Backhands and Compliments – ATP (Rome) Edition

Djokovic is (almost) unplayable right now

39 straight match wins. 7 consecutive tournament titles. 4 straight wins over Nadal, all in finals, with the last two coming on clay. Let me repeat that: Djokovic has beaten the greatest men’s clay-courter ever, two straight times on his preferred surface. How does anyone beat Djokovic at the moment? He runs down everything, goes from defense to offense faster than a point guard, can create ridiculous angles, and will punish anything soft or short. Nadal will probably get another chance in Paris, but he may now officially be the underdog. One thing is certain, though: gluten sucks. Djokovic eliminates it from his diet, runs a few more sprints, and transforms himself into a tireless, retrieving machine. He goes more than three hours with Murray, then returns to the court less than 24 hours later and thumps Nadal in two toe-to-toe sets. So much for his family’s pizza and pancakes business.

Federer throws coal on the fire

Richard Gasquet has plenty of game, but nobody had seen it in a while. So it was somewhat unexpected he had the goods to scalp Roger Federer in the round of 16. Particularly since Federer was up a set and a break against a man known for his synthetic guts. This, of course, fuels the growing speculation that Federer has become damaged goods. Maybe it’s time for him to ditch wheat bread.

Andy Murray throws his hat (and shaggy mane) into the ring

It took a while, but it appears Murray has gotten over his Australian hangover. He was serving for the match against Djokovic in the semis, but came up gag. Serving out a tight match is arguably the most difficult thing to do in tennis, and the setback didn’t stop Murray from claiming afterwards that he is one of the best closers on tour, and this was his first ever failed attempt (I call shenanigans). Double-faulting twice in that game certainly doesn’t support his argument, but going down in a third-set breaker to the hottest player on tour should give Murray some confidence going into Paris. Now if he could just find himself a decent conditioner.

Roddick goes one and done

It was hardly shocking that Roddick lost in straights to Gilles Simon; the Frenchman is a tough out on any day, but even more so on clay. It was certainly a much less surprising result for Roddick than the week before – a first round loss in Madrid to qualifier Flavio Cipolla. And it was nowhere near the upset he suffered to Pablo Cuevas on the hard courts of Miami. But what to make of these early exits? Not to put too fine a point on it, but Roddick is in a Jorge Posada slump right now. It’s too early yet, though, to conclude whether it’s symptomatic of a player entering his golden years or another temporary loss of his mojo. On the bright side…

Americans rule the middle-class

Here’s a strategy for Roland Garros: The Americans, realizing they’re not going anywhere in singles, go balls-out in the doubles bracket. Rome provided pretty compelling evidence for the experiment: John Isner and Sam Querrey won the title after Roddick – partnered with Mardy Fish – withdrew from the final citing a shoulder injury he wants to rest for Paris (maybe not the best use of your time). This came after Roddick-Fish won bragging rights in the quarters over top seeds, Davis Cup teammates, and doubles torchbearers, the Bryan bros. The upside? American singles players would potentially get a taste of Grand Slam glory. The downside? ESPN would force us to watch it.

Del Potro uncertain for Roland Garros

A thigh injury may shelve Delpo for the season’s second Slam. Wrist surgery sidelined JMDP for most of 2010, and a hip injury caused him to pullout of a highly anticipated match with Nadal last week in Madrid. Now his quad is on the fritz. It could all just be bad luck. Or, more ominously, what doctors refer to as: bad protoplasm. Given his lanky frame and elaborate, violent strokes, perhaps JMDP is not built to withstand the rigors of the sport. At 6-foot-4 (two inches shorter than JMDP), Marat Safin is the tallest player ever to be No. 1. And his body couldn’t handle the wear-and-tear. But Safin also thought his racquets were better-suited as kindling, so it’s debatable which factor was more debilitating.

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