Nadal Stunk Epically; Penciling in Osaka; Murray Played With His Food

Some rando Australian Open thoughts:

  • We know it’s classier to say that Djokovic was flawless, and to give all the credit to the victor. Yes, at times he was terrific. Winners flew off his racket, and he hit some impressive shots on the full stretch. But Nadal really sucked. We’ve been watching him since 2004, and that was one of the very worst matches he’s played at a Slam. There are two people on the tennis court in a singles match. If Djokovic is hitting superbly, you have to ask from what position is he hitting those superb shots. Most of them were right in his wheelhouse.
  • It reminded us of watching top players practice. Sometimes you’ll see a pro working on getting into a groove with a hitting partner. The partner is putting the balls mainly in a comfortable position. The idea is to work on consistency, to just kind of groove the strokes. Your garden variety pro tennis player can hit 75 or 100 balls consecutively in the court if he or she wants to. We can’t quantify this precisely, but it looked like perhaps 70 percent of Nadal’s shots were of that let-you-get-grooved variety, and 30 percent were legit shots that put some strain on Djokovic. We don’t think Nadal played poorly because Djokovic forced him to. We believe that Djokovic played great because Nadal allowed him to. One analysis we heard today that we agreed with was from the Tennis Podcast.
  • Also keep in mind that Nadal gets to serve half the games, so he has a lot of control over those. Nadal won 51 percent of his first-serve points. We’ll defer to data dudes like Jeff Sackmann and Carl Bialik, but that sounds extremely low for a pro tennis match. We’d argue that winning eight games in a three-set match is overachieving if you’re losing half your first-serve points.
  • This will sound very cynical, but it wouldn’t surprise us if someone in Nadal’s camp comes out in the next few days and says Rafa is resting for the next month to recover from X. Of course, he might not have planned to play in February, anyway. But the post-tournament injury claim from the losing Slam finalist’s camp has become pretty routine.
  • All of a sudden it seems the women’s tour has gone from anybody can win to Naomi Osaka wins everything. We’re fine with that. If you’re looking for a hot take to counter the Osaka media lovefest, you’ve come to wrong place. Leaving aside her endearing personality, we were blown away by both her competitive grit and her athleticism. If last year’s U.S. Open was Osaka hitting a purple patch a la Federer at 2003 Wimbledon, Osaka at the Aussie was all grind, guts and desire. In addition, her transformation in the last 18 months from great ball striker to nimble-footed athlete has been amazing. She hasn’t gotten enough credit for her movement. We don’t want to pile on the expectations and predict that she’ll win double-digit Slams. But what seems clear is that her normal level (at least at Slams) should keep her near the top of the game for a long time. We’ll see how well she takes to the clay, but right now it looks like she could roll out of bed and make at least the semis of most Slams.
  • We’ve written about it before, but we’re waiting for a blowup of this whole thing of chair umpires telling players whether an “out” call affected their shot. It’s going to happen at a crucial moment of a huge match. And it will get ugly.
  • We don’t have much to add to all the kind words for Andy Murray. People like him because he’s real. He gets extra credit for sticking up for the women’s game. But that’s not part of any agenda. He’s just stating what seems to him to be common sense because he’s a guy with common sense. Beyond the good-bloke stuff, we have a couple of thoughts about Murray’s career…
  • In the GOAT or accomplishments debate, we bump Murray up well above where three Slams would normally put someone. That’s because of his eight Slam runner-up performances. We cannot figure out why Slam finals don’t get more credit in GOAT debates. We often hear analysts going from Slam wins straight to the Olympics or Davis Cup. Ay, caramba! If winning the finals of a Slam is the most important metric in the GOAT debate, then surely making the finals has to be worth a fair amount. It’s simply illogical to figure that in a GOAT debate you will give all the points to one person and zero points combined to the other 127 participants. It’s nonsense. We can debate the criteria, but if a Slam win is worth, say, 10 points in the debate, reaching the final should be worth perhaps six, or at least five. Right?
  • Murray left several Slams on the table because of lapses in concentration early or midway through the tournament. That is, he won those matches but didn’t finish them as quickly as he should have, and it caught up with him at the tail end of the Slam. One thing that Federer and Nadal have done better than their rivals is be efficient early in Slams. Don’t play with your food. Finish it and move on to the next meal. Djokovic has gotten better at this in recent years, but earlier in his career he had the same problem as Murray. Below are just a few examples of Murray unnecessarily taking the scenic route. There surely are others. You could argue that some of this is cherry picking, but still, as a fan, it seemed like Murray often emptied his fuel tank before the final weekend.

Australian Open

2011

Up two sets to love against Dolgopolov in the quarters. Loses the third in a tiebreak, wins in four. Then beats Ferrer in a long four-setter, 7-6 in the fourth, in the semis. Won nine games in the final against Djokovic.

2014

Was up 6-1, 6-2 to lucky loser Stephane Robert in the fourth round but loses the third set in a tiebreak. Wins in four but then loses in the quarters to Federer in four.

2016

Went five with Raonic in the semis, then lost in straights to Djokovic in the final.

French Open

2016

Went five sets in each of his first two rounds. First against Stepanek and second against wild card Mathias “Not Bjorn” Bourgue.

Wimbledon

2008

Five-setter with Gasquet in the round of 16 left him with little in the tank for Nadal in the quarters.

US Open

2008

Three four-setters and a five-setter before the final.

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