Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard’s unselfish decision at the Fed Cup

April 20, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the Fed Cup weekend in Montreal.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that at least the two losses will not count on her year-to-date official record. Eugenie Bouchard lost two Fed Cup matches, but I guess that they don’t count.

Canada lost its tie in the World Group Playoffs over the weekend against Romania by the score of 3-1, a result that relegates the country in the World Group II of the Fed Cup for the 2016 season; the team’s first stint in the main group since 1994 lasted all of a few months.

A look at the team’s roster for the tie says that captain Sylvain Bruneau settled on very much the same lineup as the one he had selected for the previous tie against Czech Republic (i.e. Sharon Fichman, Gabriela Dabrowski and Françoise Abanda), save for one exception.

Yep, hometown favourite Eugenie Bouchard was among those donning the Canadian colours, something she had decided not to do in Quebec City against Czech Republic earlier in 2015. Had she been available then, Bruneau would have of course picked Bouchard but the player had decided to forego the opportunity. As a result, she was criticized in many places, notably in this very column (i.e. my wish is that my readers bring the same passion that they criticize with when they praise someone; they were rough in that column).

But this week, let’s praise her. Let’s praise her for understanding that while the Fed Cup isn’t the biggest competition of the WTA Tour season, she knows that she shouldn’t turn down too many matches when her confidence appears shaken, no matter where these matches happen. She has withdrawn from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix this week, sure, but that’s likely due to the fact that she wanted to compete in this Fed Cup tie.

Yes, this weekend back in her hometown only added to Bouchard’s misery, but at least she can hold her head high knowing that she competed and represented her country. It’s not a match won, but maybe it’s something?

Then again, maybe not. In the two matches that she played at Maurice-Richard Arena—yep, a Fed Cup tie played in an arena, only in Canada—Bouchard looked distraught and like she would have preferred to do ANYTHING but play tennis.

This malaise isn’t new for the Canadian. For the past few months, starting with the inaugural Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open last September and then following this season with her coaching saga, Bouchard has made headlines mostly for the wrong reasons. This weekend also, maybe you want to overlook the two matches she lost against lower-ranked players, in which case you’re still left with a bad headline.

A bad headline and a non-handshake. When she was the young upstart, a stunt like not shaking an opponent’s hand at a press conference was adorable and tolerated because winning cures all ills.

But now? Bouchard has lost three Tour matches in a row (plus those Fed Cup matches) and has only a 15-15 record since losing the 2014 Wimbledon final. So when she decides to not shake her hand this time, it’s not quite as funny. What is funny, rather, is when the opponent that she shunned at the press conference beats her and then mocks her non-handshake gesture with her coach. Because, yep, winning cures all.

And yet, are we making too much out of this? Sure, her confidence appears incredibly shaken. But she did make the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and that’s what Bouchard’s fans (and optimists) will point to.

But if she continues playing this way, surely she will not equal that result at Roland Garros.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Reviewing Djokovic’s Monte Carlo Glory

April 19, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to review the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters in their latest Podcast.

With the clay-court season in full swing, we discuss the continued dominance of Novak Djokovic and the confidence building week for Rafael Nadal. While Roger Federer was ousted from the event early, Gael Monfils showed all class during the week in front of a supportive crowd. We also discuss Nadal’s new racket, John Isner’s game on clay and finally our outlook for the remainder of the clay season.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Djokovic continues impressive form by winning Monte Carlo Masters

April 19, 2015

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic continued his strong form on Tour on Sunday at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, defeating Tomas Berdych 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Capturing his third straight Masters 1000 title in 2015, Djokovic has now won the last six major events on Tour, dating back to the Paris Indoor event in France.

The Serb, who lost the second set to Berdych after a rain delay, broke the Czech in the opening game of the third set and never looked back. Winning his 52nd career title, Djokovic will now take a much-needed break before returning to action at the Madrid Masters in Spain.

Berdych, who was looking to win his first title of the season, fell to 27-7 on the year.

I-Formation April 2015 – Will The Red Dirt Herald Rafa’s Return?

April 15, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

The start of the second quarter of the calendar year sees the members of the ATP Tour transition from hard-courts to clay-courts. For the majority of the big guns (Andy Murray being understandably excused on account of wedding duties) that means reacquainting themselves with the nuances and vagaries of competing on the red dirt in the picturesque setting of Monte Carlo.

The Monte Carlo Masters is the first major clay-court tournament of the year, and one of the most prestigious. For the vast majority of the past decade, it is a tournament that has been consistently and comprehensively the property of one man, Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal. From 2005-2012, the world number 5 claimed an astonishing 8 titles in the principality, before current world number one Novak Djokovic ended Nadal’s historic run in the 2013 final.

Nadal’s dominance means that Monte Carlo remains one of the few Masters titles that Roger Federer has yet to win in his illustrious career, the Swiss legend coming up agonisingly short against compatriot Stan Wawrinka in last year’s final. Last year also saw Nadal record his earliest exit in Monte Carlo since 2003, the 14-time Grand Slam champion going down to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-finals. Last year’s surprise loss to Ferrer in the principality can be considered, in hindsight, as somewhat of an aberration, as Nadal shrugged off the loss (and a somewhat inconsistent clay-court season overall) by defeating Djokovic in 4 sets to claim a record ninth French Open title.

This year, however, feels different. 2014 saw Nadal make the final of the Australian Open and the Miami Masters, and collect trophies in Doha and Rio, before making his way to Monte Carlo. This year, his only title to date has been his victory in Buenos Aires (in what was, to be frank, a fairly weak field) and he has struggled against players he used to defeat consistently, losing to the likes of Berdych, Raonic and the journeyman Berrer already in 2015.

Given his ultra-aggressive and combative approach to the sport, and the resultant physical problems Nadal has faced over the years, any signs of poor form on the Spaniard’s part are almost always associated with speculation as to possible injuries or ailments. Whilst Nadal’s 2014 campaign was cut short as a result of wrist problems and appendix surgery, this time around it seems that the Spaniard’s problems are more mental than physical. Nadal has made successful comebacks from injuries before, but in this case it seems that the lay-off in the latter part of 2014 has had a flow-on effect: draining him of his confidence on court.

After losing to countryman Fernando Verdasco in Miami last month, Nadal spoke of enduring nerves on court and struggling to keep his emotions in check across the inevitable ebbs and flows of a match. It certainly shows in his game, with the Spaniard lacking aggression off the backhand wing (in particular, showing a reticence to go for the down-the-line backhands that have been crucial in his most recent wins over Djokovic) and generally being content to be moved far behind the baseline. At his best, Nadal’s backhand is a fearsome weapon (albeit not quite on a par with his peerless forehand) and, when full of confidence, the Spaniard simply refuses to be pushed around the court.

For Nadal fans, there is no reason for extreme alarm: the Spaniard is already the greatest clay-courter the sport has ever seen, and it would be foolish to write him off at this stage. If Nadal is able to get some wins under his belt early in this year’s clay-court season, I have no doubt that his confidence will earn a quick and significant boost, and his assuredness and movement abilities on clay (vis-à-vis many of the other top players) will give him an edge in many contests which could well prove decisive. That said, the threats to Nadal’s red dirt reign are myriad: Federer desperately wants to win the title in Monte Carlo, Djokovic is in peak form and longs for a title at Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam and cement his spot among the greats, and the old warhorse David Ferrer is enjoying a tremendous start to the season, having already claimed 3 titles.

I predict that Nadal will enjoy a relatively successful clay-court season (as judged against objective standards and not against Nadal’s past heroics), going deep in all of the tournaments and possibly collecting one or more titles. However, at this stage I can’t see him being able to stop Djokovic, either in Monte Carlo this week or at Roland Garros, if the pair should meet there in June. Whilst this prediction might represent cause for concern amongst hard-core Nadal fans, for the rest of the tennis viewing public it is most likely a welcome and exciting change: for the first time in a decade, the race to be crowned the King of Clay is legitimately up for grabs.

That’s it for this month. Enjoy the beginnings of the clay-court season in Monte Carlo, and I’ll be back with another serve next month. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters draw preview and analysis

April 13, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Welcome to the clay court season, a part of the calendar where a whole lot happens in a matter of just a few weeks.

For us North American folks, the moment that we start seeing the red clay also usually coincides with the return of our green grass, with snow finally relegated to our nightmares and unfortunate situations.

This season has traditionally been the rock upon which Rafael Nadal has built his impressive empire, as he’s made it a habit of winning just about every clay court tournament, but there have been little chinks in his armor in years past.

Never has this been more obvious than in this 2015 season, as King Rafa’s confidence is at rock bottom. Will a return to his old kingdom cure all ills, or will the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters crown a different champion for the third season in a row?

Main draw

Yes. Yes, I believe so, that the 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters will crown a non-Nadal champion for the third year in a row. It’s all yours, Mr. Novak Djokovic. With the way that the Serb is currently playing, his draw seems entirely inconsequential so why not throw up a prayer and predict that Mikhail Youzhny might join him in the quarterfinals? It will not matter anyway.

Unthinkably, Nadal is seeded No. 3 in his old kingdom and his quest for his first title of the season will be difficult. In succession, he is slated to face Dominic Thiem, John Isner and, yep, his old pal David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, because making the quarterfinals is what Ferrer (almost) always does.

The main draw was kind to Tomas Berdych and Canadian Milos Raonic. Both have a potential match with a Spaniard (i.e. Roberto Bautista Agut for the former and Tommy Robredo for the latter) standing in the way of their place in the quarterfinals. I don’t foresee many problems; if they need a three-set win to make it, then so be it.

If you had asked me before the tournament to name the defending champion, I don’t believe I would have guessed Stanislas Wawrinka: this shows how much he’s relatively disappointed since winning the 2014 Australian Open. Or maybe it’s not right to say that he has disappointed? Maybe we just thought that the man would take the ATP World Tour by storm after Melbourne and then Monte-Carlo, but that was never in the works. Wawrinka is yet again a member of the Top 10; that’s what he’s mostly been during his career. Despite the few bigger wins to his name, nothing’s really changed.

But anyway, the final section of the draw has a few potential titanic matches, notably Fernando Verdasco and Grigor Dimitrov in the first round. Fabio Fognini, Jerzy Janowicz and Alexandr Dolgopolov also all could have success against the right opponents… except that Wawrinka and Roger Federer aren’t the right opponents. I see the two Swiss emerging unscathed from this section.

*****

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Mikhail Youzhny; Rafael Nadal over David Ferrer; Milos Raonic over Tomas Berdych; Stanislas Wawrinka over Roger Federer

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal; Stanislas Wawrinka over Milos Raonic

Final: Novak Djokovic over Stanislas Wawrinka

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Previewing the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters

April 12, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to preview the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters in their latest Podcast.

With the hard-court action completed until the summer, the ATP World Tour turns its focus to the red clay in Europe. In search of the only Grand Slam that has eluded him, Novak Djokovic begins his clay court journey in Monte Carlo alongside the best in world. Will Stan Wawrinka repeat as defending champ? Does Rafa Nadal have the confidence to rebound on the clay? Will Roger Federer use his recent break from the sport to capture one of the few titles in the sport that he has never won? We look at these questions and many more in this week’s show.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Sock wins first career title in Houston; Klizan captures Casablanca crown

April 12, 2015

Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, Houston, U.S.A.

American youngster Jack Sock captured his first career title in Houston, Texas on Sunday, defeating Sam Querrey 7-6(9), 7-6(2). Using his forehand and serve to great effect, Sock hit five aces, won 77 percent of his first serve points and broke serve on two occasions. Never facing Querrey on the Tour level, Sock will jump up to No. 36 in the world when the latest rankings are released on Monday.

*****
Grand Prix Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco

Martin Klizan claimed his third career title in Casablanca, Morocco on Sunday, sweeping past Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-2, 6-2. Needing one hour and 16 minutes to seal his victory, Klizan was dominant on his serve, while never losing his own delivery. Improving to 14-8 on the year, Klizan will next see action at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters beginning on Tuesday.

Tennis Elbow: The season of Novak Djokovic

April 6, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau.

They’re born a week apart, but that’s just about all they have in common these days.

The younger Novak Djokovic beat the older Andy Murray to take home the title at the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau. The 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 win is the Serb’s seventh over the Brit, with already three coming in 2015 after the Australian Open final and the BNP Paribas Open semifinal. Djokovic has an 18-8 head-to-head record against Murray and, most importantly, has already three important titles in this young 2015 season.

He’s playing as well as he can and he knows it too. After his win, Djokovic said that, “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and also utilize this time of my career where I’m probably playing the tennis of my life.”

This “tennis of my life” is probably between his current level in 2015 and when he excelled during the 2011 season, but I suppose that he would know best—at worst, this is the recency effect and who can blame him? Any which way you see it, Djokovic is playing excellent tennis right now, but just how excellent has he been?

There have been three tournaments of note thus far this season in the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open, and the Serb has been crowned champion at each. He’s laboured a little bit each time, notably against Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne, or Roger Federer at Indian Wells, or Alexandr Dolgopolov earlier in Miami, but Djokovic has won each time.

Just how much has he excelled? The Serb has become the first man in history to pull off the Indian Wells/Miami combo in three different seasons. This week will be the Djoker’s 141st week on top the Emirates ATP Rankings, tying him with Rafael Nadal for the sixth-most in history. And with over 4,000 points more than Federer, the year-end No. 1 ranking could be his for the fourth time in the past five years.

“I’m feeling confident and physically fit,” Djokovic said after the final in Miami. “I am aware that this cannot go forever.”

Maybe not, but there’s no doubt that he’ll take it for now.

And wait, there is more. This win in Miami gives Djokovic a 22nd Masters 1000 title, one short of Federer and five away from Nadal.

We’ve often harped here, in part because we are such big Djokovic fans we know, that the man will go down in history as underappreciated because he will be remembered as the third banana to Federer and Nadal. But it seems increasingly likely that the Serb will both 1) reach 10 Grand Slam titles for his career and 2) complete the career Grand Slam. With a little luck, Djokovic could capture another three majors and move into a tie with Rod Laver and Björn Borg for fifth in history.

Should he reach those lofty heights, then suddenly he’s much better than just the best returner in history. Consider that 43 of Djokovic’s 142 career losses have come against Nadal and Federer, possibly the two greatest champions of the sport. We’ll remember him as one of the 10 best in history, but maybe it should be more considering that he’ll have played his entire career with the Fed and Rafa.

But of course, Djokovic will not win those tournaments all at once, or today. For now, this fifth Miami Open title suffices.

Murray, meanwhile, makes a return at No. 3 this week. Seven days older than Djokovic, he still lags behind on the tennis courts however. In fact, he continues his work as the de facto rich man’s David Ferrer, winning often and beating just about everyone but the top, top three players. There is no shame in that.

Murray was seven total points away from Djokovic on Sunday in Miami and his arrow is pointing upward, like Djokovic’s I guess, but that’s about where the comparisons end.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Reviewing Djokovic and Serena’s dominance in Miami

April 5, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to review the Miami Open in Florida in their latest Podcast.

It was another successful year for Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams in Key Biscayne. Both top seeds played the field and pushed their way to record wins. For Djokovic, it was his fifth title in Florida, while Serena blitzed to her eighth title. We discuss the competitiveness on the tennis scene and what the clay season could have in store for fans and pundits.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Djokovic continues Tour dominance by winning Miami Open over Murray

April 5, 2015

Miami Open presented by Itaú, Miami, U.S.A.

Top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic continued his brilliant play on Tour in Key Biscayne, Florida on Sunday, defeating Andy Murray 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 to capture the Miami Open title. After a first set which lasted 67 minutes, Murray stayed the course to claim the second set and push a decider. With the title hanging in the balance, Djokovic turned his game up a notch to bagel the Brit and take his seventh straight win over the Brit.

Completing his third career Indian Wells and Miami double, Djokovic remains the undisputed world No. 1 player. Murray, who has not defeated Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal since 2013, will return to World No. 3 on Monday.

Djokovic is next slated to compete at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, while Murray will take a break from the Tour to marry longtime girl Kim Sears and then participate at the Madrid Masters in Spain.

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