Records are made to be broken. A famous cliche which is usually saved for those excelling at the top of their game. Pete Sampras’ 7 Wimbledon titles looked destined to be broken in the near future by all time Slam hoarder Roger Federer. Recently however the FedExpress seems to be veering off track and Sports Leviathan asks the audacious question…Has Roger Federer won his last Grand Slam?
As I highlighted in my preview of Wimbledon the big four in the Men’s game are head and shoulders above the chasing pack and this is illustrated by the four of them only dropping 6 sets all tournament between them (not including todays match vs Tsonga). None of the ‘Big Four’ have been taken to 5 sets and have rarely looked in any trouble. Except maybe Nadal’s injury! This obviously changed today. Tsonga himself had only dropped two sets to date and stunned Federer with a flawless display of serving – he beat Federer because he was the better player and it is not often you hear that. ”He played amazing and didn’t give me much hope” sobbed the sorry Swiss who actually felt he played pretty well. He wouldn’t be wrong either; 57 winners and only 11 unforced errors illustrates he had a good game and with these stats he would rarely lose ,but Tsonga was just too strong and too good. 70% first serve percentage (5 less than Federer) illustrates he got a lot of cheap points on service, but he also won 80% of his second serve points. This stat is phenomenal. To hammer the point home, in 5 sets, against potentially the greatest player ever, Tsonga conceeded just 1 break point! Astounding. Federer lost for the first time having been 2 sets up and it is a testament to Tsonga’s tenacity and belief in his game that he kept fighting to cement his place in the Wimbledon semi finals.
I have always thought Tsonga has had the game to break into the top four in the world since he blitzed his way to the Aussie Open final in 2008. He was stunning that year but injuries have been his downfall and although he has come back a stronger Tsonga (see what I did there) he isn’t consistent enough in the major ranking tournaments to hit the top 5 , frankly, he doesn’t win enough tournaments. He has only won 1 Masters 1000 tournament with his four other wins coming in smaller ranking events. The long and short of it is he doesn’t play consistently good tennis over the full length of a tournament and I expect him to lose to Novak Djokovic.
But what of the 16 time Major winner Roger Federer. He has an 81% win ratio, won $64 million in prize money and has 67 tournament titles in his back pocket. He is a legend. However he no longer possesses the ‘fear factor’ that previously daunted his opponents. This, along with a shift in the Men’s game has seen, in my opinion, Federer slip slightly behind the youthful triumvirate from Spain, Scotland and Serbia. The stats illustrate the shift. Nadal and Murray both boast winning records against the great man and although Djokovic doesn’t, he has beaten Federer at the last 2 hard court slams, one of which, the latest in Melbourne was in straight sets. In contrast his record against Andy Roddick (former wolrd number 1 is 20-2). The game has moved on from Federer’s domination.
Rafael Nadal has pretty much a western grip which enables him to really whip his forehands providing lots of top spin. He is super fit, athletic and agile and whilst his technique is not necessarily one that should or even could be taught to a budding young star, he is so natural a player that he is revolutionary for the game. He will break Federer’s slam record for sure – injury permitting. Despite his trouble with injuries he has worked hard in training to ensure less pressure is put on his knees whilst playing, to ensure career longevity. Since he has returned he has looked as commanding as ever. I also love his grounded attitude, Uncle Tony will not allow Nadal to become overindulged in celebrity culture and status and this too ensures his focus is on tennis and winning, two things he is very good at.
Andy Murray is a player who I have a lot of time for. British people moan that we can’t breed winners and then moan when Murray isn’t as personable or charismatic as Mr Charisma ‘Tiger Tim’. Whilst I begrudge the Paraguay shirt banter ,I find Andy Murray actually quite funny. Anyone who says “show me a good loser and you will see a loser” gets my nod of approval. His game has grown immeasurably from the day I first really saw him shine versus Nalbandian in 2005. He lost out to fatigue that day, but since then he has developed physically and mentally and currently his game is in great shape. He illustrated his tactical nous today versus a lackluster Lopez. ”He was tired” Murray admitted, almost embarrassed at his dominance over a potentially dangerous opponent. Murray’s exploitation of Lopez’s backhand was a plan from the start and whenever he struggled in a point he just headed straight to the Spaniards weakness. It was like playing a doubles game and knowing one playing isn’t very good. You are happy to keep a rally going until you want to win a big point when you hit it straight to the weak player to ensure the desired outcome. At 15-40 in the 8th game of the 3rd set Murray felt his first bit of pressure and just peppered the Lopez backhand. He won the game, the set and the match. Physically his backhand is a real weapon, he is an exceptional returner and recently I have seen a huge improvement in his serve. More to the point, for a player who loves to rally from the baseline he has often overused the drop shot in the past. Now not only does he use it more wisely he is far more skilled in its execution and I feel if he is to beat Nadal the drop shot could be a potent weapon in ensuring Nadal doesn’t settle into a rhythm on the baseline. I can’t believe the furore about how he may never win a major. He is a very good player who consistently reaches Semi Finals of all four grand slams (not just Wimbledon). He is world class and one day things will fall right. It is not like Henman when you hoped a top player had an off day and he could capitalise. Murray stands toe to toe with some of the best players in history and often comes out on top.
Novak Djokovic has lost 1 game all year. In itself this record is amazing. He has won a grand slam in Australia and left most of the world wondering what he has done to develop so quickly. In short he hits the ball a lot harder. At the Australian Open he was hitting groundstrokes clocked at 10 MPH faster than on the same courts the year before. This is a huge step up and shows that Djokovic will not rest on his laurels and is always striving to improve. He is now a real major player, he doesn’t seem to take life too seriously and is snappling records left, right and centre. This season he won four tournaments in a row, a new record and an fantastic achievement. The way he has stepped up his game this year must frighten Federer.
Roger Federer has cause to be fearful; I believe on the hard courts Djokovic is now too powerful for the Swiss, Nadal is too good on the clay and the fact Federer hasn’t progressed past the quarter finals in the last two Wimbledon’s (his favoured event) is an illustration of his impending demise. Add to the mix Murray, who has an excellent record against Federer and hard hitting, injury prone players such as Tsonga and Del Potro, I am not convinced Federer is in great shape for the future. I am not saying “He will never win a major again” however I do feel there is a strong possibility. I think Federer is a top class, technically supreme sportsman, however sport evolves and tennis may be moving faster than an ageing Federer who at next years Wimbledon will almost be 31. He now has children and a wife, who despite her regular presence in the box, at some point will begin to crave a family life away from Tennis. How much longer can Federer, who for much of his career has been untouchable, live with the defeats and disappointments he is facing now on a much more regular basis? Statistically in Grand Slams his downfall is clear; from the 2005 Wimbledon to the 2010 Australian Open Federer appeared in every grand slam final except for one (18 out of 19). An illustration of dominance, superiority and consistency. Since the 2010 Australian Open there have been 6 finals and he has been in 1, which he lost. I sincerely hope he goes away and reflects on his game and strives to improve. I heard on the radio today from Pam Shriver that Federer had “gone away and worked really hard on his game…which is great to see”. This may be the case but if he has gone away and improved and he still isn’t making Grand Slam Finals then the others must have caught up. On the flipside if he hasn’t improved then the others are taking over his mantle and he is going to have to develop his game again to compete again. His serve is still top drawer, however his aesthetically pleasing and equally effective backhand seems slightly more erratic than in the past. He also used to hit the chalk with freakish accuracy a skill he seems to be less prolific at nowadays. I’m sure he isn’t done yet but the concern is there.
In summation, the objective of this article is not to say Federer is washed up because he lost one match, but merely to point out that the game is moving fast and he has to keep improving to ensure he can compete with the others in the ‘big four’. He will still remain in the top four of the rankings because he is better than players ranked below him, however the fact he has lost at Wimbledon to Berdych and now Tsonga, both seeded 12, indicates he is not the player he was and is certainly beatable in any tournament and not just by the others in the ‘big four’. The ‘Fear Factor’ has gone, Murray, Djokovic and Nadal are continually improving and there will only be so many more disappointments before the great champion from Switzerland calls time on his illustrious career.
After a slightly disappointing day yesterday; Beacon Lodge managed to pick up a place for each way backers but Activate who I had high hopes was “never travelling” according to jockey Hayley Turner. Today’s attentions turn to a big meeting at the Curragh where the Irish Derby takes place. Carlton House is favourite, however I would prefer to side with Treasure Island for two reasons. Firstly in the English Derby Treasure Island had Carlton House held when almost winning the race and secondly the run away victory of Nathaniel (a horse beaten by Treasure Island at Chester) at Ascot last week has really franked Treasure Island’s form. If I was to offer a selection it would be the Aiden O’Brien colt but I am happy to bypass betting in favour of a 6F conditions race at Salisbury. Having spoken to some people in the Blackdown Fair camp recently they are very confident of a bold showing today. He has a low weight, course and distance form and won impressively last time out. For me he ticks a lot of boxes and despite not yet running on this type of ground I am hopeful of a bold showing today. Lets hope to recoup some of yesterdays investment.
4.45 Salisbury – Blackdown Fair @ 9/2 Stan James
In today’s Northumberland plate at Newcastle I can’t get away from the market leader Activate. Michael Bell’s four year old is bred out of Derby winner Motivator and is described by his trainer as a horse who will “love the ground and definitely stay” . He has won his last 3 runs on 3 different goings ranging from Good to Firm to Good to Soft. He looks versatile, gutsy and a little bit classy. Michael Bell is not a trainer who is often so bullish about his horses chances so snap up the 7/1 with Stan James and William Hill. Overturn who was tipped up on this site when winning last time out looks a difficult opponent however with the ground being drastically different to last time he ran and the fact he was pulled out of Ascot because of ground concerns I am happy to side with Activate.
I also quite like Beacon Lodge who was beaten by a good horse in Byword last time out at Chantilly. The ground in France that day was on the soft side of good and I have a feeling that with the drop back in trip to 7f ( he won at this trip 3 starts ago) coupled with a decent performance over a mile last time out means he is the one to be on at 6/1.
Newmarket 3.20 – Beacon Lodge @ 6/1
Newcastle 3.05 – Activate @ 7/1
Each way double – Activate and Beacon Lodge
If I got a pound for every time I hear ‘SW19′ over the next fortnight I not only would be very rich but could probably afford to buy a pint of Pimms at Wimbledon without feeling like like I had been robbed in broad daylight. Whilst £12 is a lot for a drink it may seem like pennies if the big four bring their A-game to the Championships. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have all produced outstanding performances this year and are head and shoulders above the rest in the mens game at the moment. Djokovic began the first 4 months of the year unbeaten, Nadal won the French, Federer is the king of grass and also beat the Serbian Djokovic at Roland Garros and Murray won Queens. Having scratched my head as to who is going to put their best foot fowrard I noticed Coral have a ‘top four all to reach the semis’ market. It is priced up as 9/4 that they all will and although Berdych upset Federer last year I would be surprised if they don’t repeat the feat of a few weeks ago at the French Open. I think I may side with Nadal to win again as the grass courts aren’t as quick by the end of the fortnight and this can play into the Spaniard’s hands by the time the final comes around.
Having said that I think Nadal will win, it hasn’t stopped me from taking a liking to a 200-1 shot who might cause a surprise. Milos Raonic is a 2o year old Canadian who is originally from Montenegro. Just over 3 years ago he was ranked outside the world 1000. One year ago he was ranked 295 and at the start of this season he was outside the top 150. His charge up the rankings has seen him win the SAP open in San Jose and make the final at Memphis. He reached the fourth round in Melbourne at the Australian Open beating Llodra and Youzhny in the process. His meteoric rise is in part down to the fact he has picked up a bucket load of ranking points this year and hasn’t lost many from last year (the rolling system they use in tennis has enabled him to progress very quickly) but having said this, the main reason for his rise is that he is a prodigious talent; 6ft 5in tall with a huge serve and a desire to emulate his hero Pete Samparas. Raonic openly admits to having recorded all his matches and is desperate to follow in his footsteps at Wimbledon, in fact the signed photo he has of the two of them is one of his most prized possessions!
He is 200-1 and he would be a quarter of this price if he hadn’t been given a very tough draw – he is due to meet Nadal in round 3. However this may be no bad thing. Nadal started very slowly in the French and almost lost to big serving John Isner. If Raonic posts some good first serve percentages he may cause Nadal some serious problems. Add to this the match will almost certainly be on Centre with a big crowd, Raonic might well think this is his time to step forward. He hasn’t got that much experience on grass but he has played junior Wimbledon. He has also been a finalist at Halle on the grass (albeit in doubles) and last week in same tournament he made the Quarters in the singles. Raonic has fired down 479 aces this season and genuinely believes he may be able to serve 160mph in the future. I personally think he has a very similar profile to that of Mario Ancic. Apart from the obvious ex-Yugoslavia connection both are 6ft 5in have a big first serve and play with a double handed backhand. Ancic beat Tim Henman on his way to the Semi Finals of Wimbledon in 2004 and Raonic may well be able to follow in his footsteps.
Better tennis judges than me have raved about the Canadian Raonic; Martina Navratilova and John Mcenroe ,with 25 Grand Slam singles titles between them, have both quoted that “Raonic is a star of the future” and what better place to announce your arrival than Centre court at SW19 ( oops… 1 pound in the pot).
Big Four all to reach the semi finals @ 9/4 with Coral
Milos Raonic E/W @ 200-1 with Unibet
Await the Dawn and Deacon Blues duly obliged on the Saturday of the Royal meeting to ensure a healthy profit for Sports Leviathan’s followers. Deacon Blues who was tipped at 10/1 won the Wokingham stakes on Saturday adding to Prohibit’s (14/1) impressive victory in the Kings Stand on Tuesday. There were many other winners tipped up but these two ensured some big profits for this column. Read More…
Yesterday was again a day of near misses. Slumber looked for all the world a winner until hampered on the run in and Belgian Bill also got us a place so a bit of each way money back. Today looks another interesting day and I think there is plenty of value about to ensure we go into the weekend with our pockets lined. Read More…
I don’t have very long to write todays advice so will keep it short and sweet. The 2 horses I really fancied yesterday both got touched off in close finishes. Particularly frustrating was Shumoos who had every chance to win but maybe didn’t quite find the ground to her liking. The less we talk about Lolly for Dolly’s victory the better too – that was a hammer blow! Read More…
Royal Ascot – 15th June – 3 winners yesterday, more ‘Shumoosing’ around the winners enclosure today!
Today was a very profitable day at Royal Ascot but it was a day which left me with a slight tinge of disappointment – it could have been huge. I was thrilled to see a classic race in the first and as expected the two protagonists filled the places. I suspected Canford Cliffs might just get the better of Goldikova and so it proved, with Canford Cliffs winning a shade cosily in the end. Read More…
The opening race is probably the best race of the whole meeting and it will be just one to watch as a racing enthusiast. If I was to dabble I would put Canford Cliffs and Goldikova in a straight forecast, although I’m still not sure which way round! Read More…
With some Premier League teams still without a gaffa SL analyses what makes a great football manager
In light of the current post / pre season managerial merry-go-round Sports Leviathan analyses the different styles of football management, arguing there is a certain type of manager who is successful in club football. Playing ability counts for little and SL discusses whether the rise of managers with little or no playing experience may actually be the future. Read More…