ATP Sport Tennis

No 4. Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem
2019 was an impressive year for the Austrian

Five titles, including his first Masters 1000, ensured the Austrian powerhouse had his best season ever. Thiem has been a building force for a few years, but this year with his new coach Nicolas Massu took the next step. In another lifetime this would have taken him to number 1, but with arguably the three best still playing well, 4th was the highest-ranking available for mere mortals. He was unfortunate to be ill at the US Open where I thought he could have won it. The way that tournament evolved, I think he would have beaten Nadal.

Having just turned 26, Thiem is now in his prime and still possesses more room for improvement. We should see him competing for top billing next year.

Giving my opinion on Dominic is easy. Here is why: power, resolve, mature, impressive. He ticks a lot of boxes for me.

Power: Hits it hard on both sides. His backhand is a Stanimalesque (a word I just made up) sledgehammer, and his forehand is fearsome.

Resolve: He has developed a steely edge to his game now. He can handle adversity and fight back and not get down on himself. This improvement has seen him able to fight back more often, which is a crucial ingredient if you are going to maintain a high ranking. A great example is his come back from a set down at Indian Wells against a flowing Fed.

Mature: To be clear, he doesn’t have dickhead moments. He has his head screwed on right and seems a friendly, well mannered and respectful young man.

Impressive: All of the above makes him impressive on and off the court. He is a player for whom I make time to watch and follow closer than most.

My likes and dislikes:

Likes: The ripping backhand, kick- serve, newfound patience and willingness to use the cross-court slice (seems to have been a focus coming from Massu) to wait for the right ball to rip. That he is coming forward more to finish points at the net. That he goes for it often, but smart enough to leave some margin for error. When he beats Djokovic or Nadal.

Dislikes: When he beats Federer. When he plays too deep (does seem to be addressing this though).

Areas for improvement:  Volleys need work, and his backhand is technically not as sound as Stanimals but could get there. I recommend he spend more time on grass if he wants to do well at Wimbledon. Homework is to watch the Stan backhand and Federer volleys on YouTube. These two improvements would put less stress on his shoulder and allow him to finish points quicker. Long matches winning the hard way have been a problem in the past.

ATP Federer Sport

No 3. Roger Federer

At years end it felt like a strange season for Fed. It ebbed and flowed a little. He put in some brilliant performances and collected four tournaments with two runners up, but lost a few times surprisingly. For anyone other than the holy trinity, this would have been considered an outstanding season. One thing you can not ignore is the man is 38 and still doing mind-blowing stuff on the court. Wimbledon was a massive blow to all of his fans and of course it had to be against every Fed fans favourite Djokovic.

Fed should be able to stay in the top 10 until he is about 53, so no doubt that will be the case next year. He is, of course, starting to explore new frontiers for a tennis player of his vintage at this elite level. One day (hopefully no time soon) he will feel he can’t stay there anymore. Until then, though we have to assume he will continue to be in the top tier.

Now, my opinion, on the Fed. When I think of him, the first words that come to mind are grace, beauty, talent and effortless. There are so many more superlatives that I could use for him, however, in the interest of time, I’ll keep it to the usual four. It’s more than fair to say that he is far and away, my favourite player and the one who I follow the most closely.

Grace: On and off the court carries himself with polish and class, no matter the circumstances.

Beauty: Plays with a beautiful attacking all-court game. Possesses every shot in the book and executes them all with style personified – think 1hbh up the line, the inside out forehand, the overhead backhand smash and much more.

Talent: When the tennis gods decided to create the ultimate player, the result was an all-court attacking player named Federer. He has superb technique, but sometimes he hits the impossible shot such as a backhand half volley flick off the baseline – up the line no less for a winner, or a little inside out forehand flick to leave an opponent stranded — talent plus.

Effortless: Makes the hard look easy and graceful, beauty and talent results in it looking effortless. Unlike someone like Rafa, he never looks like he’s doing it hard. Glides around the baseline like a ballet dancer float like a butterfly, forehand stings like a bee. You get the idea.

Likes: How much time have you got? I’ll try to be succinct. Serve, forehand (especially the inside variations), overhead, volley is flawless, slice and dropper – so yeah pretty much the main shots you need to be any good at tennis. I also like immensely any time he beats Djokovic (psst Djokovic secretly wishes he had Feds skills).

Dislikes: When he occasionally gets it wrong strategically like on match point at Wimbledon ☹. Some of his Uniqlo outfits such as that worn at Roland Garros were terrible. There is a hint of Master Chef with some of his others too.

Areas for improvement: Forget about improving any shots, but converting breakpoints might be a handy skill for an ageing body! He said once he doesn’t practice returning, so maybe start doing some? Homework this office season is to get Uniqlo to sell his stylish outfits in Australia, like the one he wore at Hopman cup. Once Fed has done that, he should put his feet up and watch himself on YouTube – start here with one of my favourite matches if he doesn’t have the time here is the summary “Kyrgios plays lights out, but RF still wins!” because he was in some of his best form during Q1 2017.

Did I mention champion? No one is more deserving of that tag in all of sports than the Fed Express.

Some Fed action shots, because you can never get enough of those…

Sport Tennis

The ball was good

Accordingly, who am I to criticise professional tennis players? Of course, I’m no one, and I’ve never played professionally. I ask you to take my posts on players with a pinch of salt, mainly when I point out what I think they can improve on and what I don’t like about them. I do follow the game intently, play frequently and talk to plenty of other players and some professional coaches about the game. You have to also factor in the context of my comments concerning a player. Any tennis player who can make a living out of it has to have a lot of good qualities and abilities. Just qualifying for a futures tournament, for example, is an enormous accomplishment.

So, if I say, for instance, Steve Johnson has a weak backhand, then it is in comparison to his peers. It was better than most other players in the world and did not stop him from getting a consistently high ranking. There are also different facets to a backhand, for example. His slice backhand is actually excellent, but his topspin backhand is not and have you ever seen him hit one hard up the line for a winner?

Therefore the ball is good.

Novak Sport Tennis

No 2. Novak Djokovic

Finishing at number 2 for 2019 is Novak Djokovic. Unbelievably, this by his standards seems a little disappointing. After being in the number 1 spot heading into the final phase of the season, he finished poorly at the ATP finals leaving the way for Rafa to take year-end number 1. Novak is far from my favourite player, however you can’t help but respect his incredible consistency on the court and his year in year out winning ways. This year was no different, and he was flawless in the final at AO to start the year. In the final against Rafa, he hit an impressive 34 winners and even more impressively only gave up nine unforced. It is impossible to see him slipping outside the top tier again next year. His final rank, like with Rafa, will depend on how much if at all, those below him improve.

When I think of the Djoker words that come to mind are a machine, boring, wall and nightmare. Interesting set of words, so let’s check them out.

Machine: By this I mean he churns out win after win with machine-like precision and is rarely tested in early rounds of a tournament (special mention to Philipp Kohlschreiber who achieved it). He is machine like also in the way he can seem to autopilot through matches against lower-ranked opponents with his proven game style which leads me to the next word.

Boring: Novak bores lower-ranked opponents to death like a Boa constrictor strangling its prey. His relentless depth of rally ball never lets the opponent breath and they often eventually error out of the point.

Wall: It must feel like playing a wall sometimes for opponents, such is the level of his defence. When he is not dull, he is defending and getting good shots back time after time. He’ll do this until he can get control of the rally again or his man over the net makes an error going for too much because they know it has to be red hot to get past him (Federer is sometimes guilty of this). Look at most of the players that beat him this year – they played light outs tennis.

Nightmare: Which is the combination of machine, boring and wall. Players would think what a nightmare he is to beat because he makes so few errors and gives you so little to attack. Not only that, he can do it for hours on end.

So, in summary, here are my likes, dislikes and areas for improvement:

Likes: He is plant-based. Incredible consistent length of rally ball (would be my number 2 desired asset after Federer’s serve) and return of serve. Best in the business on the stretch – think full stretch 2hbh up the line. The crazy flexible positions he gets into and can still make a great shot. His involvement with the Game Changer film. The time he called out a fan for being an idiot. Oh, and his Lacoste gear is usually very stylish.

Dislikes: When he goes full eye-popping ballistic and primal screams (although we tend not to see this as much anymore) — whining to his box when things are going against him (a huge pet peeve of mine with any player – Murray I’m looking at you 😊). The pitiful little grunt he has recently developed when struggling to stay in a point as if to say this is so unfair. The hair (petty I know) it makes him look like a Lego character to me. I agree with Nick Kyrgios regarding the boob wave (this is his celebration to the crowd after a win). I’m also not a fan of his style, which is to wait for an error from the opponent. If you think I’m harsh check out these top 5 reasons a lot of fans do not like Novak.

Areas for improvement: The overhead smash and any ball above his shoulders. His homework for the offseason is to watch Federer hit smashes on YouTube then go out with his coach Vajda and practice them. While on YouTube take in some Fed slices too, since his slice is quite average for an elite player. After doing that he needs to go and see a good hairstylist.

Finally, yes, he is a champion, just doesn’t come to mind quickly.

Rafa Sport Tennis

No 1. Rafael Nadal

Rafa finishes year-end number one and deservedly so after another outstanding season in 2019. It may not have been his best season ever, but incredibly I think he might have even improved this year. His ability to win matches was terrific, especially when you consider how good it already was.

Now my opinion on Rafa… When I think of him, the first words that come to mind are: intense, beast, champion and annoying. Let’s have a look at each of those words and why they come to my mind first.

Intense: When it comes time for Rafa to switch on and hit the arena to play, the man exudes intensity. You can see it clearly in his face and body language. He’ll be jumping around and pacing like a prizefighter who has just had a dose of smelling salts and is about to enter the ring. Caps off the start of on the court formalities with his signature sprint from the net to the baseline. He’s ready to go, and everyone watching knows Rafa will bring it.

Beast: Physically has an imposing physique and coupled with his intensity looks like a beast. Then there are his beast mode moments. When you think the point is lost for him or that he can’t possibly make one more ball he’ll find beast mode by making the ball and hitting a winner. Another thing is he just will not go away. When the scoreline looks like his opponent has him or is the likely victor Rafa will never relent or submit to mortal people’s impulse to accept the inevitable. The opponent must maintain their excellence to finish him. Rafa does not concede until he must go to the net and shake hands.

Champion: I consider this to be someone who maintains an elite standard over time and continually wins – a lot! They also have great respect for their sport and conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. He qualifies, without a doubt.

Annoying: Now the fun part where Rafa fanboys will be coming for me 😊. Let me try and sedate them by saying this should end up a backhanded compliment. It starts with my dislike for his grunting. As a viewer, I find it annoying and distracting from my couch. Then there is the constant fidgeting and semi-wedgy removing. For goodness sake you are sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger underwear so can’t you please get a pair that fit correctly and some Nike shorts too! This habit and the fidgeting, particularly when preparing to serve at times, pushes the boundaries of time-wasting and being unsporting to the opponent. Now Rafa comes across as a respectful and super friendly guy, and I’m sure he is so I would never accuse him of cheating, nonetheless, at times I believe this “tactic” is up for discussion. Rafa will be a lock-in for top 10 in 2020 – for me, his final place comes down to how much improvement the rest of the field can make. It’s improbable his level is going to drop.

So, in summary, here are my likes, dislikes and areas for improvement:

Likes: His death stare, the eyebrow raise during interviews, his accent and way with words – “it’s unbelievable”. I bet he is a pleasant and fun person to be around off the court. Of course, refer to terms above – beast, intensity and champion. Oh and those guns 💪

Dislikes: Grunting, wedgy removal, fidgeting and over the top fist pumps (particularly the ones involving a jump) and the bright coloured Nike gear that clashes and hurts my eyes. Did I mention the double fist pump?

Areas for improvement: Tennis wise I don’t see how that is possible. I’m sure he can think of a few and is probably out there working on them right now. His homework over the offseason should be to call Tommy Hilfiger and Nike to sort out that tic and to tone down the outfits.