Tennis Elbow: The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a Masters 1000 event?

March 2, 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 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

In 2015, Dubai has a familiar king, with Roger Federer dominating Novak Djokovic 6-3 and 7-5 in the final to capture a seventh career crown at the United Arabs Emirate.

But, it’s about the loser of this final that I would rather write this week, as Djokovic had lofty praise for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships earlier in February. “I don’t know a single player who has played here and has a negative feeling about the tournament,” Djokovic said, according to The National. “It definitely deserves to have a 1000 event, in my opinion.”

The “it” in that last quote stands for Dubai, and should this promotion happen the city would have an event in the same Masters 1000 category that includes the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. If this happened, the event almost certainly would have to be moved, as it would be unprecedented to have three tournaments of such magnitude so close to one another. Spread the wealth, so to speak.

Should the ATP World Tour reconsider Dubai’s event classification? Well for one thing, the tournament certainly attracts the bigger and the better players on Tour. It’s well respected among them and if you don’t believe Djokovic, then consider the fact it has been voted the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the year award every year (except 2007) since 2003.

There’s one sign that the tournament may be much bigger—some may even say “major”—than what it currently is. Federer’s win in 2015 means that the champion has been him, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in 13 of the previous 14 years. We’re used to this trend at the Grand Slams, or the Masters 1000s, but not for tournaments in Dubai’s class.

But of course, this is mostly coincidental and not quite a supportive reason for the event’s promotion.

What is, however, a reason is the following. The event is undoubtedly popular, with more than 115,000 spectators in 2014 (i.e. as a point of comparison, 148,341 attended the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto). The Duty Free Championships doubles as a WTA Tour tournament, which means that an awful lot unfolds over the course of a mere few days and for what remains just a Masters 500 event.

Yet, there’s another side to this same token. Of the 13 Masters 500 events on the ATP calendar, Dubai’s financial commitment of $2,5 million is fairly average.

But the players love the event—or rather, the most important players love it and that’s the most important thing. Should Dubai be promoted? If only because more and more players may share Djokovic’s opinion and say as much in the future, and smart money would be on the players getting what they want.

Money rules the world, and the tennis world appears intent on conquering the Middle East. The creation of the International Premier Tennis League says as much, and so would the promotion of the Dubai masters to the 1000 category.

From an outsider’s perspective, the UAE certainly seem to be the kind to get what they want. Burj Khalifa. Palm Jumeirah. The Dubai Foutain and the Dubai Mall. As we’ve learned recently with Madrid’s ill foray into blue tennis courts, money can buy you just about whatever you want.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Nadal wins Argentina Open in easy fashion over Monaco

March 1, 2015

Argentina Open presentado por Buenos Aires Ciudad, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Top seed Rafael Nadal took home his 46th career clay-court title and his 65th overall on Sunday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, defeating hometown favorite Juan Monaco 6-4, 6-1. Winning 79 percent of his first serve points, Nadal broke serve on four occasions and improved to 6-1 against Monaco in lifetime meetings. Not winning a title since Roland Garros last year, Nadal will move back to No. 3 in the world when the latest rankings are released. Monaco, who was looking to win his ninth career title, fell to 6-6 on the season.

The Dubai Daily: Federer captures seventh career Dubai title over Djokovic

February 28, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

For the seventh time in his career, Roger Federer is the men’s singles champion at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the world number 2 upsetting top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets in 84 minutes to capture the title in front of a capacity Centre Court crowd at the Aviation Club.

In conditions featuring a slight breeze but which were otherwise perfect for tennis, both players performed at a high standard from the outset. Serving first, Federer was the first of the pair to get himself into trouble, forced to serve his way out of jail in the third game to stay in front. In what proved to be a portent for the rest of the match, Federer produced clutch tennis on those break points, with Djokovic simply unable to capitalise on the opportunities that he created. A slight opening in the eighth game was all Federer needed to break the world number one, and the crowd favourite had no trouble serving out the set, 6-3, to take a commanding lead in the final.

Under the watchful eye of coach Boris Becker, Djokovic didn’t panic at the start of the second set, keeping his nose in front courtesy of serving first in the set, and ratcheting up the pressure on the Federer serve with increasingly accurate and penetrating returns. Both men managed to hold serve in the early and middle stages of the second set, but as the set edged closer to a climax it was Federer feeling all the pressure, twice forced to come from 15-40 down to hold serve. Djokovic, however, evidently frustrated by his inability to break the Federer serve, threw in a loose service game, with a double fault and a vintage Federer forehand winner combining to give the Swiss legend a chance to serve for title number 84 of his illustrious career.

Federer, who owns an apartment here in Dubai and spends much of his offseason training here, is treated almost like a local by the fans, and so it was to the delight of the huge crowd that the 17-time Grand Slam champion was able to serve out the match, surviving one final break point to record a 6-3 7-5 win and once again reign supreme in the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates. In a tight tussle between the world’s top two players, there was one statistic that summed up the match: Federer successful on both of his break point chances for the match, Djokovic a desultory 0/7 on his opportunities to break the Federer serve. Full credit to the world number 2, with 37 winners to Federer (compared to 19 for Djokovic) clearly indicating that the 33 year old won the match with his aggressive play, and wasn’t simply waiting for mistakes to flow from the Djokovic racquet.

After the surprise loss to Seppi in Australia, which was something of an aberration given Federer’s strong form of the last 6 to 12 months, this win will help boost the Swiss star’s confidence as the action moves to the US for the Indian Wells and Miami Masters events. Djokovic has been dominant in both of those events in the last few years and, while tonight wasn’t the best match from the Serb, in reality he just needs to tighten up his play on the big points and he will be extremely hard to beat in the States.

That’s it for my coverage of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back soon, but in the meantime you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 27 February 2015 (Djokovic vs. Federer Preview)

February 27, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night, after the pair posted contrasting victories in tonight’s semi-finals.

Federer was first on court and ended the winning streak of lucky loser Borna Coric, ousting the teenager in straight sets, 6-2 6-1. It was a marvellous week for the young Croat, who made the most of his second chance in the tournament to defeat Andy Murray en route to the final 4, but Coric couldn’t handle another strong performance from Federer, who mixed up his game with plenty of slice and serve and volley tennis. Coric offered some hope when he broke serve in the fifth game of the first set, but from there it was largely one way traffic as Federer cruised to victory, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. Having had Richard Gasquet retire after the first set of their quarter-final on Thursday night, Federer was happy to get a full match under his belt in the semi-finals, albeit a relatively quick match.

Federer will be vying for his seventh career title in Dubai tomorrow, but he will have to beat world number one Novak Djokovic if the Swiss star is to lift the trophy once again. Federer outlasted the Serb in the semi-finals in Dubai last year, and this will be the fourth time the pair has played in the final in Dubai. Djokovic produced a flawless first set against fourth seed Tomas Berdych, handing the Czech a 6-0 hammering in blustery conditions. The Serb was in dynamite form on the return of serve, neutralising one of Berdych’s biggest weapons, and the first set was over in less than half an hour.

When Berdych dropped serve early in the second set, it looked as though Djokovic would run away with the match, much as he had done in previous matches this week against Golubev and Ilhan. But to his credit, Berdych remained undeterred, picking up his first serve percentage and taking advantage of a surprising number of unforced errors that started to flow from the Djokovic racquet. The former Wimbledon finalist broke back and then broke once more to be given an opportunity to serve for the set. Berdych failed to capitalise on the opportunity, but remained composed and soon wrapped up the second set, 7-5, to force the match into a decider.

It was always going to be hard for Djokovic to maintain the sublime form he exhibited in the first set, and it was no surprise that he went off the boil in the second set. The world number one managed to regroup in the third set, breaking midway through the set and eventually prevailing 6-0 5-7 6-4. It was a valiant comeback from Berdych, but once again Djokovic showed that there is no one better on the ATP Tour at present at getting the job done on court. Despite a whopping 48 unforced errors for the match (a fairly surprising statistic given the ease with which Djokovic claimed the opening set), the Serb is through to another final in Dubai.

With Federer having been forced to retire from the championship match against Djokovic at the World Tour Finals in December, fans will now get a chance to see the pair play out a blockbuster in Dubai. It’s a toss of the coin in my opinion – Federer loves the court and the crowd here in Dubai (although Djokovic has had great success here too) but Djokovic has, for the most part, looked incredibly strong this week. Federer came back to beat Djokovic in Dubai last year, but I don’t think the Swiss great will be so fortunate this time around. I’ll take Djokovic to prevail in two very tight sets.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll back with another serve tomorrow to review the final. In the meantime, keep up with all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 26 February 2015 (Djokovic, Federer & Murray in action)

February 26, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Wednesday saw a host of activity at the Aviation Club in Dubai, with top seed Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray underlining their respective title credentials with impressive displays. Meanwhile, second seed Roger Federer delighted the crowd with an incredible run of 20 consecutive points against Fernando Verdasco, whilst fourth seed Tomas Berdych booked his spot in today’s quarter-finals with a win over Simone Bolleli that marked ATP Tour win number 500 for the Czech star.

The day session saw Murray in blistering form, the Scot conceding just 2 games against Portugal’s Joao Sousa and wrapping up a 6-0 6-2 win in just 57 minutes. Murray, who improved to 5-0 in career meetings with Sousa, will face young gun Borna Coric for a spot in the semi-finals after the lucky loser enjoyed further fortune in his match against veteran Marcos Baghdatis. After Coric took the opening set 6-4, Baghdatis levelled the match at a set apiece by claiming the second set 6-3. The Cypriot then raced out to a 4-1 lead in the decider before cramping got the better of Baghdatis and he was forced to retire with the score at 4-4 in the final set tiebreaker.

It’s hard to conceive of the cramps being so bad that Baghdatis couldn’t play on for a few more points to officially conclude the match, but Coric wasn’t complaining. The young Croat, whose game has been compared to Djokovic’s by none other than the world number one himself, upset Rafael Nadal in Basel last year and will relish the opportunity to test himself against another titan in Murray. Based on the Scot’s form against Sousa, I think Murray will account for Coric comfortably, but the teenager has nothing to lose.

Berdych had a far tougher day at the office than Murray, with the Czech forced to battle for 2 hours and 24 minutes before prevailing in 3 sets over Italian veteran Simone Bollelli.  The Italian had his chances in the first set, squandering a set point in the tiebreaker but, after fighting back to claim the second set, 7-5, the Italian was thoroughly outclassed in the final set, failing to win a game as Berdych became just the eighth active player to record 500 ATP Tour wins. Berdych will face Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky today for a place in the semi-finals after Stakhovsky outlasted Denis Istomin in 3 sets. Stakhovsky is best known for upsetting Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013 but currently languishes outside the world’s top 50 and I can’t see him causing Berdych too much trouble today.

Wednesday’s night session saw top seed Novak Djokovic blitz Kazakh Andrey Golubev in one hour flat, the Serb cracking 17 winners, losing just 11 points in total on serve and never giving his opponent a chance to assert himself in the match. Djokovic will play Turkey’s top player, Marsel Ilhan, in the quarter-finals tonight after the world number 104 came from a set down to upset world number 13 Feliciano Lopez in 3 sets. The pair has never played before, but one would imagine that it won’t take long for Djokovic to dismantle the Ilhan game.

Tonight’s marquee match-up features Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet, in what will be a rematch of their showdown in the Davis Cup final last year. A win by Federer in that rubber handed Switzerland its first ever Davis Cup trophy, and Gasquet will be eager for revenge. The Frenchman has won only 2 of 12 career meetings with Federer, but Gasquet will be buoyed by his tight win yesterday over seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut. Gasquet edged past the Spaniard 8-6 in the final set tiebreaker but will need to elevate his game if he is to challenge Federer tonight. The Swiss star recovered from a shaky start last night to see off Fernando Verdasco, the second seed putting together an incredible run of 20 consecutive points as he fought back from a 4-1 opening set deficit to take the set 6-4. Verdasco, who started off the match in a blaze of glory, struggled to control his emotions after letting his lead in the first set slip, and two breaks to Federer in the second set handed the six-time champion a 6-4 6-3 victory in 60 minutes.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 25 February 2015

February 25, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Tuesday saw all of the big names at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships record wins, with top guns Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych all completing straight sets victories.

World number one Djokovic, in search of the fiftieth title of his career and a fifth trophy in Dubai, downed the big-serving Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. The top seeded Djokovic, who had not played an official match since winning the Australian Open last month, was solid without being spectacular against the world number 63, showing his experience and class on the big points. Australian Open finalist Murray looked good against Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, the world number 3 taking down the leftie 6-4 7-5.

Berdych, who lost a hard-fought semi-final to Murray at Melbourne Park last month, faced a tricky assignment against the big-hitting Jeremy Chardy. After squeezing through a first set tiebreaker against the Frenchman after having squandered an early break, Berdych improved his level in the second set and took advantage of a whopping 35 unforced errors for the match from Chardy to claim a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory. Rising star Borna Coric, a lucky loser from qualifying who only made it into the main draw courtesy of Philipp Kohlschreiber’s withdrawal due to illness, made the most of his second chance, defeating Tunisian Malek Jaziri in a hard-fought 3-setter. The news was not so good for some of Coric’s contemporaries, with fellow youngsters David Goffin and Dominic Thiem bowing out to Marcos Baghdatis and Roberto Bautista Agut respectively.

In a battle of the Spaniards, former Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco ousted Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets. Verdasco’s reward for his win? A meeting tonight with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. Given the fast conditions at the Aviation Club, Verdasco has to be given an outside chance on the basis of his big serve and lightning fast forehand, but as a 6-time winner in Dubai it is clear that Federer enjoys the conditions immensely. That match follows the evening’s first match on Centre Court, between Kazakh Andrey Golubev and top seed Djokovic. Golubev, although ranked just outside the world’s top 100 at present, is no pushover, having defeated the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Fernando Verdasco in 2014. That said, Djokovic is likely to have to much consistency and composure for the Kazakh and I expect the Serb to record a comfortable straight sets victory in this clash.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 24 February 2015

February 24, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Greetings and welcome to coverage of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships live from the United Arab Emirates. I’ll be providing daily updates of all the action from the Aviation Club here in Dubai, where a host of the world’s best players, including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych have gathered for this year’s tournament.

Second seed Roger Federer commenced his quest for a seventh title in Dubai on Monday night, the Swiss superstar recording a straightforward victory over Russian Mikhail Youzhny in windy conditions at the Aviation Club. Having not played a competitive match since a surprise loss to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open last month, Federer was at his aggressive best against two-time finalist Youzhny, collecting 27 winners (including 8 aces) as he completed a 6-3 6-1 win in 56 minutes. In windy conditions, caused in part by a recent sandstorm that hit Dubai, Federer never let Youzhny into the match, the former top 10 player struggling to make any inroads on the Federer serve and finding it hard to hold his own serve.

Other winners on the opening day of play included Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who beat Federer’s Australian Open conqueror Seppi, Kazakh Andrey Golubev and Portgual’s Joao Sousa, who defeated wildcard Irishman James McGee. Latvian Ernests Gulbis, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year, continued his wretched start to 2015, the world number 14 remaining winless for the year following a straight sets loss to Denis Istomin.

Today’s line-up features a number of mouthwatering clashes, with my pick of the bunch being the match-up between fourth seed Tomas Berdych, who has made the final in Dubai the past two years, and big-hitting Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who is always a threat on fast hard-courts, having beaten the likes of Murray and Del Potro on hard-courts in the past. Top seed Novak Djokovic is also in action, the world number one beginning his campaign against Canada’s Vasek Pospisil. Crowd favourite Andy Murray also features in the schedule of play, the Scot up against the in-form Gilles Muller from Luxembourg.

For those fans looking for a glimpse of rising stars on the ATP Tour, talented young Austrian Dominic Thiem will be in action on Court 3 today against the big-hitting Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, whilst young Frenchman Lucas Pouille faces Italian veteran Simone Bollelli. And one of the most entertaining matches of the day should involve wildcard Marcos Baghdatis, a former Australian Open finalist, who is playing against David Goffin, one of the most improved players on the ATP Tour in the last 12 months.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back tomorrow with another issue. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard’s selfish decision for the Fed Cup

February 23, 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 looks at Eugenie Bouchard’s decision to skip the Fed Cup.

The truth is, Eugenie Bouchard may not have even changed anything because it lost so thoroughly.

When Canada had the privilege of hosting Czech Republic earlier this month, captain Sylvain Bruneau had no other choice but to roll out a very, very, very green line-up consisting of No. 150-ranked Sharon Fichman, No. 183-ranked Gabriela Dabrowski, No. 250-ranked (and 17-year-old Françoise Abanda) and No. 791-ranked (and 15-year-old) Charlotte Robillard-Millette.

Bouchard had forced Bruneau’s hand by declining the invitation to help Canada against the Fed Cup defending champion and one of the bigger and better tennis superpowers. Canada, which is “barely getting on the map as a nation” according to the tennis director of Mayfair Tennis Clubs Michael Emmett, and which is in the World Group for the very first time, stood little chance without its very best player.

“It’s a big mistake on her part and she’s going to regret it,” Emmett says. “She wants to be known as a good person.”

Certainly. Though Bouchard had been instrumental in getting Canada to the World Group in the first place, “she hasn’t made (the Fed Cup) a priority.”

It’s the latest in a series of “questionable decisions,” Emmett calls them. From the ongoing beef with the Hong Kong Tennis Association representatives to her recent decision to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, not to mention the coaching saga that was finally resolved this month, Bouchard “is starting to get a bit of a bad rap.”

Indeed, so why skip the Fed Cup? Emmett calls is a selfish decision and contrasts it with Maria Sharapova’s decision to help Russia against Poland and the two Radwanska sisters. If Sharapova can be there, why can’t Bouchard? (That’s a question that keeps coming back during our discussion with Emmett.)

It’s certainly her right, and Emmett understands that. He says that, “I totally get why she’s doing it, but it’s a selfish decision.”

But selfish doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, this decision is probably the best one she can make for Bouchard the tennis player, if not for Canada the country. If she indeed has played too much tennis recently and she indeed does want to win Grand Slams above anything else, then this is the right decision for Eugenie Bouchard. Furthermore, in a twisted logic, a Bouchard win at, say, Wimbledon would galvanize and help Canada emerge and progress even more than a Fed Cup likely could/would. There’s no doubt about that in Emmett’s mind.

But that doesn’t mean that a Fed Cup win wouldn’t help, because it would. Emmett recalls Canada’s run to the semfinals of the 2013 Davis Cup, admittedly a bigger and more recognizable event than its counterpart for women.

“Hockey players represent their players (at the Olympics), why can’t Bouchard?” asks Emmett. One may counter by saying that in this comparison, the Fed Cup is more like the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships than the Olympics, and that the Sidney Crosbys of the world ideally don’t play in these World Championships because they’re battling for a Stanley Cup.

And yet, the comparison still holds. Should better players play in the Fed Cup every year, then the prestige of the year-long tournament would rise and so would the merit of winning it all for any one country—especially Canada.

In 2013, as Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and co. battled against the big, bad boys of Serbia, Emmett was a guest on CBC News. He believes the same would happen for the Fed Cup. But alas, Canada was decimated 4-0 and will have to beat Romania April 18 and 19 to remain in the World Group in 2016. Bouchard hasn’t said whether she will play in that tie.

Our best bet is probably on Roland Garros and the other majors. Just like Bouchard would want it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Karlovic wins Delray Beach title; Simon captures Marseille crown; Ferrer beats Fognini for Rio trophy

February 23, 2015

Delray Beach Open by The Venetian® Las Vegas, Delray Beach, U.S.A.

Hard-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic captured his sixth career title on Tour in Delray Beach, Florida on Sunday, defeating American Donald Young 6-3, 6-3. Never losing his serve during the encounter, Karlovic hit 13 aces and struck a serve at 142 MPH to close out the match. Currently ranked No. 29 in the world, Karlovic took home 250 ATP World Tour points and $84,250 in prize money. Young, who was looking for his first-career title, never looked comfortable during the sixty nine minute match.

*****

Open 13, Marseille, France

Frenchman Gilles Simon used all of his court guile and experience on Sunday to defeat Gael Monfils 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4) and capture his 12th career title in Marseille, France. Hitting three aces and winning 64 percent of his first serve points, Simon improved to 5-1 against Monfils in career head-to-head matches. Monfils was attempting to win his sixth career title.

*****
Rio Open presented by Claro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Spaniard David Ferrer notched his 23rd career ATP World Tour title on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, defeating Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-2. Dominating the match from start to finish, Ferrer hit three aces and broke serve on four occasions. Needing 83 minutes to seal his victory, Ferrer improved to 8-0 against Fognini in lifetime meetings.

Tennis Elbow: Stanislas Wawrinka wins in the Netherlands

February 16, 2015

by: Charles Blouin-Gascon

If we start with the premise that not all tennis tournaments can be treated as equals over a 12-month calendar, then this wasn’t a major event.

The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, a Masters 500 event held every year in Rotterdam, is more or less a footnote on the ATP World Tour calendar—but this year, it’s as if the event seemed bigger. Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka, respectively ranked No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 in the world, were the four top seeds in the Netherlands.

Should we be surprised that Stanislas Wawrinka managed to win the tournament in his first visit in the Netherlands in a decade?

The (other) Swiss joined fellow countrymen Heinz Gunthardt, Jakob Hlasek and Roger Federer in capturing this Rotterdam title. But it was far from an easy win, as Wawrinka lost a set against Jesse Huta Galung in his first match, then against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his second, and in the final against defending champion Tomas Berdych, whom he beat for the sixth straight time.

It’s an important win for Wawrinka, because it’s such an important time for him. At 29, he likely doesn’t have much time left with the sport’s elite—unless there’s something about being from Switzerland, as Federer proves to us—and yet he’s just a few months removed from his best season yet.

A year ago, Wawrinka captured the 2014 Australian Open only a few months after a semifinal loss in the 2013 US Open. His career was on the upswing and it probably still is—in Melbourne this year, it is he who gave Novak Djokovic his biggest test in the semfinal. (He lost, but that’s beside the point.)

Much to my dismay, I continue to believe that Federer’s level will one day soon dip well below the standards we’ve been accustomed to from him, while Rafael Nadal’s body may be in the process of forever breaking down. Beside the Djoker, there could shortly be a very massive void on Tour. Why couldn’t Wawrinka be that No. 2 player for a season or two? For example, he has played about 200, or so, fewer matches than Berdych, also a 29-year-old.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve figured out why this Rotterdam tournament was so much fun. If every tennis season starts on a high note with the Australian Open, there’s quickly a lull after the first major tournament—the clay court season only starts in April, meaning that there are two full months with not many large-scale tournaments. Players need to play, and thus a draw such as Rotterdam’s. Maybe it’s not a surprise that this weekend’s final was its third between members of the Top 10 in seven years.

Next on the list of similar smaller events is the Rio Open this week and the Argentina Open on the last week of February. The BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open are both held next month and, of course, neither of the main draws should disappoint.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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