The Stable Shall Inherit Top Seedings
Roger Federer has reached his 19th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal round and has a shot at reaching his 19th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal if he beats Juan Martin del Potro. Rafael Nadal has reached his 9th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal and can reach his 5th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal with a win over Gilles Simon. Novak Djokovic has reached the semifinals of 6 of the last 7 majors and can make that 7 out of 8 if he takes down Andy Roddick in what could be a tense match. It may be dull to talk about Federer, Nadal and Djokovic consistently playing well in the biggest events, but reality is never that dull if we just take a closer look.
Consider that Pete Sampras’ best Grand Slam semifinal streak was 3. His best quarterfinal streak stretched from the 1991 U.S. Open through the 1994 Wimbledon Championships totaling 11 as he missed the 1992 Australian Open with an injury. I am not pointing this out to say anything other than it is difficult to reach the final 8 or final 4 of single elimination events over and over again. One injury or illness can easily derail a player on a tremendous hot streak. One opponent in the zone or one bad day can also snap a streak.
Differing Standards of Greatness
The Stability Factor, as I am naming it, has placed a demand on players of today’s generation to be good on all surfaces and to be eerily consistent in order to be considered elite. Every generation has its own set of standards for greatness. John McEnroe has regularly pointed out that players in his day did not care about the Australian Open. Jimmy Connors said he approached the game caring more about who he was playing rather than where he was playing. I can understand preferring to play Borg anywhere over and against trying to wrestle an extra Grand Slam title away from 2 time Australian Open champion Johan Kriek. Each era has different standards of greatness and as far as I can tell Ivan Lendl telling a young Pete Sampras that the Grand Slams were all that mattered was the primordial ancestor to the current standards of greatness.
It is frightening to think that Federer has reached the final 8 of every Grand Slam event since his round of 32 loss to Gustavo Kuerten at the 2004 French Open. Nadal seems to only be behind on the quarterfinal side of things due to being younger. Under the current circumstances, it becomes an indictment of how badly the U.S. system prepares junior players for the rigors of professional clay court tennis. That however is the topic for another column.
Murray Needs Stability
Using the Stability Factor to judge Andy Murray’s stunning loss to Fernando Verdasco reveals that Murray still has work to do. Murray reached the 2008 Wimbledon quarterfinal and 2008 U.S. Open final. He added Masters Series shields in Cincinnati and Paris. He also eliminated Roger Federer Masters Cup contention. I was ready to anoint Murray the eventual #1 in 2009. I also think Federer and Djokovic’s dismissals of Murray as the betting favorite demonstrated poor form on both Nole and The Fed’s part. Especially considering Murray has won 6 of his past 7 recent matches versus the world #2 and world #3. Funny how two guys who did not see eye to eye in 2008 about the tour’s pecking order suddenly agree in 2009. Murray is clearly the next closest player to the Nadal-Federer-Djokovic triad. Unless someone other than those 3 wins the Australian Open Murray is still #4 in my book.
Nevertheless, Murray’s loss to Verdasco coupled with Gilles Simon, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s quarterfinal berths certainly muddy the waters when ranking the best younger players on tour. Del Potro has won a slew of smaller events and now enters his second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal. This is not Federer’s 19 consecutive quarterfinals, but it does mean the Argentine’s game may also be one of the stable factors on tour year round. Gilles Simon is in his first ever quarterfinal, but it is not hard to imagine Gilles showing up in the second week more often than not for the next few years. Tsonga’s biggest enemy is his health. Murray may have had just one bad day, but Grand Slam events are marathons and his own fiery temper may undermine his longevity. Having Roger Federer’s number is really nice, but it does not do Murray much good if he cannot win the five or six consecutive matches he needs to in order to face Federer. For Murray to reach #1 or to even distance himself from his promising contemporaries, he has to reign in his emotions and develop stability. On the flip side, Nadal, Federer and to some extent Djokovic can rest easy knowing they have plenty of chances to win big events because they are always playing deep into the draw. Reliability may be the best recipe for success on a tour where ever increasing numbers of players can hit insane shots.
Fatherhood Agrees with Me
On a personal note, I am glad to be back to writing about tennis. My wife gave birth to our first child in November and the wonderful yet exhausting role of parenthood hit me right as tennis entered its off season. I figured it was best to take an off season of my own. Our daughter is a very content and inquisitive baby. I can’t wait to introduce her to tennis.
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