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January 22 • 09:23
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Guest Blog

Rafa, Roger exit from different doors

January 06, 2012 | 05:36 PM

Perhaps Roger had had enough of playing Jo Willy. He bowed out of the Doha semis today without a fight, withdrawing with the familiar 'strained back' excuse. While it was only the 2nd time in almost 1000 career matches that Federer had withdrawn (he's never retired mid-match), I'd be surprised if he he didn't feel somewhat that "I've played enough here, made enough of an appearance, and want to spend time XYZing before the Major that matters in 2 weeks." Stefan Edberg, in Doha with other past champions of the event to celebrate it's 20th year - he won in 1995) stood in for Roger and played an exhibition set with Tsonga, which he lost 4-6. Stefan showed he could still be effective at serve-and-volley tennis against a the big game player today, although Jo was not seriously pushed and Stefan was bushed after a set, in spite of training by playing squash and competing on the Champions level. The chip and charge seemed a little less effective, but overall the Swede won 18 of 27 net approaches.

To take nothing away from Rafa's opponent Monfils, it's possible that Rafa may have shared the same sentiment as Roger today after letting Gael play well enough to win. The Frenchman capitalized on his only break point in the first set and put in 19 first serves in a row to come back from down 1-4 in the 2nd to win 6-3, 6-4. Beyond some general skepticism about Monfils, who has beaten both Rafa and Roger before, the reason to doubt the authenticity of Rafa's effort is that he's shown signs of having learned from Roger's example that to lengthen his career he'll have to preserve his fitness and focus on the big events (which means not sweating the small ones as much).

Top player indifference is probably one of the main reasons that tune-up events for the Australian Open have not proven to be reliable predictors for winning the Major. Jeff Sackmann analyzed this recently on Heavytopspin.com, and found that Pete Sampras was the only Aussie winner in the last 20 years who had taken a tune-up title the week before the event. These tune-ups the week before did tend to help the champions of the tune-ups to reach or exceed the expectations for their seeding in the Open, but Jeff found the events 2 weeks before the open (such as Doha, Brisbane and Chennai) were unkind to winners in the last 20 years:

Of 51 tournament winners two weeks before Melbourne, 15 met expectations at the slam, 12 exceeded them, and 24 failed to play up to their seed (again, including one who withdrew from the Open).

A whopping 14 of those 51 champions didn't win a single match in Melbourne, including 4-seed Boris Becker in 1993, 5-seed Carlos Moya in 2005, and 9-seed Andy Murray in 2008. Only two of the 51 players won the tournament: Petr Korda in 1998 and Roger Federer in 2006, both of whom won Doha in their respective years.

In other words, winning a warmup doesn't say much about your form for the Open itself–in fact, next week's winners won't deserve much additional hype, no matter how good they look in their season debuts.

It remains to be seen how those who skip the tune ups both weeks fare at the Open, as JOKER is doing this year.

In BRISBANE today, Murray and Tomic advanced to a semi-final meeting, beating (respectively) Baghdatis and Istomin, both is straight sets. The winner of their semis will play the winner of Dolgopolov and Simon in the final.

The WOMEN'S semi-final action in Brisbane saw Clijsters down before retiring to Hantuchova, while Schiavone fell to Kanepi, who is back and healthy, and beat un ailing, tired Schiavone today. While Kanepi may still have some match experience to re-gain after a long injury lay-off last year, she is one of the women most likely to emerge as a Major threat this year. Her chances improve with several recent major contenders out with injuries (Serena, badly strained ankle; Sharapova, foot; and Clijsters).

In CHENNAI, Raonic faces Almagro while Tipsarevic faces the Japanese qualifier Soeda.

Rick

ATP, WTA 1.6.12


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