Quarterfinals are Set as the French Open Moves Into Its Business End

I’m done with exams in time to blog about the business end of the 2017 French Open which promises to be an exciting few days. For once, Murray and Wawrinka have come to play which adds to the intrigue.

Lendl joined Murray in Paris which must have had a positive effect because he has been playing more like a world number one for once. He defeated Del Potro in straight sets and today he defeated the promising youngster Khachanov 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

He plays Nishikori next who defeated Verdasco 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 today. Quite a scoreline. It was a good comeback from Nishikori who will be a real test for Murray. But given the way Murray has been playing, he is probably the favorite.

That could give us a rematch of last year’s semi-final between Stan and Murray because Stan is the favorite over Cilic too. But let’s see what happens in the top half quarterfinals first which will be played on Wednesday.

  • Bottom Half

The bottom half is where the likely 2017 French Open winner will come from because you have Nadal, Djokovic, and Thiem there. Nadal is still the favorite for the title as he has been all clay court season long probably.

But fortunately, Djokovic has done well enough for it not to be a foregone conclusion. He has blown some much-needed life into an otherwise very predictable and boring clay court season by gradually improving with every event he played despite having very little room to work with.

Then he also gained the services of tennis legend Andre Agassi after contacting him after he lost in Monte Carlo to thank him for his support in the media. Agassi came to Paris to work with Djokovic in the first week and had to leave after Djokovic’s third match due to a family trip that had been arranged beforehand.

But I think just the fact that the two got together already means an enormous amount to Djokovic. The problem for Djokovic has been mostly mental as it usually is with a confidence crises and Agassi’s presence and support will do a lot for Djokovic’s mental stability and confidence.

Djokovic plays Thiem tomorrow who he destroyed 6-1, 6-0 in Rome but on that occasion, Thiem had beaten Nadal in the previous round which would have taken a lot out of him while Djokovic was at his devastating best. This time Thiem will be better prepared while Djokovic will not want to peak again.

It is only the quarterfinal stage and Djokovic needs to leave some of his best form for Nadal especially. Fortunately for Djokovic, Thiem is a good matchup for him. More so than Goffin would have been.

He does not have to play at his peak level to still beat Thiem relatively comfortable. He beat Vinolas 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-3 who won the most clay court matches this season so he is in good form. He had that match against Schwartzman that went to five sets but played himself into form in the last couple of sets winning 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

That was his big test which he passed with flying colors in the end. The court time would have done him good too. But Thiem will be another test. He has probably been the second best clay courter this season behind Nadal and hasn’t dropped a set in Paris this year.

There is a wind of 25 km/h predicted for tomorrow and although Djokovic is not a great wind player I don’t think Thiem is either with his big swings. Djokovic needs to return well and play close to the baseline and Thiem will struggle with his big swings.

But that may be harder in windy conditions. Djokovic and Thiem will play on Lenglen like they did last year in the semi-finals when Djokovic won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 but that was a masterclass from Djokovic and Thiem is more experienced now. I can see it going to four sets but Djokovic needs to put in a confident performance before facing Nadal too so I don’t think going to five sets will be helpful.

Preferably Djokovic needs to get it done in straight sets but I suppose going to four sets is ok too. All I know is he needs to be at peak level against Nadal and can’t be horsing around in a five setter against someone who he has historically owned. I hope the wind does not get in the way.

As for Nadal, he plays Busta who made his first slam quarterfinal after defeating Raonic 8-6 in the fifth set. Nadal has been untouchable so far and he is yet to show any signs at all of weakness. Busta has close to 0% chance of defeating Nadal but maybe he can at least make a set or two competitive.

 

French Open Draw has Djokovic and Nadal in Same Half for 7th Consecutive Event

The only event where Djokovic and Nadal were not in the same half this season was Doha where Nadal did not play. That is seven consecutive events in the same half which have a probability of 1/128 of happening.

In other words a 0,78% chance. Extremely slim. Freak accidents are possible but when you see that they have also been in the same half of the French Open five consecutive times and 8/10 possible times you start to wonder.

Other than that it is a pretty balanced draw. Murray got Del Potro in the third round but Del Potro’s participation is in doubt due to more injury problems. Alexander Zverev is also in Murray’s quarter who could come through that quarter, given the form of Murray and Nishikori, who lost today to Mischa Zverev in Geneva.

Zverev will play Wawrinka in the final who is finding form again at just the right moment. I can easily see him going on a 2015-like run in Paris again in which case he would make the final at least.

Nadal got Paire in the first round who has zero chance of beating him. Although nothing is certain in tennis it is as certain as it gets that Nadal will make semis. There Djokovic can stop him if he plays like he did against Thiem in Rome.

Djokovic’s draw looks pretty good until the quarterfinals where he could face Thiem or Goffin. Thiem appears to be a good matchup for Djokovic and although Goffin can be tricky Djokovic leads him 5-1 in the head-to-head.

I think Djokovic’s chances looks pretty decent for semis and if he can get there in good form he can take Nadal out. During the clay court season Djokovic improved with every tournament and if he keeps that up he will have his chances of defending his title.

Djokovic surprised everyone by the manner in which he defeated Thiem in Rome and if he keeps improving he will shock everyone by defeating the favorite for the title.

  • Djokovic and Agassi Hits It Off Well in Paris

Something else that is working in Djokovic’s favor I think is his new relationship with Agassi which started in Madrid and Rome already as they discussed Djokovic’s matches over the phone.

Agassi can’t stay the whole tournament but it is great to see him back in Paris and as Djokovic’s coach at that. The two clearly has chemistry and that will already mean a lot to Djokovic. Djokovic has been looking for inspiration and change for some time now and it looks like he just found the ideal answer.

Personally, I couldn’t think of a better fit in terms of game styles, personalities, and career similarities. One doesn’t expect Djokovic to start winning everything all of a sudden but it is not impossible either.

Agassi’s input over the phone may have already helped Djokovic in Madrid in Rome and even having Agassi in Paris just for a few days could provide Djokovic with enough inspiration to defend his title.

Some relationships just hit it off from the beginning and judging from Djokovic’s quote that I posted that is exactly what happened. All of a sudden you almost feel like there is two of you instead of one. Especially when you and the other person have so much in common.

Djokovic and Becker was a great match but they took some time to find each other. I think Djokovic and Agassi is one of those rare relationships where there is no need for finding each other. It just clicks from the beginning.

And again, that is why I wanted Agassi to be his coach when I first heard he was looking for a new coach because I know both players very well and I knew how much they had in common. It is no surprise to me that they feel like they have known each other forever.

In the interview with Agassi I posted, he also says that he thinks Djokovic can be better than he’s been which is hard to believe given the level Djokovic reached but very exciting for Djokovic fans nonetheless.

I don’t doubt Agassi either. He is not the kind of guy who makes statements for hype. He is a very intelligent guy(like Djokovic) and also very serious. I think his input will prove to be absolutely invaluable for Djokovic and as a fan of both I am so excited that I don’t even care about what happens at the French Open.

I just can’t wait for them to make a long-term arrangement and to see what the future holds for their partnership.

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Zverev Wins First Masters Title in Rome, Agassi to Join Djokovic in Paris

Congrats to Zverev on his first Masters title today in Rome when he defeated Djokovic 6-4, 6-3. I always thought Zverev was the real deal but Djokovic was a disaster today. Since yesterday he moved from one extreme to the other.

Just no confidence or mojo whatsoever. He dropped serve in the first game of the match and never recovered as he got broken two more times in the second set. It has to go down as one of the worst matches he’s ever played.

Not that I’m complaining. Djokovic improved with every clay court event this season and went a round further in each. If he continues in this fashion he will defend his French Open title. The match against Thiem was also unexpected and cause for optimism.

The drop in form today was in a way expected after the high of yesterday. When a player comes out of a slump he will still experience ups and downs until he finds consistency again. And as long as Djokovic keeps improving that will happen.

It’s been a gradual improvement since the beginning of the clay court season and if he wins the French Open he will be officially back. But even if he doesn’t and just comes very close he can still announce his return with a Wimbledon title.

So I think there are plenty of positives to take from this week for Djokovic and now there is news that Agassi will be joining him in Paris to see if they can agree on a long-term coaching arrangement.

  • Djokovic = Agassi 2.0

Ever since I first heard Djokovic split up with his team and was looking for a new coach Agassi was the first guy that came to my mind. As a huge Agassi fan when he was playing, I could see the parallels between his career and Djokovic’s but I also knew that he was a busy guy and that he didn’t really want to coach on tour.

So the news that Agassi was going to join Djokovic in Paris, even though it was nothing long-term yet, made me happy. I think of Djokovic as Agassi 2.0. There are many similarities in their career trajectories, games styles, and personalities but Djokovic is obviously better.

 

Career trajectories – Agassi had three distinct phases in his career. He was a bit of a late bloomer who lost his first two slam finals at the French Open. He broke through in 1992 when he won Wimbledon seemingly out of nowhere and then slumped, a lot like Djokovic who won his first slam at the Australian Open at 20 and then had a bit of slump before he won his next slam in 2011.

Whereas Djokovic’s second distinct phase started in 2011 Agassi’s began in 1994 when he won the US Open and the Australian Open in 1995. During Djokovic’s second phase he won double that amount of grand slam titles from the 2011 Australian Open until the 2012 Australian Open.

They both then went through a kind of slump although Djokovic’s was more of a lull while Agassi slumped all the way to #141 in the world. Djokovic was still number one and won another grand slam at the Australian Open during his lull period but when he hired Becker in 2014 they went through a period where Djokovic won 6/8 slams including the career and personal slams.

Agassi’s corresponding phase was from 1999-2000 where he won 3/4 slams and just missed out on the personal slam after losing to Sampras in the 1999 Wimbledon final. That period corresponds to the period where Djokovic won the personal slam and was both player’s peak.

After that run of Agassi, he didn’t really slump again but fell from #1 to #8 in the rankings and it took him another year to win his next slam at the Australian Open at the age of 30 and won another Australian Open two years later at the age of 32.

Djokovic is now at a similar stage that Agassi was in after he went through that hot run where he became so close to winning the personal slam. He was just on fire during that period the same way Djokovic was in 2015-2016.

If the similarities in career trajectory continue Djokovic is also now past his peak but could have several more slam titles left in him and Agassi’s input can prove invaluable in that regard. If there is anyone who can identify with Djokovic and help him to get the best out of his career in his 30’s it is Agassi.

Agassi played until he was 36 and still made the US Open final at 35 where he lost in a close match to Federer. If he can do that imagine what Djokovic can still do. It’s not irrational to suggest that Djokovic can win slams at 35 given the parallels of their respective careers and the fact that Djokovic is clearly the superior player.

Game styles – There are strong similarities in the way they play tennis too. Even though Agassi was an attacking baseliner and wasn’t anywhere near the as good a defensive player as Djokovic they are still both predominantly baseliners.

But the biggest similarities which are almost uncanny is their world class two-handed backhands and returns of serve. Agassi had a more attacking backhand and return of serve but Djokovic is arguably even better in both areas.

Agassi revolutionized the return of serve but I think Djokovic has taken it to a higher level. Djokovic has a much better defensive backhand and he makes more returns of serve than Agassi. But Djokovic can also be offensive on his backhand and returns.

Some other similarities are that they can adjust well to all surfaces. In Agassi’s time it was even harder to win the career slam because the surfaces were much less homogenized than they are today and like Djokovic the French Open also became a cursed slam for him after losing two finals there before eventually winning the title in 1999 after coming back from a two sets to love deficit against Medvedev.

More similarities in their games are that neither are very comfortable at the net but Djokovic has better volleys and a better serve as well. Their forehands are about equally good although again Agassi was, in general, more offensive and always stood very close to the baseline and took everything on the rise.

The main similarity is that they are both extremely solid from the baseline with great techniques that very little could go wrong with.

Personalities – They are both extroverts and showmen. Agassi had the cool/flamboyant image from the beginning while Djokovic came to be known as the Djoker due to his imitations of other players and sense of humor. They are both characters and entertainers.

At first, I didn’t warm to Agassi but like Djokovic, he grew on me over time until I eventually became a fan of him when Sampras’ personality and dominance started boring me. Much to the dismay of Fedfans, I have done a similar thing with Federer and Djokovic, although it took me much longer to get bored of Federer.

Again, the similarities seem almost uncanny because like Agassi Djokovic recently started his own version of bowing to all four corners of the court after a victory the same way Agassi did.

It is also striking how both players matured and evolved over time where many players are early bloomers and then tail off toward the end of their career or just kind of stay the same.

It is therefore also no surprise to me that whenever I heard Agassi speak about Djokovic he always seemed to take a keen interest in the Serb and always had positive and supportive things to say.

  • Agassi Could Hold the Key for Djokovic

So now you know why I always wanted this partnership to happen and why I am excited about this initial arrangement. I really hope they can work out a long-term partnership because I really believe it can work out well for both.

There is also the factor of Gil Reyes who is a great physical trainer but is probably quite a bit different than Djokovic is used to. Reyes is big on weight lifting and strength and I don’t think it can hurt Djokovic to gain some muscle and strength.

He is so skinny and weight lifting will help him with longevity as well. Obviously, Djokovic’s movement is important so he doesn’t want to become heavy on the court but as he ages, he will probably have to adjust his game to be more offensive.

That is another reason for him to work on his strength and being able to hit the ball harder. Some have said that Agassi won’t be able to help Djokovic because Djokovic needs someone who can teach him to volley better but I think the fit is so good that that is not really a factor.

Djokovic had Becker for that after all and Agassi will thus be a change which is good. There is no guarantee that they will work together in the long-term yet or that the relationship will even be successful if they do, but I think in an emotional sense Agassi could be priceless for Djokovic and that is where his problem have been of late.

I just think they are a great fit and this is an added bonus after Djokovic’s form this week so I am looking forward to the French Open. I also hear a New Crocodile is on its way tomorrow on Djokovic’s 30th birthday…

  • Highlights