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Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Everybody Loves #8 Stanislas Wawrinka

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm

In the 2013 Australian Open, Stanislas Wawrinka defeated Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Tobias Kamke, Sam Querry, before falling to Novak Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6(5), 10-12.

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Stanislas Wawrinka. Second fiddle. Perpetual underdog. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride …Full Story

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Don’t Call #9 Richard Gasquet an Underachiever

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm

In the 2013 Australian Open, Richard Gasquet defeated Albert Montanes, Alejandro Falla, and Ivan Dodig before falling to fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6 in the round of 16.

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The name Richard Gasquet is frequently preceded by the phrase, “perennial underachiever.” It isn’t that Gasquet doesn’t have game. He has quite a lot of it. In a single match, Gasquet is capable of taking points with many weapons:

  • A devastating backhand that he seemingly unloads from nowhere, turning a cross-court rally into a winner in the open-court.
  • A flat, crisp, ‘Federer-esque’ forehand that allows him to dominate and control points from the T.
  • Concealed dropshots that, while excellent in themselves, gain extra potency when combined with the above strokes.
  • Sure-handed volleying that allow Gasquet to consistently secure points when in control.
  • The occasional big serve or ace.

Gasquet is not a player of speed, but one of balance. Although he lacks the stunning athleticism that characterize the top four (and the now-defunct Big Four), Gasquet rarely seems wrong-footed. He moves around the court with ease, along the baseline and especially to the net.

With these weapons in hand, Monsieur Gasquet won three titles last year, Moscow, Montpellier, Doha, all on hard court–two of them indoors. On his way to the title at Montpellier, Gasquet beat a who’s who of French tennis, including the ever-dangerous Gael Monfils. However, Gasquet will certainly remember 2013 for his semi-final run at the US Open where he defeated Milos Raonic and David Ferrer before falling to the eventual champion, Rafael Nadal.

Unfortunately for the Frenchman, defeating Ferrer is unlikely to translate to a Grand Slam title in 2014. Gasquet’s game was on full display during the World Tour Finals in London, where he took sets off both Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic. Yet, even on his favored indoor hard courts, Gasquet could not win a match, losing in three to the Serb and the Argentine and then to Roger Federer in a quick two before being eliminated.

At 27, the talent-heavy, results-thin Gasquet is entering the now-or-never phase of his career. The addition of a new coach, two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera, likely reflects Gasquet’s desire to end the 2014 season not only in the top ten, but as a champion himself. Expect a focused and mercy-free Gasquet to make his way through the Australian Open’s early rounds.

Despite his potential and peak athleticism, Gasquet will have a tough time of it–the tour’s well-known and seemingly impenetrable oligarchy do not cede spots in Grand Slam finals easily. Expect to see Gasquet in a tough, exhilarating, and ultimately unsuccessful five-setter late in the Australian Open.

The Duality of #10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

In Tennis on December 16, 2013 at 5:12 pm

In the 2013 Australian Open, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Michael Llodra, Go Saeda, Blaz Kavcic, and close friend Richard Gasquet en route to a quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer,  6-7(4), 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3, 3-6.

Australian Open Tennis

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s entrance into professional tennis relevancy was meteoric. In 2008, unseeded, the Frenchman put together a string of upsets (defeating Andy Murray, Sam Warburg, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, fellow countryman Richard Gasquet, Mikhail Youzhny, and Rafael Nadal) to land himself in the finals against then-world-number-3 Novak Djokovic. Tsonga won the first set of the championship match before losing in four – Jo-Wilfried’s first set victory was the only set that Nole lost in the tournament.

Here are some words that are often used when describing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: acrobatic, potent, aggressive, dynamic, percussive. More than anything, Tsonga is defined by his potential; at his best, Tsonga can beat anyone on the tour.

There are players that make it into the ATP top 10 by stringing together a series of smaller wins, by playing consistently well enough throughout the year to accrue the points, essentially by grinding it out. Tsonga is not one of these players. At any tournament, in any match, Tsonga is poised to go off. Watching the Frenchman play pushes the viewer to the edge of their seat, not wanting to miss some of the miraculous shots that he’s proved himself capable of producing, or the artistry with which he constructs, dictates, and wins points when he is at his best.

But potential is defined not only by its upper limit – it is rooted in its baseline’s lowness. That is, potential matters because it is about momentary ascension. Its inconsistency is what makes it an important characteristic (and a difficult to measure metric). Another way to frame Tsonga’s potential is to think about the possible outcomes in Melbourne this coming January: we can’t really expect Tsonga to win the Australian Open, but we also know in the back of our minds that Tsonga absolutely could win the Australian Open. He has the tools necessary – the deep and heavy forehand, a precise backhand on which he can impart devastating pace or bewildering spin, a serve that marries thoughtful placement with arm-numbing power, and impeccable touch at net. At 6’ 2” and 200 lbs, he processes the athleticism necessary to wrestle control of a point back from Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray. (This is of course only true when he is healthy. It is important to remember that Tsonga has a bad history of injuries, and that his professional career almost ended before it began with a series of issues – a herniated disc, two consecutive shoulder injuries, and abdominal troubles – in 2005.)  It also helps that Tstonga never took well to his home country’s red clay – he favors hard courts, and his record against the top players at the Australian Open is better than elsewhere. Tsonga is 6-11 against Novak Djokovic, but is 5-1 against the Serb on indoor hard courts.

After fighting for a semifinals appearances at Roland Garros – where he fell to Spaniard David Ferrer, 1-6, 7-6(3), 2-6 – Jo-Wilfried’s 2013 campaign sputtered out. Tsonga retired in the second round of Wimbledon with a left knee injury while up two sets to one against Latvian Ernests Gulbis. The same knee injury would cause Tsonga to drop out of the US Open. His deep runs earlier in the year, combined with a semifinals appearance at the Shanghai Masters 1000, garnered Tsonga the 8th seed at the BNP Paribas Masters 1000, a critical tournament late in the season. After a first round bye, Tsonga fell in the second round to Kei Nishikori in straight sets, 1-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7). (Tsonga had defeated Nishikori in Shanghai en route to his semifinal.) Tsonga’s loss to Nishikori shut the Frenchman out of the Barclays ATP World Tour Final in London.

Despite his emotive and gregarious demeanor, it can be hard to read which Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will show up at a tournament – he presents a true duality. We may see the calm, powerful, controlling player who can challenge anyone (he of the deep runs at Monte Carlo, Roland Garros, and Shanghai), or it may be the error- and injury-prone player who drops sets inexplicably (see the Paris loss to Nishikori, wherein Tsonga dropped two set-points in the third set tiebreak). If the former Tsonga steps on to the court in Melbourne, anything could happen.