Labor Days: The Most Wonderful Tennis Time of the Year

by Dan Martin | September 8th, 2009, 9:30 pm

Will Cilic Imitate 1990 and 2000?

Montreal witnessed all top eight seeds reach the quarterfinals, and Cincinnati saw the top four players reach the semifinals. Conformity has its place. After Andy Murray easily dismissed an inspiring Taylor Dent, I firmly suspected that Juan Martin del Potro was the only thing standing between the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Open being reset for 2009. The Croatian Sensation, Marin Cilic beat Andy Murray 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 demonstrating how treacherous the path to any title can be. I left for work after watching as much tennis as I possibly could. The last thing I saw was Cilic fend off two set points at 4-5, 15-40 and then routinely break Murray to take a 6-5 lead. I expected Cilic to hold and be up 7-5, but I did not expect 6-2, 6-2 to follow.

This upset is not on the level of Robin Soderling’s win at the Roland Garros, but consider that Murray was 17-2 this year in the four North American Masters 1000 events and was the runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Open. This was not a minor upset. Like Pete Sampras in 1990 and Marat Safin in 2000, Cilic could mature rapidly and leave the U.S. Open a radically different player. I do not see a U.S. Open trophy for Cilic this year, but sometimes a player has a metamorphosis mid-tournament. The idea that this is possible is fun in and of itself. Of course, Juan Martin del Potro looms.

Melanie Oudin – The New Jimbo?

I have seen various experts compare Melanie Oudin to Justine Henin, Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt. I will throw another one out there: Oudin reminds me of Jimmy Connors in her ability to capture the crowd with tenacity. Jimmy also often worked his way into and through a match even if he fell behind. Oudin is smart enough to let an opponent implode, but also has enough foot speed and an ability to hit winners at opportune times that nudges her opponent toward implosion. She has also confirmed my theory that someone with comparable speed and heart to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario could do well in the current WTA.

Death in the Afternoon*

I enjoyed watching portions of the Rafael Nadal-Nicholas Almagro match. When Almagro was dialed in and believing in himself, the points featured each player simultaneously playing great defensive and offensive tennis and absolutely knocking the cover off of the ball. When Almagro was not confident, it was obvious Rafa would win. Still, I could easily imagine all of the fans fading away and seeing these two just crushing the ball back and forth on a practice court in Spain. As a player, I wish I could move as fast and hit the ball like they were. It was great stuff. Similarly, Tommy Robredo played ten great games versus Roger Federer. Those ten games were some of the most fun I have had as a TV viewing tennis fan, but Robredo was unable to maintain that level after sloppily dumping serve at 5-5 in the first set. Federer and Nadal’s ability to play at that level most of the time and to recover that level after facing adversity is something I greatly admire.

Five Quick Takes

1. Andy Murray has the tools to win a Grand Slam event, but he does face a tough question: “Should I stick with a generally effective strategy of counterpunching or change strategies by developing and using bigger shots?” Internal doubts arising from this quandary might be worse than just selecting one option and committing to it. If I were on his team of coaches, I would emphasize sticking with the current format at least through the 2010 Australian Open while also consciously working on a better second serve. Murray is too young to panic, but he is too talented to not reach the quarterfinals at either the U.S. or Australian Opens in 2009.

2. Sam Querrey had a great summer, but he needs to keep working on improving his fitness and movement if he wants to be a bona fide top player.

3. I wish Dick Enberg would not use the adjective “delicious” when describing men’s tennis. It would be creepy if he used “delicious” when calling a women’s match.

4. Spain is easily the top country in men’s tennis right now. France is solidly second in terms of having multiple quality players. I am sure the Bourbon monarchs are proud.

5. Professional tennis is getting taller, and I think this will make having a slice backhand with bite a must.

* – This was my only literary reference, but I did consider discussing how Oudin survived the “shrieking shack.”

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15 Comments for Labor Days: The Most Wonderful Tennis Time of the Year

Giner Says:

Is Oudin pronounced ‘Odin’ like the god of Norse mythology?

Or is it Oodin? Owden?

sensationalsafin Says:

Dan, while I don’t disagree with Murray’s talent, is Cilic not talented enough to be in the USO QFs? Today, I’m extremely disappointed in Murray and think he needs to go back to the drawing board. But he is still talented beyond belief. At the same time, it’s not like Cilic is some random player who didn’t deserve the win. Cilic is also a young gun who’s underperformed even more than Murray. Murray’s only underperformed in the slams. Cilic has underperformed overall. But Cilic is an extremely talented guy. It was just unfortunate only one of them could reach the quarters and the guy who played better today obviously deserves it more. But yeah, Murray’s gotta step up. He needs to realize what Nadal realized long ago. Great defense will only get you great results, but great defense AND great offense will get you legendary results. Murray was never in control of any single point in the entire match. You can’t win slams like that. I’m surprised he’s even won matches like that.

Daniel2 Says:

I don’t think Del Potro is looming, in fact I think he’s quite happy right now.

Dan Martin Says:


I think Cilic is a future top 5 guy. So in one sense this is not a bad loss, kind of like Agassi losing to Sampras in 90. However, Murray has been a top tier guy since Wimbledon or Cincy last year so him losing to a guy just entering the top tier is disappointing if we just look at rankings, GS results, Masters shields etc. However, in 2011 my guess is Cilic and Murray are all considered contenders before the event starts. Cilic could win the thing if things break right and his game mixes discipline and aggression.

Giner Says:

This is a very crowded top 5. It amuses me how often that line is thrown about.. Future top 5 player, Future top 10 player, top 20. If you count up all these players, there’d be at least 10 players in the top 5 at a time.

Dan Martin Says:

At 0-15 he can’t make that bad of an error.

Dan Martin Says:

I think Cilic is a legit future top 5 player – Murray is already in the top 5.

Giner Says:

In what time frame are we talking about? And which of the current top 5 will get pushed out to make room for him?

Dan Martin Says:

He reached #13 earlier this year. Is ranked 17 and has outperformed at least 10 guys in front of him here at the USO. I think within 24 months he will be in the top 5 and 24 months from now Andy Roddick will not be in the top 5. Murray, Djokovic and Nadal would all age wise seem to still be in the top 5 in 2011 and Federer even if 30 is hard to push out. Still, I think of that foursome at least 1 or 2 is not in the top 5 for various mental or physical reasons. I agree I don’t see a lot of room at the top as JMDP who has been #5 would seem to also be in the conversation in 2011 for #’s 1-5. Cilic is to my mind the best player younger than Nadal, Murray and Djokovic not named Juan Martin del Potro.

I do see your point though, I also hope I am not throwing around future top 5 for a lot of guys on tour. I think Cilic going round of 16 at the Australian and French Opens and being in the quarters here bodes well for him.

I think Querrey can be a top 20 player (he’s #22 right now) but if he ever gets much higher than that he will have either improved beyond what I think his maximum upside is or he will have some sort of computer point glut from events such as Newport that is not 100% reflective of actual performance. James Blake was a legitimate top 10 player in 2006 (runner-up at Indian Wells and the Masters Cup, USO quarter, beat Roddick to win Indianapolis), but the other years I think his ranking was a product of weak fields at North American events.

Dan Martin Says:


If Soderling were to win, what would be the bigger streak he stopped: Rafa’s 31 in a row at Roland Garros or Federer’s 21 consecutive slam semifinals? Both streaks seem unlikely to ever be replicated.

Dan Martin Says:

Sorry wrong thread on that last comment but feel free to discuss.

Fed is GOAT Says:

Federer’s semi streak is MUCH bigger…. That is one of the records that may stand the test of time.

Like Margaret Courts 24 singles slam titles. 35 years on, and nobody is even close to it right now. Steffi came close at 22. 24 may stay for decades and decades and decades.

Fed’s 10 finals in a row is also a tough one to match. or his 237 consecutive weeks at No 1. If he pushes the slam record from 15 by a couple more, that might be in that territory.

Dan Martin Says:

Fed is Goat I tend to agree

Giner Says:

That’s easy. If Soderling loses to Fed, he will have snapped a US Open winning streak much bigger than Nadal’s 31 match FO streak, in addition to the semi finals streak.

Dan Martin Says:

Giner good point. I think because I always was terrible on green clay (movement is much tougher on the dirt) I always view that clay court streak with a lot of awe, but winning 38 (now 39) straight matches at the US Open is beyond amazing even if it is on a nicer version of a surface I played most of my tennis on as a kid.

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