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ATP Tennis

Australian Open 2020 Men’s Preview

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This year more than any in recent history looks the most wide open.

Looking at the entries, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see anyone of 10 players holding the trophy on the final night at Rod Laver Arena.

The leading contenders in no particular order:

  • Djokovic
  • Nadal
  • Federer
  • Tsitsipas
  • Medvedev
  • Thiem
  • Zverev
  • Wawrinka

Wildcard contenders:

  • Shapovalov
  • Cilic

The speed of the court will play a role as always with the varying styles these players have. This year there has been a change of surface supplier which perhaps potentially introduces a new variable. The most recent history for the surface has been to play medium-fast with lowish bounce and with less spin than the US Open. This fact may explain why Nadal has failed to win here recently despite reaching several finals. Tennis Australia has said the courts would be the same but being brand new on the main stadiums, they may play slower initially.

Assuming the courts do play the same as in the recent past then I think this eliminates Nadal as I don’t believe with his draw that he could beat Djokovic in the final, Medvedev in the semi and Thiem in the quarters.

Before the ATP Cup, I thought Zverev would have a big year and he still might but his second serve in that event was a huge problem, and I can’t see him going deep here on the back of that.

Wawrinka would likely run into Medvedev in the round of 16, and the lower bouncing court won’t do him any favours, and this is where I think his tournament will end.

As I have eliminated three players, this leaves Djokovic, Federer, Tsitsipas, Theim, Medvedev and the two wildcards Shapovalov and Cilic.

I exclude Cilic – who I think can surprise with a deep run, but I don’t believe with his ranking that he can beat two or more of the above players in succession to win the title.

Shapovalov has a stylish, well-rounded game that this surface suits, but I doubt he is ready to win a major and he has to beat Dimitrov to make a quarter-final against Federer that I don’t think he can win.

These further omissions leave me with five players:

Federer: If fresh and firing can go all the way with Djokovic his most significant obstacle in a semi-final.

Djokovic: Seems always to start the year well and loves this venue and surface. Tsitsipas strikes me as the player to bother him with his variety and energy in a quarter-final.

Tsitsipas: Surface suits his attacking game and has shown he has the mental attributes that could take him all the way. I think he will give Djokovic a shake in a quarter-final, but I expect the Serb to sneak past him.

Thiem: Showed in 2019 that he is much more than a clay-court specialist. Has developed his game to be excellent on hardcourts and if he could beat Medvedev in a quarter-final has the mental strength to go all the way. Height of court bounce is a significant factor though, for him, I feel.

Medvedev: Showed last year he is exceptionally hardy and difficult to beat on any surface and with his US Open showing in 2019 looks ready to take out a major. I think being opposed to Djokovic or Federer would pose the biggest threats to his ambitions.

I can’t go past Djokovic for the title, but if he slips up and Federer gets past him, I could see Roger posting his 21st major victory. Either way, I would see the other finalist as being Medvedev.

Who do you have playing in the final?

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 39. Marin Cilic

Cilic experienced a wretched year by his standards in 2019. He started by making the 4th round at AO but suffered poor form and combined with a knee problem could not achieve any consistent results. It was the first time in 12 seasons where he failed to win a title.

Cilic at 198cms (6′ 6″) fulfils the modern trend of big serve and a big forehand that is typical of the ATP men’s game. However, he has a more well-rounded game than most other players of similar stature. Given Cilic has minimal points to defend and appears over his knee problem, I think he can cement himself back in the top 30 in 2020 once again.

Words that shape my take on him are serve, streaky, humble, nervous.

Serve: The foundation of his game is his serve, and when that is working well, he is capable of big wins.

Streaky: Cilic can have hot periods in matches where everything works well, and he can pull off exciting wins with his big weapons.

Humble:  Cilic always comes across as a very ordinary, quiet person who seems to be liked by everyone in the world of tennis. There is never any drama or antics from him.

Nervous: Marin has always struck me as being anxious, particularly in big matches against opponents that either he is expected to beat or when faced off with someone like Nadal or Federer.

Likes: I always admire players who do not complain or blame others, and I’ve never seen him do this. Surprisingly for a big serve, big guy kind of game, he has an outstanding return of serve.

Dislikes: He drives me crazy when he bounces the ball repeatedly before serving. I always hope that he makes his first serve. When he plays another ball bouncer like Djokovic, I have to resist the urge to turn off the TV.

Areas for improvement: His backhand and volley while not significantly weak, do have scope for improvement. I would never say a player who has won a grand slam is weak mentally, but it has appeared that he could improve his ability to handle the significant pressure moments better. I would suggest his homework is to watch how Federer uses his slice to get to the net on YouTube. Learning this would bring a new dimension to his game that might see him breakthrough for another big tournament win.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 32. Taylor Fritz

At 22 years of age, Fritz experienced his best year on tour to date. He won his first title at Eastbourne and made finals at Atlanta and Los Cabos as well as a challenger at Newport Beach. 

Fritz at 193cms (6′ 4″) is yet another player following the modern trend on the ATP of big serve and big forehand. Despite having many areas for improvement, Fritz finished ranked 32, and I think he can make the necessary improvements to finish inside the top 30 in 2020.

I have not watched a lot of Fritz; however, words that come to mind are competitor, backcourt, irritable.

Competitor: Taylor has always struck me as someone who is up for a fight and will work hard, especially when his back is to the wall.

Backcourt: He appears to be comfortable trading blows from the baseline, looking for opportunities to press with his forehand. He uses his height to stay up on the baseline to take the ball on the rise.

Irritable:  He gives me the impression that he is often unsatisfied, particularly with his play. His behaviour like this does seem to indicate to me though that he has high expectations on himself, and he wants to be competitive. 

Likes: Although I would not say he is an offensive player, he does seem to want to win points off his racquet.

Dislikes: Does appear to run out of ideas sometimes against more accomplished opponents.

Areas for improvement: His volley is weak and requires vast improvement so he can gain the confidence to come forward and aggressively seek to end points. His forehand while his attacking weapon needs tightening up in general rally play to avoid leaking errors that it is prone to do. He has Paul Annacone as a mentor now so he should be doing extra homework with him and drawing on Annacones experience with Federer and Sampras. Annacone should be showing him Federer’s volley skills.

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ATP Sinner Tennis

No 78. Jannik Sinner

The first player I think of outside the 2019 ATP top 30 with a chance to make it in next year is this youngster. Sinner turned 18 this year and incredibly only decided to pursue tennis seriously at age 13 after being an elite skier from age 8.

Sinner won four ATP Challenger tournaments in 2019. He also beat world number 13 Gael Monfils and reached a semi-final against Stan Wawrinka in Antwerp, before taking out the Next Gen ATP finals as a wildcard. In this Next Gen tournament in Milan, he beat an experienced tour player Frances Tiafoe on the way and a battle-hardened Alex de Minaur – ranked 18 – comfortably in the final. Incredibly, he started 2019 ranked in the mid-500s.

Four words encapsulate why I think he is going to be a force in tennis from 2020 and beyond: power, ruthless, composed, quality.

Power: In terms of power, Sinner exudes natural authority with both the forehand and backhand and his backhand line shot is superb. His young body is also already producing serves consistently over 200 kilometres per hour.

Ruthless: The Italian also owns a ruthless attacking game, and his strike is brutal on any ball that is the least bit short of length from his opponent. He is ruthless in that he won’t let his opponent get away with any such nonsense. Do that, and he will finish the point. His coach Riccardo Piatti has said in interviews that they want to take control of the point, not wait.

Composed: He is mentally highly focused and composed. Sinner says his best quality is staying calm. If you have seen him play, you won’t be able to argue with this.

Quality: He has quality strokes and is a quality person. He hits effortless rockets when given the opportunity, and he is a skinny teenager who can make it look ridiculously easy. He shows that great technique is better than brute force. He executes winners like a baby-faced assassin and the reaction to a winner is often a clenched fist and a simple nod to his box, no fanfare, and he’s ready to strike again.

Likes: I like his aggressive game. The way he tees off in the most smooth-looking way when he decides to hit a winner. I admire his demeanour on the court, as well as his humbleness and attitude off the court. Sinner does have a bit of flair as well, which I find captivating, and he can throw in an unorthodox winning shot. He is perhaps not as elegant as Roger Federer, but he is no less effective in stranding an opponent. He seems like a very pleasant, down-to-earth and hard-working kid.

Dislikes: Nothing comes to mind. I’m very excited to see Sinners progress in 2020. La Forza is formidable with this young Padawan.

Areas for improvement: These areas should be considered opportunities to develop more than weaknesses since he is barely 18 and has only been full-on with tennis for five years. His forehand cross-court rally shot can bleed errors, and his inside variations on the forehand also need improving. Drop shots and his touch on both sides have lots of room for advancement. Another clear focus is to get more training into his body. He may be building on an ideal base, though, for his current 188 cm (6′ 2″) frame having come from skiing. His homework is to continue what he and his coach are doing but watching Federer volleys on YouTube never hurts.

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ATP Sport Tennis Uncategorized

No 30. Nick Kyrgios

The talented and frequently unpredictable Kyrgios finished the season ranked 30 giving him his 5th straight season in the top 35. He played two outstanding tournaments winning at the ATP 500 series level in Acapulco and Washington. A combination of injuries and withdrawals coupled with meltdowns meant he did not reach a Grand Slam quarter-final for the 4th straight year.

Despite his mental shortcomings on the court, I have no doubt he will continue to be a top 30 contender in 2020.

Rather than bearing witness to Kygios’s talent every time he steps onto the court, too often we’re subjected to tantrums. Four words shape my opinion of him:

if – as in “If, if, if doesn’t exist,” as per Rafael Nadal in his post-match press conference after playing Kyrgios at Wimbledon 2019; depressing; arrogant, and deflector.

If: If only he would do the hard work and commit to tennis 100 percent. If not love it, then learn how to use it and maximize the earnings from it to provide a means to do what he does love. According to him, this is his NK Foundation. Anyone who wants to help kids and especially underprivileged or sick kids must have something going for them. If only he could channel this passion and remember he is playing for the kids every time he walks onto the court or gives an interview.

Depressing: Watching tennis must be sad for those fans who get duped by his sometimes ingenious play. Whenever he is building momentum with form, and you start believing in him, he so often fails to follow through. For example, when scheduled to meet someone like Novak Djokovic – who he loves to beat – in a later round, we get excited by the possibility. However, he’ll blow up and lose in an early match against a player he should comfortably beat and misses the anticipated moment.

Arrogant: He seems cocksure, which sometimes is fun when he does it with cheeky humour but too often is childish. His sullen arrogance comes across terribly, particularly in interviews. For example, when a reporter asks a reasonable question, his reply might be, “Next question,” or, “You’re the expert, you tell me”.

Deflector: When the going gets tough on the court, he too often starts whingeing and even blaming others for his performance. The worst is when he can’t overcome his mental frailty and says something like, “I’m done, bro; I’m f***ing done” during an outburst. He can’t handle whatever injustice he feels is upon him, so he acts out. Excuses like blaming the crowd for being too loud or the umpire being on a power trip are just weak. It’s all down to his attitude. When he’s feeling especially aggrieved, we get incidents like the chair-throwing and default that occurred in Rome this year.

Likes: Nick has a fantastic serve, that is not only powerful but is backed up by different strategies, spins and paces. I love it when he launches a bazooka forehand and especially if accompanied by an aerial launch. Kyrgios possesses a nasty forehand drop shot that is built on a good disguise. When he does guest commentary at a tournament like AO, he has profound insights and special-comments which are music to a hard-core tennis fans ears. I like seeing Nick also use his surprisingly high tennis IQ on the court. Kyrgios makes no secret that he thinks Federer is the best player ever and that he enjoys getting under Djokovic’s and Nadal’s skin. I don’t mind that he does that if it makes him play better against them.

Dislikes: When he can’t cope with whatever is the source of his actual problem and takes it out by deflecting and causing scenes on the court. He is prone to behave like this in interviews as well. It seems that whenever he is asked to reflect on himself by a reporter, he will get snarky and deflect.

Areas for improvement: His return is below average, and his backhand rally shot is mediocre. His forehand, while it can be spectacular, can also leak errors. Even his volley while not weak is at best average. His homework is to find out and deal with whatever is the real source of his problems that cause him to deflect and act out. Only once he has done that, only once he has addressed his technical flaws and achieved the fitness levels required, will he be able to contend at a slam and obtain a ranking befitting his talent. He might even get something out of watching 30 for 30 Rodman: For Better or Worse on ESPN. There is no point giving Nick tennis homework, he would think he is too good for that.

Perhaps Nick could do something like Wawrinka did because it’s OK to fail. ”Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”