I-Formation April 2014: The Quarter-Time Report Card

April 23, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

With the first quarter of the year completed, and the clay-court season now in full swing, I thought it was an appropriate time to take a look at the big names and how they’ve fared in the first few months of 2014.

Rafael Nadal: B+

It’s been an odd season to date for the world number one. After struggling through the early rounds in Melbourne, he demolished Federer in the semi-finals before succumbing to back problems and a red-hot Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final. There have been some surprise losses, including to a rejuvenated Alexandr Dolgopolov in Indian Wells and to David Ferrer in Monte Carlo, but with a pair of titles already under his belt (Doha and Rio de Janeiro) and another finals appearance in Miami, it hasn’t all been bad news for the Spaniard. Look for Nadal to lift as the clay-court season goes on.

Novak Djokovic: B+

Some doubts about Djokovic’s pairing up with new coach Boris Becker were aired when the Serb failed to defend his Australian Open crown, finally losing a Grand Slam battle to Stan Wawrinka, and was then ousted by Federer in Dubai. Back-t0-back Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami silenced many of the doubters (though Becker was absent during the US swing, due to hip surgery) as Djokovic underscored his dominance on hard-courts. Unfortunately for the world number two, a wrist injury has flared up at the beginning of the clay-court season and was a major contributor in his loss to Federer in Monte Carlo. If Djokovic can recover in relatively quick time, he should be capable of pushing Nadal to the wire at Roland Garros, but much will depend on how his wrist improves in the next couple of weeks.

Stanislas Wawrinka: A+

First Grand Slam. First Masters 1000 title. Through to a maiden Davis Cup semi-final. It’s been a near-perfect start to the season for Wawrinka, who claimed the biggest title of the year to date in Melbourne, and who has bookended that victory with titles in Chennai and Monte Carlo. It’s not surprising that it took the Swiss star several weeks to adjust to his status as a Grand Slam champion, and it’s probably most instructive to view his mediocre efforts in Indian Wells and Miami in this light. Apart from that, it’s been a fairytale beginning to 2014, and the win in Monte Carlo will fill Wawrinka full of confidence on the road to Roland Garros. The world number three will be desperate to add another Grand Slam to his Melbourne Park triumph, and in his current form he’s going to be very difficult to beat on any surface.

Roger Federer: A-

The naysayers were declaring Roger Federer as being over the hill at the end of 2013, but the legend has come back with a vengeance in 2014. Another title in Dubai, where he topped Djokovic and Berdych, has been the highlight to date, but a run to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park (which featured a very good win over Murray) and finals appearances in Brisbane, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, along with a flawless Davis Cup singles record, underscore Federer’s consistency in the first part of 2014. Injury-free at present, and far fitter than last year as a result, Federer is back to his attacking best and should feature in the latter stages of the year’s final three majors.

Andy Murray: C

Everyone knew it would take Andy Murray a considerable period of time to get back to his best after the Scot underwent serious back surgery in the latter stages of 2013. However, it’s taking a bit longer than most people expected for the Wimbledon champion to reassert himself on the ATP Tour. Losses to the likes of Federer and Djokovic won’t faze Murray, but no doubt he’s rankled about the upsets by the likes of Raonic, Cilic and Dimitrov – all fine players, but players that Murray considers himself able to beat when at his best. Having parted ways with Ivan Lendl, it remains to be seen whether Murray will be able to hit top gear by Wimbledon time. At this stage, defending his Wimbledon crown is looking like a tall order.

David Ferrer: B-

The ultra-consistent David Ferrer hasn’t quite been as consistent in 2014 as he was in the preceding few seasons, although another tournament victory (Buenos Aires), another Grand Slam quarter-finals appearance in Melbourne, and another Masters 1000 semi-final appearance (Monte Carlo) is, in sum, nothing to sneeze at. As with Murray, I think Ferrer can live with losses to players ahead of him in the rankings. It’s the losses to other players that will disappoint him. So far this season, it’s been players such as Kevin Anderson, Kei Nishikori, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Yen-Hsun Lu who have inflicted defeats on Ferrer. Still, the red dirt is the surface on which Ferrer thrives the most, so expect him to put in some good performances in the coming weeks.

Juan Martin Del Potro: C

After demolishing Bernard Tomic in the final in Sydney in the lead-up to the Australian Open, it looked as though the likeable Juan Martin Del Potro was destined for a very successful year in 2014. Something didn’t seem quite right when the Argentine slumped to defeat against Bautista Agut in Melbourne, and a few weeks later in Dubai Del Potro was forced to retire from his first match due to more wrist problems. Having sat out most of 2010 with a right wrist injury, it’s now the left wrist causing Del Potro grief. It’s not known when the big man will be back on the ATP Tour but I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he can be back on court later in the year.

Tomas Berdych: A-

It’s been a very positive start to 2014 for Tomas Berdych. The popular Czech is now back at his equal highest world ranking of five after a string of good performances. Berdych made his first-ever semi-final at Melbourne Park, losing a tight tussle to Wawrinka, before capturing the title in Rotterdam and making the final in Dubai, where he lost a close match against Federer. Throw in a couple of good Davis Cup wins and a run to the semi-finals in Miami, and things are going very well for the former Wimbledon finalist. The big question is whether he can win a major, but Wawrinka’s win in Melbourne will have given Berdych plenty of hope, and I think he’ll be particularly tough to beat at both Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.

Honourable Mentions: After a prolonged period of inconsistency, Alexandr Dolgopolov seems to be firing again, whilst Kei Nishikori looked in fine form until a groin injury struck at precisely the wrong moment. Marin Cilic has bounced back well from his doping suspension, and his partnership with Goran Ivanisevic is bearing fruit to date, whilst Italian clay-court specialist Fabio Fognini has started the year full of steam and spearheaded Italy’s charge to the Davis Cup semi-finals. Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov have both impressed me in the early part of 2014, and it may not be too long before each player is knocking on the door of the top five.

In Slump City: The leading Frenchman, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, have endured a poor start to 2014, compiling win-loss records of 13-7 and 12-7 respectively – neither of which is good enough for a leading player. Having been ranked as high as five, Tsonga is now down to 12 in the world rankings, and will need to improve his match play and confidence significantly if he is to replicate last year’s run to the Roland Garros semi-finals. After a tremendous 2013, Gasquet’s slow start to this year is not entirely unexpected, but as with Tsonga he will need to lift or risk losing a lot of points that he is defending this year.

That’s it for this month. Enjoy the upcoming European clay-court tournaments and I’ll be back with another edition in May as we move toward the start of the French Open.

Upcoming clay season is key for Nadal

April 23, 2014

In my latest article for Tennis Canada, I discuss Rafael Nadal’s 2014 clay-court season and why it might be the most important one of his career thus far.

Link: Article.

Tennis Elbow: Nursing a hangover in Monaco

April 21, 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 recaps the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

The hangover is finished. If there tends to be a bit of a hangover following a player’s first Grand Slam victory, well now Stanislas Wawrinka has proven that he is back on his feet.

He’s grabbed all the water, Tylenol and orange juice that he could (i.e. though in his case, he probably actually didn’t need to, because he seems to have treated winning the Australian Open as just your average Sunday) and now “Crazy Stan” is back. No more hangover.

We all know this, because he took home the very first Masters 1000 title of his career and beat “the other Swiss” Roger Federer in the final at the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Wawrinka and Federer each received a fairly favourable break in the semifinal, the former being in the form of Rafael Nadal’s loss to David Ferrer and the latter in the form of Novak Djokovic’s injured wrist. (And here’s to hoping that this wrist isn’t literally broken. Reports, for now, are inconclusive.)

It’s Wawrinka who made the most of the opportunity, prevailing 4-6, 7-6 (5) and 6-2 in an entertaining match that lasted two hours and 13 minutes.

This year’s edition of the tournament showed us many things. It showed us that Nadal is now slumping—what is this now, two losses in his previous four matches in Monaco? He once won 46 matches in a row at the event, as if winning Monte-Carlo was a birthright. It showed us too that the Djoker might have had problems he didn’t know about. (Really, this wrist better be good.) The No. 2-ranked player now believes he must not play tennis “for some time” in order to better regroup to move forward toward the French Open—unless he can’t play, Djokovic likely still has winning Roland Garros as his first priority. And again, his message is cryptic enough that it feels like it’s not a guarantee that he plays in France.

But it was even more telling for the two Swiss knives.

For one, Federer continues his resurgence. It seems like the formula that doesn’t penalize him for missing tournament X or event Y and only competing in the events that he does truly want to is what’s best for him at this stage of his career. He’s the fourth wheel to the current Big 4—while expecting him to win a major tournament is too much right now, expecting him to step up should the top trio falter isn’t.

Meanwhile, Wawrinka is 6-0 against players from the Top 10 of the ATP World Tour rankings in 2014 and his haul of Australia and Monte-Carlo is better than anybody else’s. He belongs at the top and doesn’t hesitate to say it exactly so. “When I go into a match against them, I think I can beat them. I’m on the court to win,” he said after his Monte-Carlo win. “I’m more consistent and I have better results. The difference is that now I have more trust in myself.”

It’s still early to forecast ahead to Paris next month, but now could be the time for “Crazy Stan” to add the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his trophy mantle. Clay could be his best surface and both Nadal and Djokovic aren’t playing as good as he is.

This was Wawrinka’s first Masters 1000 title—it’s not a Grand Slam, sure, but it’s still the next best thing. Plus, it came against Federer in the final, only his second win against the man in 15 career tries—so this may as well be his first time.

Don’t party too hard, Stan. Not that you would, anyway.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Reviewing an Apocalyptic Monte Carlo Masters

April 20, 2014

Welcome tennis fans to another season of the TennisConnected Podcast!

In this week’s show, Nima Naderi and Parsa Samii are back to review the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.

We begin our podcast with the stunner of the year thus far, which featured David Ferrer taking out 8-time former winner Rafael Nadal in Monaco. We also discuss Stan Wawrinka’s first-ever Masters 1000 title over Roger Federer; Novak Djokovic’s wrist injury, and upcoming Australian Nick Kygrios.

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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Wawrinka masters Federer to win first ever Monte Carlo title

April 20, 2014

MONTE-CARLO ROLEX MASTERS, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

World No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka captured his maiden Masters 1000 title on Sunday in Monte Carlo, Monaco, defeat 17-time grand slam winner Roger Federer 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2. In a match that saw both one-handed backhand players pound groundstrokes from the baseline, it was Wawrinka who upped his game to force a third and final set. Winning 80 percent of his first serve points, Wawrinka hit five aces and broke Federer’s serve on three occasions. The Swiss No. 1 now leads the ATP Point total for 2014.

Federer, who was in search of his first-ever Monte Carlo title, fell to 0-4 in the championship round of the event.

Wawrinka, Federer reach Monte Carlo Finals

April 19, 2014

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Semifinal results:

(4) Roger Federer defeats (2) Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2
(3) S Wawrinka defeats (6) D Ferrer 6-1, 7-6(3)

Ferrer upsets Nadal at Monte Carlo Masters; Djokovic, Federer and Wawrinka reach semifinals

April 18, 2014

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Quarterfinal results:
(2) Novak Djokovic defeats Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
(6) David Ferrer defeats (1) Rafael Nadal 7-6(1), 6-4
(3) Stanislas Wawrinka defeats (8) Milos Raonic 7-6(5), 6-2
(4) Roger Federer defeats (9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-1

Nadal, Djokovic and Federer reach Monte Carlo quarterfinals

April 17, 2014

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Third-round results:

(4) Roger Federer defeats Lukas Rosol 6-4, 6-1
(2) Novak Djokovic defeats Pablo Carreno Busta 6-0, 6-1
(1) Rafael Nadal defeats Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-3
(9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats (10) Fabio Fognini 5-7, 6-3, 6-0
(3) Stanislas Wawrinka defeats (15) Nicolas Almagro W/O
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeats (5) Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
(6) David Ferrer defeats (12) Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2
(8) Milos Raonic defeats (11) Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-3

Nadal, Wawrinka & Federer cruise into Monte Carlo third round

April 16, 2014

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Second-round results:

(1) Rafael Nadal defeats Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 6-1
(10) Fabio Fognini defeats Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(6), 6-4
(3) Stanislas Wawrinka defeats Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-2
(4) Roger Federer defeats Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-2
(12) Grigor Dimitrov defeats Albert Ramos 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
(8) Milos Raonic defeats Yen-Hsun Lu 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1
(11) Tommy Robredo defeats Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-0, 6-1
Pablo Carreno Busta defeats Gael Monfils 6-3, 7-6(6)
Lukas Rosol defeats Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-4
(15) Nicolas Almagro defeats Nicolas Mahut 7-6(3), 6-3
Andreas Seppi defeats Pablo Andujar 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeats (17) Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 7-5

Tennis Elbow: 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters: draw preview and analysis

April 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 previews the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

The series of tournament previews continues this week, with a look at the royalty of the Masters 1000 events.

While the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters does not have the excess of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, or the carelessness of the Sony Open Tennis in Miami, it has panache (and a Rolex) of its own. It’s set in Monaco, a principality that is governed by an actual monarchy. I call it the royalty of tournaments, because it basically is—if you played tennis on the backdrop of Mont Agel and the Mediterranean Sea, you’d probably feel like a king, too!

This tournament also serves as the de facto launch of the clay court season. Buckle up, people. We have about five months of tennis with very little interruption ahead of us.

The first section of the main draw is that of Rafael Nadal. I could give more details, but let this previous fact suffice. The Spaniard is the best clay court player in the world, and he’s only ever lost one (!!!) match at Monte-Carlo in his career. He’ll make it to the quarterfinals, then the semifinals and again to the final, because Nadal always does. Look for Grigor Dimitrov to continue his great season and join Nadal in the quarterfinals, if only because one player must—but he may as well be lamb thrown to the slaughter.

“Crazy” Stanislas Wawrinka headlines the second quarter, and something tells me Monte-Carlo might be the setting that reminds him that there’s more to the 2014 season than the Australian Open. He hasn’t played particularly well since January and he doesn’t even have to bring his A+ game to make the quarterfinals. There, Crazy Stan will battle…who exactly? I guess I’ll say Tommy Robredo. Because, that’s why.

Somehow, some way, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga remains ranked high enough to be the No. 9 seed. I don’t expect much, maybe one win and one loss because that’s essentially what he’s done so far this year at every tournament—he’ll lose his place in the final 8 to Italian Fabio Fognini, who unlike the Frenchman is playing as well as he ever has in his career. In the first four months in 2014, Roger Federer has proven to everyone that he’s maybe not quite ripe for the hospice like the end of last season seemed to say. So pencil him in across from Fognini.

While Nadal enters as the No. 1 seed and No. 1-ranked player, he somehow isn’t the defending champion, because Djokovic convincingly beat him a year ago. It was a big win for the Serb, coming in what is essentially his backyard (i.e. Djokovic lives in Monaco) and also the Spaniard’s figurative backyard. If Nadal is the Ned Stark of red clay, Djokovic could be its Joffrey (what, you don’t watch Game of Thrones?).

He’s almost as good as Nadal on the surface, and he’ll want to use this as the start of his march to his ultimate triumph at Porte d’Auteuil in Paris.

Oh, and the dog pound master himself, Alexandr Dolgopolov, is also in this final quarter. This time, it’ll be Tomas Berdych’s turn to suffer an ignominious death in the dog pound. It happens to the best of you, Berdych! (Well, except it won’t happen to Djokovic.)

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Grigor Dimitrov; Stanislas Wawrinka over Tommy Robredo; Roger Federer over Fabio Fognini; Novak Djokovic over Alexandr Dolgopolov

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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