Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Drive By

I'm in the weeds. Literally. Despite drought-like conditions, the weeds are growing faster than mold. The soil is dry as corn meal, but the pigweed and plantain weed and purslane and crabgrass and belladonna and every other climbing, spreading, strangling weed you can think of are thriving.

Thriving.

I haven't seen but about two games of tennis since Wimbledon and have read about it even less.

I suppose I'll get back to it sometime during the US Open Series. But I've got to save my sweet corn and watermelon, my blackeye peas and okra, and my sweet potatoes and peppers from extinction.

See you when I see you.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Face Of The Day

Serbian player Novak Djokovic holds the trophy  after beating  Spanish player Rafael  Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon  Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London  on July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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A thousand words.

Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon Champion

Serbian player Novak Djokovic  reacts after beating Spanish player  Rafael Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon Tennis  Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London on  July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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Serbian player Novak Djokovic eats the grass after beating Spanish  player Rafael Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon Tennis  Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London on  July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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He played one set of spectacular tennis and captured his first Wimbledon crown. He wanted it so much, had struggled so to find his footing in the past, he ate a blade of grass when it was all over. I had sworn it would take a spectacular effort to defeat defending champion Rafael Nadal, that there was no way the Spaniard would let the Serbian off the hook at any time during the match.

I was wrong.

On either side of trading 6-1 sets, Nadal played two loose service games out of nowhere to drop serve. The first one handed Novak Djokovic the set outright, the second gave him the opportunity to serve for the match. I've seen Nadal choke in Wimbledon finals before (2006 and 2008) but for some silly reason, I didn't think he'd do it again.

I suppose it's time I stop underestimating Djokovic's mental toughness in the face of Nadal. Fans all over the place say the way Nadal submits to Djokovic now reminds them of how Roger Federer submits to Nadal, or how Andy Roddick submits to Federer. But in both of those cases, the man who would become the pigeon never boasted a winning record over the one who would make him so.

In some ways, the reversal of fortune seems more like what Federer did to David Nalbandian. After losing to the Argentine the first 5 times they played, the Swiss figured out a way to win. Thereafter, it seemed Nalbandian forgot how to beat Federer. Are we headed to a period when every match between Djokovic and Nadal will have a predictable outcome?

Serbian player Novak Djokovic (L) holds the trophy  after beating  Spanish player Rafael Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon  Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London  on July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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In yesterday's final, Nadal mentally went away at the end of the two sets that handed Djokovic the title. He struck his first double fault of the match serving at 3-4 in the fourth, and followed it with two errors off the ground. He saved one break point, but another error allowed Djokovic to serve out the match. At 30-30, Djokovic served and volleyed for the first time in the match, and then won championship point when Nadal struck a passing shot long.

Overall, it wasn't a spectacular effort or a very good match, but Novak Djokovic cements his place today as the new world No. 1 with the most coveted title in tennis.

Serbian player Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy  after beating  Spanish player Rafael Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon  Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London  on July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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Serbian player Novak Djokovic (L) holds the trophy  after beating  Spanish player Rafael Nadal in the men's single final at the Wimbledon  Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London  on July 3, 2011. Djokovic won 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
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Two Slams, the No. 1 ranking, and an astounding record of 48-1 on the year. If it's true, as pompelmo asserts, that every Pharoah has his Moses, then who's going to float up out of the bullrushes and cut his way through Djokovic's absolute dominance?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Petra Kvitova, Dangerous

Czech player Petra Kvitova celebrates after beating Russia's Maria   Sharapova in the Women's Final of the 2011 Wimbledon Championships at   the All England Tennis Club, in south-west London, on July 2, 2011.
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Czech player Petra Kvitova celebrates after beating Russia's Maria    Sharapova in the Women's Final of the 2011 Wimbledon Championships at    the All England Tennis Club, in south-west London, on July 2, 2011.
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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02:  Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic    celebrates after winning her Ladies' final round match against Maria    Sharapova of Russia on Day Twelve of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis    Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 2,    2011 in London, England. Kvitova won 6-3 6-4.
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It was her first Grand Slam final. She served out both winning sets to love, serving her first ace of the match on championship point. Her foe was a 3-time Grand Slam champion who won her first championship on the lawns of Wimbledon, blasting an anxious Serena Williams off the court in straight sets.

I fell in love with her the first time I looked into them there eyes. Them Bette Davis eyes. It was Fed Cup. 2007. A tie with the United States in the Czech Republic. It wasn't just that she wiped the floor with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alexa Glatch to win both her singles rubbers, it was the look in her eyes while she was doing it. Nevermind her great serve, her hard, flat ground strokes and champion-like reflexes, but there was a calmness and intensity at once that exuded from her eyes that made her dangerous in mine.

I just knew Petra Kvitova would be great. Knew it.

So when Serena drew her in the first round of the 2010 Australian Open, I feared her flawless, undefeated record in Slam first rounds would come to an end. Dangerous. Serena got through that match in a lopsided scoreline that didn't tell the whole truth about the points and games played.

So when Serena had to face her in the semifinal of Wimbledon last year, I figured she might fail to advance to defend her third Wimbledon title. Dangerous. Yesterday, after her 6-3 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova -- in a match that was all about angles and ground missiles and shrieks and barks and breaks and nerves -- when asked about last year, Petra said she didn't believe she could beat Serena then, but knows she can now.

Dangerous.

Petra Kvitova, left, of the Czech Republic and Russia's Maria  Sharapova hold their trophies after Petra Kvitova defeated Maria  Sharapova in the ladies' singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis  Championships at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 2, 2011.
AP

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02:  Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic   holds up the Championship trophy after winning her Ladies' final round   match against Maria Sharapova of Russia on Day Twelve of the Wimbledon   Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet   Club on July 2, 2011 in London, England. Kvitova won 6-3 6-4.
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We have crowned a new Grand Slam champion. A young woman who can call both Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, two players hyped to the hilt as future champions, her contemporaries. But Petra has gone about her business without any hype at all. And wouldn't you know it, she has leapfrogged her tennis generation to the Winner's Circle with something other than Hollywood good looks and an adoring press.

It's probably a blessing hardly anyone was looking. The biggest victory in her career to date is her fourth title in 2011. She has won an international (Brisbane, outdoor hard), a premier (Paris Indoors, hard), a premier mandatory (Madrid, outdoor red clay), and a Grand Slam on the lawns at Wimbledon. A woman for all seasons.

http://www.rightwords.eu/imgupl/author/t-600x600/bette-davis--403--t-600x600-rw.jpg

Dangerous was the first film for which Bette Davis, the greatest actress of her generation, won an Academy Award. She won another a few years later for her lead role in a film entitled Jezebel. I'm not so sure anyone would consider Petra Kvitova a fallen woman, though she's got plenty of power behind her throne, but if the Academy Awards are to film actors what Wimbledon is to tennis players, I'd bet the farm Petra's got another acceptance speech in her somewhere down the road.

Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic blows kisses to the crowd after  defeating Russia's Maria Sharapova in the ladies' singles final at the  All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 2,  2011.
AP

Wimbledon 2011: Men's Final Preview

Novak Djokovic SRB (2) vs. Rafael Nadal ESP (1)


Here are my predictions for the men's final at the Wimbledon Championships for 2011.



How They Got Here

Novak Djokovic played the most entertaining match of the fortnight against Jo-Wifried Tsonga, who was trying to repeat the amazing level of play which allowed him to dismiss 6-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in 5-sets after dropping the first two by dropping his serve in the first game of the match and holding serve in twenty-four consecutive service games to beat the Swiss great 3-6 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 6-4. Djokovic was pushed by Tsonga to four sets, eventually winning 7-6(4) 6-2 6-7(9) 6-3. Tsonga mounted a challenge despite being down 4-2 in the 3rd set after winning an amazing exchange where both combatants ended face down on the grass. The crowd applauded ecstatically which caused both players to relax. This was a plus for Tsonga and a minus for Djokovic who was broken in the next service game and then lost a tight tiebrekaer despite having two match points. 

Rafael Nadal has now won 20 matches in a row at Wimbledon dating back to his 2007 five-set  loss in the final to Federer. Although Andy Murray was able to win the first set 7-5 through aggressive play (and an uncharacteristically sloppy sixth service game by Nadal). This was incredibly important moment for the Scot's tennis future to show that he could win a set against Nadal in a crucial match but  Murray had a momentary mental lapse (hitting a sitter overhead meters out of the court) which led to an early break in the second set. That, combined with an apparent groin injury made the result of the match very clear as the third and fourth sets slipped away quckly. The result was a 5-7 6-2 6-2 6-4 win to place the Spaniard in his 5th consecutive Wimbledon final (skipping the 2009 tournament due to injury).

The Match Up
Head-to-head Nadal leads Djokovic 16-11, but the Serbian has played Nadal in 4 finals this year and won every time, including (shockingly!) two wins in clay court finals (in Madrid and Rome). The only person who has beaten Djokovic in over seven months is Roger Federer, after playing some of the best clay court tennis he has ever exhibited in Paris this yearin the semifinals of Roland Garros. Let me repeat that: Djokovic has won 47 matches in 2011 and only lost one. Can he continue his amazing run now that he has had to play at a stratospheric level of near-perfection to reach his lifetime goal of becoming World #1? How long can he possibly maintain this form? Can anyone possibly beat Nadal in five consecutive finals?

The first thing Nadal mention is that this match is played at a major so it is the first time during Djokovic's streak they are playing best-of-five-sets tennis. It is also a historic moment, the winner of the first major of 2011 playing against the winner of the second major of 2011. Nadal unquestionably has more experience at this level; Djokovic is only playing in his 5th major final, where he has won 2 (against Tsonga in the 2008 Australian Open final and against Murray in the 2011 Australian final) and lost two (2007 US Open final to Federer and 2010 US Open final to Nadal). Nadal is in his 13th major final, sporting an impressive 10-2 record, with the two losses in finals coming here at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007 to the third member of the historic "trivalry," Roger Federer.

Mentally, I believe Djokovic has the edge in Sunday's match. Nadal hasn't even really been close in the last two matches they have played on clay which has got to worry him at important moments, especially if Djokovic gets off to a quick start. The only major finals Nadal has ever lost have been on grass and although Djokovic has never won a set against Nadal on the surface, Nadal knows that person he played then (in the 2007 Wimbledon semifinal and the 2008 Queens club final) is not the same person he will be facing on Sunday. That streak will almost certainly end.

The ATP website has a very interesting summary of the two player's performances at Wimbledon to date which seems to indicate Nadal has played at a slightly higher level. Nadal has an astonishing 113 forehand winners and (a paltry) 29 backhand winners compared to 35 forehand errors and 19 backhand errors. Djokovic has 62 forehand winners and 49 backhand errors compared to 46 forehand errors and 37 backhand errors. Nadal is listed as having had an amazing 244 winners and 60 errors (+184) over 6 rounds while Djokovic has a mere 199 winners and 99 errors (+100).

Their serves are equivalently effective: Nadal is serving at 70% in while Djokovic is at 68%. The Spaniard has served 44 aces to 6 double faults while the Serbian has served 54 aces and 15 double faults, which is basically about even.

Who Will Win
I tend to go with the idea that the person with the more effective serve will win the match unless the serve can be counteracted by superior movement and better service returning. With serves basically at a draw, I give Nadal the slight edge in movement but Djokovic the edge in returning. I believe the match will be very very close, probably on the level of the incredible Wimbledon finals of 2008 (Greatest Match Of All Time won by Nadal over Federer) and 2009 (won by Federer over Andy Roddick). 

MadProfessah's Prediction: Djokovic in 3 or 4 sets OR Nadal in 5 sets.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Wimbledon 2011: Women's Final Preview


by Mad Professah, contributing writer 


Here are my predictions for the women's final at the Wimbledon Championships for 2011.



Maria Sharapova RUS (5) vs. Petra Kvitova CZE (8). For the first time since 2006 there will not be a Williams playing the final women's match at Wimbledon. Instead we have the now-veteran Maria Sharapova, at 24, seeking her 2nd Wimbledon crown and 4th major title overall. After she broke through as a teenage phenom to win Wimbledon in 2004 by blasting Serena Williams off the court in straight sets many hailed the blonde, blue-eyed Russian as the new Ice Princess of Tennis and her face quickly became the most photographed countenance in all of women's sports, leading to untold riches off the court in the endorsement jackpot. However, since those heady days, Sharapova has only won 3 major titles, like clock work, every even year: 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open. This put her in the company of past champions like Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters and not legends of the game like Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert or Serena Williams. Sharapova's metronomic Grand Slam winning pattern was interrupted by an October 2008 shoulder surgery after which she suffered the indignities of failing to get past the Round of 8 in any major for two full calendar years due to intermittent serving difficulties.

However, now it's 2011 and  for the last month or so Sharapova has gotten back to doing what she does best: hitting the bejeezus out of the little yellow ball into the corners of the court followed by an ear-shattering "grunt." She came very close to completing the career slam in Paris but was outlasted by a steadier player, Li Na who went on to win the title.  

Her opponent is a 21-year-old first-time finalist from the Czech Republic, the same age the great Martina Navratilova was when she won her first of 9 Wimbledon singles titles. Whether Petra Kvitova will go on to as storied  a career as her fellow countrywoman is something we can not know now, but the two have a lot of similarities in their games. They both are big-serving lefties, with hard-hitting ground strokes on both wings and a willingness to approach the net. Martina was the consummate serve and volleyer, the dominant strategy of her era, while Kvitova is the epitome of the modern game, able to blast winners from any position in the court.

Sharapova has not dropped a set on her way to the final and hasn't had to play anyone very troublesome along the way, except for wild card Sabine Lisicki. The German had been playing some of the best grass court tennis of the year, dispatching Marion Bartoli (who had dismissed 2-time defending champion Serena Williams) and Li Na in two very exciting matches. The mouthwatering "Mean Girls" quarterfinal with Sharapova and "World #1" Caroline Wozniacki never materialized because Pocket Rocket Dominika Cibulkova dismissed the new It girl in the 4th round and was rewarded by being demolished by Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Hometown favorite Laura Robson was able to ride the crowd's enthusiasm to a first-set tiebreaker in the second round but Sharapova hasn't even faced a set point for the entire tournament.

Kvitova, on the other hand, has had to play 3 tough sets to go through World #5 Victoria Azarenka and had another tight 3-set match with Tsevetana Pironkova, the woman who dismissed Venus Williams, the best female grass-court player of her generation from Wimbledon, in two consecutive years by the same exact score!

Head-to-head the two have played only once with Sharapova winning easily (on clay before Kvitova made her breakthrough by reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon last year). The intangibles definitely favor Sharapova; she has won before, this is her 5th major final, it is Kvitova's first. However, if you look at their style of play you see that Sharapova has had 11 more double faults than aces (32 to 21) while Kvitova has 22 more aces than double faults (35 to 13). Summary: Kvitova's serve is a weapon, while Sharapova's is a liability.  Generally, on grass, the person with the better serve wins, unless the other person has better movement and better returning. Sharapova does have a better return than Kvitova: she will go for a direct winner on both first and second serves. Is Sharapova a better mover than Kvitova? Doubtful, though quite honestly neither of them are superb in this category. All-in-all, Kvitova has the game to win the title, and I believe she will.

MadProfessah's PREDICTION: Kvitova. 

Rafael Nadal, Shotmaker

by Craig Hickman

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01:  Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during  his semifinal round match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on Day  Eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England  Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 1, 2011 in London, England.
Getty

My predictions tend to suck, but I didn't see any way at all that Andy Murray could win this match so long as Rafael Nadal could run.

And run he did. Swiftly, freely, as Randy says. 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 was the final score but the last three sets weren't close at all.

I'm not sure Nadal gets enough credit for how magnificent his tennis on the lawns. Unlike Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, his game is not made for the slick stuff. But he's adapted and applied his extraordinary gifts amazingly to the surface.

To date, he's only lost to three people (Paradorn Shrichaphan, Gilles Muller, and Roger Federer) at the All England Club, all before winning his first title. Not even the great Federer can say that. The 6-time champion lost to four players before winning his first title (Jiri Novak, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Tim Henman, and Mario Ancic), and three players since (Nadal, Tomas Berdych, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). Nadal hasn't lost a match at Wimbledon in four years, and has now made 5 consecutive Wimbledon finals dating back to 2006. He couldn't defend his title due to injury in 2009.

At this point, I believe his best tennis on grass is better than his best tennis on clay. As Nadal said, grass allows you to do more things so it allows you to show off every weapon in your quiver. His athleticism and defensive skills have always been heralded, but his excellent hands are underrated. On grass, his touch and feel are on full display. What he can do with his racquet is often eye-popping. I'm not sure how many times I said aloud to whoever was in the room, "Did he really make that shot?" Most of what he came up with was simply beautiful.

And there was one crosscourt forehand passing shot winner struck, from 10 feet behind the baseline and on the dead run, with such whip to such a vicious angle that it landed smack on the sideline, leaving Murray stranded in a great position at the net. The crowd gasped.

I don't often hear Nadal referred to as a shotmaker, but that's exactly what he is. He doesn't just grind you down and wear you out. Yes, he does that, too. But on the lawns of Wimbledon, his racquet becomes a wand with which he can do anything. Anything at all.

It's going to take a spectacular effort for Novak Djokovic to beat him on Sunday.

Face Of The Day

Serbian player Novak Djokovic reacts after beating French player  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during the men's single semi final at the Wimbledon  Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London  on July 1, 2011. Djokovic won 7-6 (7/4), 6-2, 6-7 (9/11), 6-3.
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The face of the new World No. 1, Novak Djokovic, who fought off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-7(11), 6-3 to advance to his first Wimbledon final. On Monday, he will rise to the top of the rankings regardless of Sunday's outcome.

Wimbledon 2011: Men's Semifinals Preview

by Mad Professah, contributing writer 

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the Wimbledon Championships for 2011.



Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Andy Murray GBR (4). For the second year in a row, Andy Murray's goal to win his country's Grand Slam must go through World #1 Rafael Nadal.

 Head-to-head Nadal leads 11-4 with a 2-0 record on grass (2010 Wimbledon semifinal and 2008 Wimbledon quarterfinal). With Nadal allegedly not at 100 percent fit to play (a claim I am somewhat skeptical of) I think this gives Murray the best chance he has ever had to date to end the long drought of having a male British citizen appear in the Wimbledon final, let alone actually win the bloody thing. The four times Murray has beaten Nadal he has done it on hard courts with very strong serving, combined with first strike tennis using the forehand cross-court and the backhand down-the-line to Nadal's backhand. Murray is an excellent defender and loves to play long grueling points to demonstrate his fitness and mentally exhaust his opponents. This is exactly the wrong game plan against the (almost psychotically) mentally tough Spaniard.

Nadal has lost four consecutive times to Novak Djokovic this year because Djokovic has been getting multiple free points on his improved serve and is ridiculously flexible and strong enough to convert balls hit from defensive positions instantaneously  into offense. Murray can get free points on his serve if he serves well (i.e. in the 130 mph) but he shouldn't even THINK about playing defense. The way to beat Nadal is relatively clear: you have to bash him off of a very fast court (c.f. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's 2008 Australian Open semifinal win, Juan Martin del Potro's 2009 U.S. Open semifinal win, Murray's own 2010 Australian Open quarterfinal win).
Basically you have to be prepared to hit 4 or 5 winners to win a single point and not get frustrated about doing it for two or three hours. Murray has been in 3 career Grand Slam finals so far and has failed to win a set in any of them. For all intents and purposes, this semifinal (just like last year's Wimbledon semifinal) is even more important than a final to Murray's career. So, if past performance is a predictor of future performance, Murray will under-perform his ability and lose in 3 sets to Nadal again. However, I strongly believe that Murray is getting closer and closer to a breakthrough and one indication was his strong showing in the 2011 French Open semifinal against Nadal (which Murray lost in straight sets but he had a LOT of chances, which he was unable to convert). I believe he will take that experience of having opportunities in Paris and the strong crowd support in London to give him a very decent chance to win this match and warm the hearts of a nation. PREDICTION: Nadal in 3 OR Murray in 4 or 5 sets.

Roger Federer SUI (3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (12) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (2). 
This is also a match which is "bigger" than a Grand Slam final, to one of the competitors (Djokovic), at least. If the Serb wins, he will be ranked World #1 for the first time in his career. If the Frenchman wins he would be the first of his countrymen to be in the Wimbledon final in the Open era. There are far fewer men (24) who have been ranked World #1 at some point since the rankings began in 1973 than have won a major final in that time period (almost 60).  It just so happens that this match-up is a reprise of the 2008 Australian Open final, won by Djokovic, but since that first encounter Tsonga has won 5 of 6 matches the two have played, including a stunning 5-set win in the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinals. The 2008 Australian Open final is an instructive match to analyze in understanding the dynamics between the two players because then, like now, Tsonga is coming off the biggest win of his career (in 2008 a surprisingly vicious beat down of Nadal in the Australian Open semifinal, in 2011 a stunning dismissal of Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon).

Then, Tsonga didn't start the match playing his best tennis until the second set and Djokovic exploited the lead to run away with the match and the title. However, it must be noted that what Tsonga achieved Roger Federer had not happened in 178 of the Swiss Great's 5-set Grand Slam matches--he lost the first two sets and then won the match (rather comfortably) with an early service break in each subsequent set and denying his opponent even a sniff at breaking his own.
Djokvic is a much better service returner than Federer so it's doubtful that strategy will work again but Tsonga has so much talent there are others that could work (serve and volley as much as possible, deny pace to Djokovic and then suddenly blast the ball for a winner) and most of all, Tsonga believes he can win. Djokovic has played 47 matches so far in 2011 and won 46 of them. This is an astonishing feat. Lately, his opponents have gotten closer and the new unbeatable Djokovic has shown some of the familiar tics of the old, retiring Djokovic, but I still believe that somehow, Nole will find a way to fulfill his destiny and win the match and reach the pinnacle of men's tennis.  PREDICTIONDjokovic.