Wimbledon 2015 Day 3 Preview: Will Haas challenge Raonic on Canada Day?

June 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Two of last year’s ladies’ semi-finalists have fallen at the first hurdle this year, with Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep both crashing out of the tournament on Day 2.

Day 2 Recap

On a bright and sunny day in London, Eugenie Bouchard’s gloomy year turned from bad to worse, the Canadian going down to Ying-Ying Duan, ranked 117 in the world, in a loss which will see Bouchard drop outside the world’s top 20. Simona Halep fared little better, the third seed unable to match Jana Cepelova in the deciding set of their match. There was better news for defending champion Petra Kvitova, who dropped just one game en route to round 2, and fellow seeds Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova and Agnieszka Radwanska, all of whom progressed to the second round.

In the men’s tournament, the three big names in action on Day 2 all progressed in straight sets. Andy Murray saw off the Kazakh Kukushkin, Rafael Nadal cruised past Thomaz Bellucci from Brazil and second seed Roger Federer was too good for the young Bosnian Dumzhur. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was forced to 5 sets by Gilles Muller before prevailing, whilst Gilles Simon scored a good win over Nicolas Almagro. Other seeds to win on Day 2 included Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez and the big-serving Ivo Karlovic.

Matches of the Day – Day 3

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Jarkko Nieminen

Novak Djokovic did everything that was asked of him in round 1, delivering a solid straight sets win over the dangerous Philipp Kohlschreiber. I think the Serb will get better as the tournament goes on and Nieminen, in his last Wimbedon ever, is unlikely to have the energy to match Djokovic after enduring a 4 hour victory in round 1 against fellow upcoming retiree Lleyton Hewitt.

If Nieminen serves particularly well, then he has an outside chance, but with Djokovic’s returning abilities among the very best, if not the best, in the game right now, I think the Finn will have his work cut out for him to make the scoreline respectable. Djokovic in 3.

2. Tommy Haas vs. Milos Raonic

Veteran Tommy Haas is once again on the comeback trail from injury, but one has to think that his days on a tennis court are numbered. The German is a former Wimbledon semi-finalist and has been ranked as high as number 2 in the world. He’s comfortable on grass-courts and will trouble Raonic if he can get enough balls back into play on the Raonic serve.

Having skipped Wimbledon to get his body in tip-top shape for Wimbledon, Raonic should be raring to go. His ballistic serve was the catalyst for his run to the semi-finals at SW19 last year, and I think it will make a key difference once again. Look for Haas to start strong before fading as Raonic proves relentless on serve. Raonic in 4.

3. Dominic Thiem vs. Fernando Verdasco

Rising star Thiem has his work cut out for him against the super powerful Verdasco, who is one of the hardest hitters on the ATP Tour and a former Australian Open semi-finalist. Verdasco’s mental strength has always been a little shaky, but when he is on song then he is one of the hardest players in the world to stop.

I think that Thiem has a very bright future ahead of him, and I will back the young Austrian to be more consistent than his Spanish adversary down the stretch. Look for Verdasco to wilter in the key moments and for Thiem to claim a valuable win. Thiem in 5.

4. Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Ana Ivanovic

There has been so much talk of Serena Williams’ quest for the calendar Grand Slam that few people have stopped to realise that Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova are halfway to a calendar Grand Slam as well. And whilst Mattek-Sands has been in great form on the doubles court, it is time she really delivered on her potential on the singles court.

Mattek-Sands has plenty of power, but this is likely to play into the hands of former world number one Ivanovic, who loves to receive a hard and fast ball. Ivanovic did well in Paris and I fancy her chances of another good showing here. Ivanovic in 3.

5. Kirsten Flipkens vs. Victoria Azarenka

Former world number one Azarenka raced through her opening match on Monday, but the Belarusian will likely find the going far tougher against Flipkens, who is a former semi-finalist at the All England Club. The Belgian has a compact and classical all-court game and won’t be intimidated by Azarenka today.

Azarenka, as a two-time major winner, deserves to go into this match as the clear favourite, but I don’t think Flipkens will make it easy for the twenty-third seed to progress to the third round. Look for this one to go the distance, with Azarenka’s big match experience ultimately proving the difference. Azarenka in 3.

Put your house on: Serena Williams. The top seeded American won’t trip up against Hungarian Timeas Babos.

Upset alert: Frenchman Kenny De Schepper could cause some major problems for his compatriot, former semi-finalist Richard Gasquet.

Likely to go the distance: As noted above, I think the Verdasco-Thiem clash has all the makings of a long and gruelling encounter.

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

Wimbledon 2015 Day 2 Preview: Federer, Nadal and Tsonga on deck

June 29, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Former champion Lleyton Hewitt has played his last competitive match at Wimbledon, the 2002 winner going down 11-9 in the deciding set to fellow veteran Jarkko Nieminen in a pulsating opening day contest.

Day 1 Recap

Having outlasted Hewitt, Nieminen will next face defending champion Novak Djokovic, who overcame German Philipp Kohlschreiber in a measured performance. Other big names to secure wins on Day 1 included French Open winner Stan Wawrinka, fifth seed Kei Nishikori, reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic and last year’s semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, all of whom progressed with straight sets victories.

Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic were standout performers at SW19 last year and they both started their 2015 campaigns with wins on the first day of play, as did Bernard Tomic, Tommy Haas and Richard Gasquet. The news was not so good for seeds Cuevas and Robredo however, as they departed the tournament at the first hurdle.

In the women’s tournament, there were emphatic wins for most of the leading players in action on Day 1. Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic refused to give up even one game against Madison Brengle and Shelby Rogers respectively whilst Sharapova, Serena Williams, Ivanovic and Azarenka lost only a handful of games each.

French Open finalist Lucie Safarova was forced to 3 sets but ultimately prevailed, whilst rising star Belinda Bencic continued her good form on grass with a fighting 3 set win over former semi-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova. The biggest upsets of the day saw Flavia Pennetta and Carla Suarez Navarro hit the exit turnstiles, although neither player is at their best on grass.

Matches of the Day – Day 2

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci

Nadal might be seeded a lowly tenth for this year’s tournament but, armed with a friendly draw, I would not be surprised to see the two-time champion put in a good showing at the All England Club. His recent results at Wimbledon have been poor, but this year Nadal enters the tournament more rested than usual and the win in Stuttgart will have boosted his confidence.

Bellucci is a talented player and has already claimed a tournament win this year, but the Brazilian leftie is far more at home on the red dirt. I suspect Nadal will be a bit shaky early on but will grow in confidence as the match and the tournament go on. Nadal in 3.

2. Tomas Berdych vs. Jeremy Chardy

Berdych is a former finalist at Wimbledon and is having an extremely consistent year to date. If he can get through the first week of the tournament without any major hiccups, he will be a major danger in the second week, when the courts dry out and play more like low-bouncing hard-courts.

Chardy is a talented player who can cause problems for the very best players when his serve and forehand combination is on song. But Berdych is the better mover around the court and that’s important early on, when lots of balls slide and skid through. Berdych in 4.

3. Roger Federer vs. Damir Dzumhur

This pair met for the first time in Paris a few weeks ago, when former childhood actor Dzumhur turned in a creditable performance against the Swiss superstar. However, the Bosnian never really threatened Federer during that match and I can’t see him challenging the 17-time major winner today.

Wimbledon is the title Federer most wants to win again before he retires, and it is also the Grand Slam that he has the best chance at reclaiming. Look for the second seed to be focused and businesslike in claiming the win in this one. Federer in 3.

4. Jarmila Gajdosova vs. Sabine Lisicki

Sabine Lisicki has one of the very best serves on the WTA Tour and it has served her well in previous trips to the All England Club, taking her past top seed Serena Williams and all the way through to the final a couple of years ago. If the German can get her confidence up with some good early round wins, another trip to the final stages of the tournament is not out of the question.

This should be an entertaining contest, with Gajdosova also being a hard-hitter and explosive shotmaker. I think the Aussie can make this one interesting, but Lisicki’s serve gives her the edge. Lisicki in 2.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Gilles Muller

One never knows what to expect from flamboyant Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Having played hardly any tennis entering this year’s French Open, Tsonga put together a breathtaking run to the semi-finals. On account of that performance, a strong showing at SW19 is definitely on the cards.

Muller is a steady player and the Luxembourg leftie will take advantage of any lapses in concentration from his opponent. But Tsonga has more flair and should prevail in relatively straightforward fashion. Tsonga in 4.

Put your house on: Andy Murray. The former champion will have too much grass-court prowess for Mikhail Kukushkin today.

Upset alert: Sam Groth could well surprise American seed Jack Sock in today’s battle of the big servers.

Likely to go the distance: I favor Gilles Simon to ultimately prevail but former top tenner Nicolas Almagro will make it mighty difficult for the Frenchman.

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


Wimbledon 2015: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Day 1 Picks

June 28, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Greetings and welcome to the 2015 Wimbledon championships and the beginning of two weeks of coverage of the year’s most prestigious tennis tournament, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.

Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all of the action from the All England Club. As usual, the first issue showcases my overall tournament predictions as well as taking a look at the day’s feature matches.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

With the break between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon being extended to 3 weeks for the first time this year, it will be fascinating to see which players benefit from the longer transition period. Roger Federer, for one, claims he has never felt better prepared for the year’s third major. For players such as Wawrinka and Djokovic, who were involved in the last day of action in Paris, the extra week has to be an enormous help simply in terms of extra recovery time.

Having suffered heartache in Paris, I think Djokovic was wise to take time out and recuperate physically and mentally. Having not played any official grass-court matches this year, I think the top seed will take a while to produce his best tennis at SW19, but he’s too good a player to come unstuck in the first week of the tournament. That said, tricky contests against Kohlschreiber, Hewitt and Tomic are on the cards before a likely quarter-final contest against Nishikori or Cilic.

I can’t see Wawrinka doing particularly well in London. After playing the match of his life to beat Djokovic in Paris, I think the Swiss star will suffer some sort of letdown on the grass, which has always been his weakest surface. That provides an opportunity for the likes of Dimitrov, Gasquet and Raonic to make a deep run in Wawrinka’s quarter of the draw. With his ballistic serve, I favour Raonic to do well at Wimbledon once again this year.

In the bottom half of the draw, Federer and Murray are scheduled to square off in the semi-finals, and I can’t imagine either of them tripping up before that stage, notwithstanding the threats posed by the various talents lurking in the bottom half of the draw, including Tsonga, Nadal and Berdych. Federer is desperate to win one more title at the tournament he loves the most, whilst Murray’s tremendous form in 2015 and the support of the home crowd make him one of the title favourites.

I fancy Raonic’s chances of repeating last year’s run to the semi-finals, but I can’t see him getting the better of Djokovic. A Federer-Murray semi-final, if it happens, should be a close-run affair, but with Murray at the peak of his powers and Federer no longer at his very best, I’ll back the Scot to make it through to another final at the All England Club. But since his win over Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final, Murray has struggled to match Djokovic in the critical moments of their matches, and I can’t see that trend changing if the pair meet in another major final. Djokovic in 4.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Federer, Raonic

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Whilst there are plenty of dark horses in the women’s draw, including the likes of 5-time winner Venus Williams, former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, French Open finalist Lucie Safarova, big serving German Sabine Lisicki and grass-court expert Tsvetana Pironkova, to my mind there is only a handful of players who are actually capable of winning the tournament.

Top seed Serena Williams is halfway to completing a calendar Grand Slam and accordingly enters the tournament as the red-hot favourite. However, as she showed last year, Williams is not invincible on any surface and this year the American will have the added pressure of keeping alive her bid for the calendar Grand Slam. Williams’ win in Paris was a testament to her fighting abilities, proving once again that whilst many players can challenge Williams, few can actually go all the way and beat her.

Defending champion Petra Kvitova has a game perfectly suited to grass-courts and I expect her to be there on the final Saturday of the tournament. Kvitova’s form this year has been typically erratic, but the Czech did score an important win over Williams in Madrid (her first ever win over the world number one) and always lifts a notch or two when she arrives in London.

Maria Sharapova is the other player who I think has a realistic chance of winning the championship. It seems crazy to think it was more than a decade since the Russian claimed her one and only Wimbledon championship, but in the intervening decade the fourth seed has acquired masses of experience whilst losing none of her trademark competitiveness and determination. But, just as Murray has struggled to figure out Djokovic’s game in recent times, so has Sharapova struggled (for even longer) to find ways to beat Williams. I’ll back Williams to take down Sharapova should the pair meet in the semi-finals, with Kvitova having too much firepower for Simona Halep in the other semi-final.

A Williams-Kvitova final has all the makings of a blockbuster, but I think the American will neutralise Kvitova’s biggest weapon, her serve, with some spirited returns and move one step closer to achieving what would be the crowning glory of her illustrious career, the career Grand Slam.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Petra Kvitova

Semi-finalists: Sharapova, Halep

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber

The top-seeded Serb kicks off his campaign against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was unlucky to miss out on a seeding when David Ferrer withdrew from the tournament after today’s order of play had already been released. Kohlschreiber is a former top 20 player who has plenty of experience and who has been as far as the Wimbledon quarter-finals before.

Djokovic will still be disappointed after losing the final in Paris to Wawrinka, but as a consummate professional the world number 1 should bounce back in style at the All England Club. I expect the German to go for his shots, and for Djokovic to take his time getting settled into the match, given that the Serb has not played any official matches since Roland Garros. Look for the pair to split a tight opening couple of sets before Djokovic lifts a gear and pulls away. Djokovic in 4.

2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Joao Sousa

Sousa is an underrated player on the ATP Tour, with the Portuguese player recording some very solid results in the past couple of years, predominantly on clay. As noted above, I expect that Wawrinka will find it hard to back up his terrific performance in Paris, but I do think he will win a few rounds at least in London.

Wawrinka has a game that is well-suited for grass, with a powerful serve and an underrated volleying ability, but it’s never been a particularly happy hunting ground for the fourth seed. However, armed with the confidence that comes with being a winner of multiple Grand Slams, perhaps this will be the year that Wawrinka finally turns it on at SW19. Wawrinka in 4.

3. Jarkko Nieminen vs. Lleyton Hewitt

Former champion Lleyton Hewitt has announced that he will retire after next year’s Australian Open, meaning that this is the Aussie’s last trip as a player to the hallowed All England Club. The former world number one has always been a formidable grass-court player and, with Djokovic almost certain to be waiting in the second round, Hewitt will be desperate to win this match and have one final crack at the world’s best player on Hewitt’s best surface.

Nieminen is a veteran himself and the Finn will be no pushover for Hewitt. The Australian needs to pace himself through this match and not press too hard too early – Hewitt does have a tendency to get himself into trouble when he forces the play too much. That said, if he can remain composed then I think the Australian’s grass-court prowess will get him across the line in this one. Hewitt in 4.

4. Belinda Bencic vs. Tsvetana Pironkova

Young Swiss player Bencic is a star of the future and has a clever all-court game that should serve her well at the All England Club in the years to come. Pironkova is very much a hot and cold player, capable of getting on big winning streaks (such as the streak that took her from the qualifying rounds to the title in Sydney last year). The Bulgarian is something of a grass-court specialist, having made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2010 and the quarter-finals the following year on the back of her hard, flat groundstrokes and exceptional agility.

This should be a very close contest, but on grass I think Pironkova will feel comfortable and confident, and I will back the Bulgarian to use her greater firepower to claim the win in 3 sets. Pironkova in 3.

5. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Federico Delbonis

Having defeated Andy Murray en route to the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year, the pressure is now on for Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov as he seeks to back up that superb run and defend his points from last year. The Bulgarian’s form has been up and down in 2015, but I do think his game is well-suited to grass, as last year’s efforts in London highlight. His Aussie coach Roger Rasheed is also a big fan of grass-courts and I have no doubt that Rasheed has been fine-tuning Dimitrov’s game for this tournament.

Argentine Delbonis, like so many of his compatriots, is far more assured on clay-courts and actually won a clay-court challenger event on the weekend just gone, which clearly shows his preference for the red dirt. I don’t think he will cause too many problems for Dimitrov today, but it remains to be seen how far Dimitrov can go in this year’s tournament. Dimitrov in 3.

Put your house on: Maria Sharapova. The former champion and fourth seed should be far too strong for local hope Johanna Konta.

Upset alert: Young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, like most of his countrymen, is very at home on grass, and I think he could upset twenty-fourth seeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer, who is much more comfortable on clay-courts.

Likely to go the distance: The all-Slovak clash between veteran Daniela Hantuchova and former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova has brutal slugfest written all over it. With Cibulkova still searching for her best form after undergoing heel surgery earlier in the year, I’ll back Hantuchova to come out on top.

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

Tennis Elbow: The youngsters arrive at Wimbledon

June 28, 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 previews the third Grand Slam of the season.

The world of tennis has descended upon the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for the prestigious Wimbledon Grand Slam. Already.

Every year is the same: the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals seem so far away in January but before you know it, you look up and Rafael Nadal has already crushed someone’s dreams at Roland Garros and Wimbledon is here. Switch Stanislas Wawrinka for the Spaniard for this season, but the point remains: time goes by so quickly.

The same thing can certainly be said about life in general: what once seemed so far away will arrive before you’ve really had time to realize that it has. Oh, you’ve graduated from elementary school? Congratulations, you’ll choose your major for college before you know it.

Time offers the promise of potential for young tennis players, but you have to work hard to turn potential into actuality: otherwise, you’ll find that the Wimbledons just seem to be coming and going, and you keep getting older, without getting better.

As we’ve done for Roland Garros, let’s the younger players to know at Wimbledon, because they could surprise us this year.

Women’s draw

Who: Belinda Bencic

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 31

Nationality: Swiss

First-round opponent: Tsevtana Pironkova

Feat of arms: Ever since Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has taken the WTA Tour by storm, it seems like we’ve reassessed the typical career trajectory and script of young players. Most don’t simply jump in and win matches at the Grand Slam events; they tend to first win at the relatively lower tournaments, and it’s certainly been the case for Belinda Bencic.

And yet, she does have quite one notable feat of arms: a year ago at the US Open, she enjoyed her first real breakthrough, reaching the quarterfinals and reminding everyone that the future of women’s tennis didn’t simply belong to Canada. Jump ahead to this month, and you’ll find a player who has reached two finals on grass and has captured the Eastbourne International title by beating former No. 2-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.

Who: Ana Konjuh

Age: 17

Ranking: No. 55

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Alize Cornet

Feat of arms: You say and think that Ana Konjuh is young and can’t drink champagne yet, and while this is certainly true, she does happen to have made her entry into the Top 100 in October of last year at age 16. So Konjuh is young, yes, but that hasn’t stopped her so far, including at the Nottingham Open where she became the youngest champion on tour since 2006.

The Croatian is great and has plenty of potential, as evidenced by her winning the 2013 Australian Open and US Open junior events and becoming the No. 1-ranked juniors. But she’s already started turning that potential into concrete results.

Who: Laura Robson

Age: 21

Ranking: Unranked

Nationality: British

First-round opponent: Evgeniya Rodina

Feat of arms: It would be silly to expect anything from Laura Robson, who enters the main draw of Wimbledon with a wildcard after a layoff of a year and a half due to a wrist injury. We simply mention her because 1) she is British, 2) she has been through a lot and we’d like to see good things happen to her, 3) she has received the kind draw for this to be possible and 4) we have mentioned Eugenie Bouchard earlier, and Watson and Bouchard still aren’t friends.

Gangnam Style seems so long ago :( .

*****

Men’s draw

Who: Nick Kyrgios

Age: 20

Ranking: No. 29

Nationality: Australian

First-round opponent: Diego Schwartzman

Feat of arms: Nick Kyrgios may not be the most talented of the new crop of players on the ATP World Tour, though I personally would pick him, but one look at him on a tennis court shows that he certainly is the most boisterous. He’s the most controversial too, reminding us of this when he admitted last week that he doesn’t love tennis and prefers basketball.

Mind you, he says this on the eve of his follow-up to his first breakthrough, when he beat Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon a year ago. And still, all is right for the most marketable Australian athlete.

Who: Borna Coric

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 40

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Sergiy Stakhovsky

Feat of arms: Hey, speaking of youngsters who have defeated Nadal… Borna Coric already loves “His Wimbledon” experience, and has the overall game to excel on any surface and a style of play that has drawn comparisons with the No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Coric is the star of tomorrow, so long as you admit that tomorrow has already arrived. The draw hasn’t been especially kind for the Croatian, with Andreas Seppi likely on his path in the second round, before Andy Murray in the next match. A tough ask… then again, Coric has already beaten Murray once.

Who: Hyeon Chung

Age: 19

Ranking: No. 79

Nationality: South Korean

First-round opponent: Pierre-Hugues Herbert

Feat of arms: Let’s end with the 19-year-old South Korean, who has enjoyed his greatest result at the Grand Slam level this week at Wimbledon simply by making the first round of the main draw. Chung mostly focuses on the Challenger Tour, but his future is bright and, if not for a silly, silly mistake, his breakthrough at a major might have arrived earlier. He received a wildcard entry to the qualifying draw of the French Open from the Roland Garros officials despite being ranked No. 69 at the time: he and the Korean tennis association had missed the entry deadline for the tournament.

That’s right—Chung had become so good so quickly that he hadn’t anticipated he could compete in the French Open. That’s #humblebrag if I’ve ever seen it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Previewing the 2015 Wimbledon Championships

June 27, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to preview the 2015 Wimbledon Championships during their latest Podcast.

Even with the extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon, top seed Novak Djokovic was nowhere to be seen during the warm up events. Will the lack of match play hurt the world No. 1 as he attempts to defend his title? How about Andy Murray and Roger Federer? The duo won respective 500 level events leading into Wimbledon and there’s no doubt that they are two of the top five favorites to win the title.

We also discuss Serena Williams’ quest to continue her calender year slam, and look at the dark-horses on both and women’s and men’s side.

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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Tennis Elbow: The potential trump card of Serena Williams

June 22, 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 asks an important question.

Can Serena Williams win the calendar Grand Slam this season?

This is another way of asking whether she can complete what she is already halfway through, after winning last month’s French Open, and win the remaining two Grand Slam tournaments of this season to put her career total at 22 and on par with the great Steffi Graf. The quest continues in a week when the tennis faithful descend upon the cathedral of the sport that is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

I’ll spare you the suspense and confess that yes this is another column praising the younger of the Williams sisters. But to say this isn’t right either, because it’s much more than that. What’s left to say about someone, after all, when everything has already been said?

Maybe you haven’t heard, but this Serena Williams is fairly great at tennis. She will turn 34 at the end of September and is still thriving on the WTA Tour. Williams has lost just once in 33 matches in 2015, and even that one loss doesn’t actually count: it came in a walkover in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia against Christina McHale.

Considering her record this year, and despite her age, Williams has to be seen as a clear favourite for the remaining two majors. It would simply meet the standard of excellence she’s long ago defined for herself: winning Wimbledon would guarantee her at least three majors this season, something she has already accomplished once, all the way back in 2002 when she was much younger. A Wimbledon win would also mean that she would hold all four Grand Slam tournaments at once yet again, a feat she is the last player to manage 12 years ago. So really, what’s a calendar Slam?

Williams’s journey starts in Wimbledon at tennis’s greatest cathedral, where she’ll likely have to overcome defending champion Petra Kvitova if she hopes to add a sixth title at yet another major. After a win there, Williams will have all the pressure in the world when she heads to the US Open, her home tournament where she has felt home only very recently: of her six US Open titles, three have come in the previous three years.

This potential calendar Slam would give Williams the ultimate trump card in the debate over which player is the greatest of all time. It would be more impressive than Martina Navratilova’s six Grand Slam titles in a row, more impressive than Steffi Graf’s 13 straight finals and 22 major titles, and 89.74 per cent winning percentage at majors, and more impressive than Chris Evert’s 34 overall major finals.

With a calendar slam, Williams would have accomplished something none of her historic peers has done. This basically describes her entire career—accomplishing what no one else has—so maybe we should expect those two wins. (Even though, at the beginning of the season, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything from her.)

It’s simple really. Win the last two Grand Slams of the season and become the best ever. She’s done it once already: this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Federer wins eighth Halle title; Murray claims fourth Queen’s Club crown

June 21, 2015

Gerry Weber Open—Halle, Germany

Roger Federer prepared for Wimbledon in the best way possible on Sunday in Halle, Germany, capturing his eighth career title over Andreas Seppi 7-6(1), 6-4. Striking 14 aces and winning 81 percent of his first serve points, Federer improved to 12-1 against Seppi in lifetime meetings. Taking home his 86th career ATP World Tour title, Federer will head into Wimbledon as the No. 2 seed.

*****

Queen’s Club—London, England

No. 1 seed Andy Murray claimed his fourth title the ATP World Tour event in Queen’s Club on Sunday, winning a comfortable encounter against Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4. Never looking in danger during the straight set affair, Murray also captured his third title of 2015 and 34th overall. The Brit, who won Wimbledon in 2013, will head into The Championships as one of the favorites.

Tennis Elbow: Everybody loves everybody but Boris Becker hates this

June 15, 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 ponders the rivalry between the top players.

Boris Becker would call this, what, too much love found? What’s the opposite of “No love lost”?

The German has published a new book, appropriately titled “Wimbledon: My life and career at the All England Club” considering his success at the place during his career, and discusses many topics. (Not that I’ve read it. I just know, because that’s how all books work. The book was released on June 8, 2015; why not buy it for your dad? Father’s Day is this weekend, and your father most definitely did watch Becker play about 20+ years ago.)

Among said topics the 47-year-old tackles is the current lack of rivalry between top players of the ATP World Tour. Notably, he insists that his protégé Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer “don’t particularly like each other,” despite the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any kind of contention between the two.

There’s no love lost between Federer and Djokovic is what Becker is saying, and it’s apparently because of the Swiss. “The reason Roger is one of the highest-paid athletes of all time is because he’s liked by everybody. But think about this—you can’t possibly be liked by everybody… He makes good money out of his image, but would he make less if we saw a bit more of his true feelings?”

Maybe.

It’s no secret that Federer has built an empire on being a gentleman, on being a man every parent can point to with their children and say, “See? That’s someone you should look up to” as they watch him play matches. Federer never speaks out, either because he never has anything bad to say or, more likely, because he chooses not to.

But the post-script of Becker’s quote is that if the 33-year-old were to speak his mind, then we may hear him say some not-so-gracious things about Djokovic.

That’s not exactly surprising.

The two have faced each other 39 times so far in their career, with the Swiss holding a slight 20-19 edge (but Djokovic leading the way at 9-5 in finals). Their last real classic confrontation happened, for my money, four years ago in the semi-final of the US Open.

After that match (which he lost, oh by the way), Federer acted out. He was, let’s not mince words here, a crybaby, a petulant child who couldn’t accept the result. “It’s awkward having to explain this loss, because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference,” he said. “To lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go.”

Djokovic was only starting his ascent by then, distancing himself from the likes of Andy Murray to join the firmament of the sport, where Federer and Rafael Nadal resided. And if there is a rivalry between him and Federer, it stems from a contrast between their two personalities: the Swiss is like his country, neutral and gracious, and friends with everyone; Djokovic is boisterous, a showman, and at times funny and silly. Becker would say that he finds Djokovic much less boring than Federer, but we can’t overlook that it’s coming from one of the Serb’s two coaches.

But in 2015, that contrast is overplayed: the Serb has matured, both on the court during matches and afterward, and is not quite the Djoker anymore. Gone are his player imitations: thrilling as they might have been, he’s understood that it will neither help him win matches, nor gain the respect of his peers.

Rather, it’s for moments like the following, at the Roland Garros final just over a week ago, that Djokovic is remembered now. In 2015, Djokovic is gracious in defeat, in part because he’s had so many sad moments at Grand Slam finals over the years; it’s like he’s taken a page out of the Roger Federer notebook.

Back to Becker now for a minute, he has since softened his stance re: Federer on his Twitter account.

To his credit, he doesn’t hide from the fact that it all has served as great publicity for his book.

Hey, I’ll buy his book. I don’t care. Either for myself or for my father, but I’ll sure buy his book.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Nadal wins Stuttgart title; Mahut upsets Goffin for Topshelf Open crown

June 14, 2015

MercedesCup—Stuttgart, Germany

Top seed Rafa Nadal won his 66th career title on Sunday in Stuttgart, Germany, defeating Viktor Troicki 7-6(3), 6-3. Hitting 11 aces and winning 75 percent of his first serve points, Nadal took the only break of serve in the match in the second set. Dropping to No. 10 in the world this week as a result of his quarterfinal loss at Roland Garros, Nadal won 250 ATP World Tour points with his victory and a new Mercedes Benz car. Troicki, who was aiming to win his second title of the season, fell to 0-5 against Nadal in head-to-head matches.

*****

TopShelf Open—s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

Unseeded Frenchman Nicolas Mahut claimed his second title in s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday in The Netherlands, racing past No. 2 seed David Goffin 7-6(1), 6-1. Winning 75 percent of his service points, Mahut entered the event as a qualifier but proved that his pedigree on grass is still top notch. Taking home title No. 3, Mahut will look to be a darkhorse at Wimbledon in two week’s time. Goffin, who is currently ranked No. 15 in the world, was hoping to claim his third Tour title this week.

Tennis Elbow: Stanislas Wawrinka spoils Novak Djokovic’s party

June 8, 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 first week of the 2015 Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic has done it. The No. 1-ranked player has completed the career Grand Slam and won Roland Garros for the first time in his career.

That was supposed to be the lead for most columns today; most of us had decided on this after the Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. But Stanislas Wawrinka had other plans and, in the end, he was the one left standing in this 2015 Roland Garros final after winning by the score of 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-4.

But the beginning of the match stayed true to the fairytale. The Swiss started the match on a strong note and didn’t make mistakes in the opening set; it was Djokovic who made these at the beginning, though it didn’t quite hurt him. The two stayed on serve until the Serb cracked the Swiss code to escape with the set.

That would be the last of the great times in this final for the Serb.

From the second set and onward, Wawrinka was the more ascendant, confident and aggressive player. And because Djokovic served a little worse in this second set and, most importantly, lost the all-too-important battle of second-serve points won, and eventually the set itself, to Wawrinka. The Swiss was holding his end of the bargain of the tournament thus far, making sure that his serve was just about as unbreakable as it had been up until this match.

After two sets, Djokovic and Wawrinka were tied at a set apiece, but the Swiss was the more deserving, and active, player: he had won one total points more than the Serb at 67-66, but the tally would be much more slanted to Wawrinka’s advantage by the end of the match.

This is where I slot in the reminder that Djokovic had played almost two hours more than Wawrinka in his “off day” against Andy Murray, when their semifinal match was interrupted on the last Friday of the tournament due to rain and darkness. This was partly due to the match’s late start, yes, but also and very much so self-inflicted from Djokovic: at 3-2 in the third set, he had two break chances to perhaps finish the match. He couldn’t and, because of it, couldn’t rest on the Saturday before the final, eventually needing all of five sets against Murray.

This is also where I slot in the reminder that the main draw hadn’t been especially kind to Djokovic, who had to take on a player who only had lost once in his career in Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, and then one who was unbeaten on clay in 2015 in Murray.

But you can only beat the players that are standing across the court from you, and that’s all Wawrinka did, notably beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals—though that isn’t quite what it once was. And in the final, or the first time in their previous five matches at Grand Slams, the two wouldn’t need a deciding and fifth set: Wawrinka beat the best player in the world, dominating a spent, drained and (as a result) very passive Serb over the remainder of the match to win the first French Open of his career in four sets.

The win gives Wawrinka a second Grand Slam title after his title in Australia a year ago, a remarkable feat for someone who has played his entire career in the era of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and who broke through in any meaningful way only in 2013 after teaming up with Magnus Norman and unleashing the deadly and heavy groundstrokes he has become known for.

A second Grand Slam title is big for Wawrinka, as history has been kinder to players with more than just the lone major title. He will now forever stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Patrick Rafter and, yes, Andy Murray. (Whether or not you think Murray is or isn’t better than Wawrinka depends on if you give credit to one for four Grand Slam finals lost, but the facts are that they have two Grand Slams each.)

But this debate of what place will be Wawrinka’s in tennis lore will be for the day he retires. On Sunday, against the world’s best player, he was the better one by quite a large margin. That should suffice.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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