I know it may not always seem that way, but I am actually interested in tennis outside of Roger Federer. It’s just that many of these tournaments are not televised and my Internet connection is not strong enough to watch tennis online here in South Africa. In fact the last few days I haven’t even had any connection at all for the most part. I still try to follow the tennis on forums so that I have more or less an idea what is going on. The week before last week it was Albert Montanes who won the clay court event in Romania, while Gael Monfils won the tournament in his home country in Metz, France. It was nice to see Richard Gasquet, who was banned for cocaine use, get a few wins under his belt when he made the semi-finals of Metz. He was beaten pretty convincingly by Monfils in the semi-finals though, 6-4, 6-3.
At won point many people thought Gasquet would be the next big thing after Roger, but I don’t think he will ever really live up to his talent. Talent is not enough of course, and some players just don’t deal very well with the pressure of expectation. The French players in general don’t deal very well with pressure. I’ve played a lot of tennis in France myself, and although the country has great depth in tennis, the players lack a certain killer instinct which is necessary to perform well at the very top of the game. The French players are very nice and they are very fair players. Although that is a good thing, it is also their downfall. Tennis is unfortunately not about being nice. Roger is very unique in that sense, because he can balance having a killer instinct on court with being a nice guy.
I have seen very few guys who can get that balance right, if any. At least the French player Gilles Simon had enough killer instinct to win the tournament in Bangkok, beating Viktor Troicki 7-5, 6-3 in the final. Up to now Viktor Troicki has really been an unknown for me. He seems to have a decent ranking though, and have had wins over Djokovic and Roddick before. At least by making the final and beating guys like Isner and Tsonga along the way I have a better idea of who he is now. He can’t be all bad if he beats player like that, although Tsonga apparently blew it after winning the first set 6-1, losing the next two sets 6-2, 6-3. Tsonga has been a bit disappointing to me this season. After making the final of the Australian Open in 2008, and being out with injury for a big part of the season, I really thought he would step it up in 2009.
Being in the top 10 is not bad at all of course, but because of the injuries in 2008, he didn’t have many points to defend. He hasn’t been particularly good in the majors and lacked consistency. Probably his biggest win of the season was the one against Roger in Montreal, after Roger blew a 5-1 lead in the final set. The same thing can be said for Gilles Simon, so it’s good to see that he shut some critics up with the win in Bangkok. Simon is another French player who is struggling with the pressure of being a top 10 player. He is also being criticized a lot for his style of play which people say are too defensive and negative. But as usual there are too many people sitting on the sidelines who finds it easy to criticize, while if they had to be out there themselves they couldn’t do half the job these players do.
I like to watch Simon when he is timing the ball well. He can actually hit his forehand with a lot of power when he wants to, and unlike so many players these days he actually thinks when he is out there. Tsonga on the other hand seems to do very little thinking at all. He just makes some strange decisions at important moments in matches. But then again you must give him a lot of credit for playing an attacking game style in an era that favors the counter punchers. Again this just shows what unique genius Roger is, because he can do all these things. He plays both attacking and defensive tennis equally well, and he does use his brain when he is out there. Most players can only do one of these things well, like Simon and Tsonga. But Roger can do everything well.
Another player that has been quite disappointing to me this season after his terrific run at the Australian Open, is Fernando Verdasco. I had so much expectations for him after that amazing run, but after Simon Reed called him ‘the future of tennis’, I should have known that was the end of him. The ultimate jinxer claimed yet another victim, and ever since Verdasco has been a mental midget compared to his Australian Open exploits. Time and time again he has come up short against the top players. Again it is very hard to criticize a player who is in the top 10 in the world, but as someone who understands the dynamics of a tennis match, I have to say it has been extremely frustrating watching him since Australia.
I mean I have to feel sorry for the guy. It’s come to a point now when he plays against someone above him in the rankings, I can literally call when he is going to choke. This is sad because I know he has the game to really trouble the top guys, even Roger and Rafa. He is talented enough to be a top 5 player and be a major contender, but mentally he seems extremely fragile. He had a good win against Fernando Gonzalez in Kuala Lumpur, only to blow three set points against Nicolay Davydenko in the final to lose 6-4, 7-5. Davydenko is the type of player that I feel Verdasco should really beat on a regular basis. I mean Davydenko is a very solid player, but he has nothing to really hurt his opponents with. Verdasco on the other hand has many weapons.
Hearing that Verdasco blew three sets points against Davydenko just made me sigh, as I realized Verdasco failed to take advantage of yet another opportunity. Robin Soderling was guilty of something similar against Davydenko in the semi-finals when he was a set and a break up. Again with all the weapons Soderling has at his disposal he should get the better of Davydenko more often than not, but unlike Verdasco he has beaten him at the French Open as well as the US Open. As we saw at the French Open and against Roger at the US Open, Soderling is a very dangerous player, and I really hope he does not end up in Roger’s draw yet again at the next major. Soderling’s favorite part of the season is the indoor season, so I think he can do really well until year end.
So far five player have qualified for the year end Master Cup, with Delpo being the latest. That leaves three more spots for the taking with Roddick, Tsonga and Davydenko currently occupying those spots. I think Roddick will probably make it as well, while the two remaining spots are still in doubt. It will be interesting to see who can grab the remaining spots. Right now Verdasco, Simon and Soderling are all still in with a legitimate chance to make the Masters. I’m hoping Soderling can still make it, and with his indoor record you wouldn’t bet against it either. Of course this week there is the ATP 500 events in Tokyo and Beijing, with Rafa, Djokovic and Delpo all back in action. The only top five players who are not in action is Murray who withdrew from Tokyo due to a knee injury, and Roger who is of course on diaper duty
Incidentally I read somewhere today that Roger may have played in Asia was it not for the fact that he played Davis Cup, but I couldn’t find the actual article for you. Roger also said that playing Davis Cup and on the tour at the same time is not working out for him, so we may see him making a decision on that pretty soon. I have to agree with him. Davis Cup is not exactly all that high on his priority list, and it keeps getting in the way of his tour schedule. I mean what would you choose, seeing Roger playing in Asia or Davis Cup against Italy? I’m pretty sure your answer would be Asia. By playing Davis Cup the year end number one ranking has gone from a certainty to being doubtful, and it has robbed us from seeing Roger playing at least in Shanghai.
As much as I would like to see Roger win the Davis Cup with Switzerland, I think he may have to cut them loose next year. That would be pretty sad, but right now things just aren’t working out. The two just doesn’t seem to go well together. By performing well for himself Roger is serving his country anyway, and I don’t think the Swiss could care less if Roger played Davis Cup after all he has done for them. Of course they would like him to play Davis Cup, but at the same time they will be very grateful for what he has done for Switzerland. As for the tournaments this week in Tokyo and Beijing, Roger may not be in action, but at least we can start to get an idea of what Rafa is up to. The Tokyo filed has been weakened by the withdrawal of Roger and Murray, and I expect Delpo to win there.
The field in Beijing is much more loaded, with Rafa, Djokovic, Roddick, Davydenko, Verdasco and Soderling all there. At least Rafa won’t have a cakewalk to the title, although as always the draw is heavily in his favor. I’m starting to wonder if uncle Toni does not actually bribe tournaments to give Rafa easy draws. It’s just uncanny how easy his draws are. Of the players I mentioned above he only has Davydenko on his side of the draw. How the hell does that work? How can the number 2, 3, 5 and 6 seeds all be in the bottom half the draw? Doesn’t that seem a little suspect to you? So basically Rafa will only play against one player that is difficult for him, and that will be in the final. Just what he needed after another injury break!