Tennis Elbow: Can an American win in North America?

August 29, 2016

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 2016 US Open.

Here we are, at long last.

The Big One in the Big Apple, the 2016 US Open live from New York City. (It’s really more Flushing Meadows, but we’re willing to overlook the small difference here. New York is New York.)

Every year, the situation is the same, with the tennis season building and building to a crescendo, until the end of summer for the big show at ground zero of the United States Tennis Association and the US Open. The US Open.

The United States throw the tennis world’s biggest party and this much is evident, as we find in New York the biggest stadiums, the biggest crowds, the rowdiest atmosphere and just, generally, the most most everything.

In lieu of previewing the main draw for both men and women (something my colleague Tom Cochrane has already done), I’ll take a look at a few North American players who will be looking for a few statement wins over the next few days.

Men

Milos Raonic. The Canadian now sits at No. 6 on the ATP World Tour rankings, but he should overtake Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played really well, or been healthy, in a few years, at any point now. Milos Raonic has had himself quite a summer, making the Wimbledon final, the Rogers Cup quarterfinals and the Western & Southern Open semifinals. Raonic, now 25, could be next in line behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray if Roger Federer, Nadal and others are indeed as done as they’ve recently shown themselves to be. It’s not a coincidence Raonic’s name is third in the singles race this year.

Taylor Fritz. If American men’s tennis has a face, it’s that of the 18-year-old from California. Taylor Fritz has been seen as the next American men in line, after a long listless period, for about a year, and he’s shown quite a lot of promise. In his rookie season, Fritz has 12 wins in 28 matches and over $350,000 in prize money. He qualified for the Australian Open main draw, made the Memphis Open final and the BB&T Atlanta Open quarterfinals. He has spent quite some time on the Challenger circuit, but it doesn’t matter for now; at only 18, he’s already ranked at No. 54. Fritz will likely lose in the first round against 26th-seed Jack Sock, but that’s a match I wouldn’t want to miss.

*****

Women

Serena Williams. The American needs no introduction, but she might have received a little smudge of extra motivation as her No. 1 ranking was threatened in recent time due to Angelique Kerber’s excellent 2016 season. But on top of the rankings, Serena Williams has remained, inching closer and closer to Steffi Graf’s record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 with 186. With a win in Flushing Meadows, the American would move past Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in history. How’s that for motivation?

Eugenie Bouchard. You may not recall, but the Canadian had quite the 2015 US Open last year. Eugenie Bouchard made the fourth round, for one thing, which was about four extra rounds than most had expected; she was playing good, better than she had in about a year, but then she withdrew from her match against Roberta Vinci. The reason? A fall in the players’ dressing room that occurred under odd circumstances. Fast forward to a year later and Bouchard is back in New York. She has a lawsuit pending against the USTA, so expect quite a bit of awkwardness at every turn.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

PODCAST: Previewing the 2016 US Open

August 27, 2016

Welcome back to the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016, brought to you by Grand Slam Tennis Tours.

In this week’s show, Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to preview the US Open from New York. The final Grand Slam of the season will have a lot on the line for all of the top players. Novak Djokovic will want to keep his strangle hold on the No. 1 ranking and Serena Williams will be eager to fend off the recent charge of the other top women. Andy Murray will be hoping to win his second Major of the season and Milos Raonic will be adamant on building on his success from Wimbledon.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

US Open 2016: Men’s and Women’s Tournament Preview

August 26, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

With the US Open starting next week, let’s take a look at my predictions for the next fortnight of action from Flushing Meadows.

Men’s Singles

When Novak Djokovic won the French Open for the first time earlier this year, it appeared as though the Serb was a cut above the rest of the players on the ATP Tour. The win in Paris enabled Djokovic to complete the career Grand Slam and, as the holder of all four major titles, cemented his place as the world’s best player.

Djokovic’s win at Roland Garros did, however, take the focus off certain other forces at play. Andy Murray’s terrific run to the final meant he joined a select group of individuals who have made the final at each of the majors. And, whilst Murray faded in the final in Paris after an aggressive opening set, Djokovic tightened up noticeably toward the end of the fourth set, as he neared the finish line. The Serb’s tightness was not lost on Murray, who mounted one final surge. Murray’s fightback was ultimately unsuccessful but perhaps, in that moment, the Scot caught a glimpse of Djokovic’s fallibility.

Since Paris, it has been Murray who has dominated the ATP Tour, the world number two capturing his second Wimbledon crown as Djokovic crashed out to the big-serving American Sam Querrey in the first week. Murray then defended his Olympic title in Rio, becoming the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in singles, as Djokovic wept tears of sorrow after Juan Martin Del Potro ousted the top seed in the tournament’s opening round.

All of which brings us to the beginning of what promises to be a most intriguing US Open. Can Murray maintain his momentum and edge closer to the world number one ranking? Will Djokovic reassert himself after a rough summer? Or will an outsider claim the trophy, as Del Potro and Marin Cilic respectively did in 2009 and 2014?

Although hesitant to elaborate on the specifics, Djokovic has been under an injury cloud since Wimbledon and, apparently, has had to deal with some personal issues recently as well. Notwithstanding these setbacks, I favour the Serb to retain his title. Djokovic is at his best on fast, bouncy hard-courts, and if his health holds up I think he will be too strong for Murray should the pair meet in the final.

Djokovic is scheduled to face Cilic in the quarter-finals, which would be a terrific contest since it appears that Cilic, a recent Cincy Masters winner, is back in the sort of form that saw him win the title in 2014. Nadal or Raonic could await the top seed in the semi-finals but I don’t think Nadal is sufficiently match-fit to challenge the Serb, whilst Raonic can’t compete with Djokovic from the baseline.

Murray has had a tremendously consistent and successful year, and I think he will progress to the final despite having a number of dangerous players in his half of the draw, including Wawrinka, Nishikori and Rio silver medallist Del Potro, who looms as a particularly dangerous floater if his wrist holds up.

Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Andy Murray
Semi-finalists: Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka

******

Women’s singles

The 2016 storyline of the WTA Tour is remarkably similar to that of the ATP Tour. Just like Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams started the year as the clear cut best player, only for Angelique Kerber to chip away at the American’s dominance in much the same way as Andy Murray has gone about challenging Djokovic’s reign on the ATP Tour.

Kerber’s win at Melbourne Park showed that she wasn’t overawed by the spotlight of a Grand Slam final or intimidated by Serena Williams and her incredible record. After an unsurprisingly mediocre patch following the Australian Open, Kerber has bounced back strongly in recent months, losing narrowly to Williams in the Wimbledon final and then claiming a silver medal in Rio as Williams failed to medal in both singles and doubles.

There are concerns over Williams’ fitness, in particular her shoulder – which is a major issue given how much benefit she derives from her serve – but, after last year’s meltdown against Roberta Vinci, I suspect the American will be fixated on reclaiming the US Open crown.

The world number one has a tough draw, facing former semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova in the opening round and being scheduled to play Simona Halep in the quarter-finals. But I think Williams will relish the challenge of a tough draw and, if she can stay healthy, I think Grand Slam number twenty-three is on the cards. And, after a strong performance at Wimbledon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Serena’s sister Venus join her in the final four.

In the bottom half of the draw, I don’t have much hope for French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, who has had a wretched run since her success in Paris. Madison Keys is well placed to take advantage of an early exit by Muguruza and I predict a deep run for the young American. Kerber has been one of the most consistent performers on hard-courts this year and, despite last year’s finalist Vinci lurking in her quarter, I think the German will make it through to her third Grand Slam final of the year.

Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Angelique Kerber
Semi-finalists: Venus Williams, Madison Keys

That’s it for my tournament predictions. Enjoy the tennis and remember that you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Tennis Elbow: Look out, it’s Andy Murray

August 22, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the past few weeks in men’s tennis.

Don’t look now, but Andy Murray might be making his move to the top.

Lost in the madness that was Monica Puig’s triumph at the 2016 Rio Olympics, giving her native Puerto Rico its first Olympic gold medal, was that the Brit appears to be playing the best tennis of his career. He even says so, look. “I think I’m playing my best tennis just now. It’s not even close to anything else I had done before. Seven finals in a row, winning Wimbledon again, and the Olympics. It’s been really good,” he said. Okay? Okay.

In Rio, Murray took on everybody’s favourite Cinderella, ex-US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro who had managed to string together a few healthy days to compete, and discarded him rather easily by the score of 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 and 7-5.

By winning at Rio, Murray became the very first man to ever win two Olympic gold medals—which, to be honest, seems like a very “Andy Murray” distinction. “Hey, you know, we’ve never really given much weight to an Olympic gold in assessing players’ legacies, but let’s celebrate Murray for this one.”

Not too long ago, it might have felt like another way to throw the 29-year-old a bone. Tennis has been dominated by four men over the past decades, but the dirty little secret is that not all four men have dominated the sport in the same way or manner: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been mainstays, while it took Novak Djokovic until 2011 to really ascend to the top.

By contrast, Murray, nominally a member of the Big Four, was mostly spoken of in terms of all he could have done had he not been competing in the same era as the other three. “Yeah he’s got only a Grand Slam or two but imagine if he wasn’t with the others!”

Well yeah, that’s the point though!

Or rather: that was the point. After a second Olympic gold medal, Murray’s resume is slowly but surely looking better with every passing day: three Grand Slam titles, including two at fabled Wimbledon, 39 career titles, 600 match wins, etc. etc.

And most importantly for fans of the 29-year-old, the man appears to have hit another gear over the past two months. He has only seven losses in 2016 and until this past week, his last one had come all the way back to early June in the French Open final. He had added the AEGON Championships, Wimbledon, and the Rio Olympics crowns before losing again in the Western & Southern final. He had managed a career-best win streak of 22 matches. “I didn’t get broken the last couple of matches and when I was in difficult situations I made good choices,” Murray said, speaking after his win in the Cincinnati semifinal over Milos Raonic. “That’s helped keep the matches shorter. If you’re a bit lower on confidence, regardless of how fresh you are, if you haven’t played loads of matches you make bad decisions in those moments.”

Oddly enough, Murray’s last loss might have been a blessing in disguise. Over the last few years, Djokovic had put all, or most of, his eggs into the basket that was winning a first French Open title. He did, in 2016, and the Serb’s results since have been on a clear decline—understandably too, because it’s human nature to relax, just a tiny bit, after you’ve accomplished all that you’ve wanted to. You’re relentless until you’ve accomplished everything, at which point you relent just a little.

If Djokovic has declined, then Murray has risen. While the Scotsman, with 9,305 points, will not match the Serb, with 14,480 points, on the ATP World Tour rankings, he’s distanced himself quite a bit from the peloton of Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka, and the rest.

In 2016, it’s the Big One of Djokovic, followed by the other Big One of Murray.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

PODCAST: Reviewing Cincy; US Open Next up

August 21, 2016

Welcome back to the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016, brought to you by Grand Slam Tennis Tours.

In this week’s show, Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to review the Western & Southern Open from Cincinnati, Ohio. With most of the top names either withdrawing or losing early, we recap the action in Mason, Ohio, while looking forward to the culminating Grand Slam of the season in New York City.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Pliskova and Cilic win Cincinnati titles

August 21, 2016

WESTERN & SOUTHERN OPEN—CINCINNATI, OH, U.S.A.

Karolina Pliskova and Marin Cilic won respective titles at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sunday. First up, Pliskova upended No. 2 seed Angie Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in one hour and three minutes. Winning the biggest title of her career, Pliskova won 86 percent of his first serve points and broke Kerber’s serve on five occasions. Capturing her third win over Kerber in seven career meetings, Pliskova will now head into the US Open full of confidence.

Kerber, who was aiming to take over the No. 1 ranking in the world over Serena Williams, will head into New York as the No. 2 seed.

Over on the men’s side, former US Open winner Cilic captured his first-ever Masters 1000 title over top seed Andy Murray, dismissing the Brit 6-4, 7-5. In a match that lasted one hour and 34 minutes, Cilic continued his impeccable serving by winning 100 percent of his first serve points in the second set (16/16), while slamming home seven aces in total. Not defeating Murray since the 2014 event in Rotterdam, Cilic gained 910 points for his victory and will enter the top 10 at No. 9 when the latest rankings are released.

Murray, who hadn’t lost a match since the French Open final, also had his 22-match winning snapped on Sunday.

Both Cilic and Murray will next see action at the US Open in New York.

Cilic, Dimitrov and Opelka reach Cincinnati Masters second round

August 15, 2016

Western & Southern Open—Cincinnati, Ohio

First-round results:

Julien Benneteau DEFEATS (10) David Ferrer 64 26 64
(12) Marin Cilic DEFEATS Viktor Troicki 63 64
Kevin Anderson DEFEATS Alexandr Dolgopolov 75 (RET)
Pablo Cuevas DEFEATS Sam Querrey 46 76(5) 63
Grigor Dimitrov DEFEATS Gilles Simon 61 63
Jared Donaldson DEFEATS Nicolas Almagro 63 762
Reilly Opelka DEFEATS Jeremy Chardy 36 75 76(9)

Tennis Elbow: Monica Puig reigns supreme over Rio 2016

August 15, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2016 Rio Olympic tennis tournament.

Now, only one week after its start, the 2016 Rio Olympic tennis tournament is a thing of the past.

And that’s the thing, once you’ve had a little time to reflect on it and aren’t so caught up in the lead-up to it, the Olympic Games are really just another tennis tournament. Sure, you’re representing your country and playing in front of millions and millions watching around the world, and the stakes couldn’t be higher, and…and, well, it’s just tennis.

Presumably, the non-professional athlete that I am believes this is the way to treat the Olympic Games: the stage is bigger, the lights are brighter and, oh look that’s Usain Bolt, but in the end the endgame is the same. It’s just you, your racquet, a yellow tennis ball and your opponent, and you trying your hardest to emerge victorious.

Except that, yeah, in many ways the Olympic tournament isn’t just like any other tournament.

In the stunner of all stunners, Monica Puig emerged victorious out of the women’s draw, beating the No. 3-seeded (and French Open champion) Garbine Muguruza and the No. 11-seeded (and two-time Wimbledon champion) Petra Kvitova, before defeating the No. 2-seeded (and Australian Open champion) Angelique Kerber in the final by the score of 6-4, 4-6 and 6-1.

After her victory, the native of Puerto Rico was understandably ecstatic. “I’m in shock, I just don’t even really know what to say. I’m so excited,” Puig said after winning the gold medal. “This is for Puerto Rico. This is definitely for them. […] I think I united a nation.”

You could say that, yes.

Puerto Rico sent athletes to the Olympic Games for the first time 68 years ago, and in reaching the final Puig has given her country its very first ever Olympic medal of any kind.

This medal, it turns out, is golden after undeniably the biggest victory of the 22-year-old’s career—though you might have said it was as easy as one, two, three. Coming into the Rio final, Puig would need to score her third career win over a Top 5 WTA player (her second such victory had come earlier in the event, against Muguruza) to secure the gold; she did. “It’s always tough,” Puig said. “There’s always a lot of jitters, a lot of anxiety there every single night. But I knew what was the main goal going in here, and I just can’t believe it.”

And if she were to defeat Kerber, who had yet to lose a set in the tournament and had defeated her in both of their career encounters, Puig would then add a second career title to her resume. She did, and what a title this one is: an Olympic gold medal, a first one for her and for her country!

This is all you, Monica. Enjoy it, it’s one hell of an achievement.

(Andy Murray also won gold in the men’s draw but, like, whatever.)

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

PODCAST: Reviewing Rio; Previewing Cincy

August 14, 2016

Welcome back to the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016, brought to you by Grand Slam Tennis Tours.

In this week’s show, Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to review the Olympics Games from Rio and preview the Western & Southern Open from Cincinnati, Ohio. With the grind from Rio complete, the regular Tour is back in full swing, but depleted fields on both the men’s and women’s sides have us concerned about final preparations for the US Open.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Murray Wins Gold Medal at Olympic Games

August 14, 2016

Rio de Janerio Olympic Games

Top seed Andy Murray won his second career Olympic Gold Medal in Rio on Sunday, defeating fan-favourite Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. Needing over four hours to complete his victory, Murray overcame the hard-hitting onslaught from his Argentine opponent to capture his 18th straight win on Tour.

Improving to 6-2 against del Potro in lifetime meetings, Murray used his fitness and his consistent play from the baseline to ultimately win the contest.

Del Potro, who had previously defeated both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal earlier in the event, showed great heart throughout the encounter but ultimately fell to his fitter, British opponent.

In the bronze medal match, Kei Nishikori defeated former world No. 1 Nadal 6-2, 6-7(1), 6-3.

Next Page »