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Todd’s Tennis Takes – I.W. R16 Preview, Part 1

      We’ve come up to some juicy matchups in the men’s lower half of the draw in the Round of 16, headlined by an extreme case of opposites attracting – Nadal vs. Gulbis. Nadal leads 4-0, but lost one set to Gulbis in each of their first three encounters, including on the clay of Rome in 2010, Nadal’s favorite surface. One obvious opposite is their mental approach to the game and matches. Gulbis has a carefree attitude, highly emotional on court at times, and has often underachieved for long stretches of his career…though at other times has showed tremendous ability, power, athleticism, and touch on the court. Nadal’s effort and competitive attitude on court, even when up 6-1, 5-1 in matches, is legendary, as is his resume at age 26 – 11 slams, 5 slam r-ups, 52 titles, and Year End Top 3 seven times, including twice #1. The other extreme opposite in this matchup is their hardcourt prep time. Nadal has played 1 ATP hardcourt match in the last 345 days, earning a walkover in round 3 when Leonardo Mayer had to pull out of their match. Gulbis on the other hand, has played 3 main draw matches here, 2 qualifying matches in the desert, and 8 hardcourt matches in Delray Beach – 3 qualifying, 5 main draw. He has won all of these matches, 13 in a row, but officially just 8 (qualies don’t count toward official ATP match wins). Prediction: Gulbis wins a set, but Nadal wins the match.

      Federer vs. Wawrinka (Fed leads 12-1). Yes, complete domination by the Swiss #1 against the Swiss #2, but this matchup has been much closer than that the last 3 times they’ve played, including the most recent, Stanislas winning the first set at the 2012 Shanghai Masters and taking the 2nd to a tiebreaker, before losing that 7-4 and then melting in the 3rd, 6-0. But Stan has some confidence on hardcourts after playing possibly the best tennis of his life against Djoker in the 4th round in Australia (12-10 loss in the 5th), and is 3 & ½ years younger than the living legend, who at 31 now hasn’t made an ATP final yet this year in 3 previous tournaments. Prediction: I’m going to go with Wawrinka in a shocking upset in 3 sets.

      Berdych vs. Gasquet (Gaquet leads 4-2). Indeed, the shorter, lower-ranked Frenchman has a winning record against Berd Dog, who has now been ranked in the Top 10 since July of 2010 (currently 6th). Gasquet, currently ranked 10th, finished 2012 in the Top 10 (also 10th) for the 2nd time in his career (previously in 2007, at age 21), and has won a title this year already – Montpellier – though it was a rather weak field. Berdych has been playing great though, reaching the finals of his last two events (Dubai – l. to Djokovic; Marseille, l. to Tsonga) and winning both matches here in straight sets, losing a total of just 11 games to Mischa Zverev and Florian Mayer. Prediction: Gasquet has won the last two, including at the Toronto Masters last year, but I think his winning streak ends here, in three sets.

      Gilles Simon vs. Kevin Anderson (Never Played). Definitely the 4th bill of the lower half R16 matchups, as neither of these two are overly compelling to watch, though they certainly present contrasting styles – the speedy, steady Simon against the 6’8” South African giant. Simon has already slayed one giant this year, beating Del Potro at Marseille in straight sets, while Anderson failed in his giant vs. giant encounter at Delray Beach, losing to Isner (who lost here immediately, 3 sets to Hewitt) in the quarterfinals (Anderson’s only tourney post Aussie Open). Prediction: Simon is higher ranked (#13 to #37), has more experience and career titles (10 to Anderson’s 2), and takes this match…in 3 sets.


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