This is my tennis blog, Lefty Advantage. I am a diehard Roger Federer fan and think he is the undisputed greatest player ever. I love tennis more than anything else in the world, and have played for 11 years - the tennis court is like my second home. I make regular tournament updates and comment on mostly everything to do with men's tennis, so check back regularly whenever there is tennis being played!

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Federer Miami Preview

Hey all,

I apologize for not writing anything about Indian Wells, where Federer had a great week and just fell short in the final against Djokovic. Before I start with Miami, I want to talk a little bit about that tournament, for Fed, even if it is late.

Coming off the Dubai win, it was important for Roger to have a good tournament in California, especially because he could gain points after his quarterfinal exit a year ago. He probably got a little fortunate that Nadal lost in the 3rd round to Dolgopolov, as they would have faced off in the semifinals, but as they say, all you can control in a tennis tournament is your own matches.

By making the semifinals against Dolgopolov, it was the 7th consecutive tournament where he made at least the semis - dating back to Basel last fall. That kind of consistency is what was missing for nearly all of 2013 for a variety of reasons. It's nice to see Roger get a string of positive results, because in my view building up that confidence and momentum now is the only way he'll be able to put himself in a position to make another run at Wimbledon.

Also coming with the final appearance at Indian Wells was a jump in the rankings from #8 to #5, is biggest single week jump since 2002. He will go up to #4 after Miami if Ferrer doesn't reach the final and Berdych doesn't win, which would be a great feat and something to be proud of after a tough season in 2013.

Alright, onto Miami.

First up, the Fed will face Dr. Ivo, the man that dissects mere mortals with his serves and laughs them off keel with his humour. The big guy is always dangerous with his serves but whenever Roger faces him, he tends to bring out the best in his returning ability. I expect nothing less in this one.

Should he get by that, Fernando Verdasco could await in the third round. Verdasco had a solid week in Indian Wells, but should be no match for an in-form Roger, especially since the Spaniard isn't the player he once was in 2009-2010. Richard Gasquet could be a tough 4th round opponent, but the Frenchman hasn't given Roger any trouble on hardcourt since 2006 (the only time he troubled Fed on the surface).  Kevin Anderson could also be a round of 16 opponent, whom Fed easily dispatched in the quarters last week.  Ferrer is the highest seed in the quarters, but he is coming off an injury and he may have the dangerous Dimitrov in his path.  And Roger get by all that, he'll likely face Djokovic for the 3rd time this year in the semis.

All things considered, it would be a disappointment not to make the semis given his form and the fact he got Ferrer in his quarter and not Nadal or Djokovic. Miami has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Fed, not having made the final since his 2nd title win there in 2006. But when he's playing well, as he is now, he can definitely make a great run. I don't think he'd have any chance against Nadal on the slow courts at Key Biscayne, but against Djokovic he always has a chance no matter what the conditions are.

Here's to an entertaining tournament and to Roger entering the top 4 once again (hopefully!).

Friday, February 28, 2014

Federer Rolls Back The Years

Wow. Just wow. That is all I can say.

Where did that come from?

Is that man 32 and a half years old?

That man has played over 1100 matches (at age 32!) after playing 15 full seasons on tour. This will be his 16th. That was his 1154th match. To put that in perspective, Andre Agassi played for 20 years and played 1144 matches.

Where does that hunger come from? You know, the one that tells you that you've accomplished everything but still want more? One might think that Federer has a reset button in his brain, and that he takes on every new challenge with the mind of a man ten years his junior. Federer may be almost 33, but he has a youthfulness of spirit far younger than most of his fellow players on the ATP World Tour.

Stunning. Spectacular. Mind-blowing. Age-defying. However you want to describe it, that word will probably work for that win from the Swiss Maestro. It's unbelievable how he continues to put together these masterclass performances time and time again, and just when we all think his car is running out of gas. But the tank is full right now.

I mean, did you see how great he was moving? Did you see that ridiculous forehand pass to get the second break in the third set? He wasn't doing that last year - because he couldn't do that. I think Roger showed the world today what he can do when he has a healthy body and a strong mind, even for a guy that by the end of this season may have 1200 professional matches under his belt (and not to mention thousands of hours practicing and training over as I said, 16 years on tour).

I named this article "Federer Rolls Back The Years" for a reason - because of what I saw in his match against Djokovic. Time and time again in the last two sets, Novak had break points, and Roger erased them with big serves which were unreturned - and against the best returner in the game no less. The new racquet certainly helped with that, but the biggest factor in being able to hit those great serves at pressure moments was confidence. Roger certainly has it right now. He is playing with a hunger and a desire to win at all cost that we saw two years ago (and we know what happened that year).

The way he served in the clutch was reminiscent of the way he served in his peak years of 2004-2007. Heck, so was the way he moved, the way he hit the ball, the way he played aggressively all the time, even the way he defended (remember that line from Mary Carillo at the French Open in 2011 vs Djokovic? "That's Grandpa?"  That's Grandpa, baby!)

I admit, I didn't watch the match live as I was at work. However, I followed the third set online and saw that he went up 3-1. I had matters to attend to, and when I came back, I saw he had won 6-2. I was actually astounded. Many of you know that I am one of the more faithful Fed fans you'll ever come across, but even I never expected the kind of performance he would give us. He won after losing the first set, something he had never done against Djokovic. He won 10 of the final 13 games of the match, and he delivered an entire commercial block of amazing shots that would make your jaw hit the floor if you happened to be close enough to it.

I have long gone past the point of trying to understand how this man does it. He has two beautiful children, with a third on the way. He has accomplished everything he dreamed of. There is really nothing left to play for and nobody would blame him if he had hung up his racquet on the wall after his 2013 campaign. But he plays because he loves it. He loves the whole lifestyle that comes with being a pro tennis player - even after having done it half his life. I'm sure he even loves the responsibility of being such a revered athlete and the weight of the stardom he possesses. There's just Something About Roger.....

I have had people tell me that I'm crazy for being such a diehard supporter of Fed in the wake of all his "decline." They said he would never win another major. He did. They said he would never get back to #1. He did. They said his game was old-school and out-dated. Well, that may be true in today's baseline-dominated sport. But he's Roger freakin' Federer, and his tennis will never go out of style.

If there is one thing I have learned about sports, it is that you never, ever count out the great ones. Ev. Er. 2013 was a low point in Roger's career, perhaps the lowest. But like the proverbial phoenix, he rises from the ashes soaring up and up, and when he commits himself to something, it is very hard to stop him. We saw that in 2012. I think we are seeing it now. Great players will always be great, especially in the face of great adversity. We have heard that for years about Nadal, and it is true. But Roger doesn't get the credit he deserves for having such a champion's mindset. He is a fighter; always has been, always will be. He just does it in a different way.

Personally, I think all of last year's disappointment made this victory so much sweeter. There have been many who have fallen after bad seasons like that, but not Roger. After the painful defeat at Wimbledon in 2008, he won the gold medal in the Olympic games for doubles and then won the US Open. After the Australian Open defeat that left him in tears to Nadal in 2009, plus a string of bad losses that spring, he rose and won the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double. After the so-close-yet-so-far defeat at the hands of Djokovic at the US Open in 2011, he went on to have one of the best 12-month stretches of his illustrious career. Now, after the nightmare that was 2013, there is 2014. A year to rise, to reclaim, and to bring renewed faith to those who lost it.

Berdych awaits in the final and he has been playing some amazing tennis lately. But, so is Roger. Being the champion he is, I expect nothing less than a championship performance to bring home a 6th Dubai crown - which, forgive me - would be a truly crowning achievement in his trophy collection.

Long Live The King.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Federer Survives in Dubai

After a smooth and efficient first round win over Benjamin Becker in Dubai, Roger Federer was made to work a little harder, beating veteran Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3 in a thriller.

Things couldn't start much worse for Roger as he was broken in the opening service game of the match. Fortunately for him it all went uphill after that, as he broke right back and broke two more times to win the opener 6-2. He only hit one error after the first game, so he really tightened things up.

The opening game of the 2nd set went badly though and Stepanek broke. He would hold that break lead until 5-4, when Fed broke back and the set went to a breaker. Roger played a few loose points and Radek closed it out on his own serve.

In the third, Roger was broken in his first service game of a set for the third time in the match (I wonder if that has ever happened before?). Stepanek was serving for a 3-0 lead and had 4 separate game points, but Fed hung tough and fought hard to finally earn the break back with a sweet backhand return winner. Momentum was with him after that and he roared to a 5-2 lead, where he was serving for the match.  On his first match point he hit an ace but it was called out, and lost the point. He would get broken, giving the Czech some hope, but Roger put the match to bed a few points later.

Overall it was a good match by both men. Roger was great in the first set and then Stepanek raised his level, playing nicely from the baseline and taking charge of a lot of the rallies. Fed almost seemed to lose his rhythm from the baseline and played more conservatively in sets two and three, which surely helped Steps implement his gameplan.

To see Roger fight back from a break down in the third set was good to see. Last year he wasn't winning these matches where he wasn't playing his best tennis throughout, but he found a way to get through this one. He played the same way under pressure he did in 2012, and we all know how great a year that was for him.

Next up is Lukas Rosol, known for upsetting Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. A guy like him is always dangerous but Fed should have no problem getting by him, which would likely set up a semifinal with defending champion and world #2 Novak Djokovic.

Keep going Roger.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thoughts on the Australian Open

That was quite a tournament, wasn't it?

The 2014 Australian Open was quite an unexpected Grand Slam, harking back to decades past where the results were a little more unpredictable than they have been in recent times.

We saw Ana Ivanovic defeat heavy favourite Serena Williams, returning Serena's serve as well as someone can. We saw the two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka upset by Agnieszka Radwanska, who put together a masterful display of shotmaking. We saw the rise of a future star in Eugenie Bouchard (who is now my favourite female player). A consistent top 20 player, Dominika Cibulkova, had the tournament of her life, and made the final. And Li Na put together a run of blistering form to win her second major title - it's hard to believe now that she was one point away from defeat in the first week.

On the men's side, the feature story was obvious - the rise of Stanislas Wawrinka. After losing in an excruciating 5-set marathon to Novak Djokovic last year, Stan went on to have a fantastic 2013, by making a Slam semi, making a Masters final, and qualifying for the Year-End Championships in London. However, coming into this major at #8 in the world, nobody would have foreseen what happened through the first major of the season.

Novak Djokovic failed to make the semifinals of a Slam for the first time since the French Open in 2010, as he fell in dramatic fashion to the "Stanimal," who finally prevailed 9-7 in the 5th set after losing twice in 5 sets to the Serb last year. It was a coming of age moment for the Swiss. Djokovic was looking for his 4th straight title in Australia, and now finds himself only having won two majors in the last 24 months.

Roger Federer had a successful tournament overall, even if the finish to it was a little underwhelming. After three straight Slams where he was knocked out before the semifinals, to make the final 4 after getting by Tsonga in the 4th round and Murray in the quarters is a step in the right direction. Though he encountered the same problems he always does against his greatest challenge, Nadal, the tournament has shown us that the new racquet and new coach, Edberg, were the right choices to make.

And then there was the final, the #1 player in the world, Rafael Nadal, vs heavy underdog Wawrinka, who had failed to take a set in their 12 previous meetings. Nobody could have guessed what would have happened on that Sunday night.

The Swiss juggernaut played an amazing first set, using his great power and aggressive mindset to take the play to the 2009 champion. The turning point came when Stan was serving for the set and he got down 0-40. He then won the next three points off of Nadal return errors (off 2nd serves no less) and he took the set. He broke in the very first game to take a commanding lead in the match, and then Nadal took a medical time-out and left the court for a back problem. When he returned he was greeted with boos, and he could barely serve the ball over the net as he was broken again and lost the 2nd set.

The fighting Spaniard took the 3rd with the help of a lapse in concentration by Stan, but in the 4th set the man born in Lausanne closed it out with a subdued reaction to his greatest triumph, in respect for Nadal and his injury problem.

I understand that Nadal has a history of taking MTO's at inopportune moments in order to try and regain control and momentum of a match. When part of the crowd was booing him, it was before they (and we at home) knew the severity of Rafa's back problems. He could hardly twist on his serve and he was arming all his groundstrokes and not moving for much. his body seemed to get better in the 3rd and 4th sets, but there is absolutely no doubt that the injuries were real, no matter what anyone thinks.

The important thing to take away from this is that Wawrinka was already up a set and a break before Rafa's movement was compromised. The way he was playing, and with the self-belief he had found, it is very likely he would have won even if Rafa was at 100%, as strange as that sounds.

Two weeks ago I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that Stan would have won this event. But that's tennis, and anything can happen. All those Nadal fans who gloated after his win over Federer because he was facing Wawrinka in the final were stunned by the outcome. Above all else, tennis has a new Grand Slam champion, and a very deserving one (he's 2nd only to Ivanisevic in number of Slams played before winning one). He is only the third man since the start of 2005 to win a major other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray, and he is the first player ever to beat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Slam.

Now, onto Federer.

Of course it's disappointing any time he loses a match, and we had high hopes for his semifinal against Nadal after his wins over Tsonga and Murray. He needed to win the first set and he did not. Nadal has such great confidence against Federer that going in front just makes him play even harder, and that spells trouble for Fed. Roger played well at times and poor in others, but it must be said that Rafa played a very solid match. Good serving, great returning, and consistent, deep baseline play - his tried and true formula for beating Roger.

I can't complain at all about the loss though. Sure, if Rafa had his back issue two days earlier Roger would have played Stan in the final and he may or may not have won, but I'm happy with the way things turned out. Wawrinka deserved the Slam title more than anyone else and Roger showed enough good in the event to show me that 2014 will be a good year for him if he stays healthy. The game is there, the motivation is there, the health just needs to be there.

Well, ta-ta.