Australian Open 2016: First Round – thoughts on Murray vs Zverev
As expected, the number 2 seed Andy Murray made quick work of Alexander Zverev, winning in straight sets, 6-1 6-2 6-3. Murray was rarely troubled during the 2 hour encounter, his young opponent only able to apply any kind of pressure on the Murray serve toward the tail-end of the match. While the match wasn’t of great interest as a contest, it did prove fascinating in another sense, as an opportunity to see the youngest player in the top 100 up against the world number 2. There probably isn’t a sterner test for a young player than a five setter against the consistent, cerebral Scot. Here are some notes from the match:
While it is notoriously difficult to predict future stars in tennis – harder still now that players tend to peak in their mid to late twenties – Zverev seems a relative ‘lock’ for a berth in Top 10 at some point in his career. Zverev was an elite Junior, reaching number 1 in the rankings, and winning the 2014 Australian Open. While this is not necessarily a guarantee of success as a professional (cf. Donald Young), Zverev appears to have the basic tools to make the transition. Whereas others have dominated the Junior ranks by simply being more consistent and patient than their peers, Zverev already possesses the tools necessary to make a dent on the professional circuit.
Crucially, Zverev possesses a great serve. The motion itself is a thing of beauty – deep knee bend, proper arching of the back, full extension on contact – and as such he already has incredible power on first and second delivery. Against Murray, the German hit 5 aces against Murray’s 3; had an average 1st serve speed of 126MPH to Murray’s 116MPH; and also produced the fastest serve of the match at 135MPH. One he learns to apply his power more efficiently, and hit his spots more carefully, the serve will become a devastating weapon.
Power off both wings
Simply turning up the volume and looking away from the TV for a few minutes would make clear that Zverev hits a huge ball. Particularly off the forehand wing, the youngster can generate a lot of easy power – the sound of the ball coming off the strings not so dissimilar to Marat Safin. One small concern would be the relative lack of variety of his backhand. While Zverev has a very solid topspin backhand in rallies, he runs into problems when stretched wide: against Murray, he didn’t seem able to hit a more looping, heavily spun shot, and nor did he appear to possess a great slice. The net result is that when pushed out wide, he does not have the variety on his backhand to slow the rally, in turn enabling him to recover position and re-set the rally. The young prospect could do worse than study some tapes of David Nalbandian in this respect.
Murray’s route to the Final
The first Grand Slam event of the calendar year, the Australian Open is said to always favour those who come in with the best preparation. It is therefore little surprise that Murray, one of the hardest workers on tour, has made the final on four occasions. The Scot has a notoriously gruelling training camp during the off-season, and always comes to Melbourne in great condition. This year appears no different, and Murray has the additional benefit of a relatively kind draw. Crucially, the number 3 seed Roger Federer was drawn in Djokovic’s half – if draw plays out according to seed, Murray will play the number 4 seed Stan Wawrinka in his semi-final. Otherwise, his half of the draw contains remarkably little threat. The highest seed in his quarter is David Ferrer, whom Murray has beaten on the last five occasions. Compare that to Djokovic, who has the dangerous Kei Nishikori in his quarter, or Federer, who will in all likelihood have to face either Berdych, Cilic or Krygios, should he make the Quarter Finals.
In typical TennisNiche fashion, this entry will arbitrarily skim over the largely unspectacular Third Round clashes, dismissing these matches as entirely unworthy its rather embarrassingly oversized intellect. Instead, here is a round-up of the first batch of 4th round action from the Australian Open.
Roger Federer swept aside spunky Australian Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, producing this spectacular shot of tennis artistry in the process. TN has cast it’s unwavering, omniscient eye over the young Australian in a previous post, and this match largely confirmed suspicions. His opponent, the legendary Roger Federer, is a man who has been in gradual decline and yet is still capable of beating any mere mortal when it so fits his fancy. The one-sided scoreline may suggest that Fed was indeed enjoying such an evening of imperious form, but unfortunately for Tomic’s pride, this was not the case.
Federer produced several shots of unique magnificence, the type of shot which, to coin a cliché, cannot be taught (Novak Djokovic, for all his dominance, can still only dream of such improvisational brilliance). Despite this, it would be a vast exaggeration to compare his performance in this match to the god-like figure who took to the court in the years 2004-2007. The simple truth is that Federer didn’t need to be that good – at this stage in Tomic’s career, he simply does not match up well with Federer, even more so when they are playing on slower surfaces.
The type of player to bother Federer has changed throughout the course of his career, but a Tomic-like player has never been problematic to the great man. In the early years of his career, when ‘surface specialists’ had not been made redundant by the homogenisation of court surfaces, Fed struggled both with fast court serve – volleyers (most notably, Tim Henman) and classical clay-courters (Mantilla, Kuerten and Horna). In his peak years, the only players to truly bother him were Nadal, Safin and Nalbandian, none of whom have styles which can be exactly replicated. Now, in the twilight of his tennis career, he has started to lose to heavy-hitters such as Del Potro, Berdych, Soderling and Tsonga.
Unlike the above-mentioned players, Tomic does not rely on power or speed for his primary gameplan. Instead, he prefers to win matches through his variety – he can play one point retrieving everything his opponent throws at him, the next point attacking on the third or fourth shot of the rally with a flat forehand, the next with a delicate drop shot followed to the net. He relishes the act of frustrating his opponent, ripping away from them the element of control with his unpredictable play. Unfortunately for Bernard in this match, it was simply a case of Federer doing everything that little bit better. Tomic is able to exploit the fact that many of today’s players are one-dimensional baseliners who do not enjoy playing against variety, but Federer has been doing this far longer and far better.
Tomas Berdych beat Nicolas Almagro 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 in a contest packed with controversy. With the contest at 5-6 in the fourth set, Berdych approached the net and hit a rather weak first volley. Almagro approached the ball on what was a fairly comfortable passing shot, and decided to go straight for his man. He hit Berdych in the chest, causing the tall Czech to dramatically jump to the ground. After the match Berdych refused to shake Almagro’s hand, much to the mire of the typically boisterous Aussie crowd.
Rafael Nadal defeated compatriot Feliciano Lopez in an encounter as predictable as night following day.
Juan Martin Del Potro overcame Phillip Kohlschreiber in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. Del Potro was fairly comfortable in victory, his potent mixture of brute power applied with consistency and a low unforced-error count proving too much for the German.
Some very sporadic and arbitrary musings from the second and third day of play at the 2012 Australian Open:
In a first-round clash, Juan Martin Del Potro defeated Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 in an enjoyable clash of styles. Both men are strictly baseline operators but have contrasting approaches defined by their physiological differences. The 6’6 Del Potro has long swings on his groundstrokes and hits the ball as hard as anyone else on tour, constantly probing for a short ball on which to unleash his devastating forehand. Mannarino, 6′ tall with a very slight build, is as pure a counterpuncher as one is likely to see. His abbreviated, minute backswings are almost comical to the eye, giving the impression of a louche, very Gallic indifference.
The lower ranked Mannarino was able to take a set off the 2009 US Open champ and competed well throughout, using his compact groundstrokes to redirect Del Potro’s typically fierce but central groundstrokes, totally catching the Argentine off guard. Ultimately though Del Potro was too good for his opponent and prevailed in just under three hours.
Moving on to the second round, Stanislas Wawrinka overcame Marcos Baghdatis in an entertaining encounter, 5-7, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 . Wawrinka deserved the victory – he was the more aggressive of the two, taking up a more offensive position on the baseline and seizing the initiative in rallies with his spectacular backhand down the line. His opponent was curiously feeble in his resistance, only showing fighting spirit when faced with the almighty challenge of demolishing four of his rackets in succession.
For Baghdatis to lose in such passive fashion would have been almost unthinkable five years ago. The Cypriot established himself as one of the game’s most exciting talents when he reached the final of the 2006 Australian Open where he took the first set of Federer and looked like the more likely winner until his inexperience caught up to him. He missed much of the 2008 season with injury and truthfully has never looked the same player. The injury seems to have had just as much a mental effect as it has had physical. He is far more risk-averse now; while he still hits one of the cleanest balls on the tour, he is no longer the unpredicable, gung-ho player who struck fear into his opponens with a sudden, unexpected injection of pace. He now appears more conservative and consistent, happy to play extended rallies further back in the court. It’s unfortunate that he has spent so long injured, as he is far less effective playing this new, patient game – his athletic prowess is falls considerably short of his natural talent on a tennis court, and against a powerful and experienced opponent like Wawrinka his limitations will always be exposed when he is playing defense and not taking the initiative in rallies.
Lastly, in tragic news, TennisNiche golden boy David Nalbandian fell to serving god John Isner in a Eurpidic encounter, the American winning 10-8 in the final set. With Isner serving at 8-8 in the fifth set, Nalbandian suffered from the fatal mixture of inopportune lapses of concentration combined with bad fortune, which could be said rather neatly symbolises his career. Firstly, Nalbandian squandered two break points with backhand unforced errors. Widely considered to be one of the greatest backhands of the past ten years, it is perplexing how he could miss two of these, particularly as his 6’10 opponent is not quick at the best of times, even more so when he is cramping after four hours of play. This was followed by the classic Nalbandian screw job, in which the umpire absurdly did not allow Nalbandian to challenge a dubious ace down the middle by Isner, as he felt the Argentine had taken too long to challenge (in reality, the serve was originally called out and the umpire overruled. Nalbandian went to look at the mark, asked confusedly whether the serve was called in or not, by which time the umpire had decided that the time for a challenge had gone).
The sentient being which is TennisNiche would verbally dismantle this petulant umpire right here and now, were it not for the fact that it has been programmed as an omniscient and benevolent artificial intelligence designed to educate the wider tennis world on the perils of an ATP Tour dominated by generic baseline clones who hit drop volleys with full-western grips. So, the last word will be left the the blonde haired, rally team owning David Nalbandian:
“I asked for Hawk-Eye as he made an overrule. I say ‘okay, I see the mark, I challenge’ – not a big deal, but he didn’t want to do it,” said Nalbandian. “How many times do we check the mark and ask for Hawk-Eye?
“So somebody from the umpires or ATP can explain this situation. I mean, what is this? This is a grand slam. I haven’t seen the video but I don’t think it was too late to call. John said, ‘yeah, ask’.
“It’s ridiculous playing this kind of tournament with this kind of umpire. Eight-all, break point. Can you be that stupid to do that in that moment? What does the umpire need? Press, the name, his picture [in the paper] tomorrow? Incredible.”
A brief look at what happened on the men’s side of the Australian Open last night:
Rafael Nadal defeated Alex Kuznetsov but announced in his press conference immediately after that he was considering pulling out of the whole tournament after an injury scare which he said caused the worst feeling he has ever had in his knee. Fortunately the Spaniard slept on the decision and then easily dispatched the world no. 167 Kuznetsov in a straightforward 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 encounter
Donald Young triumphed in a bizarre five set encounter against Peter Gojowczyk, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2. Gojowczyk led 2-0 in the last set before his form totally collapsed, collecting a mighty four points in the final six games. Unfortunate recipient of futile British hopes James Ward put in a mammoth effort to wrestle eleven games from Slovenian clay-merchant Blaz Kavcic.
Two exciting young talents scraped through in five sets, with Grigor Dimitrov overcoming the erratic big-hitting Jeremy Chardy 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, while the great white hope of Austrlian tennis Bernard Tomic came back from a two set deficit against notorious headcase Fernando Verdasco.
Former Australian Open semi finalist Nikolay Davydenko crashed out to Italian Flavio Cipolla. Formerly a regular of the top ten, Davydenko’s form has tailed off badly after sustaining a wrist injury in 2010, his ranking now lying way down at 52.
Meanwhile, talented shotmaker Alexander Dolgopolov won from two sets down against Greg Jones. Dolgopolov produced his usual mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly to overcome the Aussie wildcard recipient Jones 1-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Barrel-chested Argentine hero David Nalbandian was the fortunate beneficiary of a Jarkko Niemenen abdominal injury which forced the Finn to return 2-4 down in the second set, having lost the first 6-4.
Roger Federer breezed through in typical first-round fashion, defeating Alexandre Kudryavtsev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. Sergiy Stakhovsky beat Ilia Marchenko 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in an all-Ukranian clash.
A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to readers of TennisNiche!
The more observant among you may have noticed there has been a dearth of new posts on TennisNiche as of late. After the first edition of ‘Video of the Week’ it occurred to the sentient being that is TennisNiche that the season was rapidly drawing to a close and thus opportunities for effortlessly witty and insightful posts were dwindling with it.
Barring a fairly ordinary end of season masters final in London (at which TennisNiche was present, incognito, for the Berdych-Tsonga match), there was scant to get excited about, much less blog on.
Therefore, the omniscient entity which is TennisNiche decided to take a riposino until the state of affairs in the tennis world once again deserved its flirting attention.
With the advent of pre-Australian Open warm up events, the time has come for the glorious return of TennisNiche. Expect match reports, video of the week features and much more which is above and beyond the comprehension of the typical, gushingly feeble tennis viewer.