26 January 2018

The GOAT, AO2018 and 20th Grand Slam

The GOAT, AO 2018 and 20th Grand Slam
                                                                                  -----   Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The final stages of AO 2018 has arrived. Cilic has reached the finals. The mouth watering contest between the nextgen champion Hyeon Chung, the Professor from South Korea and the GOAT, unarguably in my book, will be in Friday afternoon, being a holiday I cannot miss. The Swiss star is the out-right favourite to win the competition but world number 58 Chung stands in his way of a final showdown against Marin Cilic.

In the remaining semifinals the latest heart throb of South Korea, Hyeon Chung, Next Gen prodigy they’re calling mini-Novak, will be across the net. And in the most ironic of twists, it was Hyeon Chung who sent Djokovic on his way in the fourth round here, out-elasticking his elastic-limbed hero in a stupendous display of scrambling, hustling, counterpunching tennis earlier this week. Make no mistake, a star is emerging. Chung, 21 years old and has never been in the last four of a slam before. But good judges expect him to be in the top 10 before the year’s out.

After upsetting six-time Australian champion Open Novak Djokovic in straight sets became the first South Korean to advance to a grand slam quarter-final. But it wasn’t just the calibre of the opponent that won over a new legion of fans, it was the matter in which the game was won. The braces-wearing, bespectacled world is winning hearts with his boyish innocence, speed, athleticism and freakish retrieval skills. His unbelievable movement has even drawn comparisons with Djokovic, while his fearless ball-striking has delighted the spectators inRod Laver Arena. 

Chung, according to coach Neville Godwin, succeeded in “out-Djokovic-ing Novak Djokovic”. “There are definite similarities, he’s incredibly flexible, moves very well, does the splits most of the time ... but you could argue he [Chung] has got more firepower from the back, he can pull the trigger a bit more. I don’t want him running around too far back behind the court. I’d like to see him use his phenomenal speed to get to the net more.” Hyeon Chung had taken out fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the third round and then disposed of Novak Djokovic in such thrilling style. There were fears that Chung might suffer a dip after two such marquee wins, but he kept his focus in the quarters and disposed of the American Tennys Sandgren in straight sets. Chung has been punching above his weight all fortnight. 

The South Korean will need to try and get into his opponents head claim a shock win. “I think if he starts well and gets inside Federer’s head he will have a chance,” an expert says. “The danger for Federer is he thinks he has already won it. “Nadal is out, Djokovic is out, Murray is not even here. Maybe it’s all too easy for him - that’s the thing he has to be aware of.” These two have never actually played before, but Novak Djokovic has a winning record against Federer, and Chung beat Djokovic on Monday so that makes him the favourite today right? Right?

Even Federer has been impressed. "I'm very excited to play Chung," the Swiss said on Wednesday. "I thought he played an incredible match against Novak. To beat him here is one of the tough things to do in our sport. I know that Novak maybe wasn't at 110 per cent, but he was all right. To close it out, that was mighty impressive."I think it's an interesting match for me. I'll definitely have to look into how I need to play against him because he has some great qualities, especially defensively, like Novak has. "It's a good situation to be in. He can hit freely now. No expectations whatsoever.

The reigning champion is bidding for his 20th grand slam title this week, and is yet to drop a set all tournament. Chung's entertaining approach should at least make for an exciting match even if, as expected, Federer ultimately proves too strong. Though Chung has incredible speed Roger is no slouch either even at 36+ years. Where Chung will be most vulnerable is on his serve, it's not the strongest part of his game. He rarely went over 170 - 180 km/h, Federer will smell the opportunity there and as such, the South Korean is in for some potentially disastrous returns coming his way. Chung's second serve will be punished mercilessly. If he tries to up the ante on his second serve, chances that he will serve some double faults. It will be interesting to see if Roger's versatility can open up Chung's movement and possibly bring him forward with the short slice. Federer's second serve again is the best the game has ever seen. Federer can win even if he plays at 70%. One is not sure whether Chung can win playing 110%.

It looks hugely one-sided. Federer, a 19-time Grand Slam champion and veteran of 382 Slam showdowns over 20 years, up against an unseeded 21-year-old lining up for just his 17th match at a major. At 36 and 169 days, Federer is not only the oldest man in 41 years to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne, but also the only player in history to make the last four on 14 occasions. He’s the champion. He’s the GOAT. He’s been here before. He’s seen it all. Chung will have his work cut out proving he’s the new Djokovic in this one.

Chung is young, has lot of potential. But he has to travel miles before he can take on Roger in a grand slam semis. Best of luck to Chung and thanks for giving all the entertainment.

However, I am worried.

The reigning champion is bidding for his 20th grand slam title this week, and is yet to drop a set all tournament. Strangely enough though, he hasn't actually been playing that well. Sure, he's been cruising through his matches and winning easily, but there's been a bit more irritation than we're used to, and just a little less stardust. The main reason for this could be that Federer has not yet been properly tested. Maybe that's about to change. 

There are worrying signs. Against Berdych, Roger was 4 - 1 down, was serving for the set 5- 3. A set point went begging,Roger was defending for his life,a short backhand to the Czech was asking to be hit and Berdych hit it in the net. At 5 - 6 Roger served two double faults in the same game, was a set point down, got out of jail because of some wonderful shots including an exquisite backhand drop shotthat he can only make and some unforced errors from the Czech. In the third set also the Swiss superstar was broken. At 32 Berdych is not exactly a spring chicken. He was nursing an injury. It was their 10th meeting at Grand Slams, and an eighth win for the Swiss player. His career record against the Czech to 20-6.

In 2015 US Open Cilic had beaten Roger, then in his prime in semifinals in straight sets before winning the only grand slam has taken. Then it was predicted that he was the next best thing happening in tennis. He somehow has not been able to fulfill his promise. He has no apparent weakness, has a monstrous serve, powerful ground strokes, slides : everything. In 2017 Wimbledon finals he had an injury, but in the first set he had a break point, missed an easy backhand. This year he looks healthy, sharp, more determined. Only question mark may be he is too much a gentleman, and does he believe that he can beat GOAT in 2018 AO Finals.

If Roger reaches finals, which he will, he will be worried. Federer may be giving excellent interviews on the courtside with Jim Courier but he has to come out sharp in the finals. His recent tendencies to suddenly lose concentration , make easy mistakes and lose can hurt him dearly. Remember the year end ATP Masters semifinals against Goffin.

We all want Roger to win. GO ROGER GO for 20th grand slam, sixth AO. We will be cheering for you.-

No comments: