Feb/13

16

One Day–And A Generation Turns


One day, two matches and a generation turned yesterday in Rotterdam. Yes, it’s only a day in February on an indoor court, but yesterday in two matches, the tennis world took a seismic turn. Where were you, hitting groundies in Florida, watching your kid take a group lesson where they tried to change his backhand grip and service grip in 90 minutes when he’s only 6, or checking out the Tennis Channel?

If you missed it, here’s what happened. First, Grigor Dimitrov knocked off Marcos Baghdatis. Now one would say, “Is beating Baghdatis really such an accomplishment these days?” The Cypriot–isn’t it cool just saying that? The Cypriot–is ranked No. 37 now and he’s clearly a nice player going nowhere. He’s tried getting in shape, he’s tried different coaches, he still hits a beautiful ball, but he’s on the outskirts of the game today even as he beat Richard Gasquet before facing Dimitrov.

Dimitrov has been the next big thing since he was 17 and his then-coach, Federer’s former coach, Peter Lundgren, said the young Bulgarian was better than Roger at that age. Dimitrov has taken the last four years to hone his considerable talents and game. He is mini-Federer in a way that no other championship-level player has ever followed and imitated another champion players form. The only thing he doesn’t have is Roger’s air of a champion, the look of nonchalant superiority and “tough luck, buddy. Thanks for the workout,” dismissal that Federer politely stiffs his opponents with.

Well, that all changed yesterday. One day after Valentine’s Day, when Sam Querrey was struggling to beat another so-so opponent in San Jose and Rafael Nadal went 6-4 in the third against a 30-year-old Argentinian ranked No. 78 in Sao Paolo, Dimitrov outclassed Baghdatis, whose a gateway player, you have to beat him to get to the top. And Federer, he amazingly lost to Julien Benneteau. Who, you say? Nicolas Mahut? No, not Mahut, even though Benneteau and Mahut seemingly are the same player, not in their form, but in their being just another good French player who never quite made it.

Dimitrov is an inch taller and remarkably 22 pounds lighter than Fed, who comes in at 6-1, 187 pounds (who’d ever think the slight Fed with no muscle tone in his upper body would weigh 187 pounds?). That’s how slight the Bulgarian is, but he smacks his groundies and displayed a stinging serve against Baghdatis. Dmitrov also showed an elasticity and an ability to sustain rallies that seem to eluding Federer now. This is where Fed seems to be showing the first full rust of his game. This springiness in movement and in snapping off aces in big moments. Fed’s serve, even more than his grace around the court and his viper’s tongue strokes, has always been his calling card and now with maybe the legs getting stiffer playing back to back days, he’s not punishing his opponents as much with it.

For Federer to lose to Benneteau, the 31-year-old Frenchman ranked No. 38 in Rotterdam, an older gateway player than Baghdatis, but still in that category, it might not be that big a deal. Benneteau had beaten him before indoors in Paris in 2009, but Federer usually knocks off unoriginal players like the Frenchman before he has breakfast. Maybe Fed’s disdain for his opponents will lead to more losses in matches like this that are seemingly unimportant. But I think in one day, yesterday, you saw the changing of a generation with Dimitrov ascending and Roger starting the long last lap of a champion.

I propose that you will see Dimitrov, who’s ten years Fed’s junior, maybe a generation-and-a-half younger than his model, win his first Slam before you see Roger win his 18th. And you may look back on February 15th, 2013 and say, “That’s when the tides turned.”

34 comments

  • Steve · February 16, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Well, the world has been saying this about Dimitrov for a long, long time. No shift took place but he’s clearly improving and doing good work with his coach.

    “The only thing he doesn’t have is Roger’s air of champion” –well, he’ll never have Fed’s forehand, Fed’s volley skills or Fed’s movement. Obviously Fed’s serve is on another level. I’m sure babyFed’s shot choices will improve. Let’s hope he does keep improving and keep elegant one-handed play in the mix.

    As far as Benneteau winning, well, he has often played well against Fed. He was giving Fed a very tough match at Wimby until he rolled his ankle.

    Recent events underline how great Delpo is. Players keep trying to drop shot him. How do they not know how well he moves??? But this is the kind of match Dimitrov can really learn from.

    And Baghdatis. I feel like he should be in the HOF. I don’t have any statistics to back it up but he’s just legend. Maybe a lifetime coolness award.

  • Harold · February 16, 2013 at 11:04 am

    What a shock, Fed loses and here comes Dan’s 50th obit for Fed, going back to the TW days…

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · February 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I’m not writing Fed’s obit, Harold, although I admit I’ve done it erroneously in the past, I’m just stating facts. I think Dimitrov will win a slam and Roger won’t.

    As far as Delpo is concerned, he’s a great indoor player, kind of like Raonic. But once he lost to Chardy in Australia, I can’t take him seriously as a slam threat. He’s also lost to Ferrer too much of late.

    Baggy in the HOF, maybe the Cheetos HOF. Don’t exactly know what happened to him. He showed so much promise, but you just can’t be rock solid any more, you have to weapons, and Baggy doesn’t have a one.

  • Steve · February 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I don’t think Delpo played a warm-up going into the Aussie but Chardy played great.

    It’s true that Ferrer is a bad match-up for him but every player has someone like that. I don’t see the Raonic connection. Delpo is great on all surfaces (FO semi-finalist).

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · February 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Raonic isn’t bad on clay. He trains in Spain with Blanco.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I love the way Bag plays and how he can stir a crowd, his bond with his Cypriot fans is perhaps the most entertaining crowd dynamic in tennis now, he really feeds off their support in Australia and they really make matches double the pleasure to watch with their vocal support. Jerzy J has a great fanbase also, the Polish crowd for him vs. Devvarman in Australia was as good as it gets.

  • Steve · February 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    The Delpo/Benneteau Rotterdam final was very entertaining. JB just kept coming back. However, the gentle giant prevailed despite a nose bleed.

    Haas/Raonic in the SAP finals will be interesting too. Hard to think of a better match before facing Raonic than playing Isner. I like both guys but I’ll be rooting for Haas in this one.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Knew Delpo was going to win that match, Benneteau is good and maybe playing his best tennis but Delpo is like a bigger stronger version, he does everything a little better. Kinda sad that this is the last time an ATP event will be played in San Jose. I like Raonic over the 17 year veteran Haas. Nice win for Rafa vs. Nalb.

  • Author comment by Dan Markowitz · February 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Yes, but did you see the crowd in San Jose? It was paltry at best. And American tennis is just really down. I’ll give you an example, my son takes lesson at a club here in suburban New York and this club can’t even get more than three kids to show up to play match play. The kids show up for the lessons, but they don’t care enough to play on the ladder or match play.

    Tennis in America has really leveled out. Around where I live, there’s only one public court facility that lets you play for free. Now they have attendants at the courts to make sure you pay if you don’t have a pass. That’s ludicrous. When I was growing up, you could get tennis lessons for $25 outside, now pros charge three times that amount. So interest in tennis seems to be at a all-time low in my life time.

    As for Raonic, he looked superb in taking down Haas.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 18, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Raonic has been somewhat forgotten in all the young gun discussion, but he sure did put himself back in the conversation yesterday looking lethal in dispatching Haas quite comfortably. If only his game would transfer to other courts and surfaces. You have to think it will someday, hopefully he will not have his greatest successes in San Jose. It sure is alarming that San Jose is now extinct, gone the way of LA, Scottsdale, seeing all these tournaments fade away is just more proof that America is in decline and our govt and leadership are failing us. Dan that’s not good news about tennis growth and charging for courts. That’s the way it was in communist Poland, from what I was told, you had to pay for all courts, only the people with money could play. It seems the USA is heading that way though in north NJ there still are plenty of free courts, at least as of last year.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 18, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Tennis in the US is certainly a game in which you either have to have money to play at a high level or you have to have a parent(s) who works in a club, preferably as a tennis pro. I don’t see kids and teens playing the game as much on public courts as before. I don’t see it as a governmental issue, but rather one where a sport has fallen out of the reach of the middle and lower classes.

  • Steve · February 18, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Raonic has improved his return of serve and he seems more together and mature on court than the other young guys. It’s still astounding to see someone serve 148 regularly without much effort or strain.

    I know a few players that drive a great distance to play in N.NJ & NYC because where they live is a tennis dead zone.

    Dan have you ever been to Maywood Tennis Club? They have some excellent programs for Juniors. Lots going on there.
    http://www.maywoodtennisclub.com/pages/index.cfm?siteid=13296

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 18, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Steve, I’mo very impressed by Raonic, since he first burst on the scene three years ago he’s carried himself like a grand slam champion, very composed and mature sportsman, definitely a “champion.” It’s a matter of time for him. If he never wins a major I will be absolutely shocked.

  • Harold · February 18, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Raoncic had his best return of serve day in his career yesterday..Big step up in his career path if he gets to break serve every once in a while, as opposed to someone like Isner…

  • Dan Markowitz · February 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Raonic did look good yesterday. He hit that one backhand, acute angle, cross court pass against Haas, after Tommy had stuck a nice volley. The comparison to Sampras is apt with Raonic, he puts so much pressure on the returner that he ends up breaking him down.

  • Steve · February 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I would also be surprised if Raonic doesn’t get a slam.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Haas lost but he is playing some quality tennis at almost 35. Haas should get back into top 20 at 35. Wow. Even Gianluca Pozza, Michael Chang, Vince Spadea and Pete Sampras couldn’t do that.

  • Steve · February 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    ^^Haas is playing great.

    I just read an article yesterday on hip surgeries and the treatment & detection has changed since Guga’s time. Guga could have played longer like Haas, Nalby & Baker but the advancements weren’t in place yet.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    That’s too bad in a way Steve it would have been very nice to see Guga play another 5-8 years at the top level.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Haas and Hewitt are really the only two players I know of, I guess Brian Baker, too, who have played successfully after hip surgery.

    I’d love to see the article, Steve, if you can link it.

  • Mitch · February 18, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Didn’t Raonic also have hip surgery?

  • Steve · February 19, 2013 at 6:11 am

  • Dan Markowitz · February 19, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Thanks, Steve, that was interesting. I ask myself why I got arthritis in my hips when my knees have been pretty good. Maybe this is it. I did have an injury around 30 where I tore my hip flexor and nothing was done for it. Oh well, it is a question whether Baker with his torn meniscus will be able to come back.

    Raonic did have hip surgery and has made a nice comeback.

  • Andrew Miller · February 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Love Baghdatis. Though he had his biggest victories in the past 2,3 years over the likes of Nadal and Federer, I think a match that turned him into the gateway player (Dan’s word is, can we call it one of the best chosen words in the tennis lexicon? We should. I’ve heard “journeyman” but Dan’s description is superior. Gateway. It works!) was the Agassi match in 2006, a match where Baghdatis should have sent Agassi into retirement, sent Becker home, then given Roddick the match of his life.

    Anyhows. He’s another of the players I’d pay to see. But I’m afraid that Baghdatis belongs in the other category Dan set up for players that either never reached their potential or reached it and streaky playing, or lack of conditioning, or mental funk, or dislike of tennis, or personal problems, or whatever it is proved, as Daniela Hantuchova said, and until the player proves otherwise, “talent is one step away from laziness.”

    Yeah I love the bag man. But he’s there with Monfils and others who should have been challenging the top five players in the world all around the world. As Agassi once said at his last Wimbledon after losing to Nadal, a player can’t phone in the results. Otherwise we’d be ranking players on the beauty of their forehand, rather than the fact they worked on their backhand and it helped them to break through.

    Probably part of the mystique of Rios. Not only did he rise to the summit, at least briefly, but he did it with shots no one else ever knew existed. Something only a few other players in memory have done – John McEnroe, Roger Federer, Nadal sometimes, Nalbandian had his moments in back to back Masters (he essentially did what Rios did, but without taking the top ranking).

    So if this is Dimitrov’s moment, let’s hope he pushes it and builds some momentum. I’d like to see Baghdatis make another slam run, but I will settle for Dimitrov making a big run at upcoming three slams. It would be good to tennis and make things uncomfortable for Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Federer – maybe you’d even have a Sampras-Federer like moment where Dimitrov knocks off Federer in a classic slam semifinal.

    This is of course not happening. Unless it happens. And if so, you can credit Dan.

  • Andrew Miller · February 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Steve’s note on Guga is great, another player I loved watching, such great timing when he was playing well. His release of shot was right up there with Rios.

    As for Scoop and Raonic, I think Scoop is right on this. Raonic is fierce, like Djokovic was when I saw him playing, and it just no one anyone except David Ferrer wants to play. Sure Federer has his number today. But Del Potro (who once had Raonic’s fierceness) once scared everyone to win his slam in 2009. I think’s Scoop right in being shocked if Raonic doesn’t do the same.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 21, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    A lof of Bagdhatis fans around here, yours truly included. No one can rouse a stadium like Bag, he could turn a match into a party. He even did it in Indian Wells a few years ago vs. Fed. My friend was there and said he was next to Brett Connors, Jimbo’s son, who is a huge Bag fan. Agree Andrew, that loss to Agassi seemed to take something out of Bag he’s never been the same since, he’s become like a Spadea, capable of testing the best but just not able to beat them when it really counts. Bag losing to Agassi was like Spadea blowing the match to Chang at US OPen when he served for the match, Pancho Segura said Vince never got over that loss. Maybe Bag just needs a big win to get the belief back. But I just can’t see him knocking off Murray or Djok of Fed or Rafa in a major. Still, no one will ever forget Bag’s Aussie Open run to the final where he gave Fed a great battle.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Andrew, also those bigger younger guys often take time to put it all together physically – Krajicek, Goran, and late bloomers like Dr. Ivo and Wayne Arthurs. In a few years I can easily see Raonic being a major menace for every player on the tour. Heck, he’s been a menace for three years now, but the best is yet to come.

  • Andrew Miller · February 22, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Scoop I agree. Bag-man – he’s almost a right-handed Rios. If he were 20 percent better I think he’d be better than Nalbandian and as good as Rios was. As for Raonic, he’s fierce – I agree, a slam winner in the making.

    All depends on his health. With the big guys it’s a durability issue I think. Another guy who I think should have made a slam run – Joachim Johansson. Sheesh I just watched some of his playing, he’s the best “big player” apart from Krajicek, Ivanisevic I’ve ever seen. Raonic is that caliber. I can’t put Tomic there – the cleverness is there but not the attitude.

    Which makes Tomic more like…Baghdatis.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Andrew Bag has a lot of fans, people love that guy. I think another thing that was tough for him was being the only guy from Cyprus he was a bit of a loner on the tour believe it or not. I once asked him, the only time I ever talked with him one on one, he was standing at the US Open waiting for his car to take him back to hotel about five years ago, I asked him who would he root for to win the Open if he wasn’t playing and he said “nobody.” I said really, not even one of your friends? And he said he smiled and said he didn’t have any friends on the tour. Maybe that aspect of the tour life was a fine line between winning and losing. Like Rios he was an outsider, he obviously loves the playing aspect of tennis but maybe all the other stuff isn’t nearly as fun for him. Great player though, he definitely made his mark on the sport.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 22, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Joachim Johansson was on oddball. What a player. But the desire for whatever reasons was not there like it needed to be. He stopped playing because of injury then came back, then stopped again. About three years ago I asked Bjorkman and T Johansson about the Davis Cup team and the next tie and about JJ playing and they both kind of raised their eyebrows and said he didn’t want to play. I said because of injury? They said no he just didn’t want to play. THis was not long after he had made a comeback of sorts. The guy just didn’t want to play. And hasn’t played any pro matches since. Outside of all the typical tennis stuff we see, there are some odd things in the sport away from the spotlight. Just can’t understand how such a talented young player like JJ could just drop his career and not want to play anymore while still in his mid 20s.

  • Andrew Miller · February 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    That is sad regarding Bag man. Seems like a good guy. He is now a father after marrying Karolina Sprem. As for JJ – yeah that guy had ridiculous talent. He had everything Krajicek had, that serve was outstanding and his groundstrokes were huge. I don’t think it’s that much of an anomaly for not wanting to do more with it – Agassi almost quit the sport and without the help of others like Gil Reyes he probably would have been JJ. One player does not a slam winner make. I really am becoming a believer in the entourage – Nadal has a team of uncles behind him, Federer his family but also a trainer and Annacone. The Djokovic family, have you seen them? It’s like 10 people everytime.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · February 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    True Andrew, a player has to have a strong team with him. Djokovic often says he couldn’t do it without his team. It’s very lonely out there on the court, Djok has great guys on his team, I spoke the fitness guy once, Extremely nice. Also his friend girl appears extremely nice and supportive too. I spoke with Severin Luthi once and he also is tremendously nice. As is Uncle Toni. It is no coincidence that all these great players have such top notch people behind them. Murray’s team seems top notch too.

  • Andrew Miller · February 23, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Djokovic’ team is always in his corner! His girl is great, I think you were right in calling her the #1 tennis fan. She is the best tennis player’s girlfriend I have ever seen – you are right. Man if I was on tour and she was in the playerbox and I saw her cheering like that I’d probably get a third, fourth, fifth wind out there. That there is real love!

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Though this goes without saying, I would like to see the “new old guard” make some great runs. I’d like to see Baghdatis make another slam semifinal, or pull the “Thomas Johanssen”, see Tsonga, Almagro or Querrey “get over themselves”, do the same. And to do it for tennis. Over the last decade in ATP tennis we’ve seen the dominance of several players – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, with a few others – Murray, Del Potro – mixed in.

    We need a story not only of the greatest getting better and better, but where potential catches fire and something good happens, where one of the rest topples one of the best and makes a statement for all time. Yeah, it’s a lot to ask of a player. But Thomas Johanssen’s run was no fluke. I’d thought in the past that he got lucky and luckier still to face Safin in the final of the AO in 2002, 11 years ago. But it wasn’t luck.

    TJ earned that one. And I think with a down and out Nadal, a Federer that is just a little more fragile, a Djokovic that plays lights out tennis all the time but is not unbeatable, and a Murray who has off days, there’s some room in there for a player with some mad skill and inspiration to make a run through one of the slams this year, maybe steal a trophy from a predicted winner.

    It has happened on the WTA side but not the ATP side in recent years. I think Dan’s idea of a motivated Dimitrov is excellent for the sport. And I’d also like to see a major run by one of the veterans that catches fire in a tournament and overturns the conventional wisdom that the best are just better. I’d like an every given day scenario. And I think 2013 is the year to do it!

    Go Bag-man. Or Almagro. Or Querrey. Someone…please make a run.

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