2022 Rolex Paris Masters Semifinals
Rune vs Auger-Aliassime :
This is a rematch of last week’s Basel final, where FAA won 6-3, 7-5. For that match Rune was around +240. For this one he’s been afforded a bit more respect and comes in around +175. It’s hard for me to remotely value my opinion on Holger Rune at this point, because I’ve predicted him to lose a close match in the last three rounds and he won each of them. Holger faced off against Alcaraz in the quarterfinals and it was a really entertaining affair. Tennis has struggled in the big 3 / Next Gen era with less than stellar quality. The players are great, but the tennis is often a bit too passive in the big moments. Getting these young players with very little to lose in these spots is really producing high level stuff and a commitment to offense that’s really refreshing. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost say that the ATP is catching up to the WTA in terms of depth at the top. This means more names winning titles, more players believing in themselves when they hit that big stage, and an overall improvement in everyone’s game since it’ll take more output and training to remain in the top of the rankings.
Rune won the first by being a bit better on serve. Alcaraz’s forehand is a bullet, but Rune is holding serve really well in this event. One slight issue I saw that was prevalent during Alcaraz’s slump last year is his backhand down the line. He’s very willing to pull the trigger, but this shot makes or breaks many players. If you’re landing it the court becomes huge, if you’re missing it it becomes a mental hurdle as you don’t want to miss it twice but don’t want to go safer. The second set looked a bit different than the first. Alcaraz was holding serve fairly easily and was starting to make inroads into the Rune service game. It looked like it would go three, but Alcaraz pulled up with a left abdominal issue after the game at 6-5. He took a MTO which looks awfully intentional with your opponent about to serve to stay in the set, but Alcaraz isn’t the type to do this. He played 4 points in the tiebreaker, but couldn’t even complete that. He withdrew, and of course we wish him a speedy recovery. While we’re wishing, I also wish they’d stop sending players out wearing the same exact outfits. Tennis is filmed from a distance where you really can’t tell two players apart at a glance if they have similar swings, and I think Nike has enough $ to produce home and away jerseys.
While Rune was downing the world #1 after beating Hurkacz, Rublev, and Wawrinka, Felix was cruising against Tiafoe. It wasn’t a great performance from Tiafoe today, but I think he was genuinely caught off guard by FAA’s constant pace and when Felix serves that well, he’s really hard to beat. Tiafoe’s serve today seemed a good bit slower than usual, and once he went down in the scoreline he made a lot of somewhat careless attempts on the ball. It’s natural to want to make a sharp shot to kind of establish that you’re at the level, or insist that you’re not getting washed up, or to swing the momentum of the crowd, but he left some balls up with no look volleys and half-volleys that ended up being free points for Felix.
Tiafoe did get a bit more invested in the second set, at one point complaining to Mo Lahyani about a missed let call. They had a nice exchange after Tiafoe (serving 1-3, 15-40) dropped an F bomb while explaining vaguely politely that missing that call was going to cost him the match. He managed to hold and during the changeover he continued the discussion. It was there that both of them won me over as a fan. Tiafoe asked Lahyani to at least admit that he knows the machine misses some lets sometimes, and said basically “you know if I get broken there the match is over as well as he’s playing”. Lahyani played a great meditator then admitting that the let sensor isn’t always perfect, and adding that he isn’t in the best position to hear the ball hit the net. He asked Tiafoe then to just do him one favor and avoid the F-bombs and Tiafoe grinned and said “ok you do something for me I do something for you”. Simple enough banter, but to see the aggrieved player instantly let go of the past, and to see the umpire remain down to earth enough to level with the player and get them back on track is just a lost art on the tour. I like Tiafoe, and Lahyani seems like he’d be the shady advisor to an evil emperor in a movie but he really does his best to keep things light in the match.
FAA should beat Rune again. He’s serving extremely well out-wide from the ad side which is absolutely huge for a right-handed player. He’s hitting his forehand faster than anyone in the tournament, and his backhand has been pretty darn stable. Rune can serve well enough to hold serve as well, so this match may contain some tiebreakers. Making Tiafoe revert back to the old “can’t believe how good someone is playing” form is really impressive, and FAA is actually a good bit better than Alcaraz at indoor tennis. It feels disingenuous to just keep announcing Rune’s demise, but he keeps playing better opponents each round and he’s now reached the guy who seems to be in the best form on tour aside from Djokovic. At this point I’m in a bad spot because I’m going to pick FAA here, and I’m certainly going to pick Djokovic to beat Rune if he gets to the final, but I think FAA gets through here in a closer match than Basel. FAA in 3.
Djokovic vs Tsitsipas :
Sometimes I think people are reading these posts. I thought Musetti would push Djokovic, but it seems that he pushed him before the match even started. Novak came out motivated, focused, and with more shots ready than Musetti. In the first set Musetti was content to slice most of his backhands, and defend the baseline. It looked like it was getting him to even terms, but Djokovic never settled into the rallies. He came with shot after shot and constantly changed the tempo and created sharp angles. When he had Musetti scrambling, he infused a little extra pace on his forehands. Djokovic won 86% of his first serves and 65% of his seconds. The first set was a 6-0 loss for Musetti where all the sharp hitting of yesterday was absent. He managed to go up a break in the second but only won a single game after that. Of the 10 unforced errors Djokovic made, I can only think of 2 that were simple rally balls. The rest were offensive attempts that were a little bit too ambitious, but were part of the gameplan. Since Musetti is willing and able to defend in long rallies, Novak’s aggression kept him playing defense. In the second set Lorenzo took some bigger cuts at the ball, but it was too late as Djokovic constantly had him running.
Tsitsipas was similarly impressive in fending off Tommy Paul. His forehand is a real game-changer as he’s one of the few guys this week really hitting through his opponents on these slower courts, and his backhand isn’t taking the ball to any tricky targets but he is hitting the ball hard and deep down the middle which is tough to produce off of. Breaking Paul multiple times is always a tough task and Tsitsipas is probably the best player in the bottom of the draw so this is the best semifinal. Djokovic and Tsitsipas played recently in the finals of Nur-Sultan, and it went Djokovic’s way 6-3, 6-4. Given his level against Musetti, I somewhat expect a similar scoreline. Djokovic may not have enjoyed missing the USO and AO, but he is basically playing on much fresher legs and with much less wear and tear than the rest of the tour right now and it shows. He’s barely breaking a sweat out there, and he’s moving the ball with no sense of urgency or impatience. When he misses a shot, it’s generally hit to a location that would win the point, but the execution is just a little bit off or the angle is a tiny bit too ambitious. Just like the other big 3, every time I see Djokovic play I’m in awe. Dude is great.
This match should have a theme, despite Djokovic’s well-rounded play. He can break down Tsitsipas’ backhand and Stefanos is really dangerous on his forehand here. Tsitsipas’ active footwork and focus on closing to net is only a slight boost against Djokovic since he’s so good at balancing his body-weight to create passing angles, but it will be a slightly different challenge than Musetti brought. Tsitsipas has won 3 matches against Djokovic on hard court but they were all 3 years ago and Novak has won 6 in a row since then (though 4 were on clay). Djokovic really looks good in these conditions, and this is a familiar opponent who is dangerous but only just finding his best gear. Djokovic in 2.