2011: My, How Provocative You Are (by Matt)

The other part of a men’s U.S. Open wrap-up is to put the year in majors into perspective while also looking at 2012. All I can say about 2011 is that you were so very spicy and intriguing. You have me all worked up about 2012, which I can’t wait for.

Rather than write an essay, I’ll allow a tidal wave of facts to put the year’s four major tournaments in context:

First, Wogie.

It’s funny how life goes. One night, you can slay so many demons as Fed did against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The very next match, a supreme stomach punch comes along. Frank Sinatra knew what he was talking about: “That’s life! That’s what all the people saaaaaay! You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May. But I know I’m gonna play that tune, when I’m back on top, back on top in Juuuuune!”

Federer carried himself nobly at the slams this year. The revenge match against Tsonga was Tsweet. Being the only guy to take down the Djoker in Paris is a keeper, one of those rich memories the Fence will always cherish. It’s worth noting, just to put a finer point on things, that Djokovic was serving for the fourth set at 5-4 and, moreover, a suspended match that would have played the fifth set on Saturday at Roland Garros. Djokovic would have been the overwhelming favorite in that would-be fifth set, but Federer broke Djokovic in much the same way that Djokovic broke Fed at 5-3 this past weekend in New York. These guys both ripped each other’s hearts out. That’s life…


“That’s life! I can’t deny it! Many times I thought of cuttin’ out, but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it. But if there’s nothin’ shakin’ come this here Julyyyyyyyyyyyy…

I’m gonna roll myself up….. IIIIIIIIIIIN a big ballllllll…. aaaaaaaannnnnnnd diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie.

Myyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, myyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.”

Thanks, Chairman of the Board.

Here’s this piece of comfort, fellow Fed fans: We know Wogie wuvs Wimbledon more than any other tournament in the world, but frankly, if I had to have picked one major where Fed made a splash, it would have been Paris. Fed’s best major came on what is his worst surface… his worst surface only because he is the shiznit of shiznits on grass and hardcourts.

The 2011 season didn’t bring number 17, what we all want, but it did bring Federer’s fifth French Open final, making him the first man to reach FIVE finals at ALL FOUR MAJORS. Nadal made his second U.S. Open final this year and owns just one Aussie final. Djokovic hasn’t made one French final yet and has just one Wimby final to his credit.

Another pair of reminders about McFeduruh: Next year, six match wins at majors will make Fed the winningest major-tournament player in history (234 match wins; he has only 34 losses). Two semifinals will tie Fed with Jimmy Connors for the most semis ever (31), and three – which Fed gained in 2011 – will make Roger number one in semis… along with titles (16) and finals (23).

So… at the age of 30…





(Okay, that last line was a college football cheer line… I’m mixing up my American football and my international tennis… but you all needed the laugh, and you all needed some good old-fashioned cheerleading amidst the parade of facts and cerebral Moonpie analysis… DIDINCHA?)

Moving on…

Andy Murray became the seventh man to reach all four major semifinals in the same calendar year. Why, then, does his body of work seem so unsatisfying, beyond the fact that he didn’t win his first major title? Simple: Murray has not beaten one of the Big Three – Nadal, Fed or Djokovic – in a semifinal or final of a major since he beat Rafa in the 2008 U.S. Open semis. Murray’s record against the Big Three in semis or finals of major tournaments? It’s 1-6. This year, Murray went 0-4 against the Big Three in the semis (0-3 against Rafa) or finals (0-1 against the Djoker in Melbourne) at majors, once he reached the semis. Murray, if you look at his drawsheets, gained primrose paths to the semis. Next year, if he gets tougher draws, he might not even reach the semifinals. 2012 will be very much a put-up-or-go-home season at the majors for the Scotsman.

David Ferrer has still not made one French Open semifinal. Hard to believe, but true.

Novak Djokovic’s 2011 is one of the greatest years in tennis history, as you know. The stat that really drives the point home: A 10-1 record against Nadal and Federer, capped by this U.S. Open 1-2 punch. Djokovic’s last two U.S. Open matches, two grueling, physical epics, rival Nadal’s Verdasco-Federer back-to-back at the end of the 2009 Australian Open as a legendary 54-hour period of tennis willpower.

What was said about Wogie when he lost those finals to Nadal on clay can be said about Rafa in the wake of 2011: He might be losing finals to Djokovic on a consistent basis, but at least he’s reaching those finals. It hurts Rafa that he’s meeting and losing to the player perfectly constructed to beat him, but his ability to continue to reach finals – and thereby, reach another battle with Djokovic – is a credit to his legacy, not a blot on it. Federer’s five French Open finals – again, on what is his “worst” surface (emphasize the quote marks there) – underscore the completeness of Fed’s legacy as a tennis player. Six of Nadal’s 10 majors are on clay (that’s 60 percent, Fencers), but Federer has six Wimbledons, 5 U.S. Opens, and 4 Aussies. Roger has just the one French title, but the five finals serve as a powerful reminder that Fed’s done well at that tournament. The same can be said for Rafa’s 2011 season at the majors.

Robin Soderling disappeared this year at the majors. Delpo didn’t reappear… yet. Berdych couldn’t back up his big 2010 with anything of consequence. Jurgen Melzer – hey, how’s that shoulder which you busted celebrating against Fed in Monte Carlo, anyway? – dropped off the face of the earth at the majors. Mardy Fish still couldn’t make a major semifinal after lighting up July and August in North America. Tsonga Tsang on lawns but then cracked under the night-match glare of New York pressure against Wogie. Tso Tsad.

Let’s put it simply: It’s hard at the top. It’s that much harder to get to the top and stay there. This makes me appreciate what Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have done in this golden age of men’s tennis.

Finally, a word about Djokovic’s 2011. Where does it stand in the pantheon of tennis years?

Jimmy Connors went 99-4 and won 15 titles, including three majors, in 1974. Federer went 92-5 and won 12 titles, including three majors, in 2006. Djokovic’s year, even if it sags over the next few months, is more than worthy of that company. Yes, Federer produced his 2006 when Masters Series were six rounds for top-seeded players and required best-of-five-set finals. Yes, Federer’s 92 match wins meant that he carried an insane workload. Djokovic won’t play 97 matches in 2011. We’ll see what happens at the year-end championships, but after Laver’s 1969, it’s pretty clear in my mind that Connors’s ’74, Fed’s ’06, and the Djoker’s wild ’11 will form the Mount Rushmore of tennis years.

Looking ahead to 2012, let’s just lay it on the line. I (and Doots, as the publisher and foundress of this blog) would love to get comments on these comments:

Let’s have Nadal and Djokovic in the French final if Wogie can’t spoil the party again. (I want Wogie to spoil the party, but hey, that would be quite the spectacle, right?)

Let’s have Fed get the Djoker at Wimbledon (before Fed gets too old).

Let’s have Fedal at the U.S. Open, dammit.

Let’s have Fed sit in Nadal’s half of the draw at the hardcourt majors for a change.

Let’s have del Potro sit in Nadal’s or Djokovic’s quarter at the majors. (And let’s have Delpo gain full health and strength for the long haul. Tennis needs him badly.)

Let’s have Andy Murray take a stand in semifinals (when he can only play Rafa or Nole, not Wogie) or, if he can’t make a stand, give way to Delpo.

Let’s have no Jo-Willy Tsonga “swoop in and briefly get hot” moments. Jo, if you’re gonna play your big and beautiful game – it truly is breathtaking when you’re on Tsong and in top form – stay with it. Don’t fall off the map. Stand in the ring. Make semifinals as a matter of course. Be a stud and deliver.

Let’s have a big, bold 2012. It is going to be something.

Comment away, Fencers!

– Matt

P.S. : New post on AUS-SUI Davis Cup Day 1 Wrap above this post by LJ.


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About Matt Zemek

Sportswriter, political writer, tennis commentator... and more.

10 responses to “2011: My, How Provocative You Are (by Matt)”

  1. marcoiac says :

    yes, let’s have fed sitting on rafa’s half at majors (maybe not RG, thanks!) in the last 12 majors, fed has been in nole’s half 11 times. probabilities that that happens? 1 out of 200. that makes me wonder….

    anyway, except for clay, i think the fed we have seen at USO11 would beat rafa even on slow hard courts. (where is a fast hard court these days anyway?) so, yeah, a fedal outside clay for a change would be nice. and fed-nole on grass? oh yes. actually, fed-nole everywhere, fed is so close to nole that i think next year he can beat him consistently, if he keeps himself healthy

    delpo? we’ll see, that body seems fragile

    murray? gap with top three definitely widened this year. unless he changes something or the top three go on collective vacation, i don’t see much of a challenge from the scot

    i wonder if there will be a new face at the top, like dolgo, or if sod will come back with a vengeance after he gets rid of the virus. if i had to bet money, i’d say no. my feeling is that 2012 will be again an affair between the top three players. after that, change will be likely. but what kind of change, i have no idea

  2. Carol says :

    If Fed wins nothing else I so sincerely hope he wins the Olympic gold medal in men’s singles. Poor Rafa is wearing his body out, Satan..er Djokovic will be an unknown entity still, please god – he can’t have another 2011, …and won’t the law of averages give Murray a title eventually???

  3. Ramesh Prabhu (@zbrain) says :

    Wow Matt! Just when I thought I’d seen some excellent writing, the man comes up with better… very Federeresque I must say! This is starting to become a favorite haunt of mine for everything tennis. Plus Marco is here… and that’s always good, no? 😉

    Amen to all your “Let’s have…” If I ever see Rafa and Roger in the same half, my doubts about slam draws being rigged will be confirmed 😉

    It sure is going to be an exciting 2012. It’ll be exciting to see if Nole can keep up this high level of “dominance”, it’ll be exciting to see if Rafa & uncle Toni can draw up a game plan to counter Novak, it’ll be exciting to see what new skills and variety Federcone will implement, it’ll be exciting, expecting Andy to fulfill his potential of winning a slam, it’ll be exciting to see if Tsonga will crash parties and stay long enough…. it’ll all be very exciting indeed, and we cannot wait!

    P.S. That 99-4 win-loss record + 15 titles for Jimmy Connors in 1974… I had no idea about! Mind boggling!

  4. rosso_neri says :

    I agree with so much that is said here, so many salient points. Excellent post!

    Before I go onto 2012 one thing I want in 2011 is a Davis Cup final with Spain v Serbia, Rafa v Djoko. Two players (& teams) that love Davis Cup, love representing their countries, take a huge amount of pride in doing so, it would crazy to see these 2 that have had such a rivalry this year on the big stages, have another battle for the Davis Cup.

    Onto 2012 one major, major thing I want to see (other than Fed winning another slam of course!) is Fed not being drawn in Djoko’s half. Not because I’m scared of him, not because I want Fed to avoid him etc but just simply for a bit of variety, I’m sick & tired of Fed-Djoko SFs, I’ll take any other offerings, Fed-Rafa, Fed-Murray, Fed-Anyone. Just please let’s hope Fed & Djoko go at least one slam without being drawn in same half! Assuming of course Fed makes the SFs! 😉

    Other than that I’m intrigued to see whether Djoko will keep his level up especially when all the pressure of defending all those titles & points hit him. Especially interesting should he lose & how he responds to not defending one of his titles. I’m also interested to see how Rafa reacts to his 2011 (1 slam, 2 finals) which was very good but that’s sort of been forgotten in his inability to beat Djoko. I’m hoping a few other players outside the top 3 actually step up & challenge the top 3 more consistently rather than have the odd great match (usually vs Fed!) & then nothing.

    But most of all I just want Fed to continue to enjoy his tennis, be as successful as he can & to have a great year whatever that actually entails. Also I want less panic/outcry from some fans (not on here thankfully!) & for them to stop saying he should retire just because he lost in a slam QF/SF, let’s just enjoy him while we’ve got him. We’ll miss him when he does go!

  5. flo says :

    The top two players now are probably the best two defensive players ever with an excellent offensive arsenal. Del Potro, even at full health, will not have the defense to hang with those guys. Conditions are a bit too slow and the margins he needs are a bit too fine. So unless there’s some evidence that he’s getting back to his top fitness level AND playing closer to the lines while not sacrificing accuracy, I don’t see him toppling the top 2; but if we’re just talking Murray then sure he can do that.

  6. Julie =) (@dootsiez) says :

    Lovely piece as usual, Mr Moonpie. Thank you so much for keeping this place active with such insightful commentary. I’m totally considering donating my first-born to you, PJ and LJ as a token of my gratitude. 😉

    But …

    “… a suspended match that would have played the fifth set on Saturday at Roland Garros. Djokovic would have been the overwhelming favorite in that would-be fifth set, but Federer broke Djokovic in much the same way that Djokovic broke Fed at 5-3 this past weekend in New York. These guys both ripped each other’s hearts out. That’s life…”

    I’m having a tough time imagining Fed ripping the heart out of a man who has only properly lost once this year.

    Although 2012 isn’t properly over, 2 things will become evident over the next year and a half. 1) Federer will come under immediate pressure to hold on to No 3. Note that Andy Murray outperformed him at slams this year (and has a Masters to his name in 2011). 2) Djokovic will have the best single year result in tennis history, but I think Roger’s period of intense dominance isn’t under threat just yet. It’ll be interesting to see how Nole defends all his points next year.

  7. Julie =) (@dootsiez) says :

    On a side note, there is a potentially embarrassing match between Federer and Tomic on the horizon.

  8. jandemom says :

    2011 will surely be remembered for Nole’s remarkable record & achievements, so congratulations to him. He’s a talented guy & it’s good for him that he was able to solve the issues he had with stamina & mental fortitude – and it will be interesting to see how his 2012 unfolds (though there is still some tennis left this year). It’s tough at the top & once you’re there, there’s nowhere to go but down. How will Nole handle that sort of pressure?

    My favorite moment of 2011 is finally seeing the old hot Swiss guy play in person, when he beat Marin Cilic at the USO. My son & I (& my Federbear) were in Ashe’s top row of seats & it was an absolute thrill to watch Roger’s beautiful game regardless of the distance. 😀 If you haven’t seen him yet, find a way – he’s worth it.

    Just a few of the things I’ll be keeping an eye on in 2012… Milos Raonic… Ryan Harrison’s temper & ego… Gulbis… Dolgopolov… will any Spanish guy ever beat Rafa? (I know they sometimes do, but it seems like it’s against the law)… Jo-Willy, please stay healthy… did Mardy Fish start playing his best tennis just a bit too late?… delPo… guys with variety in their game… doubles… and whoever/whatever pops up as exciting or compelling or both. Really, I just love tennis, so I’m gonna be keeping an eye on as much as possible.

    Mostly, though, I hope Roger stays healthy, keeps loving tennis & treats us all to more wonderful moments (a major &/or an Olympic medal would of course be fantastic!). I love watching him & hope I’ll be doing it for years to come, whether it’s in person, on TV or online.

    Happy tennis, everyone! And thanks for your guest-blogging, Matt.

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