to bring in the next generation, and now, in the case of Roger Federer, too quick to kick out the old.

So many people have characterized Federer’s five-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final Sunday as his last, best chance. I have something to say about that:

No. Way. Where most people saw the end for Federer, I saw a beginning. Federer is now moving into what I’ll call the Agassi Phase of his career. The Agassi Phase is a time when someone finds another gear, another avenue, another strategy and another wind beyond the time when age says it’s possible. Andre Agassi did it, re-inventing himself and reaching the U.S. Open final when he was 35, when his back was such a mess and his legs so beaten down that it looked like he was tripping over the paint on the baseline while trying to run down a forehand. Agassi crowded the baseline and cut off all angles so he wouldn’t have to run much.

A prediction: Federer, who is 32, will now be among the handful of top favorites again at the majors for another two years, and an outside favorite for another year after that. Last year, he never had a shot.

Welcome back to the top of the mountain, new old Roger. Or, old new Roger. Whichever.

Federer’s re-invention didn’t involve duct-taping broken parts back together, the way Agassi had to do it. Federer can still run just fine, though not as fast as he used to. In the fifth set Sunday, Federer was in better physical condition than Djokovic, who’s 27. Federer’s body is also in better shape than the 20-something bodies of Rafael Nadal (sore back, lost a step), and Andy Murray (back surgery).

It’s about making changes and adjusting to realities. As of 10 months ago, I didn’t think Federer had it in him. Oh, he had the skills, but I thought he was too stubborn to

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WIMBLEDON: Novak Djokovic Beats Roger Federer, Wins Title, Ends Career, Um, Crisis?

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When Novak Djokovic was younger and still on the outskirts of greatness, he was always known for his melodrama. It was one overplayed ailment after another. And the crowd in New York booed him, and Andy Roddick apparently punched him, or close. And in Australia, where he ran to the bathroom during a match and his opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was asked when he noticed something was wrong with Djokovic. Tsonga replied, “Five years ago.”

Times have changed, and respect has grown, but I’m having difficulty accepting the new narrative that Djokovic’ career was in some sort of crisis. He is 27, has reached the heights of his profession that few have reached. He has done it by winning his fair share against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, possibly the two greatest players of all time. He has made an insane amount of money, won an insane amount of matches, had an insane amount of fun. And he’s about to get married and become a father.

That ain’t a crisis. But Djokovic beat Federer Sunday to win Wimbledon in a classic, 6-7 (9-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4. And when it was over, Djokovic said this:

“At this time in my career, for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. I started doubting, of course, a little bit. I needed this win a lot.”

Djokovic did not NEED this win. Not for his legacy, which was already set for greatness, and not for the confidence to win more majors. He was always going to win more. This match is the defining moment of Djokovic’ career, but not because it pulled him out of some imaginary hole. It is because he finally beat Federer the Great in an epic Wimbledon final.

It was the guy he beat, the way he kept getting back up and the place he did it. All of that combined.

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To be honest, the narrative on Federer is wrong, too. He’s 32, and people saw this as his last, best chance to win another major.

Wrong. Federer has finally found confidence now that he finally — FINALLY — switched to a modern racquet that gives him more power and allows him to fend off those who are crushing the ball at him. He is going to have to get more comfortable hitting forehands with it, but the point is that he has plenty more runs at majors in him now.

God knows how many majors Federer threw away by stubbornly sticking with that ancient, outdated stick.

The thing is, Federer looked more confident these past two weeks than he has in a few years. I doubt he feels this was his last chance. Djokovic’ brain was telling him that he was in crisis.

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Maui Vacation Refreshing. Davis Cup, Fed Cup Stale

This is where I live, in Chicagoland: 20140217_165553-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this is where I went for a while, to Maui: 20140227_182652

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t tell you how bad I feel that this is what I missed:

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Yes, Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, the two best American women, representing the U.S. in Federation Cup play against Italy. You can see it clearly right there in the ad.

And it wasn’t just that, but also the whole national team season of Fed Cup and Davis Cup. I missed Switzerland against Serbia in Davis Cup, too. Imagine that: Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic.

I missed it all.

OK, so tennis fans already know what I actually missed:

Nothing.

It was just after the Australian Open, and Djokovic pulled out. He was criticized, all but called a traitor, so Serbia lost. Williams and Stephens pulled out, too, so the U.S. lost to Italy’s best. No, that isn’t right. A bunch of backup Americans lost to a bunch of the Italian backups’ backups.

And what did that prove exactly?

Meanwhile, fans had already bought tickets based on the marketing of Serena and Sloane. And fans can’t just pull out. Their money was locked in on a bait-and-switch. I’ve written before that tennis fans need a Bill of Rights, but I’ll get back to that some other time.

Here’s the thing: I don’t blame Williams, Stephens or Djokovic for pulling out. Why on earth would anyone play these things anymore?

The International Tennis Federation has rendered Davis Cup almost entirely irrelevant because it is so out of touch with the times. I’m sorry, but Bill Tilden vs. the Four Musketeers has come and gone.

Tennis is already an international head-to-head event every week all year long. The only thing the ITF has going as a carrot to lure top players to Davis Cup now is that it can guilt them into doing it.

This is just such an easy fix. Tennis can turn these things into two-week World Cup events. Bring all the countries together in one session in one place, play matches two out of three sets, and turn it into a tournament.

I’ve railed on this before, and an ITF official told me it wouldn’t work because there are countries whose entire tennis federation budget comes from low-level Davis Cup ties. Even Argentina, I was told, got its entire puny $2 million a year budget that way.

Fine. Then let the lower levels play things the way they are now in an attempt to qualify for the World Cup of Tennis. There has to be some way to make this interesting in a modern era. If you’re trying to grow the game, and add fans, you can’t do it with such a complicated event.

Who wants to follow a season that runs one week now, one week in a few months, one week a few months after that, with losers splintering off into multi-tiered loser brackets along the way?

No one has that kind of an attention span anymore.

But if you put the top countries together in a World Cup, then you can cut out two weeks from top players’ schedules. Twice that, actually, when you consider all the travel and practice time that would be saved.

Players are always complaining about the season being too long. And it is grueling. With a World Cup of Tennis, you shorten the season and more importantly:

You have an event that fans could really get behind. It would be seen as another major. Players could rest with the extra time off, and would have to give up only two weeks a year for Davis Cup. They’d do it. And general sports fans could understand it.

Which would make advertisers happy. Which would make TV happy.

Even better, tennis could actually use some of the time saved to add something it really needs.

A major in Asia.

But whatever. The ITF thinks it knows better. And that’s why we got matches such as Roger Federer vs. some guy named Ilija Bozoljac and Stan Wawrinka vs. Dusan Lajovic to determine whether Switzerland or Serbia is better at tennis.

Really?

Maybe Serena and Sloane will be back in April when the U.S. plays France in a World Group playoff – loser’s bracket — with the purpose only of being in the winner’s bracket in 2015?

Don’t count on it. I’m thinking Williams is more likely to be in Maui.


WIMBLEDON: Andy Murray’s Win Took Forever, Will Last Forever

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

This one is forever. For Andy Murray. For Britain. It took forever.

It lasts forever.

Andy Murray is the Wimbledon champion. How many times has he heard that in his head over the years? How old was he the first time? How many times has he told himself he’d never get there? He beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Sunday, and is the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Understand that for the Brits, this is like the Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series. It would be like the Chicago Cubs … well, let’s be serious.

Sometimes, it seems impossible breaking forever, making forever.

“I think I persevered,’’ Murray said. “That’s really been it, the story of my career probably.’’

We’ve seen this journey for years, Murray’s and the Brits’ together.

Please read the rest of the column here


WIMBLEDON: Can a Djokovic-Murray Rivalry Without Friction or Contrast Carry Tennis?

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

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So this is what tennis is turning it. its next generation. The straight man vs. the punchline.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic won their semifinal matches Friday to advance to the Wimbledon final. It’ll be the third final in the past four majors that they have played each other. In a crazy Wimbledon of upsets, it so happens that the No. 1 and the No. 2 seeds have reached the end. They are supposed to be here. They are consistently the best players in the game.

And remember their last classic against each other? It was in … uh. Well, no, they haven’t had a classic yet. I’m not sure they ever will. But for this to work, they’re going to need their Federer-Nadal Wimbledon moment.

These rivalries in sports are mandatory. They drive a sport, get people talking, choosing sides. Tiger or Phil. Bird or Magic. Roger or Rafa.

But in tennis, generations go so fast, and there is little time to replace them, promote them and define them.

Defining Djokovic and Murray is going to be a problem.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


FRENCH OPEN: 10 Predictions Come with Money Back Guarantee

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams

FOXSports.com national columnist Greg Couch digs into 10 questions that get to the heart of the French Open, which starts Sunday at Roland Garros in France. 

Q. It’s Nadal, Djokovic and … ummm … can anyone else on the men’s side win this thing?

A. Only Federer. And even he doesn’t have much of a shot, especially with his back and knee problems. The thing is, with Nadal out so long last year and into this year with worn-out knees, his ranking has dropped. Also, he and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw and may have to play each other before the final. It is the perfect storm of a draw for Federer. That’s sort of the equivalent of the SEC Championship Game — with the two best teams — deciding who gets to play in the BCS title game. Then, the rest of the country, basically the minor leagues, gets to fill the other spot. Federer is able to beat Djokovic on the right day, and Nadal’s knees might blow up at any time.

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com


OLYMPICS: Andy Roddick’s Career is Stuck. He’s Going to be Great TV Analyst, Though

REPORTING FROM THE LONDON OLYMPICS

WIMBLEDON (Aug. 1) — It’s getting hard to watch Andy Roddick play tennis. You can’t figure out what his spot is anymore. What his role is. Is he the great American tennis star? No. Well, sort of, maybe.

He isn’t going to win another major or get anywhere near the mountaintop again, but he’s still the only men’s player to be a star in U.S. pop culture, married to Brooklyn Decker, swimsuit model. Can he win a big match? Maybe one. He’s not coming, he’s not going. He hasn’t stayed too long, but it’s hard to know what he’s staying for. Maybe he just likes it.

But he’s sort of just suspended there, killing time. And it could go on, uncomfortably, for a while.

“I feel like it’s extremes with me right now,’’ he said after getting crushed Tuesday by Novak Djokovic in the Olympics at Wimbledon. It was 6-2, 6-1 in 54 minutes. “If I win one, it’s like Career Appreciation Day. Then if I lose one, it’s like we should take him out in the field and shoot him in the head.’’

Roddick is going to be a great TV analyst. That’s where he can mean the most to U.S. tennis now, if he brings his sharpness and his brutal honesty with him. You might not know it, but privately he is thoughtful about all sorts of issues. His sarcasm and meltdowns can become selling points for TV, too.

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


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