Lindsay: As our readers have probably noticed, we’ve been taking a little breather since the US Open, but already I’m starting to miss tennis! I thought it would be good to touch base about our leftover thoughts from the US Open, our impressions on the year so far, and the fall season in general–a bit of a “Tennis State of the Union,” if you will, as we gear up for the bigger stars to return to action.
Why don’t we start with any US Open leftovers–we’re almost two weeks removed. What do you guys think that this US Open will be the most remembered for?
Juan José: The two finals, thankfully. Because the rest was pretty uninspiring.
Amy: I think it’ll be remembered for being unmemorable. Wait, that doesn’t really work.
Juan José: Also, it’s pretty clear that Rafael Nadal sits comfortably atop men’s tennis, and the English speaking media are starting to re-discover him, in a way.
Amy: Yes, for now, Nadal has established himself as the best player in the world. It’ll be interesting to see how Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray respond to the challenge.
Lindsay: The year really has belonged to Rafa and Serena, and it was fitting for them both to win the US Open and cement that. It would have been very strange if either of them ended their phenomenal seasons with only one major. (That statement alone is quite something.)
Juan José: Serena was already atop women’s tennis, but her GOAT credentials are coming into focus for more and more people, I think. Also, the Serena-Azarenka rivalry is truly blossoming (albeit only on hard courts).
Lindsay: I think that oddly enough, Azarenka might have gained the most this US Open — she came out of her shell a bit to the media, and really asserted herself as a rival for Serena on the big stages.
Juan José: I would agree, and wasn’t it great to talk about a great final and not hear a word about grunting? Progress!
Lindsay: Of course, for the men, Wawrinka was the breakout.
Amy: Wawrinka and Gasquet.
Lindsay: Yes — but Gasquet beat Raonic and a not-in-form Ferrer. It was great to see him make the semifinals and live up to his potential, but I think Wawrinka’s run was much more significant.
Juan José: I’m not sure I agree with that, Linz. Gasquet’s win over Ferrer was huge, partly because of the horrible head-to-head against Ferrú, but also because it showed poise after losing a two set lead. Also, for someone who’s a little famous for not being able to survive long battles, Gasquet came out of two very tough five-setters in a row.
Amy: I thought Gasquet’s run was equally significant as Stan’s. Though it wasn’t his first career slam semifinal, it was a rare display of some actual desire from him.
Juan José: Yeah, Wawrinka and Gasquet came out winners, and the funny thing is that they’re more or less at the same point of their careers, and very close to each other in the rankings. It’ll be interesting if either or both of them can keep this up next year.
Lindsay: I agree that Gasquet’s run was huge for him. But I don’t know if I can see him actually pushing the top guys on a regular basis. With Stan, however, it made me wonder if he might be an actual threat to make the semifinals somewhat consistently.
Amy: Stan’s record against the Big Four is equally abysmal as Gasquet’s. Djokovic has a 12-2 head-to-head against him, despite Stan pushing him lately.
Juan José: Yep – Nadal has never lost to either of them, Federer is 23-3 against Stan and Richie, and Djokovic is a similarly deadly 21-3, with the last loss coming at the 2007 WTFs. But against Murray, they have a shot (especially Stan). Murray is a combined 13-9 against them. In short, neither is much of a threat to Nadal, Federer or Djokovic.
Lindsay: I mean … everyone’s a threat to Federer these days. (Sorri.)
Amy: That’s not even an insult, it’s just a fact.
Juan José: Fair point, but let’s remember that back in March Stan couldn’t beat a visibly hobbled Federer at Indian Wells. So at least Roger has that.
While on the subject, one thing that not a whole lot of people expected to see at this past US Open: Roger Federer losing in straight sets to Tommy Robredo.
Amy: I’m very interested to see how the rest of Federer’s year goes, and also how he handles the opportunities he has next year — he’s hardly defending anything, by his standards.
Juan José: Do you think he brings back the new racquet for Asia?
Amy: I don’t think so. It seems to have gotten to the point where Federer’s first priority is getting his game back in order, and that’s probably the right move.
Juan José: I agree — I think I’m on record as saying that the new racquet was a bad idea, and that at this point in his career, other things are more important. Like being healthy.
Lindsay: I think he’s going to go back to the new racket during the offseason. I don’t know if it’s a good idea at this point, but that’s my hunch.
Amy: At the same time, that was also a very bizarre match he played against Robredo. Federer had a ridiculous number of opportunities to break. I actually have a hard time reading into that particular match that much. This piece does a good job of explaining why.
Lindsay: I just think it’s hard to say that any Fed loss is an anomaly at this point. Although, I’ll be the last person to count Fed out–he certainly still has the talent and great runs are definitely not out of the question–but his form this summer was not a fluke.
Juan José: Well, it’s not like this is the first time Federer has lost while wasting a boatload of break points, no?
Amy: Of course not, but 0 for 12 in two sets was bad, even for Fed. It was a pretty poor display of tennis, but the good news for Federer was that it didn’t appear to be an injury-related loss. So we’ll see.
Lindsay: I thought this piece by Kamakshi Tandon did a good job at looking at just how old Federer is in tennis years–he has so many miles on him.
Juan José: I’ve been saying that for years! Nobody ever looks at the number of matches for him. It’s freaking annoying.
Amy: Is there conclusive research on whether playing a lot of matches leads to more difficulty in certain years of a tennis career? I’m not sure I’ve seen anything convincing on the topic. To me, it’s one of those pieces of “conventional wisdom” people throw around, and I’m not sure it’s really true or not.
Lindsay: Eh, I think it makes a lot of sense that the more matches you play the more wear and tear you accumulate.
To think forward, out of the top men, who needs success in the Asian/European indoors swing the most? Obviously we already know that Murray is out with a “minor” back surgery.
Amy: Well, the guy we were just talking about could use a good fall stretch. But Djokovic also has a ton of points to defend.
Juan José: Djokovic needs to do well, just to stay within reach of Nadal in terms of getting back the No.1 ranking that he’ll surely lose in the coming weeks. Federer also needs to do well, since he’s 1900 points away in the Race from a return to the top 4, which is a useful ranking to have for Slams.
At this point of the season, the rankings aren’t really relevant anymore -it’s all about the Race, and positioning yourself for next year. Hence why Djokovic shouldn’t think about “defending” – he’s already around 3000 points behind Nadal in the Race, so he should approach the final stretch as a chance to narrow that gap.
Lindsay: I think Federer could use the help the most – I mean, he needs to get some points. Looking ahead, if he doesn’t defend his AO semifinal points, he’s looking at another significant drop.
Amy: I think there’s definitely a decent chance we’ll see two Swiss guys qualify for the World Tour Finals.
Juan José: Yeah, I agree – Amy. With Murray in serious doubt for the World Tour Finals, Stan’s chances of making it there have increased quite a bit. Same for Gasquet.
One thing I’m looking forward to is seeing if Nadal is healthy enough to go for the World Tour Finals – it’s the only “big” title he’s missing.
The other thing about Nadal is that if he does well in this final stretch, he puts enormous pressure on Djokovic at the Australian Open. Nadal would be defending 0 points, whereas Djokovic is defending the title. The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 might be enormous after the Australian Open.
I’m actually surprised Nadal is going to Asia – I thought he’d take time off until Basel and then maybe play Paris and the World Tour Finals. Because as it is, Nadal is slated to play two straight weeks in China, then have only a week off before Basel. My guess is Paris gets dropped if he does well in those three events before.
Lindsay: Nadal is scheduled to play so much this fall. I mean, it’s good he has that faith in his body, but it’s also a little funny.
Amy: Well, it’s pretty interesting coming from a guy who has repeatedly criticized the length of the tennis calendar. I don’t even necessarily disagree with Nadal that there should be more breaks in the calendar, but his fall schedule is just funny, considering all those times he’s brought it up.
Lindsay: I agree, Amy. But hey–can’t blame these guys for wanting to get what’s there for the taking!
Juan José: That’s a good point, Linz. If Nadal feels like he’s in good shape, why not add to the huge cushion he’s building for his next stay at the No. 1 ranking?
Amy: Yeah, he can definitely shore up that No. 1 ranking for quite some time by playing all those tournaments. Not a bad strategy, rankings-wise.
Lindsay: Right. I mean, to be a Debbie Downer, after January, Nadal has like EVERYTHING to defend.
Juan José: Not really everything. Miami is open, and Monte-Carlo actually represents a chance for him to earn points for once. I’d still have him down to repeat the other clay stuff without much fuss. Indian Wells is the tricky defense. And after the French Open, Nadal has Wimbledon as a chance to get the points he’ll surely lose from the Canada-Cincy thing.
Lindsay: (Well, I mean, practically everything. Not literally, though. You’re right.)
Juan José: The other interesting thing is that in terms of matches played, Nadal is at 64. In the past, elite guys have finished with around 80-90 matches. So he still has some wiggle room.
Amy: With all those tournaments on his fall calendar, Nadal could end up playing more matches than Djokovic did in 2011 (76).
Juan José: But Djokovic’s 2011 is not a good barometer, for two reasons. 1) Djokovic played all the big events (except for Monte Carlo) from the Australian Open until the US Open. Nadal essentially didn’t play two Slams, which helps in the freshness aspect. And 2) Djokovic finished the US Open with an injury, whereas Nadal seems to be in pretty good shape.
I was curious about Nadal’s numbers for past seasons, and I think his scheduling makes more sense within that context. I think he and his team figure that he can play around 80 matches this year without risking much. In 2011, he played 84. In 2010, he played 81. He even played 80 in 2009, when he missed Wimbledon. Nadal played 93 matches in 2008, and 85 in 2007. His lowest season total (apart from last year) was in 2006, with just 71 matches. And that’s a year after playing 89 in his breakout season.
The thing is, Nadal would only play a maximum number of 25 more matches this season if he indeed plays the five tournaments he’s slated to participate in (Beijing, Shanghai, Basel, Paris and WTFs). If he goes on to make the final in every event, he’ll finish the year with 89 matches.
Having said that, I think the most important thing for Nadal is whether he feels healthy enough to play these events. I’m sure that if the knee starts acting up during the China trip, we probably won’t see him in Basel or Paris, but he’ll be back for the WTFs.
Lindsay: So I think we probably all agree that Djokovic needs this fall for ranking purposes, and Federer for ranking but also confidence purposes. Murray probably being out takes some of the pressure off of Fed to qualify. It’d be very strange if Fed weren’t at the World Tour Finals.
But what about the women this fall? They have a shorter fall season (brilliant), but there are still some big events coming up. Serena pulled out of Tokyo but still is claiming she’ll play Beijing. I doubt we’ll see Sharapova again.
Juan José: I guess it’s all about Azarenka trying to get as close as she can to Serena in the rankings, and there will be good chances for her to do so.
Lindsay: Agreed. Also a chance for Radwanska, Errani, and Li to gain a bit of ground and establish themselves in that No. 4 spot in Australia.
Amy: As we discussed on the podcast, there are some opportunities on the women’s side for Jankovic, Stephens, and Vinci to qualify for the year-end championship.
Juan José: Sloane Stephens will be fascinating to watch in the coming weeks. And it would be great if she makes Istanbul.
Amy: Speaking of having points to defend, Sloane will be defending some big results at slams next year. If she wants to be a top 10 player for any amount of time, she’ll have to make up some ground in the smaller tournaments, because I don’t think she’s nearly ready to sustain those slam results.
Lindsay: Yeah – Sloane needs to get some points this fall so that the inevitable AO drop-off doesn’t sting as badly.
Li Na in Beijing is always interesting/tragic to watch. I hope she can have a good tournament there.
Who do you guys think will qualify for the ATP and WTA championships? Let’s make some predictions for the fields, excluding injured players. So, unless you’re more positive than I am, no Sharapova or Murray.
Amy: And obviously no Bartoli.
Lindsay: Haha, yes. Although how Bartoli would it be for her to show up?
WTA: 1. Williams 2. Vika 3. Radwanska 4. Li 5. Errani 6. Kvitova 7. Jankovic 8. Vinci
ATP: 1. Rafa 2. Djokovic 3. Ferrer 4. Berdy 5. Delpo 6. Fed 7. Stan 8. Gasquet
WTA: 1. Williams 2. Vika 3. Li 4. Radwanska 5. Errani 6. Jankovic 7. Kvitova 8. Stephens
ATP: 1. Nadal 3. Djokovic 3. Ferrer 4. Berdych 5. Delpo 6. Wawrinka 7. Federer 8. Gasquet
WTA – 1. Serena 2. Azarenka 3. Radwanska 4. Li Na, 5. Errani 6. Kvitova 7. Stephens 8. Halep
ATP: 1. Nadal 2. Djokovic 3. Ferrer 4. Berdych 5. Delpo 6. Federer 7. Stan 8. Tsonga
Lindsay: Fun–looks like we’re all in agreement on the men, though not necessarily with the order. The Race is definitely much more intriguing for the women. It’ll be fun to see how it all plays out!