Sunday, January 29, 2017
As I predicted, 35-year-old Roger Federer defeated 30-year-old Rafael Nadal in the finals of the 2017 Australian Open to win his 18th major title (5th Aussie Open), extending his lead at the top of the all-time men's grand slam singles leaderboard.
Playing for the 35th time and a record 9th major final, Federer's win over Nadal brought his record to 3-6 (3-2 in non-clay major finals) and changed the overall head-to-head to 23-12. It was the first time Federer had beaten Nadal at the Australian Open in four matches played and the first time he had won a major final since the 2012 Wimbledon, a drought of nearly four-and-a-half years after losing 3 consecutive major finals (2014 Wimbledon, 2015 Wimbledon, 2015 U.S. Open) to Novak Djokovic. It was the first time Federer won a 5th set in a major final since the 2009 Wimbledon win over Andy Roddick and the first time he had won a 5th set in a major final against Nadal since the 2007 Wimbledon final.
Men's Final Review: How The Title Was Won
R. Federer (SUI)  d. R. Nadal (ESP)  6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in 3 hours and 38 minutes.
Federer had more than twice as many winners than Nadal (73 to 35) and nearly twice as many unforced errors as well (57 to 28). However, the match was of a very high quality, with Federer at +16 and Nadal at +7. The match was primarily played on Federer's terrain, he was forcing things by going for more although, somewhat surprisingly, this was not because of frequent serve-and-volley, although he was effective when he approached the net (29/40). The big difference in the match was Federer's backhand, which he hit flatter and with more pace and almost completely avoided his slice backhand entirely. He had 14 backhand winners for the match (to just 3 for Nadal). Forehand winners were closer, but again Federer had the edge there, 26 to 19. Clearly, Federer had learned some strategy from watching his fellow one-handed backhand players like Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov had handled Nadal recently.
I woke up at 3:15am EST and watched the entire match, was completely riveting. Each of the first four sets began with early service breaks which ended up being determinative, with the third set being extremely notable because Federer was able to end the set with a consolidated second service break (something Nadal was not able to do in the 2nd set, despite being up 4-0 at one point). So when the fifth set began with an early service break for Nadal things did not look good for our hero. Then when despite having multiple breakpoints in Nadal's first two service games Federer failed to break, memories of previous Fedal matches where Federer would go 1/10 or 3/20 on break points came to mind. Eventually, Nadal built up a 3-1 lead in the fifth set. Amazingly, Federer was able to win the last five games in a row to close out the match. How did that happen? In the sixth game Federer was finally able to get the service break back and he held serve easily to go up 3-4 in the deciding set. In the epic 8th game Federer went up 40-0 on Nadal's serve but incredibly Nadal was able to save three consecutive breakpoints and get back to deuce. Amazingly, it took 2 more breakpoints (the 10th and 11th of the set!) before Nadal finally succumbed and Federer went up 5-3 to serve for the championship. That game did not start well with Nadal blistering a service return winner on the backhand side and another forced error, eventually led to a 5-3,15-40 situation for Federer. Down the stretch his serve bailed him out of trouble and two first serves got him back to deuce and on his first championship point Federer sent a forehand long. Happily, he was able to again serve an ace to earn a second championship point and this time he hit a forehand smack on the line which Nadal immediately challenged (even though the linesman called it good) so there was a brief pause until the computer could confirm that the ball was indeed in and the match was over!
Federer had (finally) won his 18th major title, doing it the hard way as the #17 seed by beating four Top 10 seeds (#10 Tomas Berdych, #5 Kei Nishikori, #3 Stan Wawrinka and #9 Rafael Nadal) and winning 3 five set matches along the way (Nishikori, Wawrinka and Nadal). He finally defeated his arch-nemesis at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in nearly a decade (the 2007 Wimbledon final). Amazingly, Federer achieved all this while playing in his first tournament since the 2016 Wimbledon, a injury-induced layoff of over 6 months. By increasing his lead in major singles titles over Nadal (and Pete Sampras) to four (18 to 14) Federer cements his status as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and makes it more likely this record will outlast the Big Four era since World #1 Andy Murray currently has 3 major titles and World #2 Novak Djokovic has 12.
Happy Federer Wins Day!
Saturday, January 28, 2017
|Rafael Nadal (ESP)  vs Roger Federer (SUI) |
Men's Semifinals Review: How The Finalists Got Here
Roger Federer (SUI)  d. Stan Wawrinka (SUI)  7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3. Matchups do matter. Despite being ranked 13 places lower and not having played a tournament in over six months, the end result was that Roger's 18-3 head-to-head advantage was the decisive factor in the 35-year-old winning this match against his countryman, despite blowing a 2-0 sets advantage and ending up needing too outwit Stan in the fifth set. He had never lost to Stan on a hard court and this streak continued. Stan is a notoriously slow starter, but even I was surprised by how much better he got as the match progressed. Despite (or maybe because) the fact that I am a huge Federer fan, I was actually rooting for the younger Swiss to win this match because Wawrinka has already demonstrated that he can beat Nadal in a major final (just three years ago) while Federer has never beaten Nadal in Australia despite playing three times in big matches (2014 and 2012 semifinals and 2009 final).
Rafael Nadal (ESP)  d. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  6-3 5-7 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-4. This was another match where the overall head-to-head of 7-1 in favor of Nadal might have been determinative but simultaneously did not reflect how close the overall contest was. This was 4 minutes shy of nearly 5 hours of high-quality tennis from both players. In the fifth set, Dimitrov was in trouble in multiple service games but he also forced Nadal on the defensive as well. The key moment was in the 8th game when Nadal went down 15-40. Dimitrov was too passive on these breakpoints, deciding to play solid tennis instead of go-for-broke (although, to be honest, it is not clear if the result would have been any different because Nadal played these points as if they were match points, which they effectively were.) After failing to break, Nadal was able to break Dimitrov in the 9th game and served out the win, needing three match points to do so.
Men's Final Preview: Who Will Win
Although I am very excited that Federer is in his 28th major final (17-10) the fact is he is playing against someone who he has not beaten in a 5-set major in over 6 years and has never beaten in Melbourne. The two are playing in their 9th major final and Nadal leads 6-2, with the two losses coming on grass at Wimbledon. While Nadal is playing in his 21st (14-6) major final it must be noted that in non-clay major finals he is 5-6. In fact much of the overwhelming 23-11 head-to-head lead the Spaniard enjoys is because nearly half the matches the two have played (15) have occurred on his best surface, clay. That being said, Nadal still leads Federer 9-7 in outdoor hard-courts. The only surface where Federer leads Nadal is indoor hard-courts, so hopefully the roof gets closed (this is unlikely to happen). Federer is trying to (finally) win his 18th major, while Nadal is trying to win his 15th and become the first man in the open era to win each Grand slam twice.
Despite Nadal being the favorite I still believe that if Federer plays his best tennis and Nadal plays his, Federer will win. I think it is unlikely that we will get the best tennis out of them, and perhaps the 2008 Wimbledon final is a refutation of my belief, but that is why I'm a Fedfan and now Rafanatic. Regardless, I know that sleep be damned, I will be up at 3:30am EST watching the match rooting for #TeamFed.
MadProfessah's pick: Federer in four sets.
Serena's win means that she has won the most grand slam singles titles in the Open era, the traditional measure of tennis greatness. She surpasses Steffi Graf's 22 and is one behind the all-time leader Margaret Court. (Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert finished with 18 majors each.) And she reclaims the World #1 ranking from Angelique Kerber, who beat her in last year's Aussie Open final.
And there's no indication Serena Williams will stop winning major titles any time soon. My prediction is at least 25, but I do not think she will be playing in 2019. Venus Williams is starting to make noises about playing the Tokyo Olympics in 2020! For Venus, reaching a major final after being diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome in 2011 and waiting more than six years between her last major final (2009 Wimbledon) is simply a jaw-dropping achievement which adds to her legacy.
How the Final Was Won
It was the 28th meeting between the sisters (9th in a major final) and Serena improved to a 17-11 head-to-head lead, as well as a 7-2 lead in major finals. (The only Venus wins in major finals came in the 2008 Wimbledon and 2001 US Open.) As with most of their matches, the quality of play was somewhat erratic. It began with four consecutive breaks of service, until Venus became the first to hold to edge ahead 3-2. Serena followed suit and followed up that hold with a break, which she consolidated to go up 5-3. Venus was able to hold serve to force Serena to serve for the set which he did with the help of two aces, including on set point. In the second set the quality of play went up considerably, as Serena calmed down and as both players made fewer errors and the winners were either even (Venus, 10 all) or slightly ahead (Serena, 11-9). The final mini-drama came in the 10th game of the second set (which overall followed the first set, minus the scratchy beginning) after Serena had broken and consolidated her advantage she was serving for the match but fell behind 15-30. But her serve returned and she hit two consecutive good serves (not aces) to go up 40-30 and won on her first championship point due to a Venus backhand error.
Friday, January 27, 2017
|Serena Williams (USA)  vs Venus Williams (USA) |
Women's Semifinals Review: How They Got Here
Venus Williams (USA)  d. Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 6-7(3) 6-2 6-3. The result of this match was very much in doubt for its entire duration. Vandeweghe began the match with a break but Venus was able to save three breakpoints before succumbing in that very first service game. This defense ended up characterizing her play for most of the match. Although, Coco was often successful in winning a particular point, Venus made it as difficult as possible, and when she had an opportunity she seized them. It wasn't until late in the third set that Venus failed to convert a breakpoint. The key point in the match was the first set tiebreaker which was won by CoCo when Venus made numerous unforced errors to allow the 25-year-old to win 4 points in a row. But it was Venus' reaction to the first set loss that was extraordinary. She had a look on her face that we had never seen before and suddenly her serve started clicking and her error count dramatically decreased. She raced out to a 5-1 lead in the second set and served it out with an ace to in 6-2. In the third set Venus saved the two break points she faced and she broke CoCo twice to win 6-3 and improbably reach her second Australian Open final fourteen years after her first one, as the oldest player in the 128-player draw.
Women's Final Preview: Who Will Win
Venus and Serena have played 27 times before and Serena leads 16-11 in their head-to-head. More importantly they have played each other 8 times in major finals and Serena leads there 6-2. Of course Serena has 23 major titles and Venus has "only" 7.
That being said, this is a more important match for Serena than for Venus. If she wins, she reclaims the #1 ranking, will finally supersede Steffi Graf's total of 22 major titles and will be one away from getting to Margaret Court's 24 majors (but many of those were won in Australia before the Open era began). She will also have won 7 Australian Open titles, the most of any man or woman in the Open era (Court won 12.) There is no one who has beaten Serena more times and the two know each other's games intimately. That being said, their matches are very unpredictable, and usually not very high quality. Interestingly, most people point to their 2003 Australian Open (won 6-4 in the 3rd by Serena) as perhaps their highest quality match. It would be awesome if history repeats itself again.
MadProfessah's pick: Serena in 3 sets.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Roger Federer (SUI)  vs Stan Wawrinka (SUI) . After not playing a match for more than six months due to a freak injury very few people expected Roger Federer to be able to defend his semifinal ranking points from the 2016 Australian Open. The 17-time major champion is playing in his 41st major semifinal and he is facing his countryman Stan Wawrinka, who is now a 3-time major champion himself and the reigning U.S. Open champion. Although Federer's now the lower ranked of the two Swiss players, he does have an overwhelming 18-3 head-to-head (only 5-2 since Wawrinka won his first major at the 2014 Australian Open) and has never lost to Stan on a hard court. Federer fans like myself are starting to get excited again now that the Greatest of all time is (again) a mere 6 sets from finally winning his 18th major singles title. However, since his arch nemesis Rafael Nadal is still in the tournament there is no guarantee that even seizing this opportunity will be enough to make it happen. I am not one of the millions of tennis fans hoping for another #Fedal final, but I do want to see the GOAT play his record 28th (17-10 record). Mad Professah's pick: Federer in 4 sets.
Rafael Nadal (ESP) 
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The women's semifinals are now set at the 2017 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. This year I was unable to predict the quarterfinals due to my vacation travel but I am excited to predict the semifinals.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
The 2017 Oscar nominations just came out! La La Land leads with 14 nominations (tying the record set by Titanic and All About Eve) but little movies like Hidde Figures, Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea did very well. There are NUMEROUS nominees of color this year.
NPR called it "Oscars Slightly Less White":
Call it Oscars Slightly Less White: Unlike last year, when no people of color managed to secure acting or directing nominations, the Academy nominated Denzel Washington for lead actor in Fences, Mahershala Ali and Dev Patel for supporting actor in Moonlight and Lion, respectively, Loving's Ruth Negga in the lead actress category, and Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight) and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) were nominated for best supporting actress. Moonlight's Barry Jenkins was also nominated for best director.The big nominations are:
- “Hacksaw Ridge”
- “Hell or High Water”
- “Hidden Figures”
- “La La Land”
- “Manchester by the Sea”
- Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
- Mel Gibsion, "Hacksaw Ridge"
- Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
- Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
- Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
- “Lion,” by Luke Davis
- “Arrival,” by Eric Heisserer
- “Moonlight,” by Barry Jenkins
- “Hidden Figures,” by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder
- “Fences,” by August Wilson
- “Manchester by the Sea,” by Kenneth Lonergan,
- “Hell or High Water,” by Taylor Sheridan
- “La La Land,” by Damien Chazelle
- "20th Century Women," Mike Mills
- “The Lobster,” by Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos
Actress in a leading role:
- Emma Stone, “La La Land”
- Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Amy Adams, “Arrival”Ruth Negga, “Loving”
- Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
- Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Actor in a Leading Role
- Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
- Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
- Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
- Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
- Denzel Washington, “Fences”
More analysis later.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Murray lost in 4-sets to the 29-year-old Zverev 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4, continuing his disappointments in Melbourne where he has lost in the final (a record) 5 times.
World #1 and defending champion Angelique Kerber lost to a red-hot Coco Vandewghe who basically bludgeoned the counterpunching German off the court 6-2 6-3. Kerber had looked a little shaky in her first two rounds (dropping a set both times) but she had a 2-0 head-to-head against the American so this result was a surprise, but I agree with others who would not call it a huge upset.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Istomin's defeat of Djokovic in Melbourne ranks up there with recent shocking upsets such as Djokovic's loss to Sam Querrey in the 3rd round of Wimbledon in 2016 and Rafael Nadal's loss to Lukas Rosol in the 2nd round of Wimbledon in 2012.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
The vacation continues (in Hawaii); we are returning to the Big Island of Hawaii for the next three days or so.