Early Thoughts on the Hard Court Season

Missing tennis yet? I am. I didn’t make any posts about the Davis Cup since I wasn’t able to view it and besides, it wasn’t exactly a huge deal. Roger won his singles and doubles against Portugal. He lost the first set against Machado on an indoor court which shows you the playing mode he was in. Anyway I am glad Switzerland won and as far as I know they are back in the world group now. But since there isn’t much going on in tennis right now I would like to look ahead to the hard court season in North America. There are basically four players who I think can make a big impact. They are Roger, Djokovic, Nadal, Del Potro, and Murray. I don’t see anyone who can really threaten these five guys, so let me take a closer look at each player:

  • Roger – I have always thought hard court is Roger’s best surface. Last year he came off disappointing clay and grass court seasons but when the hard courts came around he basically locked back into his highest gear, making the final of Toronto, winning Cincinnati, and making semis at the US Open. The semis loss at the US Open was a disappointment, especially after having match points, but at least his form was showing an upwards trend. The summer of 2011 was more successful for him than the summer of 2010, but the quarters loss at Wimbledon was once again a disappointment. I think he will want to put that behind him with a good showing on the hard courts. It will be hard for him to top his results of last year at Toronto and Cincy, but he will once again believe that he can make it all the way to the finals at the US Open. It won’t get any easier that’s for sure. I’m actually hoping he gets drawn in Nadal’s half this time. I think the US Open is still the one place where he has a good shot at beating Nadal. And besides it is getting ridiculous that Roger is always in Djokovic’s side of the draw. It just appears more and more like they fix the draws. Djokovic will be hard to beat anyway and I’d prefer to see Roger meet him in the final. Roger should be able to make at least semis again, unless he gets Del Potro in his quarter. He could have trouble beating Del Potro as he did in the 2009 final. But then again Roger could go ahead and win the whole thing. I certainly won’t count him out to win a 6th title in New York. He knows how to win there and it will be his last chance to break the record of most consecutive years winning at least one slam title. It would really be a beautiful way to finish the year.
  • Djokovic – No doubt Djokovic 2.0 is a different animal going into the hard court season in 2011. He comes off one of the most impressive winning streaks in history as well as two slam titles. If it wasn’t for Roger at the French Open he would probably have been gunning for the calender slam at the US Open. Hard courts is probably Djokovic’s best surface as well and he will look to do some serious damage in Montreal, Cincy, and New York. Djokovic is probably the favorite to win the US Open. But I like Roger’s chances against him better in New York where the conditions are faster than in Melbourne. The fact that Djokovic 1.0 beat Roger last year in New York isn’t exactly a great sign though, although I did think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Nadal was waiting in the final. If Djokovic is to meet Nadal again in a hard court final I think Djokovic will be the overwhelming favorite. So in the end I think Djokovic will be very hard to stop. The only guys that could possibly upset him I think is Roger and Del Potro, but both would have to play out of their skin.
  • Nadal – For me there is a pretty big question mark over Nadal for the upcoming hard court season. After the losses to Djokovic in Madrid and Rome there were clear signs that it was starting to affect his confidence. He did bounce back well however. But the Wimbledon loss was really the decisive loss to Djokovic. I think if there were tournaments directly after Wimbledon we may have seen him struggle with his confidence again, but now he has some time off to lick his wounds. Nonetheless, it is going to be very interesting to see how he copes with the hard courts, given that it’s his worst surface. He already knows that Djokovic owns him on hard courts. It can’t exactly be a confidence booster knowing that Djokovic is always looming in the draw. But at least he can only meet him in the finals so he won’t have to focus on that for a while. The question is whether other players will take advantage of the fact that he is losing his air of invincibility. Even players outside of the guys I’m mentioning here may be able to do it. You can never count Nadal out, but I don’t see him doing as well in the US Open as last year. I’d be quite surprised if he makes the final again. I think Murray or Roger will take care of him in the semis this year if he doesn’t lose earlier.
  • Del Potro – If Del Potro stays healthy I think he will be as big a threat as anyone for the hard court season. He actually made a good showing at Wimbledon and I think he is getting close to peak form again. Hard courts is also probably his favorite surface. One thing is for sure, none of the top four guys wants to see him in their quarter of the draw. When he is on form he is capable of beating any of the top four guys. By the time the US Open rolls around he would probably have played himself nicely into form and will be one of the favorites to win it. With his big serve and destructive ground strokes, as well as all court game, he is certainly capable of winning it. Of course I hope he gets drawn in Nadal’s quarter as often as possible. He has already beaten Nadal three straight times on hard court and I’m sure Nadal wants to avoid him at all costs.
  • Murray – I was quite hard on Murray the last time I talked about him, calling him a relentless choke artist, so I will try to be a little nicer this time. I think Murray can do well in the lead up events to the US Open. We already know he is capable of winning the Masters Series events. But he would of course like to prove himself on a bigger stage. I think Murray can take a big scalp like Nadal for instance, but it remains to be seen whether he can make the next step and win a slam. He will now be coached by Roger Rasheed, but in the end Murray must overcome his fear in the big moments. That is something that I don’t think a coach can help him with. Rasheed couldn’t help Monfils to take the next big step and I don’t see how he can do it for Murray. In the past Murray has relentlessly fallen over the final hurdle, and it will take some effort to avoid doing so again. So in the end I don’t see him winning the US Open, although he could possibly make the final. But lets not forget that Murray is the most inconsistent of the top four, and an early round exit is once again not out of the question for him.

So those are my thought about the five best hard court players. I really do think these five guys will fight it out for the big trophies. And that goes for all the surfaces. I just hope Roger can still hang around for some time to come, or else it may be hard to stay interested…

Roger Federer


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19 Comments

  1. Agree with your analysis. David Ferrer could be a dark horse too. He made the semi’s in AO beating a hobbled Nadal. He looked really good against Roddick and Fish in Davis Cup this past weekend. But that’s not saying much seeing as American tennis isn’t where it used to be and both Fish and Roddick are aging. Quarters at least for Ferrer and maybe he can out Nadal…Nadal and pull another semi’s. Cause there will be no doubt he’ll be in Nadal’s quarter…USO loves putting spainards in his part of the draw. Didn’t he play 3 or 4 Spainards straight last???

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  2. My bad 2 in a row…Lopez and Verdasco. Looking at that 2010 USO draw insanely easy. Take a look: Gabashvili, Istomin, Simon, Lopez, Verdasco, Youzhny, and then the Djoker. Simon maybe the toughest other than Djoker…but he was coming back from an injury. Yep, USO did everything in their power to give Nadal the career slam.

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  3. I don’t know how Federer will defend all those points from last year, it’ll be very difficult reaching all those finals and semis. He made his run last year as part of a plan to get back to the top ranking (by adding another slam in 2011) but we know how that went. I’m not sure he’ll be motivated to fight again. Anyway, I hope he’ll keep the 3rd place in the ranking by the end of the year. We’ll see how it goes.

    As for the USOPEN, that of course will be his main focus. Since we already know the draw is fixed I predict Federer in Nadal’s half and unfortunately gets Del Potro in his quarter. Murray gets Roddick or something and everybody’s happy (not!). I can only use your words Ruan “I just hope Roger can still hang around for some time to come, or else it may be hard to stay interested…”. If not winning the last slam, at least he should give us a win over Nadal or something like that (something inspiring in the spirit of the FO semis).

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  4. Whenever Roger loses everyone wants to know if he´s finished.I think he will be back to do his best at the USO.To be honest I couldn´t care less if he wins another
    Slam or not, but I do care that we enjoy the last few
    years of a career that has given us so much joy over the years, that has allowed as to forget the problems of the real world.
    As long as Fed keeps loving the game I´m always for the ride.Win or lose.He has beaten Djoko in Paris (the new
    n1)so I think he can beat the others guys too.So come on Roger, you are the BEST!!!

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  5. Federer has hopefully learned many lessons from last year’s hard court season. The tactics he employs on hard courts should be more natural to him this year.

    With the exception of Toronto (maybe Shanghai too), all the tournament surfaces are pretty fast. That suits the kind of first-strike blitz tennis he loves to play.

    If Federer finds the form he showed in London last year in Flushing Meadows, no one will be able to stop him.

    Much of the uncertainty he showed during this clay/grass season, I think, was due to his having to make bigger adjustments to his tactics, and having to face Nadal so often.

    Last fall he didn’t meet Nadal until the London final, by which point he’d played a long hard-court seasn. By then he must have been totally confident in his hard-court game, and could beat Nadal.

    Federer’s early losses this year have all come in tournaments right after his encounters with Nadal:

    Monte Carlo QF: l. to Melzer after l. to Nadal in Miami SF

    Rome R3: l. to Gasquet after l. to Nadal in Madrid SF

    Wimbledon QF: l. to Tsonga after l. to Nadal in RG F

    and until his first meeting with Nadal this year in Miami, he had made the semis or better of every tournament since last year’s Wimbledon.

    I don’t think this is a coincidence. My hypothesis is that it’s a mental “hangover” from playing Nadal. Nowadays when he meets Nadal he is trying deliberately to change his tactics. When he plays someone else soon afterwards, it’s mentally difficult to readjust his game after having to change up against Nadal, and he makes mistakes.

    All the players he lost early to are very aggressive; if he doesn’t play just the right balance of offense and defense, they’ll blitz him.

    These problems are a measure of how far out of his comfort zone he’s trying to go to beat Nadal.

    Djokovic is of course the heavy favorite to win his third major this year. But Federer can stop him again. Otherwise the title is pretty much his.

    I don’t know if Nadal will even make it to the USO final. Now that he has the career Slam he may not be so keen on adding to his tally of hard-court majors. His focus is clearly on racking up his Slam count at RG and Wimbledon because those are easiest for him to win.

    Whatever “special methods” give him sufficient speed, strength, and serving power to win hard-court majors must be very taxing on his body. His team may not want to risk using them too often.

    There are definitely some indications that this is the case: Nadal has failed to make it past the AO quarters since he won in ’09.

    The mega-serve he used to win USO showed up in London last year, but hasn’t appeared since then. Without that, he may lose early, or even in the semis when he meets a top hard-court player. If he does bring that serve, only Federer or Djokovic have a chance against him.

    Del Potro I don’t think will be in form to reach a Grand Slam final this year. He may cause upsets and make a deep run in New York, though, and he might win a title. By next year he should be back to something like his best, though.

    I hope Cilic, one of my faves, can reassert himself. He’s been wandering in outer space since February after he had some good hard-court results.

    But consider the players he lost to during the clay Masters–Federer, Nadal, and Del Potro. Not exactly slouches on clay. During the grass season he was injured at Queen’s, then had poor form at Wimbledon.

    If he is playing well he has the game to beat almost anyone; he’s beaten Nadal, Murray, and Del Potro before. If he wins a title or makes a final, he could make a good run. Otherwise there’s little reason to expect much from him.

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  6. Roger Federer to be the first man in the Open Era to win the US Open widout dropping a set n breaks the record of the most consecutive years a tennis player has won atleast one GS at 9.

    he’ll lift his US Open #6 in 2 months.

    it’s destiny. (ridiculously optimistic)

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  7. Hmmm I am very skeptical about Roger’s chances at the American hard court swing to the US Open. I saw the first set of the daviscup match against Portugal. He moved poorly. He has to improve that part of his game. But with 2 little children it is questionable if he finds the motivation to do so- holidays or a training camp? What would you do if you are a multi- millionaire?

    Moreover two guys who enjoy a “very” special diet are too good in this department. They will be able to chase down Roger’s shot a whole day.

    My favorite is Djokovic but closely followed by Nadal. If Nadal was not broken by Djokovic he would be my favorite. 2010 he had an easy draw but served and hit his forehand very well.

    Murray and Del Potro have outside chances. Murray needs to find a forehand and to avoid Nadal (just a very bad matchup for a defensive player).

    Del Potro is very capable but I am not sure if he is fit enough to challenge the big four.

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    vaibhav Reply:

    federer needs luck and good form combined with a killer instinct in all the matches to win this year’s US Open.

    Tsonga’s victory made it clear tht any player wid a good serve and a blasting forehand can beat federer in any given situation. del potro, soderling, berdych, tsonga, djokovic, nadal, simon, murray- hope federer is lucky enough to go 7 matches without meeting any of these players at any stage(impossible) n at the same time brings his A game oncourt(possible).

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    Mani Reply:

    If he bring his A game then do NOT worry about how the opponent plays!!

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    vaibhav Reply:

    he was playin his A game against tsonga….jst one loose service game each in the last 3 sets after a brilliant first 2 sets….he lost the plot on tsonga’s serve…his entire servin in the tournament was brilliant….so yea, A game alone, still not enuff esp when the opponent is A+ :-) he needs luck which mayb in the form of an easy opponent, or in the form of a good opponent havin an off day but either way he has to have his A game throughout to win.

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  8. hey Ru-an.I am back with interest for your new post.I actually am very very positive about Rogers chances in this years American Hard-Court swing and I actually made myself to believe that he could win Us Open by beating New Right Handed Nadal called Djokovic2.0 in the final.It is very difficult but still Roger has the game to win Gs.Just like you said,his game is still there.It just has to click together for 2 weeks and we may have that eluding #17 we all wanted right from last years AO.May god bless GOD to win his #17th major.

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  9. Interesting post. I agree with your analysis Ru-an. I don’t know why but I am confident that the upcoming U.S Open trophy belongs to Roger. Let’s assume Federer is in Nadal’s side and they face each other in an exciting semi-final. Provided he won that match, the trophy would be his. I don’t think Novak(or whoever is in the final) would stop Roger then. Roger’s confidence would be majorly boosted right after his 1st win over Nadal in 2011. But all that are just hypothetical I guess.

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  10. Dear Ru-an,

    Roger has already played 48 matches (singles) this year till date. In order to defend his points in the rest of the hard court season, he needs to play another 35-40 matches. So he will have to play around 90 matches this year to be at the top three. Any thoughts on this? Though 90 matches a year can be tolling on a 30 year old body, I am sure if somebody can come through this with flying colors that would Roger and only Roger.

    GO CHAMP GO.

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  11. Roger has a chance at the Open, but only if his killer instinct returns. When he is up two sets, he has to press his foot down real hard on his opponent’s neck. If the loss to Tsonga hasn’t pressed this point home, then there is no hope for Roger anymore. From now on, he has to look at the Major matches as 3-or-4 set affairs, since a 5th set will probably go to the younger player, and not him. So when he’s up 2 sets, and he suddenly finds himself losing a set, he better change his tactics fast and go for broke, swinging with conviction. And if he loses then, so be it. But at least we wouldn’t have to watch the sad spectacle of this great champion losing so passively and listlessly, as he did against Tsonga.

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  12. Does anyone really still believe Federer has the ability to be number one and win a couple more slams anymore? I still do but Federer is going to have to step it and kick some ass. I hope he does well in Cincy and the Rogers Cup. If he wins the U.S.Open, he will cement his legacy as the greatest that has ever played the game. One thing I have to ask now that Nadal lost Wimbeldon, do you think Federer can win against Nadal now that his invincibility has been broken down and has lowered self-confidence.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I think it could help Roger to beat Nadal if Nadals confidence takes a hit which it must have. And at the US Open i still believe Roger would be the favorite.

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    marron Reply:

    Yes, I think so too. However, there was a lot of talk around here last over last year’s USO that he wouldn’t have beaten Nadal there. Funny how things change in the game.

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  13. Just FYI, Switzerland hasn’t qualified for the World Group in DC yet; to do so they will have to beat Australia in the playoffs after USO. No gimme since it’s doubtful Roger would participate.

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  14. Would love to hear everyone’s thought on this,found thsi while surfing the net:It changes the perspecive a bit:

    Del Potro is a bigger threat to the TOP 3 than Murray this time and why Nadal may not be able to win US Open this time? Curious..Read on to find more!

    The Top 4 (Djokovic/Nadal/Federer/Murray​), Del Potro And The Story Of Hard Court Statistics So Far: Part II:http://bit.ly/noY2Wp

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