Podcast: Previewing the 2015 US Open

August 28, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to preview the US Open Tennis Championships.

While the stage is set for an exciting fortnight, we look at both the men’s and women’s draws and the perspective favorites. With Serena Williams bidding for the Calendar Year Slam and Roger Federer playing about as well as he has in recent memory, this year’s Open should provide some great story-lines.

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: Cincinnati is always so kind to Roger Federer

August 25, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

Cincinnati has always been kind to Roger Federer. Well, not Cincinnati exactly—the city of Mason has.

What’s Mason? It is a small city in Ohio, and in 2013 it had a population of only 32,282 (an increase of 42.1 per cent since 2000). You don’t particularly care for Mason or probably wouldn’t, but the city is only 22 miles away from downtown Cincinnati, and so you do.

Cincinnati is sort of where the tennis world gathered last week for the 2015 Western & Southern Open; we say sort of, because this Masters 1000 event is actually held in Mason, OH, every year—and hey, look, we’ve come full circle.

So it’s Mason, OH, that has been kind to Federer over the years and this season will not go down as an exception, not after the Swiss captured the Western & Southern Open over Novak Djokovic by the score of 7-6(1) and 6-3.

Federer has now emerged victorious in Mason, OH, in 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2005; this haul corresponds to about 8 per cent of his total 87 career titles and gives him a fourth event on the ATP World Tour calendar that he has won at least seven times (i.e. along with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Gerry Weber Open in Halle and Wimbledon).

Perhaps the King knew what he was doing by skipping out on the Rogers Cup the week before in order to better focus on his Western & Southern Open title defence? (Though the fans really did want to see you, Roger!)

The win reaffirms Federer’s place at No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings a mere few days after Andy Murray overtook him by winning said Rogers Cup. “Now I’ve got the confidence, I’ve got the matches, and I’m actually still feeling really fresh even after this week, because the matches have been rather short,” Federer said after his win. “I was explosive moving forward. Volleys were good. I think from the baseline I was hitting my forehand very well.”

The sad group of opponents the Swiss defeated on his way to the 2015 title would agree, as Federer managed to complete the event without losing any of his 49 service games.

Djokovic thinks the playing surface in Mason suits Federer perfectly. “I think he’s more aggressive here than in any other tournament, because the surface and conditions allow him to play very fast,” the Serb said. “He generally copes well with the fast balls. The fast game. He likes the rhythm.”

Something else that the Swiss will like is that this win gives him a slight 21-20 edge in his rivalry against Djokovic—but Federer praised the Serb more than anything else. “I’ve seem (him) adapt to my play over the years and he’s also improved a lot. His movement and his backhand and forehand are always so solid,” Federer said. “Our rivalry has definitely evolved.”

It’s evolved, but not in Mason, OH, where Djokovic falls to 0-5 in Western & Southern Open finals, including 0-3 against Federer. This 2015 US Open series will have turned out to be more challenging than many would have anticipated considering how his season up to this point had unfolded, with Djokovic making, but also losing, the two Masters 1000 finals he competed in. (It’s good, but it isn’t otherworldly like his season up to this point.)

Djokovic moves on to New York and Flushing Meadows for the US Open now, where he’ll hope to square his head-to-head rivalry with Federer at 21; a second career US Open title would also bring his record to 2-4 in the finals there.

You might say, then, that Flushing Meadows would be so much kinder to him than Mason, OH, has been. He’s not Federer.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Federer wins seventh Cincinnati title

August 23, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to review the Cincinnati Masters from Mason, Ohio.

While the final warm up for the US Open is complete, we discuss who the results in Cincinnati could impact the action in NYC. We also look into the prospects of Nick Kyrgios and discuss a possible “lack of depth” at the top of the men’s game. We also spend some time on the women’s draw and Serena’s results.

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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Federer defeats Djokovic for seventh Cincinnati title

August 23, 2015

Western & Southern Open—Cincinnati, Ohio

No. 2 seed Roger Federer poured in an impressive performance on Sunday in Cincinnati, Ohio, defeating top seed Novak Djokovic 7-6(1), 6-3. Not facing a break point throughout the straight set affair, Federer didn’t lose a set during the entire tournament and also claimed his 87th career title. Federer will move back to No. 2 in the world on Monday and will be seeded behind Djokovic at the US Open. Djokovic, who was attempting to win his first-ever title in Cincinnati and complete his Masters series collection, heads into New York with two losses in Masters 1000 finals. The Serb also dropped a three set contest to Andy Murray in Montreal last week.

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Western & Southern Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

August 17, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-previews the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

And so it is, only one day after Belinda Bencic’s and Andy Murray’s respective wins in the women’s and men’s Rogers Cup, that the world of tennis heads over to the next big tournament on the calendar—in this instance, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Alright alright, this is basically what happens from the start of the clay court season and onward in tennis, but whatever. It’s the stretch run of the season. There. I can say that.

This week, let’s have another tournament preview and analysis. And by all means, if you missed what happened last week at the men’s Rogers Cup, then please do read my recaps in their entirety here.

Women’s draw

The Rogers Cup reminded everyone that Serena Williams is indeed human, as she suffered only her second non-walkover loss of the 2015 season when young Belinda Bencic beat her in the semifinals. This week, in her native USofA, she will be back to her former self: other than Ana Ivanovic, there is no one to bother her before the semifinals in this section.

Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but she could be the future of the sport; yet, that’s an entirely different discussion than a preview of the Cincinnati tournament, so let’s have that debate another day. What we can say, however, is that she might be the one playing the best tennis currently on the WTA Tour. She’ll prove it in the quarterfinals against Petra Kvitova.

Victoria Azarenka arrived in Toronto having played no matches since reaching the quarterfinals in Wimbledon and promptly reached the third round, which is good. With a relatively open draw, let’s say that she can do one better in Cincinnati We’ll also give the benefit of the doubt to Simona Halep and say that she’ll have recovered in time (i.e. she pulled out of the Rogers Cup final) for a good showing this week.

Maria Sharapova hasn’t played since losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon against Serena Williams earlier in July, but don’t expect this to stop her from making the Western & Southern Open final… where she will lose against Serena Williams. Yep.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Ana Ivanovic; Belinda Bencic over Petra Kvitova; Victoria Azarenka over Simona Halep; Maria Sharapova over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Belinda Bencic; Maria Sharapova over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova

*****

Men’s draw

As hard as it may be for some to consider, Novak Djokovic is enjoying an even better season this year than his famed 2011 season. He has won six of the nine finals he has made this year and, well, we’re not sure which nugget is the most impressive here: that he has won so many or that he has made so many. He won’t always be the absolute best player on any given day, but he is quite comfortably ahead of the pack overall. Put him through to the final.

The second section of this main draw is—what, interesting? Interesting might not be the word, but how about wide-open? Let’s see we have a bunch of guys who did nothing in Montreal in Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils and a bunch of Americans. Give me John Isner and Bernard Tomic, who both did relatively well at the Rogers Cup.

Ah yes, the third section is the reminder that Marin Cilic as a seeded player is a thing. Maybe we’re being too hard on the Croatian, since he did make the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, and the Citi Open semifinals, but it does seem out-of-whack to the daily reality of the ATP World Tour to see Cilic as the seventh favourite of a Masters 1000 event. All of which is to say that we do not have him emerging from his section, choosing instead Andy Murray and the resident “bad boy” Nick Kyrgios.

We’ll just go ahead and pencil in Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Joining him will not be Rafael Nadal, because we would then be confronted with the possibility of a Federer win over Nadal, thereby signaling that the Spaniard has forever lost it, and we do not believe the universe is quite this cruel, not yet. Instead we’ll settle for Jeremy Chardy in Nadal’s place.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Borna Coric; John Isner over Bernard Tomic; Andy Murray over Nick Kyrgios; Roger Federer over Jeremy Chardy

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over John Isner; Andy Murray over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Andy Murray wins the Rogers Cup

August 17, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray played tennis at the Rogers Cup in the first men’s final with the top two seeds since 2004 Cup and the match-up lived up to the billing.

Judging from the way they played in the Rogers Cup final, you wouldn’t think that Novak Djokovic had beaten Andy Murray eight times in a row.

That’s not to say that the Brit was dominant and coasted to an easy win, but rather that it seems odd that their rivalry had been so one-sided recently. Because on Aug. 16, on the final Sunday at the Rogers Cup, the two combined for a very competitive match: throughout, the point tally never veered much to the advantage of one or the other, and Murray had an 118-112 edge by the end. Murray made 60 per cent of his first serves and won 69 per cent of the points, Djokovic 60 per cent and 65 per cent of the points. He made five double faults to the Serb’s two.

Go through the list of statistics, and the match was close. And it was.

But Murray will remember the number one—as in, his first win against Djokovic in nine matches. Indeed, the Brit captured a third Rogers Cup title with a 6-4, 4-6 and 6-3 win over Djokovic. “It was tough. This time, both of us were dictating the points,” Murray told reporters after his win. “I tried to play aggressive today.”

It worked, especially at the turning point of the match. This turned out to be a marathon game in the third set, on Andy Murray’s serve, a game that lasted over 17 minutes and 50 seconds. Up 3-1, Murray managed to save six break points and to consolidate his hold on the match. “Most of all the moments when he needed to, he served very, very well,” Djokovic said in his post-match conference. “He just came up always with big serves, so I couldn’t do much.”

Murray was already guaranteed to overtake Roger Federer at No. 2 on the new edition of the ATP World Tour rankings simply for having made the final, but the win is the icing on the cake.

It’s also a boost for the Brit as the season fast forwards and hits the stretch run of the US Open series, with the big prize of the US Open as the carrot at the end of the road for the players on tour. “When we play each other, we always kind of take the best out of ourselves,” Djokovic said. “We need to deliver the best game possible in order to win. That’s what he did and I congratulate him.”

The loss reminds us all that Djokovic is but a mortal and brings his record in 2015 to a mere 52-4, including a gaudy 18-3 against members of the Top 10. “I know people always expect me to do well,” Djokovic said, “but I try to be modest with my expectations.”

Whoever told you that losses can be good for you was lying because you actually can’t win for losing, but to the extent that a loss can be constructive, perhaps this one qualifies for Djokovic. The Serb had been cruising along, having won the previous five Masters 1000 events he competed in, riding a 30-match win streak, and another two Grand Slams. “You never like losing but any streak comes to an end,” Djokovic said. “Again, I lost to a better player today.”

Djokovic’s level has been much better than more or less everyone else on tour, but he’ll remember this Rogers Cup for the fact that he did improve. “I played better as the tournament progressed,” Djokovic explained. “I did fight until the last point and did try my best.”

That’s a positive, and that’s the thing about tennis if you’re Djokovic: more often than not you win, but sometimes you lose. Even in the finals.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Murray, Bencic and Kyrgios steal the Rogers Cup; Cincy next

August 16, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are set to review the Rogers Cup in both Toronto and Montreal and preview the Cincinnati Masters from Mason, Ohio.

With the US Open Series progressing in full force, we look at the winners in Canada and how they will fair in Cincy. We also discuss the return of Roger Federer and of course Nick Kyrgios’ actions and from his incident with Stan Wawrinka in Montreal.

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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Murray defeats Djokovic for Rogers Cup title

August 16, 2015

Coupe Rogers—Montreal, Canada

No. 2 seed Andy Murray defeated top seed Novak Djokovic 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday to capture the Montreal Masters in Canada. Serving eight aces and winning 69 percent of his first serve points, Murray avenged four losses to Djokovic earlier this year, including the finals of the Australian Open and the semifinals of the French Open. Capturing 1000 ATP World Tour points with his victory, Murray will be ranked No. 2 in the world when Monday’s computer is updated. Both Murray and Djokovic will next head to the Cincinnati Masters in Mason, Ohio to compete in their final warm up event heading into the US Open.

Montreal by night: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the final

August 16, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Then, there were two.

After so many matches and a whole lot of rain, the final for the 2015 Rogers Cup is set. To the surprise of absolutely no one—okay maybe not, but the seeds didn’t lie this week—Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the two favourites at the start of the event, will battle for the right to hoist the Rogers Cup trophy.

After his win the previous day against John Isner, Chardy was asked if he would rather play Djokovic or Ernests Gulbis in the first Masters 1000 semifinal of his career. By way of answer, Chardy said that, “Well I’ve yet to win a set against Novak (Djokovic)…”

He trailed off, but his silence spoke loudly. The Frenchman nearly got his wish, after Nole needed three sets and to save two match points against Ernests Gulbis, but sure enough there stood the world’s best player across the net from him as the first semifinal got underway. At the post-match conference this time, after losing 6-4 and 6-4, Chardy spoke of playing against the No. 1-ranked player. “Every time if you win or lose,” he said, “you learn a lot about your game.”

This match was no different: Djokovic wasted little time in asserting his might and broke Chardy in the match’s first game. “I don’t know what happened, but when the match started I became extremely nervous and I made two double-faults,” Chardy told reporters. “But… it’s part of tennis. This is how you build your experience.”

And despite the fact that the Frenchman’s record against Djokovic now stands at 0 sets won and 24 sets lost in 10 match-ups, Chardy’s week in Montreal attests that he’s become a better player. “The more you play tournaments and the more you get used to it, you get used to the intensity,” Chardy said, “to the length of the matches.”

The 28-year-old closed the interview by praising Djokovic on a facet of his game that tends to be overlooked. “There’s not one single moment where I was able to read his serve,” he said. “He doesn’t serve that fast, but he changes the speed and he’s extremely precise.”

Speaking to reporters, Djokovic jokingly complained that the 42-year-old Daniel Nestor managed to maintain his immaculate record in doubles after he and Édouard Roger-Vasselin beat the Djoker and Janko Tipsarevic in three sets in the doubles semifinal. “He continues to annoy me,” Djokovic said, speaking of Nestor. “He’s an example of somebody that has so much passion for the sport (and who) can be a real role model for many young tennis players coming on the Tour.”

The Serb had teamed with Tipsarevic this week in Montreal and was thrilled for his great friend that they made the semifinals—even though he only had an hour or so, after his singles match, to prepare for the doubles match. Djokovic said that, “I enjoyed winning also with him on the court, because I know that’s going to help his confidence.”

Fans of Tipsarevic hope that it will, as the Serb has endured a difficult past two seasons. The 31-year-old was a Top 10 player in the world for two seasons, achieving a high of No. 8 in April of 2012. He’s since plummeted all the way to No. 443 following a number of injuries that has kept him off the courts for 17 months.

Djokovic also looked ahead to the final, saying that he needed to play his best match of the week. He’ll need to against an Andy Murray who was at the top of his powers in dismantling a spent and tired Kei Nishikori by the score of 6-3 and 6-1 in only 66 minutes.

With the win, Murray becomes the new No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings regardless of what happens in the final. But surely he’d rather punctuate the ranking with a win.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Everyone gets their share

August 15, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Tennis tournaments are set up in such a way to maximize the odds of having many great matches.

Players are seeded, No. 1 through No. 16 in the case of the Rogers Cup, and placed on the main draw in such a way as to create relatively sections; the top players don’t play fellow top players until the latter stages of a tournament, thereby decreasing the odds of upsets and increasing the star power of the players involved in the later matches.

At an event like the Rogers Cup, a Masters 1000 tournament, there are plenty of great players: 36 of the players ranked in the Top 40 are in Montreal, and only Roger Federer and David Ferrer are missing from the best 10. If it feels like there’s seemingly always a top player playing, it’s because it just about is the case.

Montreal’s draw is loaded this year, as it typically is, and this is a big reason why the tournament routinely appears near the top of the list of most popular one-week events. (Montrealers attended last year’s WTA Tour tournament in record numbers.) It’s because the numerous many great players battle in what amounts to a number of great matches every day.

Take August 14, for example. Fridays at the Rogers Cup, and just about everywhere actually, are for quarterfinals. In Montreal, nine of the previous 10 Rogers Cup winners were still in contention at the start of the day; 16th-seed John Isner and Jeremy Chardy were set to get the festivities started, to be followed by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and qualifier Ernests Gulbis.

That schedule was for the day session and, sure enough, that’s exactly how it played out, but the 12:30 p.m. start was delayed by two hours due to… our old friend the rain. Yep.

Chardy and Isner then played tiebreak tennis, with the Frenchman prevailing by the score of 6-7(9), 7-6(13) and 7-6(4) over 3:08 of play. It was a second match in a row against one of the world’s best servers for Chardy, after his win against Ivo Karlovic, and maybe the experience helped him. “I know if I get broken, the set is close to (being) finished,” he told reporters in the post-match press conference. “Every small chance you have, you need to take the chance.”

By the time Djokovic and Gulbis started their match, it was about 7 p.m. and the day session had spilled into the evening session.

Montreal loves tennis a whole lot, but the fact that there are so many great matches contributes to the ever-excellent attendance. Fans know that if they buy tickets, especially for the Fridays and the final weekend, they’re likely to see a top player or two or four. Tournament director Eugene Lapierre can give one set of fans a Djokovic quaterfinal knowing full well that the fans in the evening will get their own rock star in Rafael Nadal.

But what happens when the day has turned into the evening, except that the day session isn’t finished yet? Well, there’s a work-around for that: you give priority to those with daytime tickets for the Djokovic match.

Even as the Serb and Gulbis play on and as the clock nears 9 p.m. when they head to a third set, you give the fans with the day tickets priority for their day match. Because the fans who purchased evening tickets will still get to watch Nadal battle Kei Nishikori before a duel between Andy Murray and defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Chardy discussed a potential solution to the schedule shuffling that comes as a result of the rain. “Having a roof is always an asset for a tournament, especially for the crowd,” he told reporters. “When you buy your tickets, at least you’re sure you can see the match.”

It may not be feasible with Uniprix Stadium, but he’s right. That way, everyone gets their share. And everyone buys their ticket to see their great matches.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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