Summing up the Round Robin Pt. 2: Thoughts on the other four


Hall of Fame
The Big Four & The Small Fish

With all due respect to Soderling’s ranking, the final weekend will boil down to the Big Four. It seemed as if the Tennis Gods chose this week to restore order as Federer and Nadal dominated their groups with Murray and Djokovic making authoritative statements in their final group matches to finish second. Unless something dramatically drastic takes place in the next two days, each of them can be happy with their form heading into the next season. As for the rest who occupied the two pools, there are some important lessons to take for the off season.

Soderling: The opening match against Murray set the tone for his week. Earlier this year he had beaten a struggling Murray in straight sets at Indian Wells. This time around, with Murray at his defensive best Soderling time and time again outmaneuvered the Brit only to make a mess in the forecourt. Murray did well to keep the balls low, but Soderling made the balls seem more difficult than they should have been. With his weakness exposed, he fell apart. Towards the end of the match, he had all the delicate touch of a wood cutter.

Soderling’s big strokes mean he rarely has to rely on deft touch to win points. But if he won’t work on his forecourt game, he will realize that to consistently come out on top against the best he will need to fill the tiniest of holes in his armor. His lack of instincts at the net once again reared its ugly head when after being second best to Federer the entire set, he managed to find a chance to level the tie breaker at 6-6. He hit a perfect inside out approach only to leave Federer’s loopy backhand pass and watch it drop well inside the line. A Michael Llodra would have had that ball for breakfast, but Soderling’s wishful thinking sealed his WTF campaign. Let’s hope he realizes what his focus should be on during the off season.

Roddick: What a disappointment it must be for Roddick to go 0-3 in the round robin, especially considering that the draw was tailor made for him. He had won his last four matches with Djokovic, his last three against Berdych and his last against Nadal, and most of these were recent wins and on hard courts. His record against Federer and Murray is rather abysmal on hard courts, and Soderling had just beaten him in Paris. Can we say easy draw?

So what went wrong? He started off great, realizing he had to take it to Nadal and take it he did. But after being up a set and a break, and needing to hold four straight times to pull off the upset, he faltered. But it was still a good match and he made Nadal earn the victory. And then, he stuck to the same game plan that had brought him earlier wins against Berdych and Djokovic.

He hit his loopy forehands, kept plugging away from the backhand without taking any risks, ran down as many balls as possible and occasionally changed pace with the slice. When you’ve got a big serve, that game plan can work well enough to win you a lot of matches and keep you in the Top 10. But when the best get going, Roddick’s game gets slowly exposed. His backhand, while a far superior shot than it used to be three or four years back is rarely struck very cleanly. He has enough control on it not to make errors but it’s not very accurate. Indoor conditions suit the players that hit a cleaner ball, and as Djokovic and Berdych settled into their games they made Roddick look mediocre off the ground.

But the problem for Roddick goes beyond what happens indoors. His game plan needs players to be off their games. He lures players into going for more than they should, and while indoors it’s easier to find a rhythm and get into their groove, it can happen anywhere as it has so often the last few years. Tipsarevic outgunned him from the back court at the US Open, and Lu of all players hit him off the ground at Wimbledon.

Roddick is a threat to just about anyone on any given day. His reliable serve, a steady baseline game and his competitiveness promise his opponents a tough match. But when a Djokovic is on his game, you get the feeling Roddick needs to serve at 80% to pull off the win. If the American is content to collect praise for sticking around in the top 10, he can continue doing what he does. But he says he wants to win another Slam, and sticking with this game plan won’t be enough. There is no alternative option: Roddick needs to go for more!

Ferrer & Berdych: Getting a win against Roddick is a positive sign for Berdych. He hasn’t won many matches since Wimbledon and had lost three straight against Roddick in recent times. Losing to Nadal and Djokovic is no cause for shame, but he should have pushed them harder. But let’s hope that the win against Roddick rejuvenates him, since it’s his confidence that’s been lacking of late.

I earlier commented on Ferrer’s charged up performance against Murray. I don’t expect him to retool his game this late in his career, and his game is solid enough to beat most players in the world. Against Murray, he didn’t have the confidence to keep going for his strokes and making them. But if he wants to be a challenger to the best players in the world, he might want to work on that aspect of his game in the off season. The downside could be that he may start losing to lesser opponents as he plays more aggressive tennis. I get the sense that he won’t take the risk. He’s no Roddick in terms of his motivation.

These are my thoughts on the World Tour Finals for now. I’ll have a few more thoughts tomorrow on a possible Federer-Nadal final, which I expect to take place. Murray has a great record against Nadal on hard courts, but I think Rafa will turn the tables this time. I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong though! Let’s hope the match lives up to the hype.