The Ocho: Wimbledon Wrap-up

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“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. This week it’s all about putting the finishing touches on Wimbledon.

1. Novak Djokovic
Before Wimbledon started, there was a thought that the Serb was in the right quarter of the draw to at least get back to the semifinals. His quarter was littered with talented seeds like Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios – but they all had question marks, perhaps bigger than Djokovic’s coming to London. Over the course of the first week, Djokovic found little resistance in the form of Horacio Zeballos, Kyle Edmund and Karen Khachanov. The set-up for his first Slam semifinal since the 2016 U.S. Open was even better with popular punching bag Kei Nishikori in his path. Djokovic dispatched Kei in four sets.

NOLE

That set up the match-up of the tournament, especially in lieu of Roger Federer being knocked out in the quarters by Kevin Anderson. The semifinal showdown against Rafael Nadal did not disappoint. Five sets. Two days to complete. Countless baseline rallies with vintage Nole-Rafa shot making. Djokovic would finish off in style with a 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win over Anderson in the final on Sunday. At 31, the Serb now has 13 Grand Slam titles with four of them coming at Wimbledon. The run these two weeks have served notice that the Serb may finally be healthy and gaining steam on his reclamation project. At minimum, he’s now going to be a threat headed to the U.S. Open if he can remain healthy. The Serb is now ranked 10th with nothing but points to gain the rest of the season.

2. Kevin Anderson
If we’re being honest, Djokovic might be the Wimbledon champion, but Anderson cemented the two of the most memorable wins of the fortnight. His comeback from two sets down against everyone’s tournament Favorite, Roger Federer, was as incredible a comeback as we may have seen in the last decade. Big Kev is now one of just three players who have ever defeated Fed in the best of five format after the Swiss won the first two sets – Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were the others. It’s quite incredible when you consider that Anderson had dropped ten straight sets against the South African at the time that he took the 2-0 lead.

Oh and Anderson wasn’t done – for an encore, he booked his spot in the final with an edgy 26-24 win in the fifth set over John Isner in a match that lasted about six and a half hours. Not many will have nee surprised that Anderson could not summon the level he showed in those classic five set wins in the last two rounds once he reached the final, but he again reminded us that hard work and a positive attitude an produce fantastic results. Anderson has now made two Grand Slam finals after the age of 30, after never making one prior. He’s an unassuming and appreciative player who sets a great example on what you can do when you’re willing to make change to your game. He’s also set to become the 5th ranked player in the world, a career high.

3. Rafael Nadal
The Spaniard came up short in his bid to make the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2011, but his stay in London showed why he is the world #1. He breezed through the first four rounds before drawing Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. There, Nadal outlasted a heavy hitting opponent, the type who many thought had a chance to cut down Rafa on grass. Rafa edged DelPo 5-7, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in what many labelled the match of the year … until Nadal played Djokovic in the semifinals. The Spaniard had his chances against the Serb and will have a chip on his shoulder after the roof controversy. The Rafa Army believing their beloved was screwed by the roof remaining closed for those final two sets when the weather was perfectly fine. It was an imperfect tournament with some scheduling question marks down the stretch and we might always wonder “what if” with Nadal preferring the outdoor conditions, while the indoor environment clearly did give Djokovic a better opportunity. In the end, a great player beat a great player and the debate will rage on.

4. Mike Bryan/Jack Sock
One of the more scintillating stories of the tournament came in doubles with Mike Bryan again forced to play without brother Bob due to Bob’s hip injury. After faltering in round one at the French Open with Sam Querrey as his partner, Mike struck gold by partnering up with Jack Sock. The same Jack Sock who can’t win singles matches, but looked perfectly in tune in the doubles environment again. Bryan and Sock took advantage of a draw blown up with the top four seeds missing before the quarterfinals. They would win three five setters en route to the title, including the 6-3, 6-7 (9), 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 win over Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus in the final.

ATP WIMBLE

The win gave Mike Bryan a record tying 17th doubles Grand Slam title (John Newcombe) and saw Sock win his second, with both coming at Wimbledon. Mike Bryan played the role of coach and partner throughout this memorable run and deserves a ton of credit for keeping Sock motivated all the way through. Mike returns to the number one spot in the doubles ranking with the win and this won’t be the last time we see Mike Bryan and Jack Sock together. The pair have already been announced as a team for the BB&T Atlanta Open which starts next week.

5. Barbora Krejčíková/Kateřina Siniaková
Giving the ladies their due in this spot as the Czech Connection of Krejcikova-Siniakova have now won the last two Grand Slam titles. The Czechs defeated Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke to claim just their second title of the season, but with both coming at Slams (French Open) – they elevate into the top spot in the rankings. The duo also became the first pairing in Wimbledon history to have won both the juniors doubles crowns along with the ladies titles. There may be a lot of change in the WTA in the doubles rankings right now, but this pair is showing that they are the team to beat right now.

WTA WIMBLE

6. John Isner
It wss an uneqivocal success in London for Isner, who had never been past the third round at the All-England Club in his career. His semifinal run was fueled by the most consistent version of his massive serve that we’ve seen since he won the Miami Open in March. Isner has altered his game more-so this year as he looks to shorten points even more at the age of 33. The American is coming to net frequently and has become a better than average volleyist. Isner will continue to reside inside the Top 10 heading into the summer hard court season where his biggest point defense is trying to equal last year’s semifinal showing in Cincinnati. Isner will hope his magical run rubs off on his U.S. Open chances, a place where he has only been as far as the fourth round once since his 2011 quarterfinal appearance. Isner is up two spots to #8 in the rankings.

7. Marin Cilic
The biggest disappointment and surprise for me on the men’s side at Wimbledon was Cilic. Last year’s finalist had looked rock solid in winning the Queen’s Club title and had made the quarterfinals or better in four of the last six Grand Slams. That included two finalis trips, so a second round loss to Guido Pella was stunning. Pella had no career grass court wins before 2018. Cilic also led 6-3, 6-1, 3-2 before Mother Nature delayed play a day and that was the obvious turning point. Cilic falls to #7 as a result fo the early exit, but I would not be overly concerned about a lasting effect from this loss. He’s been pretty solid all things considered in 2018.

8. Grigor Dimitrov
Dead horse time and there’s no bigger lump of horse meat than the Bulgarian who lost to a still rusty Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. Dimitrov now has first-up losses at five of the ten tournaments that he has played since making the Rotterdam final in February. Of course is doing so, he’s rarely losing big points and he didn’t move an inch from his #6 spot in the rankings this week. Outside of the Australian Open, where he has made three of his four career Slam finals, he seems miscast as anything other than a disappointment. Dimitrov has done well for himself at times in the summer hard court swing, until the U.S. Open. There, he’s only been to the fourth round twice in eight visits with first or second round exits the other six trips. His biggest summer tournament is Cincinnati, where he made the finals last year and will need a deep run to avoid looking on the outside in, if he’s bidding to make London at the end of the year.

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2018 Wimbledon Final Preview: Kevin Anderson vs Novak Djokovic

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(8) Kevin Anderson vs (12) Novak Djokovic

Who Recovers Better?

Sunday’s final is set up to be an absolute war of attrition with the way the semifinals played out. On one hand, you have Kevin Anderson who outlasted John Isner 26-24 in the decisive 5th set in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes. On the other, you have Novak Djokovic who outlasted Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 11-9. That match lasted five hours and 15 minutes over two days with the pair finishing up Saturday with the final two sets. Ive said it many times before, but playing Rafael Nadal in a five set match seems more like a seven or eight set match. There were more physical rallies, so when you couple in Anderson getting a complete day off on Saturday – I do think we’re close to even on fatigue.

I won’t get into the skewed numbers as far as winners for Anderson in the quarters, but one number really sticks out and that is just 24 unforced errors. That is less than half what Isner had for the match. Big Kev sported a solid win rate of 84 percent on 1st serve and 59 percent on second serve. Those numbers will be challenged by a much better returner on Sunday in Djokovic. The 8th seed was broken just twice on five break chances, while crafting four breaks of the previously unbeatable serve of Isner on eleven chances. There were plenty of unreturnable serves from Isner, but Anderson stayed tough mentally and was able to take some big rips to get clean winners. That allowed Anderson to keep Isner at 78 percent on his first serve win rate and under 50 percent on his second. Considering again the dominance of the Isner serve prior to the quarterfinals, that is solid, solid work.

Djokovic’s match was the obvious polar opposite of Anderson-Isner with a ton of long rallies that tested the Serb’s will power and shot making ability. One of the bigger surprises though had to be Djokovic’s serve. His first serve win rate was 76 percent which is an elite number against Nadal’s return. Djokovic was broken four times on eleven chances, but he came up with some timely first serves when he needed them most. The 12th seed racked up 23 aces. That was his best showing since round two when he tomahawked 18 against Kyle Edmund. The big difference though again was who he was hitting these against with Nadal still ranked as one of the very best returners in the game.

All around, we got glimpses of the Djokovic of old during this match mixed in with some of the inconsistency that still plagues him at times. His return was marvelous and his ground game solid with both the backhand and forehand showing well. The Serb finished with 73 winners and 42 unforced errors, the exact same numbers as Nadal. An area where I think he’s still challenged some is at the net, but he finished with 30/44 points won there while Nadal won 37/50 and really controlled the volley game at times. I think the big thing for Djokovic to take from this battle was how he responded mentally to the challenge. He looked dog tired at times from running down unending shots from Nadal, but he found a gear to get over the finish line that he had not shown since making his last Slam final in 2016 at the U.S. Open.

The Formula

This is Anderson’s second Grand Slam final with his first coming last Fall at the U.S. Open, a straight sets loss to Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. For Djokovic, this is his 22nd Slam final. He is 12-9 in thos previous finals, including a 3-1 mark at Wimbledon. Even though he has not been in this position for nearly two years, you have to give him a slight experience edge. I say only slight because this is a big moment for him. After he got walloped in the quarters at the French Open by Marco Cecchinato, he was distraught and was still in a fragile state of mind. The grass court season has changed that though with the Serb finding a groove to the Queen’s Club final and then obviously continuing that form through to where he is now.

I think for both players this match really starts with the mental game. Anderson has to overcome the marathon fifth set against Isner, while Djokovic has to do the same with the Nadal experienxe while playing for the third straight day. This is by far the biggest test he faces physically since his return and Anderson has that big serve to help carry him through the early going if his legs allow for it. I don’t think there will be much hiding what sort of physical condition Anderson is in to start the match. This will be his 7th career match against Djokovic with the last coming at Wimbledon in 2015. Anderson had the Serb on the ropes down two sets to love before Djokovic rallied for a 6-7 (6), 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory. Overall, Djokovic leads the series 5-1 with Anderson’s lone win coming in their first clash in Miami in 2008. Djokovic also beat him in straights at Wimbledon in 2011 in their only other grass court clash.

At the time of their last meeting, Djokovic was playing in his third straight Wimbledon final and was the defending champion and eventual repeat champion in 2015. What Anderson can take from that match is that he has the game to trouble the Serb and that was even before Big Kev really became the larger threat that he is at this moment. His first serve in that last meeting won 83 percent of the points, but he struggled at 41 percent on second serve. Djokovic would eventually break him five times on eight chances. Anderson had trouble making inroads against the Serb in key moments with Djokovic saving seven of eight break chances against his serve. Djokovic would win 74 and 69 percent of the points off his first and second serves respectively.

I did go to the tape from that last meeting to take a look at what worked and what didn’t for both. Djokovic really pounded the ball from the baseline in that one, keeping Anderson pushed back with great depth. Even when Anderson got to forehands, he always seemed to be moving backwards to get to them. Djokovic did a good job of not letting Anderson get into stationary strike positions. For Anderson, his best serve seemed to be from the deuce court targeting the Djokovic backhand. He challenged to Serb to stretch down the T quite a bit and found some of his best finishes off those serves. In general, Djokovic did a good job of making contact even on Anderson’s biggest serves and finding a way to recover to keep in the points.

One of the places where Djokovic seemed naturally more at ease in that match was at the net. Anderson does move forward more with his 1-2 combo of big first serve and aggressive ground stroke off the return ball, but he those mainly come on offense. He doesn’t seem to want to get involved defensively too often at the net, unless the point dictates it. I think that is an area Djokovic can exploit in this one. If the Serb is continuing to place his serve well with Anderson getting caught returning short balls or making poor contact – Djokovic has to look to aggressively move in and finish those off. As he did with Rafa, look for drop shots to be part of that plan too. There is nothing a tired player hates more than a drop shot.

I think Anderson is going to have to look for the same go big or go home type of return game that suited him well against Isner. Djokovic is probably going to do a better job of mixing in different serves to change that up, whereas Isner was about pure power and if Anderson made solid contact – it was going to go back the other way in a hurry. Against Djokovic, look for the Serb to target the backhand. In doing so, proper placement should yield more opportunities for Djokovic to move in some and finish with his forehand which has been very solid of late.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

To be honest, I think there is quite a bit of guesswork before this one in trying to figure out what is left in the tank for both men. If this were full rest, even Steven, Djokovic wants to get Anderson sucked into baseline ralliesa nd work the legs. Anderson’s bread and butter in making himself into a Slam contender has been an aggressive game built off his first serve and quick ground strokes to keep from getting into those rallies. You still tend to think Djokovic’s return is going to be a difference maker in this match, even if he’s feeling it after the Nadal match – but that remains to be seen. I think Anderson’s legs are a question mark just as much and it would effect the bigger aspect of his game with his serve.

In reality I think this could finish a lot of different ways. None of us know how these two are truly going to feel on court until we see them. I go back to what I said about a Nadal five set match taking more than a regular toll on the a person who survives it. If you look back to the five set matches he has lost at Grand Slams, here’s the result in the match immediately following someone who beat Nadal in five sets.

Gilles Muller 2017, lost in 5 to Cilic (Wimbledon)
Lucas Pouille 2016, lost in 3 to Monfils (US Open)
Fernando Verdasco 2016, won in 4 over Sela (Australian Open)
Fabio Fognini 2015, lost in 3 to Lopez (US Open)
Lukas Rosol 2012, lost in 3 to Kohlschreiber (Wimbledon)

just once in these five has a player managed to follow up a win over Nadal in five with a win in the next round and that was Verdasco. The plus for Verdasco was that it was round one of the first Slam of the season, so fatigue was not quite as heavy. Here at Wimbledon, it’s Djokovic’s longest and most grueling match of a shortened season. The plus obviously is that his opponent is just as compromised from playing a 50 game fifth set in the last round.

I think getting to stretch out the five sets against Nadal over two days was probably the factor that I think helps the Serb the most. Although he is playing a third straight day, he didn’t get run through the five set ringer all at once. Perhaps that helps the body reponds a bit better. If there is one thing you should have learned about Kevin Anderson by now in his rise into the top five (as of Monday), it’s that his mental strength is at an elite level. He’s right up there with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at this point. I think that means this can be competitive, but again this is a lot of guessing. In the end, I think Djokovic’s return and Anderson’s lesser return equal Slam title #13 for Novak Djokovic and another one for the Big Four.

Prediction: Djokovic wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon SF Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs (12) Novak Djokovic

Big Four Representing, Turning Back Clock

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will hope to keep Father Time in check for another round as they both bid for what has become a rare spot for both in the Wimbledon final. For Nadal, he’s seeking his first trip back since 2011 and Djokovic has not been to the final since 2015. Djokovic is also looking for his first Slam final of any sort since the 2016 U.S. Open. It’s an understatement to say this is a huge opportunity for both, especially with Roger Federer going out in the quarterfinals. Nadal comes in off a grueling five set win over Juan Martin Del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. The match lasted four hours and 47 minutes and had a bit of everything, including eight serve and volley attemps from Nadal. He would win seven of those eight points.

Nadal was tremendous at the net, taking 36/47 points he played there and Rafa made some incredible volleys. He would finish with 67 winners and 34 unforced errors. The second seed was still very good with his serve numbers, taking 74 percent of the points off his first serve and 62 percent off his second. He was broken just two times on seven chances. As expected, he put a bit more pressure on the Del Potro serve with ten break points seen and four converted. Rafa did a marvelous job of finding inventive ways to get his racquet on the DelPo serve, including using some interesting chip sliced backhand late in the match. The variety seemed to give Nadal an edge with Del Potro not getting full power on the next shot, which allowed Rafa to turn aggressive with the next ball that he hammered well off both wings.

Djokovic’s path through the quarterfinals was not as taxing with the Serb taking down Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic has now beaten Nishikori 14 times in 16 career meetings. Djokovic was on point with his first serve, sporting an 85 percent win rate. He was subpar with a 40 percent win rate off his second serve with Nishikori breaking him three times on seven chances. The Serb would gobble up Nishikori’s serve, taking 41 percent of his first serve points and breaking the man from Japan seven times on 14 opportunities. On top of that, the 12th seed was nearly perfect at the net, taking 19/21 points played.

In reviewing the tape, the Serb’s forehand really stood out. He looked very aggressive off that wing and seemed bent on taking bigger cuts off that wing. The biggest moment likely came early in the third set as Djokovic still seemed to be stewing in his own brain over dropping the second set. He was making more errors and Nishikori was taking the ball earlier, challenging Djokovic to step his game back up. The Serb would make some key holds on break points, seemingly revving up his confidence to help him run away with the match after holding at 3-2 in the third.

Above all, we’re seeing some of the younger Djokovic’s testy behavior again. He’s been angry at the crowd, the sun and the chair umps and it’s more reminiscent of the good old days when he was reeling off title after title. Djokovic has said that anger can be a good thing for him as it seems to focus him a bit more on court, so perhaps you can expect him to look that way again on Friday. The crowd surely is going to be pro-Nadal, so the Serb will be looking to use that as fuel to try and get to his 5th Wimbledon final and perhaps add to his 12 career Grand Slam titles, something that never seemed too realistic just a few short months.

The Formula

This will be the 52nd meeting between Nadal and Djokovic. The last came on clay in Rome, where Rafa won expectedly 7-6 (4), 6-3. Nadal has won two straight in the series, both on clay with the two having played just three times on grass. The last came at the 2011 Wimbledon final where the Serb prevailed 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3. Nadal does own the other two wins, one coming via retirement from Djokovic at Wimbledon in the 2007 semifinals with a blister and back problem. Grass figures to give Djokovic a much better chance in this one than he had on clay when they last met, but this figures to be a real war.

I turned on the tape from the 2011 encounter even though both are much different players at age 32 (Nadal) and 31 (Djokovic) then they were seven years ago. Still, it yields some help in looking at how they play each other on this surface.. The number on thing about this match-up is that net points figure to be rare. Nadal played a lot late against Del Potro because he had to cut down on all the free swinging forehands that Del Potro was getting. Djokovic will pick spots to come in, but more often his net play is dictated simply by how points develop and not a pre-conceived effort to move forward. That means a lot of baseline to baseline tennis is coming your way.

We know that it makes sense to go away from the Nadal forehand, but he’s shown some very good consistency and aggression with his backhand this tournament. I do still expect to see Djokovic to test that wing more and he’d be wise to try to get the ball low. We’ve seen Nadal struggle to handle those low skidding shots at times on grass. When Djokovic has been in control this tournament, he’s dictating play from the back with his forehand. I’d look for him to look to create those angles east and west along the baseline against Nadal in an effort to push the Spaniard wide. When he gets him wide, he should get the chance to flip the action quickly and finish with a shot cross court.

Djokovic will be weary of the Nadal forehand as the second seed’s best runs of play have come when he’s been able to consistently pound the forehand in succession in rallies. If he gets around to more and more forehand, he’s been able to push his opponents back beyond the baseline with depth and precision. That should again allow him to move forward off any short returns from those shots and finish moving forward with a volley or another fierce forehand. Most of the match play between these two says that whomever is able to be consistent and aggressive with more forehands is going to be in control and have the best chance to win.

Serve is obviously big with both men possessing stellar return games. Nadal has been super solid on serve this fortnight. His precision and depth have been able to keep the returner mostly pinned back in a neutral or minus position on the baseline. Djokovic will be the biggest challenge to Nadal’s serve with his flexibility as a huge plus. The Serb is good at making those extended reach shots on return without necessarily losing a lot of velocity. That will be something he must do in order to keep Nadal from getting aggressive early on the next shot. Look for Nadal to go after the backhand in return as Djokovic doesn’t get quite as much control and power when extended off that wing in return.

Serves up the T against both player’s backhands were a big part of their meeting seven years ago in watching the tape. When both players laid down their first serves with accuracy, they left the returner lunging to make contact. Even with some great stab saves, the returners were left in compromising court position that the server moved in on and took advantage of quickly. I think Nadal has the harder time making those returns with Djokovic again proving better at those stab shots with his range and flexibility. The other item I’d look for both to utilize quite a bit is the drop shot. Nadal has been fantastic at using it to make his opponents pay for setting up too deep in return and staying back a step behind the baseline. I think Djokovic will try not to drift back too far because of this and vice versa. For me, I think Rafa’s touch has shown a bit better consistency in this area.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The thing I am interested to see in this one is how Djokovic reacts to suffering on court in a physical match. For all the good he has done in rebuilding his confidence on grass, he’s yet to be put to a lengthy physical test as he’s likely to see against Rafa. That’s where I still think there is some potential for physical frailty for the Serb without having had to play the point construction and defense he’s likely to need for victory against the Spaniard. Rafa comes off a grueling match, but it has been his only stiff challenge at this year’s event. I don’t think fitness is any concern for Nadal. He thrives on this and takes the court knowing he’s the fitter player.

I think Djokovic has to find early success against the Nadal serve, which is easier said than done. The Spaniard has done a beautiful job transitioning with a bit more aggressiveness on serve to suit the surface. That should challenge Djokovic to adjust in return. He’s got to keep Nadal pushed back with depth of return or he’s going to have to work extra long in rallies to get himself back into winning court position. That’s usually not a winning formula against Nadal. It’s somewhat difficult to know exactly how well Djokovic is playing on grass at the moment as he has taken advantage of a good draw that has not challenged him to answer the bell and raise his level. He’s going to have to do that against Nadal. Nadal has already proven he’s willing and able to answer.

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon SF Preview: Kevin Anderson vs John Isner

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(8) Kevin Anderson vs (9) John Isner

Thirty-Something First Timer’s Club

If you had Kevin Anderson or John Isner in your final four for this year’s version of Wimbledon, step back from the lightning strike. In a tournament that has produced a multitude of upsets in the men’s singles and doubles draw, one of the biggest came in the quarterfinals at the racquet of Anderson. The 32-year-old South African became just the third player in history to defeat Roger Federer after falling behind two sets to love. Anderson showed guts and grit in crafting what to this point is a career-defining win 2-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11. Consider that Anderson had never won a set off of Federer in four previous matches (8 sets) and was starting down at ten straight sets dropped —– and got off the mat to not just win his first ever set, but the match over one of the greats in tennis history on his favorite surface. This was a monumental moment for Anderson in a career that is now providing these sort of moments on the biggest stages.

The 8th seed would say afterwards that he kept with his Journey attitude in that he didn’t stop believing no matter the scoreline. It’s what has made Anderson into a renaissance player in his early 30s with two Grand Slam semifinals now to his credit in the last three years (2017 U.S. Open Finalist). Anderson finished the match with 28 aces and put more pressure on Federer’s serve late. Fed only cashed in three times on 12 break chances with Anderson getting four breaks on seven BPs. Their numbers were almost identical in so many categories, showing how close the match was overall. Federer won five more points overall (195-190) with the win rates on serve favoring the Swiss 79-76 percent on first serve and 59 to 52 percent on second serve. Anderson had four more winners (65-61) with the unforced error count at 33 for Federer and 31 for the 8th seeded South African.

In reviewing this one, you come away with a good view of how Anderson changed the trajectory of the match. Early on it was Federer who was returning well against Big Kev’s serve and using the short slice to keep the ball out of Anderson’s strike zone on the forehand. As the match wore on, Anderson was hitting his stride on serve with Fed increasingly making poorer contact in return. Anderson would get more aggressive off those short balls and pound them for easy points. The biggest difference though came in return. Anderson did a better job of adjusting his footwork even when he was fooled or jammed on serve, allowing himself to really step into his returns and him some massive, clean winners. The first key one being a backhand that crafted a key break of Federer late in set three. Roger had his chances certainly to finish things off with a match point at 5-4 in set three on Anderson’s serve, but this was no choke to me. Anderson earned everything he got and should be credited for stepping his game up when he had to have it.

Isner Out Serves Raonic For First Slam Semi

At age 33, John Isner had already done something quite miraculous by making just his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal. Isner’s only other QF came at the U.S. Open back in 2011. He one upped that achievement by claiming a spot in the semifinals, his first at a Slam, in defeating 13th seed Milos Raonic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3. The win marked Isner’s fourth in five career matches against Milos. It a match that figured to be centered around big serving, it was the American who was unflappable. He faced a single break point in the match and saved it, while breaking the Canadian three times on six chances. Both were monsters with their first serve with Isner winning a whopping 90 percent of the points and Raonic a bit lower at 80 percent.

There were not a ton of unforced errors as you’d expect with the quick and aggressive game plans for both. Isner tallied just 17 and Raonic had 18. The ace count favored Raonic 31-25. There will of course be questions about what could have been from this one with Raonic sporting a thigh injury that was apparently suffered late in set one. Certainly Raonic did not seem to suffer right way, but by the final set it looked clear that he was not moving as well and his serve was compromised. Over the final two sets, Raonic would win just eight of 23 second serve points with his first serve win rate dipping to 62 percent in the fourth set. Give Isner credit though as he continued to mix it up at the net, taking 30 of 37 points. The American has really done a nice job incorporating more movement forward and it’s been especially helpful on grass.

The Formula

Isner heads into this match with eight wins over Anderson in eleven career meetings. It should be noted though that the last came at Indian Wells in 2015. Anderson has since added three Slam quarterfinals to his resume and really become a more accomplished player due to his mental attitude and aggressive 1-2 style of play off his serve. The last time that Anderson scored a win over Isner was at Delray Beach in 2012. The lone grass court meeting came in 2008 at Queen’s Club where Isner prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-4. Even though most of those meetings came before the rise of Big Kev, you an take a little bit from them. The key element being that Anderson has really struggled to make inroads against the Isner serve. The Delray Beach meeting in 2012 was the last time that Anderson broke Isner. In the five matches since, he’s gotten quite a few looks at breaks, but has been unable to convert. That’s obviously got to change if the South African is dreaming of making the final.

Realistically, Anderson is going to have a devil of a time trying to get on the end of a lot of Isner serves. In looking back at some of the tape of those past meetings, Isner has had little issue controlling his service games even without aces. Anderson has struggled to get good contact on the Isner serve, leaving the American to advance forward and finish easily at the net. That’s been part of Isner’s arsenal on grass that is difficult to stop. If Isner is hammering his first serve with velocity and placement, there are few who are going to get the necessary contact to keep Isner from moving forward. I think the one thing Anderson can try is being super aggressive with his returns. Take some big swings and see what happens. Most are expecting you to get nothing in return against his massive serve, so getting more aggressive with the hope of hitting a few key clean winners seems like a strategy worth trying.

The other thing Anderson must do is prevent Isner from pressuring his serve. The South African cannot get rattled by a lack of opportunity in return or by Isner’s ability to negate break points with aces. Mentally, he has to stick to his game plan on return, but make sure that any frustration does not carry over to his own serve. Anderson has been broken nine times off of 27 break chances. He’s been broken at least once in every match outside of his round one victory against Norberto Gambos. Isner conversely has yet to be broken with just a handful of break points dished out over five rounds. The likelihood of Anderson being the break through guy is a tough ask, so that means his serve is of the upmost importance. The plus here is that Isner is not a quality returner, so if he can find a rhythm and keep it consistent – he has the weapon to match the 9th seed.

For the most part, this match should play out with a mirror image of offense. Both players want to pound the first serve for easy points or to push the returner into poor court position. Then, they will follow that up by moving forward and finishing off quickly at the net. I do think baseline to baseline rallies will be an advantage for Anderson who has better movement overall and a bit more variety to his ground strokes. This is the way I can see Anderson turning the tables, but that means he’s got to find something in return to be able to pull Isner into those rallies. The South African will keep with the short and sweet offense, but I think has to find a way to defend that serve just enough to get some key points sucked into those baseline rallies.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

How do you solve a problem like John Isner? Hope for an off day. His first serve has been an imposing force at Wimbledon this year and for Anderson in the past. Anderson’s best bet may be matching Isner blow for blow on serve and hoping he can get one or two key points in a tie break, where he can make Isner pay for one less than stellar serve. Isner is 4-3 in tie breaks this tournament and 23-19 on the season. Anderson is 3-2 at Wimbledon and 20-11 on the season. That’s a bit better win rate than the American, but the question is whether or not he can get to multiple tie breaks without folding under the pressure of matching the Isner serve?

I think a longer match favors Anderson, despite the two taxing matches he has played the last two rounds. I don’t question Kevin Anderson’s fitness, but I do think Isner could be prone to breaking down late if Anderson is able to keep him working and having to move more than he wants to move across the court in rallies. I think you do have to factor nerves into this one also as this is new territory for John Isner. He’s never been a step away from a Grand Slam final. Anderson has been and has already climbed over that mountain to make last year’s U.S. Open final.

I don’t think that should be underrated in this spot. For as good as Isner has been on serve, what are his nerves going to be like in pressure situations? We’ve seen Anderson’s nerve and he’s playing with a stash of house money in his pockets after beating Federer – that might make a bit of difference in the end. After beating Federer in the manner that he did, you figure this falls one of two ways for Anderson – he comes out emotionally flat or he plays like a world beater. Cue the Journey and don’t stop believing for another round.

Prediction: Anderson wins in five sets

2018 Wimbledon QF Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs (5) Juan Martin Del Potro

Nadal Hunting For Best Wimbledon Result Since 2011

When Rafael Nadal takes the court against Juan Martin Del Potro on Wednesday, he will have a chance to get to his first Wimbledon semifinal since he made his last final here back in 2011. The lefty has been on a big roll with four straight sets wins this time around, avoiding trouble and big hitters who can challenge him from the baseline. That is due to change with Del Potro, but first let’s look at how Rafa got here. In the fourth round, he faced a player in Jiri Vesely who has a big serve, but lacks the consistency off the ground to trouble Nadal. That was very much true in Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Rafa was a rock on serve with win rates of 78 and 74 percent off his first and second serves. His placement and Vesely’s lack of putting much on return gave Rafa plenty of control from neutral positions along the baseline – the place you do not want to try and battle against Nadal. Vesely got a look at one break point and did convert. Nadal has been broken just four times in all through four rounds. His ground game showed well with 37 winners to just 12 unforced errors. It was the lowest number of UEs from Nadal, who has been under 20 in that category in each of his four matches. The big thing again that fueled Nadal was his return and defense. He pressured the Czech into eight break chances and took five. Nadal continued to set up about a foot or more behind the baseline in return and then aggressively moved in to hammer his returns.

Del Potro Fends Off Simon to Earn Another Slam Semifinal

The fifth seeded Argentine had trouble shaking loose from Gilles Simon, but Del Potro was able to find his best in the tie breaks to secure the 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5) victory. Simon’s defense and return led DelPo to play longer rallies with the Argentine tallying a tournament worst 63 unforced errors in the win. He did crush 78 winners – just 13 less than he had racked up in the three previous rounds combined. Part of that was the game play, but a lot of that was due to the longer match played after DelPo beat his first three opponents in straights.

Del Potro won 75 percent of his first serve points, but just 47 percent of his second serve points. He was broken five times on 15 chances, by far his worst numbers of the tournament. Prior to the Simon match, DelPo has only seen three breaks of serve against him, all coming in his round three encounter against Benoit Paire. He was also challenged to play at the net more, taking 19/33 points. Simon would win 36/52 points at the net as he made a concerted effort to get forward. Overll, Del Potro showed match toughness to get the win, but having trouble getting through Simon on the baseline does not bode well for his meeting against Nadal.

The Formula

This is the 16th time that Nadal and Del Potro will lock horns with Rafa owning a 10-5 edge, including 3-1 at Grand Slams. Their last two meetings have come at Slams with Nadal rolling over Del Potro at this year’s French Open 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Nadal also crushed Del Potro at last year’s U.S. Open, taking the match 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Overall, most of their meetings have come from quite a while back with just three since 2016. All three have gone to Nadal with the most enthralling being their semifinal meeting at the Rio Olympics where Nadal prevailed 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

First and foremost for Del Potro, he has to solve Nadal’s serve. He has only broken Rafa once over those last three meetings. It’s not because of a shortage of chances with Del Potro getting 18 cracks at a break, but only able to convert one time. If you watch the highlights from some of these most recent encounters, I think Del Potro does himself a disservice by sitting too deep behind the baseline in return. He’s adopting a page from Nadal’s book to get a better look at the tricky lefty’s serve, but in doing so, he’s been leaving himself vulnerable to Nadal drop shotting him to death. He will certainly be playing closer to the baseline on grass, but he’s got to find some depth on return. That’s been the other issue. He’s gotten plenty of swings on Rafa’s serves, but there are too many times that he’s left the ball short with Nadal moving in and getting aggressive to control the rally from that point.

Del Potro isn’t a slouch in the return department. I wouldn’t rate him too far above average, but he has great reach due to his size and the ability to hit clean winners. I think he has to be a bit more aggressive in return in this one. He has to hit with more authority and purpose. He should have a chance to do that with the return position pushed up. Nadal’s tailing action on his serve does a nice natural job of pushing away from the Argentine, so that a lot of his returns wind up being more on an extended position that neutralizes some of that natural power for Del Potro. On grass, Rafa doesn’t get quite as much of that tailing action that he does on other surfaces, but he adds more aggressiveness to his serves that will get on Del Potro more quickly. Del Potro has to react quickly and make decisive swings. Look for Nadal as most do – to pick on the Del Potro backhand.

That will carry over into the ground exchanges where Del Potro will try to employ the backhand slice to keep the ball from Rafa’s prime strike zone. Nadal isn’t afraid to switch around and hit that double handed backhand though that might neutralize some of that tactically. A lot of how this match turns out will of course be dictated by who gets to more forehands in the baseline to baseline game. I think DelPo needs it more than Rafa, but he has to avoid staying too deep in order to stay in front of the shots. If he’s playing behind the baseline as we’ve seen in the past, Nadal gets those opportunities to mix in drop shots and craft impossible angles that Del Potro may not catch up with behind the baseline.

I think for Del Potro to have a chance of pulling off the win, he’s got to find consistency and power on his first serve to start. His first serve can be overpowering, but he’s prone to inconsistencies with it that can lead to too many second serves. Nadal doesn’t play as deep on grass as he does elsewhere, but he’s still going to be a bit behind the baseline to try and get a better measure of the fifth seed’s serve. DelPo has to find those angles out wide to the Nadal backhand and force the Spaniard to become more of a defensive returner than one who can turn the return offensive right away.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Del Potro has the things in his repertoire that are needed to beat Nadal on grass. Big serve. Huge ground strokes. The problem for me is he had trouble breaking down Simon in the last round who doesn’t have the return of Nadal and isn’t at the same level as Nadal from the baseline. That match stretched out over two days due to darkness, which means that Del Potro is playing three straight days. While he may have only played a set on Tuesday, there was plenty of stress to it. I don’t think this is the ideal way to head into a match against Nadal in a best of five setting.

The good thing for Del Potro in this situation is that Nadal has not faced the pure power that he possesses yet at the All-England Club this year. I think the Argentine’s chances to pull this one out will hinge on him finding a rhythm early on serve and taking some aggressive shots in return with the hope of rattling Rafa. Nadal has really only faced some slight stress during the Mikhail Kukushkin match, where the Kazakh’s low shots made life difficult for the world number one to get clean cuts. He won’t find that against Del Potro and I expect that with fresher legs that he will be able to wear Del Potro down in this one, unless the Argentine finds another gear that we have not seen this fortnight

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets