Jul 08, 2022

2022 Wimbledon ATP & WTA Finals

Djokovic vs Kyrgios :

Ah yes, of course. Wimbledon and Djokovic in the finals. Another year of him dropping the first set in majors and just running over people from there. Serena used to give up a break in her first service game of the match and then steamroll her opponents from there, and I’d often wonder if she was doing it on purpose. The psychological momentum swing from “omg I might get this” to whatever comes after Djokovic passes them by has to be tough to deal with, like being the hare and seeing the tortoise slowly walk by while munching on some delicious leafs. Djokovic likely eats his fair share of leaves, and he ate Norrie’s resolve today. Norrie started out playing his usual defiant baseline tennis. He refused to change patterns and his backhand to Novak’s forehand looked to be forcing the champ into errors. Djokovic was broken 3 times in the opening set and it looked like he was feeling a bit impatient. The announcers decided to crown Norrie the champ at this point and pretty much spent the first section of this match telling us how frustrated and rattled Djokovic looked.

During the first set changeover it seems that Djokovic went to find a hat. It was a nice hat, with a picture of a tiny alligator on it, but nothing special. His game elevated though, as it pretty much does in every match. Instead of giving Djokovic credit for his own game management, the announces try to sound smart by guessing at the future. It’s not the best way to do the job, but these aren’t really tennis experts. Most of them just have the job because they were in tennis for a while, or because their voice sounds like an announcer’s voice. Djokovic is a counterpuncher, but they all assume that he’ll have the timing of his opponents serves and groundstrokes immediately? The slow starts are Novak playing on even terms against his opponent redlining their game. As the opponent settles and Djokovic gets the timing, things start to look different. It’s hard to have the lead in tennis and not go for offense. Norrie got into a pretty tough mindset of outhitting Djokovic since he had success in the early-going, and the result was he sprayed a ton of errors once Djokovic settled in. Novak’s spot-serving is still the best on tour, and he really coasted through the 2nd and 3rd sets.

The fourth was closer because Norrie with his back against the wall is still a tough out, but Djokovic had a few patterns prepared for this match that made it a foregone conclusion even if his defending didn’t solve the puzzle as it always does. The biggest thing I saw from him was his serve placement. He frequently went out wide from both sides, using the T serves on second serves mostly. Opposing coaches will want to note how difficult it was for Norrie to return the ball crosscourt on his backhand wing. Him hitting so flat means he’s at full extension out there and he made a number of errors and shanks trying to create the angle back into the court. A regular topspin backhand or a slice is going to have more success simply because the spin applied brings the ball back towards the court. It’s table tennis stuff but it was a hole in Norrie’s game today that Djokovic exposed. Norrie’s forehand also struggles a bit to create angles when dragged wide, so it’s something to work on for him and his team. Once Djokovic is holding easily, it’s really hard to beat him (he faced 0 break points in the last three sets). Norrie went for a bunch of aggessive forehands to get back on even terms in rallies, but most of them missed (36 unforced errors). Djokovic with the ball on a string is pretty much unbeatable on grass because you just can’t outrun the ball on the quick delicious stuff.

This wasn’t Norrie’s best tennis, but it’s part of a larger problem for the guys trying to beat the big 3. Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer (throw Murray in there too in his peak) don’t have holes in their game. They have every shot from every position, and their serving is extremely solid and unlikely to take a day off. There is no wing to isolate against Djokovic, but many of the Next gen standouts have issues where they can be exposed. Letting someone play exploitative tennis against you just makes things a bit too hard because you’re having to earn points with excellent and varied play and they’re just going to the well as often as they can. Here’s a quick list of next gen issues that have cost them big matches (Tsitsipas’ backhand and shank issues, Zverev’s serve/length issues on the forehand, Rublev’s second serve, Norrie’s flat backhand, Shapo’s impatience, etc). For me Alcaraz’s big bonus is that he’s ironing out all the issues he had when he arrived on tour (backhand errors going down the line, lack of extension on the backhand when he was tired, serve not being that fast). This will pay dividends in those big spots where you need to rely on your game. If your opponent doesn’t have holes in their game, it means you’re basically just supposed to play the right shot for the situation. Having the complete game is the clear answer for being able to do that.

The big 3 have worked hard on their games, and on their fitness. When players finally climb the mountain to meet them, they just need a bit too much help and their opponents are able to play as free as they want. The announcers called Djokovic a “perfectionist” for still being upset at himself while up a set and a break, and while that’s a fun story to tell the audience the truth is that at this level you are compartmentalizing everything. You are analyzing every single choice and not taking a single point off. Djokovic was mad he went for a careless dropshot instead of a backhand down the line because he knows that will cost him. The Nadal’s of the world play every single point like it’s the only point, aren’t scared to execute the right shot when it’s the right shot regardless of the situation, and will beat you if you have any lapses in focus. It’s not incredulous that the guy who’s had to deal with him all these years would be holding himself to a high standard. One review of PCB not blinking for an entire match will show you the level of focus it takes to play at the top level.

There was unfortunately no second semifinal today. Nadal had to withdraw due to an abdominal tear, and I’m gutted for him (I REALLY AM, PLS DON’T YELL AT ME NADAL FANS <3). This has been one of the most incredible seasons for him, but also one of the most difficult. Foot disease, broken rib, abdominal tear, am I missing anything? The guy is clearly leaving it all out there for us and I am thankful. Nadal’s influence on sport in general has been monumental, and even though he’s near the end of his career he isn’t any less thrilling to watch nor is he struggling to put up the same numbers he always has. I wish him a speedy recovery (I REALLY DO PLS DON’T YELL AT ME).

Luckily, Djokovic vs Kyrgios is the next best thing after Djokovic Nadal. If Kyrgios’ shoulder was 100%, I’d give him a very good chance here. Nick is serving right around 70% for the tournament. Djokovic is the best returner in tennis, but the accuracy and power in Nick’s delivery has shown in the past that it can negate that. He was able to win their only meetings in the past in straight sets, and that will be good to have in the back of his mind heading into a very new situation for him. Kyrgios admitted in the press conference that he only got around an hour of sleep the night after Nadal withdrew, and that he felt a great deal of nerves which are something he doesn’t normally deal with. Having the extra days off will likely be good for his shoulder, and the adrenaline of a final should get him through the match here. This is a spot where everyone knows Kyrgios is going to lash out at people. His box, the ump, the line judges, the crowd, the sun, the moon, the soul, the mind, the body, the positive, the negative, the ground, the proton, the neutron, the electron, the ying, the yang, the young, the sun, the moon, the star, the man, the woman, the child, the plaintiff, the defendant, the judgement, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the past, the present, the future. He doesn’t really let this impact his game but it will sour the crowd against him which isn’t great since Wimbledon loves an underdog story (as long as it’s not against Roger).

When the fireworks come is based on when “doom” rears it’s ugly head. The doom Kyrgios fears is a loss, and this is almost just a “what if” thought. I’m not going to get all blurry on you, but our brains are big ol survival tools so things like “what if this bad thing happens” is just a way of us being prepared for the future. The thought itself has no basis in reality. Your dog thinks it’s going for an adventure every time you stand up, but it doesn’t mean that it can see the future. Nick’s ego has a problem losing though. People praise his composure in press conferences pre-match. Nick says positive things about his opponents. Nick turns in solid mature performances against guys who are calm and professional. We all go “he’s changing!” but his poor behavior is a tantrum of fear, and it is entirely dependent on him actually thinking he might lose something by losing. His tennis is good enough to save him from this, but his opponent is likely to have no such lapses. There’s a good line in the Tao Te Ching that says “the lord of the land does not flit about like a fool” and it’s basically saying that anger, frustration, hardship, joy, victory, glory, etc can come but if you let yourself be easily moved by their arrival, you are easy manipulated. In the match today against Norrie there were maybe one or two fellows in the crowd shouting during the play. “CAMON NAAWWWWWRIE!” or “GOOD RUN NORRRRRRIE!” This bothered Novak, but he didn’t remotely acknowledge that it did until he had finished winning the point. This is the way to compete. There are mitigating factors, but you have a goal. Looking across the net and seeing Kyrgios frustrated just inspires confidence in his opponents, so he’ll need to manage that. It sounds unfairly judgemental, but if you know what’s coming, you should be able to avoid it. Kyrgios can simple be aware of the frustration/ego rants as they arrive, and take a deep breath. They don’t help him, and he wants to win here. Kyrgios may be the villain, but he has never shown interest in maintaining that position after the event is over.

Djokovic’s serving is likely going to net him a lot of balls to work with. Kyrgios’ height will let him put a number of balls in play, but the longer rallies are something he won’t want to play. His own forehand is a laser, but I don’t think it’s fast enough to get past Djokovic unless he hits the flat inside-in offering that almost looks like a bailout shot. His backhand is certainly solid, but its very flat which again Djokovic was able to outmaneuver against Norrie. Kyrgios managing his first serve percentage is what he needs to do here, but I think Djokovic will win his 21st title. Nick has had a lot of help through this draw, and Djokovic is in good form. When told in the post-match interview that he’d made a record 32nd final out of 68 Grand Slams, Novak said “thank you so much, i appreciate that, but job is not finished.” Everything about his play this week has improved round by round, and he has done the work physically and strategically to win these big matches. Kyrgios’ serve will certainly carry him to the finish line, but I don’t think he’ll cross it. Djokovic in 4.

Rybakina vs Jabeur :

Every day millions of bettors go into the schedule with a match they really like. “I like X against Y” they say, and much to their chagrine, the books know they like this situation and have priced it something like -300 or -400 (meaning they have to risk 3 or 4 times as much as they will win). This price drives most bettors away from their original intent (placing a single bet on player X). Some may gravitate to the games or totals markets, but most just add a second leg to get the odds down. Something secure and reliable in the same price range to get the wager to a more 1:1 risk/payout ratio. What is affordable in tennis though is often unreliable, and these last minute additions to bets often destroy one’s entire day. Before I head into a day of matches, I often like to take a look at what people are likely blindly selecting based on price and avoid it. Parlay busters are a prevalent thing in tennis, and Rybakina looked prime to be one on Thursday morning. Losing wagers is terrible for one’s process and confidence, but several days or rounds of winning is important to manually review also so as not to blindly and confidently walk into an unexpected L. The day before I looked at the price, looked at Halep’s serve stats, and looked at the H2H. I watched each round of each player leading into that round, but the straight sets beatdown that ensued was something I could only say “would surprise everyone”.

Elena Rybakina was the better player from start to finish, and any question of nerves or errors was completely dismissed. Halep started out serving poorly and continued to throughout the match. I want to say it was an outlier result, but Rybakina’s height and reach definitely played a role in Halep trying to go bigger on her angles out wide from both sides. She missed often, and when you’re not showing your opponent that wide serve it’s very dangerous to serve down the T. The end result is usually kick serves hit into the middle of the box, and Halep was tentative on these also which is a direct result of trying to get set for Rybakina’s power. Just a comprehensive performance from Rybakina. She leaned into her backhand crosscourt nicely and it slid the court over and over on Halep which kept her from redirecting it down the line. Rybakina’s forehand also was opening up the angles crosscourt really well when the ball was hit straight which kept Halep from resorting to the “drive it down the center” technique which WTA coaches almost always insist on when a player is struggling. Rybakina served at 69% on her first serves and won 53% of her second serves. Add it all up, and Halep (who was on something like 21 sets in a row won on grass) really never had a chance. She was outhit, and never given a chance to work her way back in.

This all sets up a really exciting final. Rybakina is playing her best tennis, and Jabeur seems to be able to play her best tennis when she needs it. Up a quick 6-1 set against Tatjana Maria and looking to be through to the finals in straights, Jabeur ran into the same problem that everyone else has. Maria’s slices earn errors from impatience, and once you’re down in the scoreline it takes a bunch of shots per rally to get going. Maria won the second set 6-3, and there was a very big problem ahead of Jabeur. Maria and Jabeur was an old-school grass-court tennis classic, and heading into the 3rd set I was feeling like I’d gotten another one wrong. The good thing about tour experience though is that it provides some athletes with the answers when they’re in trouble. Jabeur has thrown away a ton of matches with impatient dropshots and over-aggressive forehands in the past, but she has also dug in at the higher tier events and pulled matches back from the brink. Her second gear is not only more powerful, but still employs all the deft skill that can get her in trouble when she uses it too often. When someone is playing with pace and gives you a dropshot or slice it’s incredibly tough to deal with it and can mess up your timing (a good example is how unopposed Nadal’s dropshots are when he hits them on the forehand wing). When someone is going to the well too often the element of surprise is missing so opponents tend to deal with it (hello Gaston). In a sense, tennis rallies are somewhat about catching your opponent sleeping. If you can catch them shifting subconsciously to the next position you can really trouble them, and Jabeur next gear requires opponents to solve the problem anew late in a match so it’s really a good thing to have. She went to a backhand slice against Maria’s slice, and this became a forehand vs forehand battle. After going down an early break, Maria did get rattled and played a pretty loose 3rd and 4th game, going for winners that were a bit uncharacteristic of her. At 4-0 she settled but it was just too late to mount a comeback. Incredible run for Maria, and it’s likely that she’ll be just as good next year in the grass swing.

For Jabeur, the H2H is favorable but not a good reflection of what’s to come here. She got a retirement at a WTA event in Chicago that wasn’t exactly the highest profile event. She won a match in Dubai last year in three, but Jabeur served 49% first serves in and Rybakina was only at 55% so this is going to be much different. The books have opened this around -160 for Jabeur and +130 for Rybakina, but I would say this match will be fairly even. With Jabeur being one of the betting favorites from the start, it’s almost impossible for the books to make her any lower without seeing unbalanced investment (casual bettors will take Jabeur and the book will incur risk). Rybakina’s serving and power have pretty much seen no answers so far in this event. She’s just hit right through one of the better defenders, so there’s a good chance that she can get to the business end of a set where she has the lead. Against Ajla,she saw her power matched and that led to a third set. Against Halep, she had a tough defensive test but her opponent didn’t really bring any offensive threat (on that day). Jabeur is a combination of the two. Her movement is solid, and she has the biggest forehand on tour most of the time (Swiatek definitely is getting more RPMs but I don’t think she hits as fast). The dropshots have been missing the mark but they could be a huge factor against Rybakina who moves excellent laterally but not so well when she’s sprinting forward. Jabeur having a cannon of a serve also will present a problem for Rybakina who just played two sets where she basically had the ball hit right to her.

I like Jabeur to edge past here. One reason is this video (https://www.reddit.com/r/tennis/comments/vu997r/ons_jabeur_prediction_at_the_start_of_the_year/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3). Jokes aside, she combines power and skill in a very unique way, and her ability to step her game up towards the end of matches is something that great champions do. Her slices and dropshots may finally break Rybakina’s rhythm, and Jabeur is pretty good at trading power on the forehand wing. These are all if’s though, as Rybakina has shown a level so far that is not really full of weaknesses. I would expect Jabeur to beat Halep in similar fashion, but actually doing it is another thing. Probably the best Wimbledon final we could have asked for. Two brand new players with huge offenses playing near their peak and with nothing to lose. Jabeur in 3.