December 15, 2014
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon celebrates a league that has helped the off-season go by just a little quicker in 2014.
A theme that I’ve been harping on in the past month is that the off-season is rather short. And that I’m thankful that this is the case, because just because there isn’t tennis played doesn’t mean that I don’t need to write every Monday.
Yet, the 2014 off-season is different. In 2014, there still is tennis played in November.
Yes, that is right. This November and December, you were watching television late one evening and you found yourself watching live tennis matches. It was the International Premier Tennis League, sure, but tennis is still tennis, right?
Well hold on before I answer you, answer me this. What is the International Premier Tennis League?
The IPTL had its inaugural season in 2014, from November to December 13, and the Indian Aces were crowned champions.
That technically does tell me what the league is, but can you be more specific with details? Also, who plays, and where?
Sure thing, buddy. The IPTL is the creative offspring of an executive team that includes former tennis greats like Carlos Moya and Mahesh Bhupathi. The aim of the league is to “fulfill the increasing demand for top-level tennis in Asia,” as per its website.
The IPTL has four teams in Asia, each of which has a stronger name than the other—the Indian Aces, the Manila Mavericks, the Singapore Slammers and the UAE Royals. Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur were also supposed to have a franchise, but oh well.
Sure, but I still don’t know who plays in the IPTL. I guess what I’m really asking is, should I care?
Yes, the answer to “who plays in the IPTL?” question is also the reason of why you should care. (It’s as if one person who set up this fake Q&A did so with the intent of having seamless transitions.)
The IPTL held a draft in March.
Wait, what? A draft?
Hold on, let me finish. The IPTL held a draft in March, yes, and the four franchises participating could choose players from a pool of—as best as I can tell—80 current and former WTA Tour and ATP World Tour players.
In 2014, the players drafted ranged from the icons of yesterday (i.e. Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi) to those of today (i.e. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer), from the solid players of yesterday (i.e. Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter) to those of today (i.e. Gael Monfils, Thomas Berdych). Each team also has two WTA players, and most are current greats (i.e. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka).
Okay, this sure seems like all fun and games but how do the games actually work? Is it just typical tennis, with the team format added to it?
Actually, no. The IPTL crowns a champion at the end of a round-robin tournament—the team with the most points at the end wins the title (and the $US 1 million prize money).
What??? A round-robin tournament?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Each team plays 12 matches total, and each match consists of five sets: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles and past champions’ singles. Win six games before your opponent, and you win the set. Each team must also keep a running tally of games won, because you may get points depending on how many games you won over five sets.
The IPTL has more subtle differences, like no-ad scoring, power points, timed shoot-outs, but that’s basically it. Win the match, and you get four points. Lose and get to 20 games? Two points. Lose and get to 10 games? One point. (Lose and get fewer than 10 games? You don’t deserve a point.)
Alright so maybe I should care, but should I be a fan?
That’s a trickier question to answer—I’m personally still on the fence. I watched the set that Djokovic and Federer played, and it was great because tennis is still tennis and tennis is great. But the stakes were nowhere near as high as what we’re used to, right? It’s not Wimbledon, but the thing is that it never pretends to be either. The IPTL is a show put on for the people—think a cross between the typical Davis Cup tie and the annual Player X showcase.
Any #hottakes out there?
Ah, yes! The year 2014 also happens to be the year of the contrarians and that of the provocateur. Of course there already is a #hottake out there.
The league is still young and will continue to evolve. I’m willing to give it a chance, which is something not everyone seems intent on doing. There’s this semi lukewarm #hottake already, complaining that the IPTL “is a circus, most likely mounted for TV, to hook couch-potatoes to the idiot box’s version of tennis.”
This author is right—the IPTL is a business, and tennis is its product. Just like it is at the US Open—how do you really think the tournament can foot almost a $30-million bill just for prize money?
The IPTL isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still tennis. It’s a sport. It’s a business, like it’s supposed to be.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
December 11, 2014
The off-season is short in tennis.
On the ATP World Tour, it lasts about seven weeks while it’s a little over two months on the WTA Tour. (Unless you count some of the more minor tournaments that happen after the tour finale in the latter’s case, but you shouldn’t.)
So yeah, two months is a short period of time. And yet for a writer with a weekly column on the sport, two months is a long, long time—just because they don’t play matches anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t have to write. During the season, I keep a list of a few potential topics that aren’t necessarily time-related and which I may write about at this time.
But sometimes, I just decide to revisit the 14 predictions that I made at the very beginning of the season and see where I was right (highly unlikely) and where I was wrong (mostly everywhere, I bet).
Keep in mind that these are supposed to be wonky by design.
1. Novak Djokovic wins the 2014 Australian Open: NAY
Well, I was off to a rocking start. While the loss in the quarterfinals was bad, the fact that it occurred against the eventual tournament winner, and the fact that Stanislas Wawrinka enjoyed a strong 2014 season, means that the logic was sound. Wrong prediction, but sound logic.
2. Novak Djokovic completes the career Grand Slam: NAY
Wrong again on this one, because winning Roland Garros might as well be Rafael Nadal’s birth right. Still, I don’t care—I’ll keep rolling with this prediction until it happens.
3. Serena Williams wins the Grand Slam: NAY
No. Instead, she had to win the US Open to salvage a dismal Grand Slam season, where she lost in the fourth round in Australia, in the second round in Paris and in the third round at Wimbledon.
4. Andy Murray is still Andy Murray: YAY
There it is—my crowning achievement of the 2014 prediction season. After spending, oh I don’t know, seemingly 87 years as the fourth wheel to the triumvirate of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Andy Murray was as peculiar as ever in 2014. It’s not right, or fair to him, that he’s always been grouped with the head trio, especially pre-Ivan Lendl and pre-Grand Slam titles, but because he has been he has always had a lot of pressure to live up to. Just the fact that he made it to London for the O2 Finals was a minor miracle for the man who was ranked as low as No. 12 as late as Sept. 15.
5. Roger Federer has his swan song: YAY
Roger Federer finished the 2014 season at No. 2 after having made Djokovic fight for the year-end No. 1 ranking with every might of his body. I choose to believe that in a way this was his swan song. I choose to believe that his disappointing 2013 season is as indicative of his level of play as his stellar finish in 2014. I choose to believe that the Swiss turned 33 in August and that at some point, this will mean something.
Mostly, I choose to celebrate while I still can.
6. Roger Federer doesn’t finish in the top 15: NAY
This may have been the prediction I was most wrong about. Let’s just move on.
7. Eugenie Bouchard is not a superstar yet: NAY
Or maybe it’s this one. She’s not a superstar, she’s just ranked No. 7 and has finished a 2014 season with a 19-4 record in Grand Slams, including two semifinals and a final. Right, she’s totally not a superstar.
8. Canadians don’t eat their cake at the 2014 Rogers Cup: NAY
The 2013 Rogers Cup in La belle province unfolded like a dream, with superstars Nadal and Djokovic in one semifinal and Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil in the other. All the reasons were there for a successful encore this season, notably that Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard were both now established stars in tennis and that they were playing in their hometown.
And yet, this meant that the stage was set for a massive disappointment. Raonic lost in the quarterfinals in Toronto, a miracle compared to Bouchard’s flameout in the first round in Montreal. In the end, the cake was there but Canadians couldn’t even blow out the candles before it was taken away.
9. Roger realizes the racquet makes a bigger difference than the coach: YAY
After playing for quite a long part of the 2013 season with a prototype Wilson racquet, Federer again switched things up in 2014. He let go of his classic Pro Staff frame for one that was better suited to his style. The 2014 results show that the move paid dividends. Federer also hired a new coach, but even the man doesn’t think the word “coach” is appropriate—who are we to disagree?
10. Victoria Azarenka’s don has his moment under the sun: NAY
I mostly wrote this one as more of a wish than an actual prediction… In the summer of 2013, we learned that Stefan “Redfoo” Gordy, he of LMFAO fame, had decided to see if he could party-rock all the way to Flushing Meadows. In another life, the pop star was apparently a fairly decent tennis player and he tried to qualify for the 2012 US Open. He failed miserably and in spectacular fashion. I thought that he might make it in 2014, but he didn’t. This makes me sad.
11. Sugarpova is a horrible name for a horrible candy: YAY
Unfortunately, I never managed to find Sugarpova candy anywhere—not that I really looked that hard, of course—but let’s look exactly at what this prediction entails… For me to have been proven right, all I would need would be the Sugarpova monicker. Whether the candy tastes horrible or not is irrelevant, because Sugarpova is still a terrible name.
12. Rafael Nadal plays injury-free tennis in 2014: NAY
The 2013 season may have been the very best of Rafael Nadal’s career, proving to all of us that sometimes if you hope to come back healthy, you just need to shut it down for six months prior to your return. And yet, at what price did that success come?
The Spaniard played in only three tournaments after his loss in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2014 before deciding to shut it down for good. This looks to be the new normal for him—he’ll put his everything into defending his French Open crown every year, and anything else has to be treated as a bonus. It sucks, because the ATP World Tour is better with a healthy Nadal.
13. … But he doesn’t finish the season ranked No. 1: YAY
I was right on this one, in part because I am such a homer, yes.
14. The reign of Djokovic continues: YAY
It wasn’t always easy, and he had to make us patiently wait until the very last tournament, but Novak Djokovic is still the best and top-ranked player on the ATP World Tour. Maybe he didn’t win multiple Grand Slam tournaments, but no one else did either. For the third time in four years, he finishes as the year-end No. 1. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is Djokovic’s world.
Add it all up and I went 6/14. This is not good.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
December 11, 2014
Was the 2014 season a fulfilling one for fans of the ATP World Tour? There were plenty of different results throughout the year, highlighted by four different Grand Slam winners. The Masters events featured a tad more in the consistency department with Novak Djokovic winning four times, Roger Federer taking home two titles, and Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga capturing one title each. The diverse winner’s column this year poses an interesting question: Is it good for the sport when there are so many different winners? We’ve been treated to domination by the Big 4 for so long that 2014 provided a little more uncertainty with regards to the contenders and pretenders for titles. If you ask me: the sport is at its best when there for 4-6 guys at the top battling for every single tournament. Rivalries are the key to the best storylines.
However, the fact remains that a bulk of the ranking points are based on the four Majors and nine Masters tournaments. Great success in these events will pretty much guarantee a top 10 finish at the end of year. While six of the current top 10 ranked male players in the world own a slam, the likes of Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori will be eager to build on career seasons during 2015.
Based on my Projected Top 10 Rankings for 2014, you’ll notice that I have a lot of work to do this time around. Federer roared back to the top of the rankings (after I had him finishing outside of the top 10) and powerhouses such as Juan Maritn del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz either sustained injury or lost interest. Nadal was sidelined for large portions of 2014 but still finished at No. 3. Can the Mallorcan regain the top spot in 2015? One has to think that there’s only so many times he can reappear and dazzle us all, while leaving the opposition in the dust.
Where will Andy Murray fit into the top 10 equation when 2015 is over? He still has top 10 talent but hasn’t had a big win in an awfully long time. Ditto goes for Tour workhorse David Ferrer. The compact Spaniard did finish at No. 10 this year but his days as a marquee player must be coming to an end. Finally, can flamboyant Australian Nick Kygrios maximize on his ability and inch closer to a top 10 spot?
Let’s now have a look at how 2015 could unfold.
Projected 2015 year-end top 10 ATP World Tour Rankings:
1. Novak Djokovic: Whether it’s a Djokovic year or not, Nole is right where he needs to be regarding his game and results. I’m feeling a 2011 type of season for him in 2015, but even if he doesn’t soar to those heights again, his game, fitness and mentality should be more than enough to end the year as the top player in the world. Regardless of finishing at the top spot for a fourth time in five years, I still don’t believe that Djokovic wins his first French Open.
2. Rafael Nadal: Pending on his health and how much more he can beat up his body, Rafa is still such an iconic figure that writing him off would be foolish. Turning 29 in May and being on Tour for 15 years, Nadal still has enough passion and power to be a force. Still my favorite to win his 10th title in Paris, Nadal could get on a roll and win two majors next year. This of course all depends on his health and if he can play 11 months without any absence. I would love to see that happen but history is definitely not on his side.
3. Roger Federer: Playing carefree tennis these and being healthy for the most part (see his withdrawal from the WTF Final), Federer still has the goods to play a few big matches during 2015. Blessed with effortless power and movement, Federer’s greatest challenge over the next 12 months will be to put seven matches together in a row throughout a fortnight. We all know that he wants at least one more slam before he retires, but will he get a better chance than he had at Wimbledon or at the US Open this year? It will certainly be tough to recreate those scenarios next year. Federer will always be relevant to the sport and fans alike but he’ll likely stay at 17 Majors until he retires.
4. Kei Nishikori: If fitness is his friend in 2015, Nishikori will reach a top four ranking. Currently ranked at No. 5, Kei is hitting his groundies about as well as anyone out there and as he continues to develop his serve (I’m hopeful) and improve on is volleys (hopeful again), he should have another stellar season. Michael Chang has done wonderful job with Nishikori in 2014 and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue throughout 2015.
5. Milos Raonic: With a shot-gun of a serve, there’s real no ceiling for this young Canadian. Carrying himself with maturity, Raonic is determined to win majors and be No. 1 in the world. I’m not sure about his ability to win a slam in 2015 or to gain the No. 1 ranking, but as my friend Rob Koenig has often said: “That serve is worth a million bucks a year, easy.” Based on that statement alone, Raonic will end 2015 in the top 10 and likely in the top five. For Milos to move up any higher, he’ll have to beef up his second serve points won (currently ranked No. 12) and of course return much better.
6. Stan Wawrinka: The Davis Cup hero will have everything to prove as the defending champion at the Australian Open. Even though Wawrinka played great in the DC final and during the WTF, something tells me that he starts slow in 2015 and loses a lot of points. Remember, he also won in Monte Carlo in a great match over Federer in early Spring. That said, Stan will show glimpses of being the man in 2015 and that could very well happen with a deep run at the French Open. I could also see Wawrinka playing well in New York to end the Slam (Stan’s) season.
7. Andy Murray: I’m not quite sure what to make of Murray these days. He looks likes he’s training hard in Miami, he’s made a lot of changes from by getting engaged, downsizing his coaching staff and picking up a new apparel sponsor, but something tells me that Ivan Lendl knew way more about Murray’s future than we did. Leading the Brit to two Majors and an Olympic Gold medal, Murray was a shell of himself in 2014 and that will likely continue next year. Andy’s had a heck of a good career but winning another slam will be a tall task for him.
8. Tomas Berdych: Dropping to a ranking position that has many interchanging names throughout the year, Berdych will likely continue in the mold that he’s shown in the past two years. Not winning anything of significance for quite sometime, the tall Czech should continue to make between 8-10 quarter and semifinals next year. One can only think what Tomas could’ve accomplished in his career with a better mentality toward the sport.
9. Grigor Dimitrov: A model for the game in more ways than one, Dimitrov still doesn’t have that signature victory to make him a threat for a higher ranking. Great at social media and making the highlight reel, Grigor will have to acquire an overall commitment to the game on a day-to-day basis that has allowed Djokovic, Federer and Nadal to achieve what they have to date. Still, Dimitrov’s a great guy to watch and a player that has tremendous star power.
10. Marin Cilic: Turning heads like crazy by winning the US Open in September, Cilic will have enough points to sustain a top 10 ranking until New York. That buffer will allow him to play his way into the season and feel more comfortable when he’s a marked man in NYC. I like Marin as a person and as a player, but I’m not sure if he has the killer instinct to beat the likes of Djokovic or Nadal when it matters the most. That lack of a killer instinct will likely have him heading close to or out of the top 10 in the next 12 months.
Notable players to watch for in 2015:
Nick Kygrios: If he doesn’t get burnt out then watch out for this youngster. He has everything necessary to be a top 10 player and time is still on his side. Will the flamboyant Australian flourish Down Under and make a quick strike for a top 10 position? I was reluctant to place him at No. 9 or No. 10 simply because he’s currently ranked No. 52. However, if he comes out blazing in Oz then he could definitely end 2015 as a top 10 player.
David Goffin: A silky smooth game has Goffin as a player to watch for in 2015. Currently ranked No. 22, David has an effortless array of weapons that can trouble the best in the world. If he can stay with the top players mentally then he can certainly be one as well.
Gael Monfils: The best athlete that tennis has ever seen can afford to come and go as he pleases. Monfils has been playing some good ball as of late and I do suspect that he’s realized that turning 30 is not too far away. Still, this is Gael Monfils that we’re talking about and he could very well attempt a forward facing tweener on championship point of a Masters or Slam event. We would love him either way for it.
Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Tell me your projected top 10 year-end rankings for 2015 below. You can also follow me on Twitter @TennisConnected.
December 1, 2014
You’ll say that I’m a homer making a homer pick, but it can’t be a homer pick if it’s the right pick.
Novak Djokovic is the player of the year this season. The ATP World Tour does this thing where it names the year-end No. 1 player its player of the year, and I guess there is some truth to this but it’s not an exact science. They know what they are doing—surely, if the award were dependent on anything but who finished the year as No. 1, there could and would debates about it. That’s where all the fun lies, though you can’t fault the ATP for avoiding it.
But if there were a Player of the Year award, I say that Djokovic would deserve to win it. Now, I know that deserve has nothing to do with it and that just because you deserve to win something does not mean that you will. But let’s examine Djokovic’s candidacy for the 2014 season.
Right off the bat, let’s explain that for all his excellence on the courts, he may have shined most in his every day life. He started a family, getting married to longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic in July and welcoming a son in October. Tennis is great, but real life is better. But this is a tennis award, so I must look at tennis reasons for giving it to him.
Let’s look at match wins then. He has 61 for the year, more than anyone else but Roger Federer (i.e. 73) in the Top 10. And yet, he is the only player with fewer than 10 losses—he has eight. He’s won 88 per cent of his matches, which is a large reason why the Serb finishes the year ranked No. 1 once more. Second best, here, is Federer with almost 86 per cent of his matches won.
Let’s look at the tournament wins as well. He has “only” one Grand Slam, Wimbledon, but that’s because four different men won the four major tournaments in 2014. He did make two finals though, losing against Nadal in Paris because life, and that’s more than anyone else can say. No one can point out his lack of overall tournament wins either, because his haul of seven is more than his counterparts. Not all tournaments are created equal, either, and that’s another advantage Djokovic has—he won one Masters 500, four Masters 1000’s, one Grand Slam and the ATP World Tour Finals.
The 27-year-old has the quantity and quality of tournament wins, but still there’s more. You can look at his current 19-match unbeaten streak, or his 24-6 record against fellow top 10 players in 2014. What’s that mantra? To be the best, you have to beat the best? Djokovic did just that this season, at an 80 per cent clip. (Federer, by comparison, won 68 per cent of his matches against the Top 10.)
These are all great reasons, but that’s not why I’m choosing him as the player of the year. For a while after the US Open, it seemed like his year-end No. 1 ranking might be in danger. Because he had won so often after the US Open in 2013, there was a worry as to whether Djokovic would be able to hold on to the distinction this season. Would he have even enough points, mathematically?
Well, that’s when Djokovic doubled down and, basically, said “Only over my dead body will you have this.” He then proceeded to kill everyone in sight, figuratively of course, winning Paris and London while dropping only a single set in the Paris semifinal against Kei Nishikori. We thought we would have a suspenseful end to the season and for the most part, we did. Until Djokovic said there was no way he would lose. And he didn’t.
It’s 2014 and Djokovic is the ATP’s Player of the Year Award for the third time in four seasons. We all are living in Djokovic’s world, and I love it—because I’m a homer, yes.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 26, 2014
When Roger Federer stepped onto the court on the opening day of last weekend’s Davis Cup final, he did something that he does very rarely, something almost completely foreign to one of the winningest players in the history of the sport. The Swiss superstar, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, winner of 82 tournaments and holder of a commanding 8-2 head-to-head against his opponent on day 1 of the Davis Cup final, Gael Monfils, actually expected to lose.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t gather 82 tournament wins without a fierce competitive streak and a ruthless desire to win. But, after a back injury forced Federer out of an eagerly anticipated contest against Novak Djokovic in the ATP World Finals, the world number 2 was forced to rest and rehabilitate, and was only able to get in a limited amount of practice on the clay-courts in Lille in the lead-up to the Davis Cup final.
After countryman Stan Wawrinka took down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening rubber of the final, Federer had a golden opportunity to give his country a commanding 2-0 lead in the tie. However, Federer knew his limitations going into the match against Monfils. As the old sporting adage goes, one learns more in defeat than in victory, and so it was with Federer last Friday. The enigmatic, flamboyant Monfils is a handful at the best of times, as Federer knew only too well going into the match, having been forced to save a pair of match points to defeat Monfils in New York in September.
For Federer, the match with Monfils was instructive in a number of ways. It gave him an opportunity to get accustomed to the courts in the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, and this was critical in a couple of respects. First, the Swiss star had not played a tournament on clay since May, having focused on the North American and Asian hard-court swings and the European indoor circuit in recent months. Second, with the Stade Pierre Mauroy (the home of French Ligue 1 football club Lille) being diplomatically described as a “multi-use stadium” and more accurately described as a “very makeshift tennis venue”, it was essential that Federer inform himself about the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the main court in a match situation, and get a sense of just how vocal (and patriotic) the French crowd would be during the course of the final. Moreover, the Monfils match allowed Federer to assess the state of his back in a live match scenario. It’s one thing to practice following an injury, but there is simply no substitute for a match in order to determine whether an injury has fully healed.
And so the match went, with Monfils collecting a routine straight sets victory over Federer (arguably Federer’s worst loss ever in Davis Cup competition) and Federer looking a shadow of his usual self. For someone whose career has been based around effortless court movement and exquisite timing, Federer frequently looked rushed, out of position and downright rusty. But Federer had his eyes on a bigger prize. He knew that 1-1 was a reasonable result for the Swiss at the end of the first day’s play, and that Saturday’s doubles contest would be, as is so often the case in Davis Cup, the pivotal rubber in the tie.
Having learned plenty about his back, the court and the crowd in the Monfils match, it was a far more energized and dynamic Federer at work in the doubles encounter. A gold medalist in doubles with Wawrinka at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Federer again showcased his formidable doubles skills, with a number of stunning stretch volleys indicating that his back was most definitely on the mend. A straight sets win for Federer and Wawrinka gave the Swiss a vital 2-1 lead over the French going into Sunday’s reverse singles and, when Tsonga was forced out of the fourth rubber due to an arm injury, Richard Gasquet was given the task of toppling Federer and keeping France in the contest.
Gasquet, having beaten Federer in just 2 of their previous 14 encounters, was required to produce something special to beat the world number 2, but by this stage Federer was in full flight, having grown comfortable with the main court over the previous couple of days and having boosted his confidence with the win in the doubles. Spurred on by the parochial crowd, Gasquet battled valiantly, but in the end could conjure up just 8 games for the match as Federer, for so long the sole face of men’s tennis in Switzerland, finally handed his nation its first ever Davis Cup trophy after 15 years of involvement with the competition.
As the superstar collapsed to the ground and had tears welling in his eyes, it was obvious how much Switzerland’s win meant to Federer. As he later remarked, “This one is for the boys…This is not for me, I have won enough. I am just happy we can give everyone in our country a historic moment”. Whilst that statement is definitely true, it’s clear that it was only by being willing to lose on Friday that Federer was able to assist in delivering the Davis Cup trophy to Switzerland and to add another impressive achievement to his impeccable career record. And for that, no doubt all tennis fans in Switzerland are eternally grateful.
That’s it for this month. Enjoy your tennis and I’ll be back with another serve next month. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
November 24, 2014
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon revisits the one narrative everyone swept under the rug a week ago in London.
Roger Federer insists that he and Stanislas Wawrinka “are friends, not enemies.”
You read this and say, “Gee, of course they are. Why does Fed feel like he must insist and has to clarify to us that they are friends. They’re both from Switzerland and about the same age, so why wouldn’t they be?”
If you say that, it’s because, yes, you don’t know the reason why they maybe wouldn’t be friends right now. (I think that double negative was used correctly.) In London at the O2 Arena for the Barclays ATP World Tour semifinals, the scandal-less one Federer came as close as he ever has to find himself in the thick of a full-pledged “he said, she said, I said” war. With the score at 5-5, and at deuce on Wawrinka’s serve after he had squandered, count ‘em, five match points, the 29-year-old motioned toward Federer’s box and asked that they keep quiet between serves.
That didn’t sit too well with Mirka, whom you might know as Federer’s wife, and she answered in kind to the other Swiss, using the dreaded “crybaby” insult. (I suppose the insults that sting the most are the ones you used to hear in the schoolyard in 1st grade.)
Again, let’s reiterate that Federer has yet to do anything at this point. His image of the perfect tennis player, and the perfect gentleman, shouldn’t be shot to pieces just because someone relatively directly related to him actually showed a lack of class, right? Well actually yes, but no one would ever dare blame Federer because no one ever does.
It’s not fair to say that this is Federer’s fault because, though Mirka is a large part of his life (“awwww”), she isn’t him. It’s also not fair to expect Federer to not reply to Wawrinka after the match (and his win). He does confront him about it, as he should have done. Likewise, it’s not fair to Wawrinka to have to battle not only the man who is perhaps the best player ever, but also his wife. For his entire career, Wawrinka has been known as “The Other Swiss guy” but in 2014 he’s as much a part of the tennis firmament as his countryman. He had a right to be angry, pissed, whatever.
Just like now he has a right to make “bunny ears” behind Federer.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) 17 Novembre 2014
As you can see, they have since made up, just in time for the start of the Davis Cup final. (I could talk about that, but I’ll save it for my kicker—it’s a little thing called strategy.)
Mirka Federer insulting and disturbing Wawrinka during a match reminds me of something else. Just because these are professionals, and just because the cameras are on them at all times, and just because they’ve been playing this game their entire lives, it doesn’t mean that they don’t still love the sport so much.
And Mirka is just like the average “hockey dad” or “soccer mom.” She cares that her loved one wins and, because she can’t possibly hit the balls for him (it wouldn’t really help anyway, though she remains an accomplished player in her own right) she helps in any way that she can. And that includes doing something very dumb and stupid like heckling Federer’s opponent.
As for Federer and Wawrinka, well, winning cures all ills, anyway.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 23, 2014
World Group – Final
FRANCE 1, SWITZERLAND 3
Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France (Indoor, Clay)
S. Wawrinka (SUI) d. J. Tsonga (FRA) 61 36 63 62
G. Monfils (FRA) d. R. Federer (SUI) 61 64 63
R. Federer (SUI) / S. Wawrinka (SUI) d. J. Benneteau / R. Gasquet (FRA) 63 75 64
R. Federer (SUI) d. R. Gasquet (FRA) 64 62 62
November 20, 2014
In the end, it didn’t even matter.
As a sports fan, you always hope that the matches and games will remain meaningful until the very last one, and that’s the beauty with tennis—the matches are basically always meaningful, because they basically always are a one-off affair. Win or lose, you move on to the next day (or the next tournament). That’s almost always the case. Players don’t win, say, the US Open by the eighth day of the event, right?
There are no playoffs in tennis, but there is the year-end No. 1 ranking that depends on the year at hand. In the end in 2014, Novak Djokovic was just good enough to secure this ranking a little bit before the last match, not having to sweat it out until the very last possible moment. Djokovic, actually, didn’t sweat at all in the final, but more on that in a minute.
The task was straightforward for the Serb in London for the 2014 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals—win your three matches in the round robin and finish the year at No. 1. Regardless of anything else, of how many beatdowns Roger Federer handed out in Group B and of what happened beyond the group stage. Win three matches in the round robin and finish first.
So what did Djokovic do? He won the entire tournament and didn’t really sweat in the final because Federer pulled out.
Every year, this event lets the eight best players in the world duke it out, but the 2014 edition felt different. It felt like the tournament between the two best players and the other six, and it’s exactly what we got. Djokovic and Federer were as efficient as they possibly could have been in reaching the semifinal—they were playing some of the best players on Tour, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t lose a set before moving through to the final in a pair of tough (especially for Federer’s) semifinal wins.
Of course, the odds were tilted in the World No. 1’s favour at the onset of the tournament. Federer could win all his matches, but he also needed help from others to beat Djokovic…and he never received that help. Djokovic just needed to win, and that’s what he did.
Knowing what we know today, namely that Federer still has the Davis Cup final to play, can we say for sure that he would have still pulled out of the final at the O2 Arena if it had been against, say, Kei Nishikori? If he had a chance to finish at No. 1, would Federer have still pulled out? Probably not, but then again I do not doubt the severity of whatever ailment he may or may not have had on Nov. 16 for the final.
But I understand that he may not have wanted to push his body further and play a match where he had nothing to gain, especially that the Davis Cup Final follows. And that’s definitely a meaningful event, that title being one of the last ones he still hasn’t conquered.
I’ll get back to my choice for player of the year, or what it all means for 2015 and moving forward but later because, hey, it’s the offseason and I still have another six columns to write before the calendar moves to a new season.
For now, Djokovic ends the year at No. 1. For the tennis fan that I am, that’s all that matters.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 19, 2014
In my latest article for Tennis Canada, I discuss the Crazy Eight in London at the O2 Arena.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
” The absence of Rafa Nadal in London ultimately means that the player finishing in ninth position this year would get into the draw. Never one to shy away from his aspirations as being the best ranked player in the world, Milos Raonic will make his first trip to the O2 Arena this year, via a strong finish at the Paris Masters. Defeating Federer for the first-time in a master-class serving performance, Raonic will be eager to ride his monster delivery and great inside-out forehand as deep into the tourney as possible. Following Eugenie Bouchard into the final event of the season on his respective Tour, 2014 has been a great year for Canadian tennis.”
The full article can be read here.
November 16, 2014
Welcome back to another season of the TennisConnected Podcast.
On this week’s show, Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back review the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals and review the Paris Masters from France.
We discuss the final event of the year and look back at the tremendous level of play from Novak Djokovic and the last minute withdrawal of Roger Federer. We also discuss the lack of competition from the rest of the field at the O2 Arena and what lies ahead for 2015.
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.