Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard is just struggling now

September 26, 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 looks at everything surrounding Eugenie Bouchard.

The other day, we were sitting in the movie theatre waiting on whichever movie we were about to see and, bear with us here because we’re setting the scene, then the pre-show started.

You know the part right before your movie and the movie previews start, right? You get the nice little game of guessing which movie was, I don’t know, directed by James Cameron, and then you get a couple of commercials.

Well on that day at the movie, one of the commercials we got was the latest from Eugenie Bouchard’s partnership with Coca-Cola, one that started in 2014.

It’s this commercial right here.

The commercial is actually pretty good, asking everyone to develop their very own Diet Coke bottle design. Cool, right? Right, but this latest campaign started a mere few days after this.

Bouchard tweeted this, if you recall, just the night before she went to lose 6-2 and 6-3 in the second round against the No. 162-ranked Alla Kudryavtseva at the Coupe Banque Nationale.

The Challenger event in Quebec City, and by extension the greater public of the Quebec capital, were right there for the taking for Bouchard. She was in her home province, if not hometown, as the No. 1 seed and face of the tournament. A nice little run would have worked wonders both for the tournament organizers and for the player herself, as Bouchard could have used the boost of confidence that would have come with winning a second career title.

Bouchard could have use the boost in social capital as well because it’s been a crazy whirlwind for the 22-year-old since she first took the WTA Tour by storm in 2014. Over the past two years, well, she hasn’t always been the most beloved player. A win on home soil, well, that would have been great.

Instead, Bouchard flamed out, basically ran out of the court and left town without any post-match press conference of any sort after her loss.

She didn’t want to be there, not one extra minute; that was the message, and it’s one we certainly heard loud and clear. Because it’s Genie Bouchard, the entire episode was covered everywhere here in Quebec because everything she does always is.

This early exit is the latest in a downward spiral for the Canadian, who’s made headlines recently for her lawsuit against the USTA right in the thick of things at the US Open and perhaps a family saga that really, if we’re entirely honest, is none of our damn business.

Bouchard is now ranked No. 51 in the world, which really isn’t all that bad. If we look strictly at her numbers, she has played pretty well in 2016, especially coming after the nightmarish 2015 season. This year, Bouchard has won 31 matches and lost 22 and amassed a cool $541,183 in prize money.

This, really, is actually pretty good. It’s possible this is the new reality for Bouchard, who will settle into life as a pretty good, not excellent tour player. It would be a far cry from the meteor who dominated women’s tennis out of the blue in 2014, sure, but whatever.

Along with a relative uptick in results, Bouchard’s sponsorships have started again this year. Where she mostly focused on her tennis results during the disastrous 2015 season, she’s picked things up again in 2016.

As evidenced by this recent Coca-Cola commercial we saw at the movie theatre, and another one with Colgate.

This is probably the key, here. Win or lose on the tennis courts, Bouchard just might as well take advantage of all the opportunities that have come her way: because no lasting success is guaranteed.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: How will tennis remember Stan Wawrinka?

September 19, 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 ponders Stan Wawrinka’s place in history.

Oddly enough, it seems like Stanislas Wawrinka learned he could win by losing a match.

The story has taken a life of its own, and should continue to do so with every title the 31-year-old adds to his name, but it bears repeating here. In the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open, Wawrinka lost an absolute thrilling match against eventual winner Novak Djokovic, battling until 12-10 in the fifth set.

Wawrinka called this loss “the best match I’ve ever played,” so it’s not like we’re pulling at strings with our opener, right? This was indeed quite a turning point in his career. “At the end I was really, really close. For sure I’m really sad. It’s a big disappointment to lose that match, but I think there are more positives than negatives.”

You could say that.

Fast forward for three years, and the great Roger Federer appears done, with the result that the other Swiss Guy has become the foremost Swiss Guy on the ATP World Tour. What was once a Big Three plus Andy Murray has morphed into Djokovic’s world in 2016, with Wawrinka standing right behind him as the most dangerous player on Tour.

The Swiss is now ranked No. 3 and now has three different Grand Slam titles to his name: the 2014 Australian Open, the 2015 Roland Garros and the 2016 US Open. And really, considering Wawrinka beat the Serb on his way to each of his three titles, maybe it’s Wawrinka who’s the most dangerous player in the world?

In any case, we would venture to say that the 31-year-old is not likely to be forgotten by tennis pundits. Long after he’s retired, we’re convinced we’ll still remember the other Swiss Guy who managed to emerge from Federer’s large shadow in the latter part of his playing days.

In 2016, Wawrinka is known for his self-belief, the way he seemingly is convinced that no match is out of his reach—regardless of the situation. During matches, after an important game, you may catch him pointing to his temple; keep believing, and everything will take care of itself. Wawrinka has a life mantra that he found in the words of poet Samuel Beckett, one he’s permanently inscribed on his left arm three years ago (again: we told you that this Australian Open loss was a turning point for him. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

While the hard truth and numbers seems to put the Swiss in company with very strong players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, history will likely be kinder to him than it will to this trio. For one thing, Wawrinka has won his last 11 Tour finals. The Swiss has thee career Grand Slam titles, which is an outlier compared to Tsonga and co. but is right on part with Murray. He also is the oldest player to win the US Open in four decades, and the fifth in the Open era to grab multiple titles after turning 30.

History tends to love a winner and will love Wawrinka. In the same way that Murray never quite reached the heights of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer but stood out so much above his peers, Wawrinka is not quite an Andy Murray but he’s quite a bit above Tsonga’s level. He’s won only 23 % of his matches against the Big Four, but 59% of them against Tsonga, Ferrer and Berdych.

This, to me, means that among this era, history will remember Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, then Murray, and then Wawrinka.

Where the Swiss does distinguish himself is how he plays in the biggest matches if he manages to get there. “He plays best in the big matches,” Djokovic said after losing the US Open final. “He definitely deserves to be mentioned in the mix of top players.”

Wawrinka has been an afterthought for most of his career. But history will remember him as anything but.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The Angelique Kerber takeover is complete

September 12, 2016

Getty Images

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 2016 US Open on the women’s side.

Would she win it all?

That was the only question left, I guess, whether Angelique Kerber would crash the party through the front or the back door.

Before she even played her US Open semifinal match, Kerber was guaranteed to become the new WTA No. 1 player in the world, ending Serena Williams’s string of 186 consecutive weeks at the top when the American lost her semifinal against Karolina Pliskova.

You can’t win for losing, they tell you, but that’s always false and we would have had a prime example of that had Kerber then lost her own semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki.

Only, as she so often has done in 2016, the German did not lose, beating the former No. 1 and two-time US Open finalist by the score of 6-4 and 6-3.

From there, Kerber moved on to the final, her third major final of the 2016 season after having made only one Grand Slam semifinal in 32 events through the end of last year. She won that match too, beating Pliskova by the score of 6-3, 4-6 and 6-4, and is now the reigning US Open champion and overall best player in the world.

This week, she’s ranked No. 1 for the first time of her career and, at 28 years old, is the oldest player to get there. She’s the first lefty player at the top of the rankings since Monica Seles, and only the third in history (with Martina Navratilova). Kerber is also the first new No. 1 player in four years, having as we mentioned before cut Williams’s reign short. She also denies Williams a shot at history, leaving her stuck at 22 career Grand Slams and in a tie with Steffi Graf for most in history.

All of it wasn’t lost on Kerber after her semifinal win. “It’s just incredible,” she said. “Yeah, it’s a great day. […] To be in the final, to be No. 1 in the world, it sounds amazing.”

Because of how she got to No. 1, Kerber may not stay there long: the problem with making three Grand Slam finals in a year, and winning two, is that you then need to turn around the following season and win just as many matches. You’ve done it once, so do it again. That’s tennis.

(And that’s what makes Williams so exceptional, that she managed to remain so dominant and consistent over the years.)

One other thing we can confidently say is that Kerber will not be the third player in history to reign over the WTA for 186 consecutive weeks. Kerber is already 28, after all. And what does it take to stay on top for so long? Consider that over that span at No. 1, Williams won more titles than she lost matches (i.e. 24 versus 19).

We’re unlikely to see another such run, at least not for a little while, and parity will likely become the new normal on the WTA. Maybe that’s what will make women’s tennis fascinating over the years. “I think I’m ready to have this pressure [of being No. 1] on my shoulders,” Kerber said after her US Open win. “I think I get used to all of this, especially after my first Grand Slam in Australia. I had so much pressure after the title. Being No. 1, of course, now everybody will try to beat me and have nothing to lose.”

Yes, all the pressure’s on you from now on, Kerber.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The most interesting man in tennis

September 5, 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.

They say you should find something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

In all reality that’s entirely false, but that’s a debate for another day. Let’s roll with it for now—because if this is the case, then that must be why, the naysayers will say, Australian Nick Kyrgios is so miserable.

But he’s not.

Kyrgios, still only 21 years old and currently the 16th best tennis player in the world, doesn’t love tennis. And he’s okay with that, otherwise he wouldn’t admit it to The New York Times Magazine. “I don’t love this sport,” Kyrgios told reporter Michael Steinberger for what turned out to be quite the profile on the eve of the 2016 US Open.

If all the info in the article is true, and we don’t have any reason to doubt that it is, then we may as well appreciate the Australian while he still plays—because he’ll be long gone by the time he’s 27, leaving tennis behind for whichever activity might have piqued his interest by then.

It would be basketball, most likely, because for Kyrgios basketball is the first love. It’s the sport he’s played the most growing up, and it’s the sport he plays when he organizes pick-up games on the ATP World Tour at tournaments with fellow players.

But that’s not what makes Kyrgios the most interesting man in tennis. Rather, it’s the fact that tennis just may well need him more than he needs the sport.

Let me be the umpteenth person to say this, but tennis has been especially spoiled over the past 12 or 13 years, with the presence of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and, sure I’ll throw Andy Murray in there as well. The four have been incredible champions and, especially the first two though really all four, perfect ambassadors for the sport.

Only now, the Swiss King appears about ready to call it quits at age 35, and Nadal hasn’t been the same for three years; Djokovic and Murray are still here, but for how long? And anyway, tennis hasn’t always been the kindest toward the pair, never quite forgetting either for the sin of not being Federer or Nadal.

All of this to say that the golden era of tennis is basically and the sport now has to ask how it might sell itself after the departure of the Fantastic Four.

Enter Nick Kyrgios, the sport’s resident bad boy. Everyone loves a villain, and it’s a role the Australian has willingly played in the past. (Incidents at the 2015 Roger Cup and the 2016 Wimbledon jump to mind here.)

But to be a good villain, you have to win, win often and win big—and we’re not sure Kyrgios is up for it. If he really intends to quit tennis at 27, then he only has six years left to grow into the force he could be; Kyrgios is already polarizing but imagine if he had a Wimbledon title or three to his name.

Ultimately, Kyrgios may be good for the sport because he may force it to come eye-to-eye with its own vision of itself as, and I’m caricaturing here, all that is Holy and Good in this world. A true tennis champion is a gentleman who respects opponents, respects the game, tries his damn hardest at every stop but especially at Wimbledon, and who eats, breathes and sleeps tennis all the time.

And if someone hopes to be great and doesn’t do that, then there must be something wrong with him or her—or so says that ideal.

But maybe it’s asking the wrong question. Maybe a tennis player who likes to thrive in all facets of his or her life as well as the sport she plays for a living, and who recognizes how gifted he or she is for making a living in such a way, maybe that should be the ideal that all players strive for.

The Kyrgios who doesn’t practice more than four times a week, or stops practicing if/when he doesn’t have any more YONEX racquets ready, who plays video games before a Wimbledon match, or who doesn’t compete “hard enough” at Wimbledon in the eyes of McEnroe.

That Kyrgios is an outcast in tennis. Maybe that’s the point.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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

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

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

Tennis Elbow: What is a tennis olympic medal really worth?

August 8, 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 Rio Olympic tennis tournament.

The 2016 Rio Olympics are here.

Every four years, the Olympics are, we’re reminded, a triumph of sports and competition over more earthly (read: human) concerns. This vision, of course, is mostly a myth as it overlooks a myriad of corruption within the International Olympic Committee, doping and fair-play among athletes, and just the general notion of the Games used as propaganda and a tool to foster nationalism by just about every country participating.

But sure, let’s roll with the notion of the Olympics as all that’s good in sports for a minute. I mean, if nothing else the Opening Ceremony is always fun.

In tennis, you’ll recall, pro athletes have only started competing again in 1988 after a 64-year wait. This means that only a few of tennis players have ever won Olympic medals in the Open era. On the women’s side, the list of champions includes the names you may expect, with Steffi Graf, Justine Henin-Hardenne and the Williams sisters all winning a gold medal. On the men’s side, however, well, there’s Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray…as well as, like, Nicolas Massu and a bunch of dudes. Anyway, all this to say that winning the Olympic tournament may be as prestigious as anything for the athletes themselves, but it really hasn’t been something that analysts and fans alike have put as much thought into. We won’t, say, hold it against Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic when they retire despite no Olympic gold medal. But anyway, let’s move on to a draw preview. Keep in mind that the first round matches have already been completed as I write this.

The flag bearers

There were four of tennis athletes who acted as their country’s flag bearer in Rio this year, as you can see from the tweet above, and I believe that the four illustrate what we discussed earlier. Gilles Muller may have had a nice little career on the ATP World Tour but, and we’re trying to be nice here, history will ultimately forget one as “just one the dudes.” Only now, he’ll forever have one day where he was Andy Murray’s equal. Cool.

The favourites Both the men and women’s draws have been decimated ahead of the Rio Games for a variety of reasons, but Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have made the trip to Brazil. They’re here and they’re the favourites—or were, in the case of the Serb, who lost a ridiculously tough first match. The surprises If Djokovic and Williams are/were the favourites, it’s much more fun to discuss the possible surprise winners. On the women’s side, we’ll keep an eye on Carla Suarez Navarro, Lucie Safarova and Sara Errani, who are all into the second round and who all have a potentially favourable draw—and not just because they aren’t on Williams’s side. On the men’s side, we would love to see someone like Gael Monfils do well in Rio, as he’s certainly got the draw for that. Plus, our editor in chief here at Tennis Connected is on the record as envisioning great things for the Frenchman. (Not in Rio per so, but still.)

But alright, we can do better than picking the sixth-seed as a potential surprise performer. There’s Gilles Muller too, already in the second round, but we’ve already mentioned him.

Instead, let’s go with Juan Martin Del Potro, now ranked No. 141 in the world after so many years and so many injuries. The Argentine, after dominating the world’s best player in the first round, now has a draw with very few potential roadblocks before the quarterfinals. Let’s hope he can take advantage of it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Simona Halep feels right at home, wins the 2016 Rogers Cup

August 1, 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 recaps the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal.

For a day at least, Montreal turned Romanian.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate of course. By Montreal, we really just mean Stade Uniprix, which was overtaken by a (loud and proud) group of Romanian supporters.

The reason?

Simona Halep, WTA pro and pretty gifted at tennis, was playing in both the singles and the doubles final on the final day of the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal. Halep emerged as the victor in the singles match, beating Madison Keys by the final score of 7-6(2) and 6-3 in 75 minutes, and that’s basically how Montreal turned into Romania, if only momentarily.

The match between Halep and Keys started off a little chippy though, as both players were maybe battling nerves, fatigue, the sun, or just a little bit of everything.

It was that kind of match, where it seemed like neither player could really impose her will over the other. On one side of the net was the hard-hitting and risk-taking Madison Keys, who had become the first American since Serena Williams in 1999 to enter the WTA Top 10 but who couldn’t overcome a few too many unforced errors. “I think I was very tight on my serve because I know she’s going to return very strong,” Keys said after the match. “I don’t know, I wanted to make something big with the serve. I think it was too much pressure on me.”

On the other side stood Halep, who wanted to avenge her loss in last year’s Rogers Cup final when she was forced to withdraw in the third set. The second time proved to be the charm for the 25-year-old. “I like being here in Montréal a lot. It feels like being in Europe, like I’ve said many times. With all the Romanians, I felt like I was at home,” she said after her win. “The man that announced us on the court today said two words in Romanian, so that motivated me a lot. I said that I have to win.” Win, Halep did, sometimes relying on the pro-Romania crowd at Stade Uniprix to escape from jams; we can only guess, but it’s not far-fetched to think she may have had difficulty bouncing back when she could barely win her service games in the first set. Though it’s always preferable to emerge with a trophy when you reach the final, Keys wasn’t struggling so bad in defeat. “There’s only one person who is going to walk away and be completely happy with this week,” she said. “You know, I’m obviously not going to say it’s a bad week just because I lost one match. I think I played really a pretty good tournament.” Indeed, she has. In reaching the Rogers Cup final, Keys notably defeated Venus Williams in the third round. She said that, “I wish today went a little bit differently. Sometimes it happens. Just take the positives from that and move on.” Halep, meanwhile, had to move on quickly to the doubles final, which she played alongside fellow Romania Monica Niculescu. In this case, there was only so much the crowd could do, with the two Romanians losing against the Russian pair of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. The Romanian fans from the first match, though, were still going strong.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Rogers Cup men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

July 25, 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 Rogers Cup.

Welcome to the Rogers Cup, the mini-major tournament in that it combines both men and women, only it does so in two different cities so the end result is kinda moot.

This year exceptionally, the Rogers Cup is held much earlier than is typical, having moved from early-to-mid August to this last week of July in an attempt to accommodate the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Quite a few players don’t really mind about the Olympics, but the Olympics are still the Olympics so the Rogers Cup gets moved around. Already, this has had quite an impact.

So no Roger Federer. And look, no Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray either. Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic are both still set to compete but in Toronto, no Federer, Nadal or Murray probably means that there won’t be nearly as many tickets sold as there could have been. I’m sorry and I love you as a city, Toronto, but you don’t love tennis; you love icons and stars. In Montreal we may goad our own into hating us and then act all offended once they do, but at least we LOVE tennis.

Men’s draw

As we’ve seen above, it’s a quite decimated main draw that will compete for the 2016 Rogers Cup title…but at least Novak Djokovic is there? The Serb is slated to compete in Toronto and will be the main favourite, despite a terrible Wimbledon. With the Olympic tournament a few days after this Masters 1000 event however, Djokovic’s focus will likely be on Rio. And this Rogers Cup won’t nearly have the same preparatory role for the US Open it typically have.

The second section of this main draw may be our favourite, a nice mix of eclectic players, Canadians and others in form. Emerging from this section will be, we believe, Milos Raonic in a repeat of his 2013 Rogers Cup magic, and David Goffin because we dig him quite a bit. The third section theoretically belongs to Kei Nishikori, but the Japanese hasn’t performed all that well on the biggest stages of the 2016 season. In his place will be Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who’s enjoying quite a nice summer, as well as Marin Cilic, who seems to have emerged from hibernation in time for the stretch run. We believe that the final and fourth section of the main draw will unfold according to logic, with Dominic Thiem and Stanislas Wawrinka emerging from the lot.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Tomas Berdych; David Goffin over Milos Raonic; Lucas Pouille over Marin Cilic; Stanislas Wawrinka over Dominic Thiem

Semifinals: David Goffin over Novak Djokovic; Stanislas Wawrinka over Lucas Pouille

Final: Stanislas Wawrinka over David Goffin

*****

Women’s draw

In Montreal this summer, all eyes will be on Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. The 22-year-old, who started off her career on such high highs, has suffered through a rather terrible 2015 season and followed up with a pretty average season this year. More importantly, she’s no stranger to controversies and just about turned every Montrealer against her with a few choice quotes last week in Washington. (Basically: “To avoid the mayhem in Montreal, maybe I’ll stay here.”)

And when it’s not that, she’s asked to take sides in the Kimye vs Taylor Swift saga. What a life.

Otherwise, this main draw should still be pretty good. The Williams sisters are both slated to compete in Montreal for the second time in a row after missing the Montreal Rogers Cup so many times in the years prior—except that no, they’re not. We believe Madison Keys will emerge unscathed from the second section and, though she will then lose against Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals, she’ll be able to build on this success for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, the third section of the draw is relatively wide open, so let’s pencil in Simona Halep and Kristina Mladenovic in the quarterfinals. Angelique Kerber has been playing excellent tennis and doesn’t need an easy draw to go far in Montreal, but that’s exactly what she was gifted; she could do worse than a quarterfinal berth against veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Quarterfinals: Garbine Muguruza over Carla Suarez Navarro; Madison Keys over Agnieszka Radwanska; Simona Halep over Kristina Mladenovic; Angelique Kerber over Elina Svitolina

Semifinals: Garbine Muguruza over Madison Keys; Simona Halep over Angelique Kerber

Final: Garbine Muguruza over Simona Halep

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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