Sunday, June 30, 2013

Can Murray, Nadal, or Federer EVER overtake Djokovic in the rankings?

It is the my favorite thing to talk about, especially at the slams, when so many ranking points are at stake. The race for the year end No. 1 title is heating up and it has taken another twist in the last week. The latest twist has many tennis fans wondering if we will see someone besides Novak Djokovic ranked No. 1 in the next three years or more. Even greats like Pete Sampras think Djokovic could have a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking.

“I do [think Djokovic can remain No. 1 for years]. I was thinking about that when he won Monte Carlo. He could stay No. 1 for quite a while, five or six years in a row. Realistically, if he stays healthy, he could very well do it.”

So here is a look at each players chances of ever getting back to the No. 1 spot, or being ranked No. 1 at all in Murray's case.

Roger Federer: I doubted Federer once before and he made me look pretty dumb for it, but this time, a run at No. 1 is out of the question. In order to reach the No. 1 ranking last year, Federer didn't just play some of the best tennis of his life, but also entered into a lot of tournaments. Federer played 83 matches in 2012, which was his most since his incredible season in 2006. This year, however, Federer has a lighter schedule. When Federer announced that he would not be playing in Davis Cup, Miami, or Basel, his chances to ever return to No. 1 became very slight. Mix that with his disappointing 27-8 record (his worst start since 2001) and his chance of ever reclaiming the top rank of the sport is gone.

Andy Murray: Murray's window of opportunity came and went with five championship points against Djokovic in Shanghai. If he had won the match, he would have accumulated 5,310 points over a span of four months. That would have been the perfect base to build a ranking on. Instead, he gave away his 400 points to Djokovic, who took that momentum into London and won the year-end championships. Now Murray has to defend the 4,910 points that he did amass in that span, but wasn't able to do anything with, which means his ranking is going to be dropping soon. The bigger issue that Murray will have to address when he makes is next run for world No. 1 will be his clay court ability. This year, the Scot won a grand total of three whole matches on clay, which has always been his worst surface. Considering that his competition earned 1910 points on clay this year, just managing three wins is not going to get the job done. This was without doubt Murray's best opportunity. Djokovic isn't going to do any worse on clay any time soon, and Murray may never be able to repeat the run he had late in the summer of 2012 (the Olympics won't come around again for another four years). That was Murray's best chance, and it came and went. I don't think he will ever be the No. 1 player in the world in his career.

Rafael Nadal: Nadal is the one who actually has a legitimate shot at stopping Djokovic. Heading into Wimbledon, Nadal was ahead of Djokovic in the Race Rankings by almost 2000 points. However, that lead will be completely erased if Djokovic wins the title at Wimbledon, because of Nadal's first round loss to Steve Darcis. A lot is still up in the air in terms of determining the Spaniard's ability to perform at his highest level. It is clear that the knee is an issue still. Nadal sited the knee as his reason for skipping Miami and Halle, and the knee was clearly an issue in his loss to Darcis. Now, the question is if the knee will stop him from succeeding in the hard court season. If Djokovic wins Wimbledon, though, it may not matter how Nadal does on hard courts. Djokovic was very successful after the Olympics in 2012 and a win at Wimbledon could propel him to do the same this year, making Nadal's chances of returning to No. 1 even more difficult. As of right now, Nadal's window of opportunity begins in the Asian swing and ends after the Australian Open. If Nadal is not the world No. 1 at the conclusion of the 2014 Australian Open, he never will be again.

So what happens if none of these men ever do become the No. 1 again? Who will pass Djokovic in the rankings? He can't be No. 1 forever. I don't think Del Potro will ever be a serious contender for the No. 1 ranking. Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic, and Jerzy Janowicz all seem like they could be grand slam contenders very soon, but it will be a while before they are actually competing for the No. 1 ranking. It seems like they are the only three who can surpass Djokovic in the ranking. The only man who can stop the Serb is himself.

Can Djokovic break Federer's record for most consecutive weeks as the world No. 1 at 237? Djokovic's current streak is 35 and he just turned 26 years old. That means Djokovic would have to hold onto the No. 1 ranking until around his 30th birthday in order to break Federer's record. That shows you how incredible Federer's run was and why he is considered the GOAT. It seems like the possibilities are endless for Djokovic. Could we call him the GOAT some day?

Ferrer actually has a chance to become the World No. 1

As it stands right now, the biggest threat to Novak Djokovic's No. 1 ranking is none other than David Ferrer. Yet even that seems impossible since Ferrer is almost 1000 points behind Djokovic in the Race Rankings. His best chance to pass Djokovic will be at Shanghai, which means he has three and a half months to close a 4,610-point gap between himself and the world No. 1. In that time, the Spaniard has to defend 1340 points, while Djokovic has to defend 5290. That means that Ferrer only has to be better than Djokovic by 661 points over the next 15 weeks and he will be the highest ranked tennis player in the world.

Still that is a huge task for Ferrer, who at 31 years old, now has his best shot at claiming the No. 1 ranking. Ferrer had many struggles in his first week at Wimbledon as he reached Middle Sunday by the skin of his teeth. Yet now that he is here, Wimbledon presents a huge opportunity. Being better than Djokovic by 660 points will be extremely difficult for Ferrer, but if he takes it one step at a time, it is possible. If we learned anything from the first week of Wimbledon, it is to not overlook anybody.

The first step for Ferrer will be a big one, and it is to reach the final at Wimbledon. It seems very unlikely, but if Ferrer can do it, he will have done 480 points better than Djokovic in just the first week of this 15-week stretch.

The three tournaments that are very important for Ferrer after that are Montreal, Cincinnati, and Shanghai. Ferrer struggled at all three of these tournaments last year. He lost in the first round at Cincinnati and didn't even show up in Canada or Shanghai. He has to accumulate at least 1000 points total at these three tournaments. Last year, Djokovic won two of the tournaments and reached the final in the other. If Djokovic does that again, Ferrer will be in trouble, but Paris, Madrid, and Rome showed us that Djokovic is vulnerable in he early rounds.

The other big step for Ferrer will be at the US Open. What draw he gets there will be crucial in determining how he does. Potentially, Ferrer could be the No. 2 seed at the US Open, which would guarantee him being on the opposite side of Djokovic. Besides that, he will want to see Nadal, Del Potro, and Almagro in his section with Federer, Tsonga, and Murray on the other half. If he can get this dream draw, he has a very good chance of reaching the final at the fourth slam of the year.

There are a lot of "if's" involved in Ferrer's chances to surpass Djokovic in the ATP Emirates Rankings, but there is no doubting that this is the best chance Ferrer will have in his career. I don't believe that Ferrer will be able to become the world No. 1 in his career. However, as a Djokovic fan, Ferrer is the one who makes me the most nervous in the immediate future. Any chance Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray have to be the world No. 1 are not realistically possible until late in October.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Seppi vs Istomin: Wimbledon first round rematch

In one of the most exciting first round matches at Wimbledon in 2012 Denis Istomin defeated Andreas Seppi 6-7(2), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. The pair met again in the second round of this year's Australian Open where another five-set epic unfolded in Seppi's favor this time 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-2. Now, the two will square off again in another first round match at Wimbledon in what has quickly become the best rivalry of any pair of players ranked outside the top 20.

Prior to their most recent five-set matches, they had met three times before. All three matches were in the first round of the event, and Seppi came out on top each time. It is rare in tennis for two players to draw each other in a first round twice in their career. Wimbledon 2013 marks the fifth time however that these two have drawn each other in the first round of an event.

Last year, both players came into Wimbledon playing the best tennis of their career. Seppi won in Belgrade, reached the quarters in Rome, finished runner-up in Eastbourne, and had a two-set lead over Novak Djokovic in the fourth round of Roland Garros in the months leading up to the third slam of the year. Istomin was coming off of a rough clay court season, but was dominant on the hard courts. He came up through qualifying to reach the semifinals at Sydney, defeated Andy Roddick to reach the final in San Jose, and knocked out David Ferrer at Indian Wells for his first top ten win.

This year, both players have struggled to regain their form from 2012. Istomin has lost eight of his last 12 matches, while Seppi lost in the first round of all three of the master series events on clay as well as at Bucharest and Nice. Seppi reached a career-high ranking of 18 earlier this year, but is in danger of finishing the year outside the top 30 if he doesn't get another big result before December.

When making predictions for this match, one thing is certain. This match is going the distance. John Isner has been nicknamed the "Marathon Man," but that name could easily be applied to Seppi as well.

The Italian has already played five five-set matches this year, and been victorious on each occasion. After defeating Istomin in Melbourne, Seppi played another five-set match two days later, defeating Marin Cilic. Seppi then defeated Canada's Vasek Pospisil as he came back from a two-set deficit in Davis Cup action. At Roland Garros, Seppi won both of his first two matches in five sets before losing to Nicolas Almagro. Even last year, Seppi played three consecutive five-set matches in Roland Garros.

This is the best rivalry in tennis of any two players outside the top 20, and it is sure to be another epic encounter in the first round at SW19.

Could Kubot be the next Rosol?

I don't need to remind you what happened in the second round of Wimbledon for Rafael Nadal last year as he lost to the No. 100 player in the world at the time Lukas Rosol. Now, in 2013 Nadal has a chance erase those memories (to some degree) as he returns to SW19 for the first time since one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. However, Nadal is in for another serious test when he takes Centre Court for his second match at the Wimbledon Championships. Most likely, Nadal will be facing Poland's Lukasz Kubot, who has more in common with Rosol than just his first name.

Kubot is ranked No. 126 in the world, but has had most of his success as a professional as a doubles partner. However, 31-year old Kubot did reach a career-best ranking of 41 just over three years ago. Like with Rosol in 2012, Nadal has never before played Kubot, who has an almost identical playing style to Rosol. He has a big two-handed backhand to go along with a powerful forehand and a serve that occasionally exceeds 130 miles per hour. But most importantly, his strokes are all very flat and quick. On grass, Kubot's strokes are deadly, because the ball stays low and fast on the grass.

Low and fast. Those are two things that Nadal hates. Because of his extreme grip, it is hard for the Spaniard to be aggressive against low fast shots. Even worse for Nadal is that this match is going to happen in the second round, which means the grass will still be fresh, slick, and fast. If the roof is up, it will be the perfect storm to beat Nadal.

Kubot is not unable to pull of big upsets at the third major of the year. In 2011, Kubot came through qualifying to knock out Arnaud Clement and big serving Ivo Karlovic, before upsetting the No. 8 player in the world, Gael Monfils. Then in the round of 16, Kubot led Lopez, two sets to love before losing the final three sets 6-7(7), 5-7, 5-7 in a match that lasted over four hours and had 55 combines aces

Kubot represents the worst possible second round match up Nadal could possibly have. A player, who Nadal has never played before that has powerful flat ground strokes on what the players like to call "virgin grass." Do not overlook this second round match as Nadal could become the first top ten seed to go down.

Wimbledon Men's Singles Predictions

Top Half Winner: Novak Djokovic

Bottom Half Winner: Andy Murray

Champion: Novak Djokovic

Dark Horse: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Toughest Draw: Roger Federer

Easiest Draw: David Ferrer

First Round Upsets: Melzer over Fognini,  

Second Round Upsets: Mahut over Robredo, Malisse over Benneteau, Nieminen over Seppi

Third Round Upsets: Raonic over Kohlschreiber, Monaco over Cilic, Youzhny over Tipsarevic

Bold Prediction: Richard Gasquet will reach the quarterfinals of a slam for the first time since 2007, ending his 14-match losing streak in fourth round matches with a win over Tomas Berdych.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Roland Garros Semifinals; What's at stake?

Ever since the draw came out almost two weeks ago, everybody in the tennis world has been looking forward to what's going to happen on Friday. Now, with the way that the quarterfinals went, each player is going to be fully charged for what will be the most important day of men's tennis of the 2013 season. Normally, this day comes on a final Sunday, but this year, there is so much at stake at the Roland Garros semifinals that this is the most important day. So here is a look at what is at stake for each player.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: It has been 30 years since France has had a winner at their slam, when Yannick Noah defeated Mats Wilander in 1983. Just for Tsonga to reach the final would mean so much to tennis in France, and he most likely will never get a better chance. Tsonga is around the same age as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, so they are going to be dominating the game for as long as he is still competing at a top level. It seems impossible that Tsonga will ever have a scenario again where Djokovic and Nadal are on the same half of the draw, and he is on the opposite. Ever since the beginning of the big four's dominance of the sport, the criteria for anyone else to reach a slam final has been to defeat two of the Big Four. Tomas Berdych had to defeat Roger Federer and Djokovic to reach the Wimbledon final, and no other player outside of the Big Four have reached a grand slam final since. Now, Tsonga has an opportunity to reach the final at Roland Garros with only one win over a player in the big four. If he were to lose on Friday, it would be a huge missed opportunity.

David Ferrer: For Ferrer, it would be an even bigger missed opportunity. He hasn't had to face anyone in the Big Four yet, and he gets to play someone he has a winning record against to reach the final. This is Ferrer's sixth appearance in a grand slam semifinal, and his fourth in the last five slams. In each of the previous semifinal matches, he has lost to Djokovic, Nadal, and Andy Murray. This is not only the first semifinal he has played against a lower ranked opponent, but it also comes on his most successful surface. Ferrer couldn't have asked for an easier draw, and with Tsonga taking out Federer for him, this will be his best opportunity so far to reach a major final for the first time in his career.

Rafael Nadal: In Nadal's case, there are no career firsts to be accomplished in Paris. He has done it all, winning the title seven times at Roland Garros. He has never come back from down two sets to love at Roland Garros, so maybe he will lose a couple sets to Djokovic to give himself a challenge and an opportunity to do something different. However, as far as ranking goes, there is plenty at stake for Nadal. Even though the Spaniard can only possibly go down in ranking even if he wins the tournament, there is a lot to gain. Currently, Nadal is the No. 1 ranked player in the Race Rankings, which means he has been the best player since the start of 2013 and is leading the race to finish No. 1 at the end of the year. Winning Friday is the only way to guarantee that he will remain atop the Race Rankings. If Nadal falls behind Djokovic in Race Rankings at the end of the week, it will be almost impossible for Nadal to regain No. 1 this year, since there are no big clay tournaments left in 2013. If Nadal returns to world No. 1, he will only have to hold onto the ranking for eight weeks to pass Bjorn Borg and move into sixth place for most weeks spent as world No. 1.

Novak Djokovic: Friday will be Djokovic's biggest test in his path for the Roland Garros 2013 title, which would be his seventh and complete the career grand slam. With the passing of his first coach Jelena Gencic, this title will mean even more to him. If Djokovic can win his next two matches, he will cement his spot as one of the all-time greats in tennis. However, if Djokovic does lose on Friday, he will have other chances to win the title. What is immediately at stake for Djokovic is ranking. After Roland Garros, Nadal will be like a charging bull in terms of rankings as he challenges Djokovic for the top ranking. Djokovic has a good head start against Nadal of 5415 points, but he has four titles to defend before the end of the year. However, even if Djokovic holds onto the No. 1 ranking at the end of 2013, he is almost guarenteed to be passed by Nadal in Melbourne, if he doesn't have a considerable lead at the start of the tournament. Friday, is Djokovic's last real chance to gain a significant amount of points in his lead over Nadal before the bull is let loose.