Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beware of the cornered tigers!

While the tennis world is abuzz with the longest and most strenuous grand slam final that happened on Sunday, there would be two men who would be thinking they ought to have been there that very day clashing against each other in a repeat of the 2010 Australian Open Final. That was how close they came to reach the final at Melbourne. Murray, in his semi final against Djokovic dug deep in the decider and even had a break point at 5-5. Federer didn’t get that close in his semi final against Rafa but the way he started the match would have made people feel – ‘slam no.17 is on its way’. But, with the result of the semi-final going against them, with two better gladiators surviving their onslaught, it is time for some reconnaissance for the Swiss and the Scot.

Talks of a Djokovic Calendar Slam, Calendar Golden Slam (with the Olympics about to happen in July this year), Novak Slam (which he will do if he wins the French title) and a Novak-Rafa Slam (if he defeats Rafa in the French final, he would have slammed Rafa in the final in all 4 slams) are already on! Rafa is not far behind the radar. As the clay season gets underway, he would be the toast of tennis paparazzi. That leaves behind the two men behind them. How will they fare? Will they somehow throw a surprise and take the limelight away from worlds No.1 and 2.? We will try to get an answer to these questions looking at how good or bad they have done in the past few months.

1. Andy Murray
His 2011 campaign started off with a bang where he came second only to Novak Djokovic at the final in Melbourne. But a third final loss in a slam took its toll on him and he faced shocking early round losses in the masters at Miami and Indian Wells. He came back on track at Monte Carlo, where he surprisingly took Rafa to three sets in the semis – A place where Rafa is yet to lose (He is a clean 35-0 there). He came tantalisingly close to breaking the Nole streak in Rome but succumbed in a third-set tiebreaker. At Roland Garros , he fell to eventual champion Nadal (again in the semis) in three straight but intriguing sets. Another shuddering semis loss at the same Majorcan hands at Wimbledon did him no good.He ended up losing a first round tie in the follow-up masters event in Canada. After a better showing in Cincinnati (where he won the title owing to Djoker’s retirement in the final), he did well at US Open but nothing prevented him from losing to Nadal in another semi-final! Then came the Asian swing where he was the man on the roll; He went on to win titles at Thailand, Japan (where he defeated Rafa in the final – a consolation to all his heartbreaking losses to the Spaniard) and Shangai. He came to London’s World tour final as one of the contenders but fizzled out with an injury.

His new year 2012 started with an association with one of the greats of the game Ivan Lendl and the results are already showing it seems if tennis pundits are to be believed. 
Djokovic  said “Yes.  He was more confident on the court.  He was taking his chances.  He was being moreaggressive.  I think he was playing better (than last year’s final)”.

Key Take-aways: 2011 hasn’t been all that bad for Murray. If not for Rafa, he might have been a slam winner. He gave himself the chance by being there at least in the semis in all slams. The later part of the year was good. He has started off 2012 decently. If only he doesn’t let a concentration lapse, with better outings at Miami and Indian Wells (where he defends too less points) he can go past Roger to No.3 and that will do him a world of good in addition to the Lendl potion that is getting brewed and served!

2. Roger Federer

For Federer’s lofty standards, 2011 was one of his bad years. The first year since 2002 when he went slamless. After a terrific start to the season with a title at Doha, he succumbed to Djokovic for the second time in a semis clash at Melbourne. He followed that up with routine losses to Djoker in the final at Dubai and in the semis at Miami. At Indian Wells, his semis loss was at the hands of nemesis Nadal. A poor showing in the clay masters at Monte Carlo and Rome ( defeats to Melzer and Gasquet) threw him off the limelight and he came so close to getting back when he took a set off Rafa in the semis at Madrid. But that was all he could as Rafa improved his H2H against Roger to 16-9. At Roland Garros, Federer became red hot news for breaking the 41 match winning streak of Djokovic in an epic semi-final classic but he couldn’t cross the final mile against Rafa in the final. Back to back Wimbledon and Montreal losses to Tsonga and a thumping whacking by Tomas Berdych at Cincinnati took Federer still down but he came back well at Flushing Meadows where he nearly did the Roland Garros trick against Nole but eventully couldn’t close out. A break during the Asian swing was much welcome and back to back titles at Basel, Bercy and London’s World Tour Final put Roger right back on track to be the favourite for this year’s Australian Open. But Rafa again, a loss again and he must be kicking himself somewhere in the Swiss Alps pondering on how he can solve the riddles posted by Djoker and Rafa.

Key Take aways: Like Murray, Federer too had a terrific end of season last year and was up there in at least the semis in 3 slams in 2011. But, with Murray about to surpass him as world no.3, it would get mighty difficult for Federer to break back to the top and sail his 286th week as No.1. That goal has to wait for a long time it seems. But he would be looking forward to the US Masters events to see if he can break the semis jinx against the top 2. If he can, he might well be on his way to week No.286 at the helm!

Wounded tigers lick their wounds for some time, ponder on how their hunt went wrong but they don’t just stop there. They come back stronger & hungrier at the unexpected moment. Beware Rafa and Nole – Watch out for some high decibel roars from Dunblane and Basel! If one of them turn it around and get into the top 2, that would change the entire dynamics opening up different possible semi final and final clashes (witthin the four of course!) which would make the men’s game even more interesting.