Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Super-Sebian versus the French Clown

I can’t wait for the Paris Masters finals tomorrow. Djokovic versus Monfils, the former totally expected given the awesome run of form he is currently enjoying, the latter my heart’s delight, but I fully expect Djokovic to crush him.

The upsets started early in Bercy, with Federer going out in the first round to Julien Benneteau. There is nothing like playing in front of your homies to bring out your best. We saw that the week before when Federer once again made it to the finals of the Swiss Davidoff. I felt badly for him that he lost in the finals in front of his home crowd and his mother. That must sting. But Benneteau (which my spellcheck keeps changing to ‘bonehead’ much to my delight), seemed to have been equally inspired.

Of course he came back down to earth in the next round in the match against Monfils. And this is as good a point as any to talk about how much Monfils frustrates me. Monfils is a puzzling character. On the one hand, he wastes a lot of energy clowning around on the tennis court. I wish he could learn how to control and channel his energy into winning points. On the other hand, he has this completely passive, lackadaisical style of playing tennis that absolutely drives me nuts. I find myself wanting to reach through the TV screen and shake him.

Monfils has a horrible habit of dragging out points. In the match against David Guez for example, whom any self-respecting top-20 player would have sent packing 6-0 6-1 (and the breadstick only because you don’t completely humiliate a man in front of his home crowd or his mother), Monfils eventually won 6-4 6-3. Most of the time he seemed to be returning the ball just to return the ball. He wasn’t creating anything, he wasn’t setting up anything, he wasn’t constructing anything. He seemed to have no game plan other than simply out-waiting Guez. And that irritated me. As much as I love him, it is very hard for me to watch Monfils play. He ends up irking the crap out of me.

Monfils’ passive and lame-brained approach to tennis will not work against Djokovic tomorrow. In fact, I did not expect it to work today against Stepanek. I am still stunned that it did. Indeed, after watching Djokovic blow Nadal off the court, I left home and went to play tennis myself, confident that I would come home to the news of a Djokovic vs. Stepanek finals. I have no idea what Monfils did to win that match. I can only imagine how mind-numbing it was, one ball-poker playing another. I guess youth may have been on Monfils’ side.

Well youth won’t make a crap of difference tomorrow. Djokovic is playing divine tennis. Always one of the more intelligent players on the court, Djokovic seems to have found his second wind late in the season. In fact, if he keeps up the form we saw last week in Basle and this week in Bercy, I will go out on a limb and say that he will be the one to beat in London.

I have previously credited Davydenko for playing smarter tennis than Nadal at the 2009 Shanghai Masters. Today Djokovic went at least 15 IQ points higher. He played Nadal’s backhand like a violin. He drove lethal winners into the Nadal forehand. His serve was on point, especially the serve out wide to the sideline. His placement was awesome, his movement spare and breathtaking, his nerves of pure steel, his body language relaxed and confident.

Djokovic not only had a definite plan but he went out and decisively implemented it. Nadal didn’t seem to know what hit him. When was the last time you saw Nadal completely give up on points? He seemed to know that he was being completely outplayed and that he had no answers for Djokovic’s game. Nadal’s words of congratulations at the net seemed sincere.

I don’t think I am over-reaching when I say that Djokovic is currently playing his best tennis ever. The Djokovic who showed up in Basle and Bercy will make mincemeat of Monfils tomorrow. If I were Monfils I would think twice about inviting my mother.


Karen said...

I watched the Novak/Nadal match and I have to say that I was quite impressed with Novak's play. Nadal had absolutely no answers and this is the third time this season that I have seen him being hit off the court. That being said, it is a reason why Novak has not won a MS shield or a major this year. In the big moments he falters. We saw this in Cincy when he made mincemeat out of Nadal only to fade against Federer in the finals. He exerts a lot of unnecessary energy in his matches and the difference between Nadal and Monfils will show tomorrow. Monfils will have the French crowd behind him and if Novak cannot keep his focus then he is done for. While I like Novak and enjoy watching his game when it is on song, a fact that is to be considered is that Novak has never defended a title in his career. This is his 10th tournament final and apart from winning a few 500 series events, he has not really bagged a big one this season. I am pulling for Monfils to make a breakthrough in this tourney and hope he gets the win.

tennischick said...

i haven't seen the match as yet -- will wait for the repeat on the TC later. but i have an apology for Monfils. i clearly underestimated him. i truly expected him to lose in straights. thrilled to be wrong. but i stand by my assessment of what he needs to improve in his game.