March 26, 2012 | 07:03 PM
Big John could be disappointed about dropping out of the top 10 next week, as he will since Del Potro's beat Cilic 6-3, 7-6 (3) today to guarantee him the #10 spot. But John would be right to stay focused on doing what no American since Jim Courier did 20 years ago: accumulating points on clay.
John says he draws confidence on clay from his win over Federer on indoor clay in Switzerland last month and his previous 5 set matches with both #1 Joker and dirt master Nadal. But in order to maintain the confidence and momentum he'll need to perform well on clay this spring, he'll have to have his legs under him again in two weeks when he plays Davis Cup on clay in France. For someone who's won just 17 career matches on clay (a .447 win percentage, vs. his .630 percentage on hard courts), and who won just 2 of 8 clay matches last year (his only good win came against fellow American Mardy Fish (8-6 in a 3rd set breaker), this may be a tall order even for John.
Though last night he was disappointed with the way he played in losing an awful (pitiful, his word) hard court match last night to #19 Florian Mayer, 6-4, 6-2, it was clear from the start that John's legs weren't under him as they have been: both his movement and bending were compromised. It's been a long time since he looked like a player with little more than a serve and a forehand, and even his serving was very sub par. All of this no doubt reflected the thigh muscle pain he was treated for in the 2nd set. It was abnormal for John to miss so many first serves, and pound so few aces (only 10% vs. his norm of 17%, and was broken 3 times in 9 games).
How much of his play, if any, was as a result of Mayer's returning or playing very well?
Were it not for the injury to John, this question would be even more interesting. It was their first meeting, and Mayer is not a particularly good returner, so why should he have had such success against John's serve unless the big guy was having a very off night?
Jeff Sackmann looked into this in his heavytopspin blog post today, and noted that:
Mayer is below-average at ace prevention, allowing 8% more aces than an average ATP tour player, ranking 80th among the 139 active players whose results analyzed.
You can read the rest of his post, which looks at a new factor he calls unaceability (ace prevention), on his blog:
Tennis is part of 'the world's [being] one big data problem', as noted in the NYT yesterday by Gilad Elbaz (one of Google's millionaire mathematicians), but it's a part still awaiting the availability of data to analyze.
One problem that seems all too comprehensible for players like former #28 former All American Kevin Anderson (Illinois, '07) is confidence, something John never seems to lack. Up a break 4-2 in the first set against a struggling Mardy Fish yesterday, the S. African squandered good opportunities to make it two breaks, then gave his serve back and went on on to lose 8 of the next 10 games. Fish has acknowledged his own loss of confidence since last summer, and maybe this mini-comeback will give him a needed boost against his next opponent: upset minded Grigor Dimitrov (there courtesy of his win over Berdych in the last round) may not be so generous with him.
In other men's day action:
(1) N Djokovic defeats (27) V Troicki 63 64
(12) N Almagro defeats (20) F Verdasco 63 64
(17) R Gasquet defeats A Ramos 62 57 63
(5) D Ferrer defeats (30) J Benneteau 76(5) 64