Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Challengers beyond the "Big 4"

After reading the article below i find it very hard to see any of them bar Del Potro (providing he can get over this season and return the his late 2009 form) ever getting close to winning a slam.

For me they are all too "hit and miss". During a slam you can afford to have maybe 1-2 bad sets over a course of 7 matches.  I do not think that these players have got what it takes, mainly in their head as opposed to what they can do with a racquet as they can play, their rankings prove that.  I just can't see it.  You could even go back to the recent articles i have posted regarding Andy Murray, has he got what it takes?  2 finals and 2 poor results when you take into account the previous 6 matches he had played to get there.


Since 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer won his first Slam event at the 2003 Wimbledon, only five other men have managed to raise a big trophy: current No. 1 Rafael Nadal (nine Slam titles), Andy Roddick (the 2003 U.S. Open), now-retired Marat Safin (2005 Aussie Open), No. 3 Novak Djokovic (2008 Aussie Open) and Juan Martin del Potro (2009 U.S. Open).

The Slams have largely been a Roger and Rafa-ruled universe, and while there's been a slew of other men who have put up impressive results, it's hard to find anyone outside of the so-called Big Four — Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and the still Slam-less Andy Murray — or del Potro who look like solid bets to win a 2011 Slam, much less seize a top-five spot.

“I still believe that the world will be dominated by Rafa, Roger, Novak, Murray and del Potro,” Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob told “I really don't see anyone breaking through that group in the foreseeable future.”

Here are a slew of notable men who have outside shots and a look at the recently returned del Potro:

Juan Martin del Potro: The 2009 U.S. Open champion will enter 2010 as the tour's biggest question mark, having missed the vast majority of this season recovering from wrist surgery. Had the towering Argentine not been injured, he may have challenged Federer and Nadal for the top spot, but now he's almost beginning from ground zero again.

“His highest level can challenge anyone on any surface,” Gimelstob said. “He's a matchup problem for both Nadal and Federer. We don't know if it’s going to take him one tournament or one year to get healthy and confident again, but inevitably he's going to be a major factor again and will win multiple Slams.”

Robin Soderling: Is the Swede — a strong No. 5-ranked player — ready to make another charge, or has he reached his limit? Soderling's certainly been very consistent this year, reaching the final of Roland Garros, the quarters of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and rarely losing early. While he does own wins over Nadal and Federer (both at the French Open), he owns only a combined 3-19 record against those two, falling to Nadal at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon this season, and to Federer at the U.S. Open. But he's tall, strong and a little bit mean.

“He has the upside to win a Slam," Gimelstob said. “He has huge weapons everywhere — serve, forehand and backhand. And he doesn't shy away from big moments like some other guys. He understands the ramifications of breaking through in a big way. He does have things to improve, but he's so dangerous. I think he catches fire and is a leading contender to win a Slam.”

Tomas Berdych: Like Soderling, the 25-year-old Berdych really found himself this year, knocking off Federer and Djokovic at Wimbledon to reach his first major final and also reaching the French Open semis. Once considered a mentally soft player who was way too erratic, the sixth-ranked Czech finally found the keys to his game and plays more within himself now. But he hasn't progressed since his breakout at the All England Club, posting only an 8-8 record.

“He has huge weapons and can hurt you from everywhere, but I'd put him a little under Soderling," Gimelstob said. “He's a little stiffer, and I'm not sure of him mentally in terms of big moments.”

Fernando Verdasco: The “other” significant left-handed Spaniard has played a ton this year (61 singles matches and 25 tournaments, the most in the top 10), which is perhaps the reason he went 0-3 on the Asian fall swing and is in danger of not qualifying for the ATP Finals in London. Verdasco's forehand and serve are world class, and he showed some flashes of greatness at the U.S. Open, overwhelming David Nalbandian and winning a classic over David Ferrer in the fourth round before going down to Nadal, whom he's never beaten.

“He is where he should be, ranked No. 7, and while that's an incredible accomplishment, that's where his talent lies,” Gimelstob said. “There's no reason he can't pop through and have a big tournament, but in terms of being dangerous to the top guys and breaking through and winning Slams, I hold him lower than Soderling and Berdych.”

Related:David Ferrer: This one-time U.S. Open semifinalist and top-five player picked up steam since a slow start to the year, posting excellent results on clay courts, his best ever showing at Wimbledon (fourth round) and decent hard-court results. But at age 28, the quick counterpuncher can't expect to go much further than No. 8, where he stands today.

“For him to be in the top 10 again, he's checking every box to reach his potential,” Gimelstob said. “He's a tough and great competitor who is maxing out to getting where he is.”

Mikhail Youzhny: Here's yet another veteran who's had a consistent and often impressive year, winning Munich and Kuala Lumpur, reaching the quarters of Roland Garros and semifinals of the U.S. Open. The 28-year-old has a tricky and impressive all-around game when his head is in the right space, but he does have his limitations. With fellow Russian Nikolay Davydenko in decline, No. 9 Youzhny is Russia's best hope at the majors, but it's unlikely he'll be able to pull off a Safin and defeat Federer and Lleyton Hewitt to win a Slam.

“He's another guy who maxing his potential and reaching two Slam semifinals is a big achievement, but we are talking about a different stratosphere after that,” Gimelstob said.

Andy Roddick: The countdown's surely begun on Roddick's chances to win another major. He's also 28, so he has to be given at least six more (putting the French Open aside) chances to win a major, but he's been getting hurt a lot more over the past year than he has in prior seasons, a sign his body's breaking down. He's smart and competitive enough to make one more great run, but can he do that just by playing cagey tennis, or is he going to have to let it rip more? He only reached one Slam quarterfinal this year, and in all his losses he was out-hit.

“Andy has proven this year that under the right conditions and playing the right style that he's still incredibly dangerous, like when he won Miami beating Nadal and Berdych,” Gimelstob said. “He also has a great record against Soderling and against Djokovic as of late. If the pieces fall into place, he can be a factor in any tournament, but the margins are definitely thinner. The model for him to be a factor is to play like he did against Nadal and Berdych in Miami.”

Marin Cilic: What's happened to the 2010 Aussie Open semifinalist, who's done almost nothing of note the past seven months? With his height, good balance and power, he sure looked like he'd be the breakout player of 2010, but the 22-year-old hasn't won consecutive matches since early August.

“I'm surprised that after winning Chennai and doing so well in Australia that he's stagnated, but he moves well, hits cleanly and changes direction well,” Gimelstob said. “He's a little slight, so he should get stronger, but I still love his upside and look for him to have incredible career.”

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils: These two Frenchmen are two of the tour's most hard-to-figure-out players, showing off terrific athleticism and shot-making some weeks and falling apart before they get their motors going in others. Former Aussie Open finalist Tsonga, 25, is chronically injured, while former French Open semifinalist Monfils, 24, rarely shows off a consistent game plan. Tsonga's backhand and return game also need work, but more than anything, he needs to find a fitness regimen that'll keep him healthy for a full season.

“Tsonga has huge weapons, but he has a big body and it's tough for him to stay healthy,” Gimelstob said.
Monfils owns 2-9 record in ATP finals, recently reaching the U.S. Open quarters and a final in Tokyo, where he lost to Nadal. He has a no-nonsense coach in Aussie Roger Rasheed, but at times he plays just plain silly.
“He's the biggest enigma in tennis and leaves the most on the table in terms of talent and style of play,” Gimelstob said. “Everyone always talks about Roddick's style of play, but Monfils can play both offense and defense like few can, but he rarely does.

“He seems complacent, relying on his great movement, and at this level, big weapons beat defense in big moments. Pulling the trigger at big moments is what wins Grand Slams.”

Mardy Fish, John Isner and Sam Querrey: After an impressive summer, No. 18 Fish looked terrific going into the U.S. Open, but then was exposed by Djokovic in the fourth round. Querrey, ranked No. 22, has teased his fans all year, winning four smaller titles, but not advancing past the fourth round of a Slam or Masters Series event. No. 20 Isner can crush a serve and forehand and take care of a high volley, but his movement, return and backhand all need work.

Gimelstob sees improved 2011s from all these Americans, but says Fish, 28, might be the one to watch at the Slams, although he doesn't expect any of them to raise a big trophy in 2010.

“Mardy has the most experience, and it's time-sensitive, so there will be more of a sense of urgency,” Gimelstob said. “He's capable of just about beating any guy if he's physically and mentally executing.
“Sam will go in stages and find his own comfort zone when he moves up a level. His game is improving, he's young and has huge weapons. His serve and forehand are as big as they get. He's won tournaments on all four surfaces, and that makes me really high on potential.

“John is establishing his comfort zone, too, and there's no reason why he shouldn't go forward rather than move backwards. He has weapons and enjoyment of the game and of the process.”

Courtesy: FOX Sports 

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