March 11, 2014
This week, we will recap the first few days of the 2014 BNP Paribas Open for both men and women. Were there upsets? Surprises? Strong moments? We have got you covered.
The women’s draw has played out more or less exactly as anticipated except for one result that sticks out like a sore thumb. In that sense qualifier Camila Giorgi’s defeat of Maria Sharapova is to tennis results as Sugarpova is to tacky brand names—even in a world where upsets abound, this one still surprises us.
That Giorgi overtook the Russian 6-4, 4-6 and 7-5 is a massive statement. She’ll surpass her career-high ranking of No. 73 and has as good a shot as any to make the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, with only a match-up against fellow countrywoman Flavia Pennetta standing in her way. Giorgi finished the 2013 season strongly, making the third round in Wimbledon and the fourth round in Flushing Meadows. Maybe she’s figured it all out now, at 22 years old.
A year ago, Sharapova arrived in Indian Wells and promptly added another trophy to the mantle. In 2014, she has come to California and promptly added…one win and one loss to her career win-loss record. Every season is a new day!
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! We have quite a show for you tonight, and let’s jump right in with a timeless question. If a Masters 1000 event goes by without a single hint of a surprise, did the tournament ever happen? Did it make noise?
Hold on, who is this?? Well, dear viewers, it appears that Alexandr Dolgopolov has walked in right as we were ready to let contestant Scott answer the question. He’s now speaking. He’s explaining that this question is premature but that the answer is “dog pound”. He’s now walked off stage. Ha! I tell you, what a weird moment!
Yeah, so basically that’s a (very, very, very) long and silly roundabout way of illustrating what I was thinking when I started writing this column. On the men’s side, there had been no surprises whatsoever. And then Dolgopolov beat Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6 7-6 (5).
The dog brought his best to the Indian Wells dog pound on March 10, outlasting the best player on Tour in three tough sets and winning at the tiebreak. Throughout Dolgopolov’s career, we’ve seen plenty of signs that hinted at upcoming greatness, only that greatness never fully materialized and he’s now 25 years old. This could be the start of something new or just another hint, another tease. What’s certain is that the Ukrainian has all the shots. What’s also certain is that he’ll go against someone who’s currently playing as well as anyone in Fabio Fognini.
As for Nadal, this is a rough start to his defense of the approximately 139 756 976 668 points he needs to defend until the U.S. Open. (Alright, alright, it’s actually “only” 10,110.) So far, this season has proved that “you can’t win ‘em all” like in 2013.
The only problem is we’ll never quite know the answer to that pretend-game show. But that’s probably for the best—the less my readers know about my subconscious, the better it is for everyone.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
March 10, 2014
(28) Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5)
(7) Roger Federer defeats (27) Dmitry Tursunov 7-6(7), 7-6(2)
(13) Fabio Fognini defeats (23) Gael Monfils 6-2, 3-6, 7-5
(3) Stanislas Wawrinka defeats (29) Andreas Seppi 6-0, 6-2
(5) Andy Murray defeats Jiri Vesely 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4
(10) Milos Raonic defeats Alejandro Falla 6-4, 6-3
March 9, 2014
(2) Novak Djokovic defeats Victor Hanescu 76(1) 62
Julien Bennteau defeats (9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-4
Roberto Bautista Agut defeats (4) Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-4
(8) Richard Gasquet defeats Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-0, 2-0
(12) John Isner defeats Nikolay Davydenko 7-6(5), 6-3
Feliciano Lopez defeats James Ward 3-6, 6-2, 6-4
Yen-Hsun Lu defeats (22) Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-2
(24) Marin Cilic defeats Paolo Lorenzi 6-2, 6-2
(20) Ernests Gulbis defeats Joao Sousa 6-3, 6-3
Dominic Thiem defeats (21) Gilles Simon 7-6(5), 6-2
Mikhail Kukushkin defeats (25) Vasek Pospisil 6-0, 6-2
(16) Tommy Robredo defeats Marinko Matosevic 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4
Alejandro Gonzalez defeats (31) Ivan Dodig 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)
March 5, 2014
Here we are, the granddaddy of them all after the actual four granddaddies. The BNP Paribas Open is not exactly a Grand Slam event, because it can’t possibly be, but it also certainly feels a wee bit bigger and better than other Masters 1000 events. For one thing, its director is none other than Larry Ellison, he of the $48-billion fortune that ranks fifth (!!!!) in the entire world! For another, it’s a tournament of 96 players—a draw of 128, except that the 32 seeds get a bye.
It’s not fully Grand Slam, but it’s neither fully Masters 1000. It’s like a sphere of its own. A fifth wheel, if you will, only in this case it’s certainly a good thing to be stuck as the proverbial fifth wheel.
My esteemed editor-in-chief Nima Naderi asked me to contribute a few more tournament previews this year, and this is my first crack at it for the season. Just know that, like, if you bet the rent money, respect that “don’t kill the messenger” routine…
It would have been fun to just say “Serena Williams” and keep it moving, but she has withdrawn from the event. And maybe that’s for the best, because the last time I ran with Serena she didn’t exactly meet the expectations I had set out for her.
So instead of Williams, we have Na Li—and I definitely will not pick her without explaining some of my rationale. (In fact, I actually am not picking her to win the tournament…or am I? Read on!) The draw is fairly easy for the Chinese and but for a match against No. 15 seed Sabrine Lisicki, her place in the quarterfinals is likely assured. And since this is Indian Wells and not Wimbledon, the German shouldn’t be a problem. Expect the No. 1 seed to waltz in to the last 16…where she will meet Dominika Cibulkova, the little one who could. With a final in Australia and a title in Acapulco, the Slovak is playing as well as anyone on the WTA Tour.
In the second quarter, I find it a shame that Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic may meet as early as the third round because this is a match-up worthy of bigger and better things. But alas, it’s the little things in life… I see Stephens winning that match, and then meeting and beating Russian Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals—neither of the two has played much this season, but I think this could be the year the young American breaks through in a big way.
I’m Canadian so I will of course look for any possible reason to give Eugenie Bouchard the upper hand, but I feel like this draw breaks perfectly for her and that I barely need to stretch the truth. Sara Errani is certainly within the Canadian’s grasp and, from there it’s Simona Halep? Are we sure that the Romanian is that good? She’s playing as well as just about anyone, but she entered the 2013 season ranked No. 47. In the quarterfinals, Bouchard will lose to Victoria Azarenka, and she shouldn’t be ashamed of it if that’s how it unfolds.
Caroline Wozniacki always seems to reach the later stages of tournaments but not win, doesn’t she? So let’s say this hold true—Wozniacki reaches the quarterfinals, and even beats Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in a match where both combine for all of three unforced errors. Remember when you were younger and you watched your dad play tennis against the wall, and how the wall never missed? That’s how this quarterfinal will feel.
Quarterfinals: Na Li over Dominika Cibulkova; Sloane Stephens over Maria Sharapova; Victoria Azarenka over Eugenie Bouchard; Caroline Wozniacki over Agnieszka Radwanska
Semifinals: Na Li over Sloane Stephens; Victoria Azarenka over Caroline Wozniacki
Final: Victoria Azarenka over Na Li
***See the main draw here.
Doesn’t it feel like this year, the ATP World Tour may be more open than any other in the previous decade? This sure should help the accuracy of previews like this one, only the exact opposite.
The Great Golden Odyssey starts now for Rafael Nadal, as he must defend no fewer than 10,110 of his 14,085 points to defend between now and the U.S. Open. (And you thought you had it rough!) To make matters worse, the powers that be dealt him a fairly rough draw here, with Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka all in his portion. It’s not fair, but it doesn’t have to be. To reach the quarterfinals against Murray however, the Spaniard could play right-handed and still be fine.
I know that “Crazy” Stan has won the Australian Open and that he’s been playing as well as anyone for about six months, but it still feels weird to see a  next to his name in the main draw of a relatively large tournament, which this BNP Paribas Open certainly is. Likewise, a  seems a bit harsh for the way that Federer is currently playing. While the tour isn’t King Roger’s kingdom anymore, I think he’ll get to prove he’s still top dog in Switzerland in an all-Swiss quarterfinal. (Please, tennis gods, make this happen. I don’t ever ask you for much.)
The third quarter of this main draw is a weird one, and it’s usually these conditions that allow for a random “Wait, it’s a quarterfinal between Ernests Gulbis and Grigor Dimitrov? How did we get here?” realization from the tennis fan. Alas, we will not get there, the two players slated to meet in the third round. I say this quarter is weird, because there isn’t one player I am confident in predicting a Final 8 berth. Could it be Richard Gasquet or Philipp Kohlschreiber? Sure, why not? I could see Dimitrov or Fernando Verdasco also making it—so instead I’ll predict good things for Tomas Berdych and Dimitrov. But I don’t feel good about it!
I have two things to say about this portion. First, it’s a ridiculously easy draw, on paper, for Novak Djokovic. Before the quarterfinals, he will likely play against three players against whom he has a career 14-1 record in Victor Hanescu, Ivan Dodig and Tommy Robredo. Also, the match between Canadian wunderkind Vasek Pospisil and Juan Martin Del Potro deserves better than the third round. It’s a shame.
Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic; Roger Federer over Stanislas Warinka; Grigor Dimitrov over Tomas Berdych; Novak Djokovic over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Novak Djokovic over Grigor Dimitrov
Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal
***See the main draw here.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
March 4, 2014
Welcome tennis fans to another season of the TennisConnected Podcast!
In this week’s show, Nima Naderi and Parsa Samii are back after the Australian Open layoff to preview the first Masters 1000 event of the year in Indian Wells.
We discuss the favorites in the desert, including Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and newly crowed Aussie Open winner Stan Wawrinka. Will we see more surprises in Palm Springs, or will a familiar name take home the title?
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.
March 4, 2014
The men’s and women’s singles draws for the the 2014 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California can be seen at the links below.
March 3, 2014
In my latest article for Tennis Canada, I discuss the marvelous month in March and the tennis that it has in store. Nothing really beats spring break in either Cali or Miami. Click here to find out why.
March 1, 2014
Another seeded opponent. Another dropped first set. Another stunning turnaround. Fourth seed Roger Federer captured his sixth career title at the Aviation Club in Dubai with a gripping 3 set win over third seed Tomas Berdych tonight in front of another capacity crowd in Dubai.
Federer started the final better than he had started his semi-final against Novak Djokovic, the Swiss star breaking Berdych in the Czech player’s second service game before being unable to consolidate the break. That break back was part of a 4 game run for Berdych, who stormed out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set courtesy of some booming first serves and laser-like forehands. Berdych, who entered the match with an ATP-leading 84 percent win rate on first service points in 2014, maintained his advantage from there and pocketed the first set, 6-3.
Berdych’s flat and heavy groundstrokes were putting Federer under immense pressure, the Czech star securing a break for a 3-2 lead in the second set and a glimpse of the title. But the former world number one was the clear crowd favourite and, as was the case in his semi-final against top seed Djokovic, Federer refused to go away and lifted his game to another level. With Berdych’s mind perhaps wandering to the trophy celebration, Federer broke back immediately and then held serve to go ahead 4-3. Serving at 4-5 to stay in the second set, Berdych started to become irritated by the raucous crowd and lost focus, giving up his serve to love and dropping the second set, 6-4, after 73 minutes.
With the momentum clearly on Federer’s side, the Swiss maestro held serve in the opening game of the third set and had 3 break points in Berdych’s opening service game of the deciding set. The former Wimbledon finalist somehow found his way out of trouble to level at a game apiece, but the writing was on the wall. With Berdych’s first serve percentage slumping, Federer was able to break in the fourth game to open up a 3-1 lead. A deft drop shot indicated Federer’s confidence and gave him a 4-1 advantage, and from there it was simply a matter of time before the Federer name was etched on the trophy once more. The valiant Czech managed to save 2 match points at 3-5, but Federer duly served out the match to record a 3-6 6-4 6-3 win in a touch under 2 hours and claim title number 78 of his illustrious career.
For Federer, it’s a huge step forward after he underachieved in 2013, and he will enter the Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells full of confidence. For all the naysayers, Federer still has the game and the belief to beat the very best when he is fit and healthy. For Berdych, it was one that got away, but the third seed is in great form right now and has his sights firmly set on a top 5 ranking. If he can keep up his form, he’ll be an extremely dangerous player in the Masters events and Grand Slams this year.
That’s it for the coverage from Dubai this week. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back later this month with the latest issue of my monthly column, I-Formation.
February 28, 2014
Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych will battle it out in tomorrow night’s final of the men’s singles tournament at this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after posting semi-final victories tonight over Novak Djokovic and Philipp Kohlschreiber respectively.
To the delight of the majority of the packed house inside Centre Court, Federer wound back the clock against top seed Djokovic, overcoming a sluggish start to post what is probably his most significant win in the last 12 months. Defending champion Djokovic started the match strongly, breaking Federer in the second game of the match and racing out to a 3-0 lead. Federer slowly worked his way into the match, dropping the first set 6-3 but looking better as the set wore on.
At 2-all in the second set, Djokovic went down 0-30 on serve before the unthinkable happened: it rained in Dubai. The delay was only a matter of minutes but it was enough to throw the Serb off-guard as Federer pummelled a backhand winner to secure the break. Attacking the net with purpose and staying on the aggressive from the back of the court, Federer levelled the match at a set apiece by taking the second set 6-3.
Djokovic, who had looked in control for so much of the match, started to unravel, with his trusty backhand breaking down for the first time in a long while. A couple of unforced errors and a double fault by the top seed gave Federer the break in the opening game of the final set before the Swiss maestro fended off a pair of break points in his first service game of the set. A second break to Federer in the fifth game of the set gave the 5-time champion a 4-1 lead and from there it was only a matter of time, Federer wrapping up the match 3-6 6-3 6-2 for a most famous and valuable win.
Earlier in the day, third Tomas Berdych made it back to back Dubai finals with a 7-5 7-5 win over seventh seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in 88 minutes. The German got the early jump on his higher ranked opponent, breaking Berdych in the first game of the match – the first time either player had lost serve all week. Kohlschreiber maintained his advantage from there on, before tightening up when serving for the set at 5-4. A couple of overly ambitious shots gave Berdych the break back, and a second successive break gave the former Wimbledon finalist the first set.
The second set was an even affair, with Berdych enjoying the benefit of serving first and keeping his nose in front throughout. In the twelfth game of the set Kohlschreiber served to take the set to a tiebreaker but Berdych again came up with the goods on the big points, breaking serve to claim the win.
Berdych looks to be in career best form right now, and will be desperate to claim his first title in Dubai, but if Federer can replicate his form from tonight then a sixth title in Dubai beckons. Whilst Djokovic heads to Indian Wells without a title for the season for the first time since 2006, both Berdych and Federer look in ripe shape for the first Masters 1000 event of the season. I’ll take Berdych in tomorrow’s final on the back of his tremendous serving display this week and clean ball-striking, but it should be a hard-fought and thrilling encounter.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the final and I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap and review of the match.
February 27, 2014
Five-time champion Roger Federer stormed into the semi-finals of the 2014 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships tonight, setting up a mouth-watering showdown with top seed Novak Djokovic tomorrow. Having laboured to beat Radek Stepanek in the previous round, Federer was a whole lot sharper against Stepanek’s countryman Lukas Rosol in their quarter-final. In what was the first meeting between the players, the big-serving Rosol got off to a dream start, breaking Federer to set up a 2-0 lead. That was about as good as it got for the Czech player, with Federer immediately breaking back and then steamrolling through the rest of the match to claim a 6-2 6-2 victory. Rosol seemed overawed by being part of the marquee match-up on Centre Court, with Federer’s wealth of experience against big servers coming to the fore. The Swiss superstar was clinical in dismantling Rosol’s serve and was far too good for his younger opponent from the back of the court.
Djokovic had an even easier passage through to the semi-finals, with the world number 2 progressing courtesy of a withdrawal by his opponent, sixth seed Mikhail Youznhy. With some bad viruses going around Dubai at present, the Russian apparently fell victim to one of them and was unable to take to the court. Tomorrow’s semi-final between Federer and Djokovic should be a beauty, with the waning Federer still clinging to a 16-15 career edge over Djokovic but with the Serb having the momentum, recording wins over Federer in their last 3 matches. Although Federer put in a much more polished performance tonight, I still think Djokovic will be too good for the 17-time major champion tomorrow.
In the other semi-final, last year’s finalist Tomas Berdych will take on Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. Berdych, who made the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time last month and then won the title in Rotterdam a couple of weeks back, looks to be in perhaps the best form of his career. In an exceptionally clean ball-striking display, the third seed dismissed fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-4 6-3, in 88 minutes to book his spot in the semi-finals. Berdych has been serving particularly well in 2014, and his fearsome forehand was also on song against Tsonga. As always, focus (or a lack thereof) proved Tsonga’s undoing, with a sloppy service game costing him the first set and a poorly timed double fault giving Berdych the sole break in the second set. Tsonga hit the ball sweetly but he needs to be tighter on the big points, as exemplified by his inability to win any of the 5 break points he earned during the match.
Kohlschreiber, who notched career win number 300 on the ATP Tour today with a straight sets victory over Tunisian Malek Jaziri, will not be a pushover for Berdych. The seventh seeded German is a former top 20 player and has thrived on the fast-paced courts at the Aviation Club this year. Kohlschreiber’s textbook one-handed backhand is his go-to shot and he’ll need it to be working if he is to match Berdych tomorrow. I think Kohlschreiber will put up a decent fight but in his current form Berdych should be too good.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back with another issue tomorrow to wrap up the semi-finals and preview Saturday’s final.