Tennis Elbow: The new head coach of Andy Murray

July 28, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon looks at Andy Murray’s decision to hire Amélie Mauresmo.

Andy Murray has won 36 of 48 matches in 2014, but he will wake up this morning on the very cusp of leaving the Top 10 for the first time in six years.

The Brit moved from No. 11 to No. 9 in the ATP World Tour rankings on July 7, 2008, and he’s been a mainstay among the 10 better players since. Of course, that’s not exactly right, because it’s selling him short. For six years now, Murray has been quite comfortably the fourth wheel of the Big 4 engine that has carried the sport for all these years now.

(And again, it’s not totally accurate to say “Big 4.” Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will go down in history as two of the five greatest players, Novak Djokovic as one of the 10 best, but Murray? He’ll be remembered, sure, but just not as kindly.)

Six years later, Murray may just have come back around for the first time. But of course, things are much different for him. He’s won Grand Slam tournaments now, including one in his own backyard at the Cathedral of tennis. He’s reached a career-high of No. 2. And, as we covered, he’s been in the top 10 for six full years.

Murray is different now, including for the fact that he has a different coach. In the spring, Ivan Lendl quit in a move that was widely publicized, though it also has remained unexplained. (We can’t be certain, but we feel confident saying that Murray probably hoped, for a fleeting second, that Lendl might have cracked a smile as he told his pupil the decision. That would have let him know he was kidding. But Lendl doesn’t smile, even when he does.)

Well it took him long to replace Lendl, but Murray finally did. With Amélie Mauresmo.

That’s where it gets fun, right? Because I hadn’t managed to find a time to discuss the topic, and because Murray somehow decided to prolong their working relationship beyond his disappointing Wimbledon title defense, we can have fun.

I will not pretend to have any kind of #HotSportsTake angle on the topic. I love the hire, but it’s not strictly for reasons related to tennis. For the little that I know about tennis coaches, I believe that she does deserve the position. Her playing career was incredibly successful, with two Grand Slam titles and a No. 1 ranking in 2004. Mauresmo has also been a coach before, guiding France in the Fed Cup and, most importantly, Marion Bartoli to her lone Grand Slam title.

But you don’t have to agree, of course. However, if you don’t believe she should be Andy Murray’s coach, you should have a sort of reasoning that goes beyond “well she’s a woman and he’s a man.”

This partnership can be meaningful in this way, showing that women have a place in a sport that too often thinks they are below, but it needs to be about more than just a principle. Just because Murray is among the most vocal in men’s tennis about his support of the women’s game doesn’t mean that he should hire her. That’s not how you win tennis matches and, as noble as he may be for anything, Murray first must win tennis matches.

That’s something he hasn’t done, or hasn’t done well and up to his standards this year. He knows that and still, he appointed the 35-year-old as his head coach. It’s a big risk, so it must mean he is positive Mauresmo will help, no?

Maybe Murray responds better to women, and his mother has definitely coached him for some time when he was younger, but I’m not his confidant so I don’t actually know that he does. It does seem apparent, though, that the 27-year-old responds better to calm rather than fire. (How do I know? Because he won with Lendl, who scoffs at the fun paint is having when it dries.) Mauresmo fits that mold, too.

He’s a man and she’s a woman, but why does it have to matter? If Mauresmo is qualified for the job, which she appears to be, then she deserves it. Murray will win matches, or he won’t. And it’ll be more on him than on her.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The last laugh of Ivo Karlovic

July 21, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon rejoices at the advent of a new modern legend.

The tennis world continues its post-Wimbledon hangover, but that doesn’t mean that the potential topics for this column are few and far between.

This week in Bogota for the Claro Open Colombia, those of us who were paying attention—and really, what else would you watch in sports at this time of the year? Baseball? Yeah, okay—got to see the new David versus Goliath story.

In the second round of the tournament, Dudi Sela took on Ivo Karlovic. And thus was born the modern day version of this great legend.

Watch it here.

In this scenario, the Crotian is Goliath. Though he’s never really had the results worthy of a legendary warrior (i.e. he’s much, much more Shawn Bradley in this scenario), Karlovic is the Goliath of the ATP World Tour. In no small part (get it?) because he is listed as six-foot-11 and very well could be even taller. Karlovic is currently ranked No. 31, a little higher than his career high of No. 14 from 2008, and his career record stands at 251-229—which, you know, is good enough. So again, if the 35-year-old is to be the great Philistine warrior in this scenario, it’s all physically.

And the Israeli Sela is David. The 29-year-old is listed at five-foot-nine and is currently ranked No. 94. On tour, he’s been mostly average, if that, with a 97-134 career record. In short (HA!), he’s the average man, the forgotten player. And for that, he’s perfect for our David.

But because legends evolve and change over time, this version of the story is different. In our story, Goliath beats David by the score of 7-6 (8) and 7-6 (5)—but thankfully, the score doesn’t matter in this new legend. (And obviously, Sela isn’t the David who’s supposed to be the future King of Israel, nor is this a battle for Israel. Especially now, let’s not go there. There are too many senseless killings already.)

In our story, all we need to worry about is what happened when David embraced Goliath. At the end of the match, the smallish Sela picked up a chair, brought it with him to the net to stand and stood on it to embrace the tallish Karlovic.

In our story, there’s no King of Israel nor is it a foreshadowing of the Catholic Church over Satan. It’s just two guys playing a tennis match, and Goliath beating David—as he usually does. It’s just two guys embracing and having a good laugh and treating this tennis match for the relatively minor one that it is. They probably went for a beer afterward, making this my kind of match.

And before we close this legend, one last tip—do give Karlovic a follow on Twitter (@ivokarlovic), because he may be the best athlete at it. His bio reads, “i do what i do best and bunch of other stuff”. In an English that’s just broken enough to be adorable, the man will entertain you about personal tennis milestones, the Miami Heat, twist the knife deeper in Brazil’s collective soul, offer live tennis commentary, or simply give dietary options. (He’s also great at jokes.)

Karlovic is the real MVP. At least on Twitter.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The kids are all right

July 14, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon rejoices at the rise of a few talented youngsters in tennis.

Just because you’re too young to know that you shouldn’t be there doesn’t mean that you don’t belong.

Because of how this year’s Wimbledon ended, with one of the better men’s finals of the past decade (i.e. which has been full of such wonderful finals), it’s easy to overlook one main takeaway and marvel at Roger Federer’s and Novak Djokovic’s brilliance and brilliant duel.

What about these kids, right?

This year at Wimbledon, some of the younger players, who had showcased so much promise already, finally gave their fans some tangible proof to that hope. First, it was Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil who, playing in their first event together as doubles partners, captured the title. (It was the first time this happened, a new team winning in their debut together, in 14 years.)

The story of their win, how they decided to team up by text messages and then went on to beat not one, not two, not three, but four seeded teams on their way to a major title, is the type of things that doubles needs—a narrative. (On the other hand, what does it say about this sport when you think that two newbies can capture one of the four biggest titles on their first try and against the best team of all time?)

Still, they brought joie de vivre and recognition to a sport that needs it.

It’s trickier in singles on the ATP World Tour, where Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic can hope for the best all that they want, but must battle against three of the 10 best players in history in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. No one said it would be easy… but it doesn’t have to be this hard either!

At any given tournament, there are only so many matches that they can win before they’re pitted against one member of this trio—and yet in 2014, what has changed is that both Dimitrov and Raonic play these matches like they believe they belong and will win. (They still lose, but that’s beside the point. Belief is the first step toward success.) The Bulgarian and the Canadian reached the semifinal of tennis’s Great Cathedral, a great sign for anyone wondering which players will follow in the footsteps of our current champions. (Nick Kyrgios is also part of this group, though at 19 he could still use some seasoning.)

Of course, it’s on the women’s side that we saw the biggest surprise. Young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, the player of the 2014 season so far on the WTA Tour with 36 wins and not one, not two, but three Grand Slam semifinals to her name, qualified for the final against Petra Kvitova.

And in the final, we’ll all remember how over-matched she seemed in losing 6-3 and 6-0, a score that is actually probably kinder to her than it should be. Bouchard had had all the answers up to this point in the tournament, but she was clueless against Kvitova. She tried one thing, and when that one thing didn’t work, she tried it again.

It’s alright, she’ll be fine. That’s what we said then, and it’s probably even true. But this is tricky, really. It’d be foolish, of course, to think this is it for the 20-year-old, and in all likelihood she’ll have plenty more time and occasions to win a few Wimbledon titles. Yet, that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t a glorious opportunity, here this year, and that she badly got exposed.

Of course, it’s a testament to her great talent and performances, already so early in her career, that we should react in such a way to a disappointing Wimbledon final. “Eugenie Bouchard? Yeah, she’s all right.”

Damn right.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic finally wins again

July 7, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2014 Wimbledon Grand Slam.

Roger this, Roger that. In the end, it’s Novak who reigns supreme after a thrilling victory in the 2014 Wimbledon final.

How do you regroup instantly? It turns out that you can’t, okay, but how do you regroup quickly and promptly, and will yourself to accomplish seemingly again what had been so close just a moment ago? As ESPN’s Greg Garber put it, once you’ve rolled the great boulder to the top of the mountain and you lose control and see it tumble back down, how do you find the will to start over?

That was Djokovic’s dilemma at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club against Roger Federer. He had chocked the fourth set away, up 5-2 only to somehow lose it on barely a whimper. (And, in the greatest of ironies, a successful Hawkeye challenge from Federer on championship point.) How do you come back from that?

There’s probably no answer beyond, “You just do it, because you’re still on a tennis court, the TV cameras are still broadcasting, you still want the title as much as earlier when it seemed like you had won, and your opponent is still battling.” So you go on. You believe in yourself, and all that self-belief will one day pay off.

Somehow, Djokovic won the 2014 Wimbledon title, overcoming King Roger in three hours and 56 minutes by the score of 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7 and 6-4. And somehow, the scoreline undersells how great this final was—really, this may have been the very best one since the 2008 encounter between Federer and Rafael Nadal. (Though I’m partial to the 2012 Australian Open final between the Djoker and Nadal. But really at this point, the only correct answer is, “We’re spoiled.”)

Both Djokovic and Federer started the match in fifth gear. There was no feeling-out period, because they had already played each other 34 times prior, and there were no nerves due to this being a Grand Slam finals, because they had respectively played 14 and 25 of these already. Not only that, but it was clean tennis. Federer won the first set, then Djokovic the following two, and so on, because they went for their shots and they hit them—the pair combined for more than 140 winners and only 52 unforced errors.

With the win, the Serb accomplished many things. For one, he wakes up today at the top of the ATP World Tour rankings, ahead of Nadal, making him the man and the likely favourite for the remainder of the year. (Or at least, until he moves down.)

The title also moves him another rung in the annals of the sport. With a seventh Grand Slam title, Djokovic passes Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, and is now tied with Mats Wilander and John McEnroe. When he wins his eighth, and given that he’s still in his physical prime he likely will, he’ll tie Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. And his Grand Slam winning percentage, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight, will actually be the highest among that group.

He’ll firmly be part of tennis royalty…but will he be one of the royals yet? There’s an argument to be made that he could be the most underappreciated player in the history of the sport. He’s one of only 10 players with at least 7 Grand Slam titles, but he’s the only one who has accomplished this while playing against possibly the two greatest players ever. Where he’ll live on in history is that year after year, he’s among the very best returners on tour, and the ATP MatchFacts tool seems to peg him as one of the best in history.

He’s underappreciated by history, and he knows it. Perhaps that’s why this second Wimbledon title may have been his most significant and emotional one—he had lost three Grand Slam finals in a row, and five of his last six, but now he can put all this behind him. “This is the tournament that I always dreamed of winning. This is the first tennis match that I ever [saw] in my life, when I was five years old,” he said before dedicating the title to his future wife Jelena Ristic, their unborn child, and to Jelena Gencic, his first coach who passed away a little more than a year ago.

Know what’s another thing that he accomplished with this victory? He saved Boris Becker’s job. The man had been brought on to help him finish and close matches on the biggest stage. And for a while, it looked like it was for naught, due to Djokovic’s deer in the headlights moment.

But still he won. And Becker got a big Serbian bro hug for that.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Serena Williams is still here, but for how long?

June 30, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of Wimbledon.

Is this the bookend to Serena Williams’ career? We could only be one Grand Slam tournament away.

In 1998, the first year she truly established herself on the WTA Tour and participated in the four major tournaments, the then-17-year-old compiled an 8-4 record. She made the second round once (i.e. in Melbourne), the fourth round once (i.e. in Paris) and the second round twice (i.e. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open).

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it should be—we’re a loss in the third round in Flushing Meadows away from seeing her repeat that 1998 season. Really. In 2014, she has made the fourth round in Australia, then the second round in France and now the third round in England. That’s for a player who very well could be the greatest in the history of the sport.

Sometimes in life, or in our case in tennis, you wake up one day and realize that you’ve come so far that you’re actually right back where you started.

Am I saying that this is the end for the great American? No. For one thing, I kept writing a year ago (e.g. here and here), as Roger Federer followed every shocking loss with a similarly bad loss, that there was no rush in proclaiming the end of his career—so why did it feel like everyone wanted to be the first saying that this was it for the Swiss?

So similarly, it’s not the end for Williams, but the end may be near. At the very least, it’s the end of her late-career renaissance, which saw her win four Grand Slams (and an Olympic gold medal) out of six between 2012 and 2013. She should have had all the momentum entering the 2014 season…except that that’s not what happened.

Instead, she looks, at almost 33, like a shell of her 31-year-old self. She’s losing matches that she had only rarely lost and against opponents that really shouldn’t beat her, as Alizé Cornet had been 0-13 prior to this match against top-20 opponents in Grand Slam tournaments.

(Well now Cornet is 1-13, and it’s a record she’ll bring into her fourth round match against Eugenie Bouchard. The young Canadian, though she’d never say so officially, has to be thrilled to see that the tennis Gods did her a solid—Cornet might have beat Williams, but she’s not quite as dangerous. And just like that, Bouchard’s bid for another semifinal has opened up…although Maria Sharapova could wait in the quarterfinals. But just as she would, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

For Williams, if a dip in form is one thing, what’s more perplexing is her reaction to this most recent loss. “I don’t really know what I did wrong,” she said after the match. “Usually I do. Usually I know I did this, and that.”

Quite the departure from her typical opinionated self! Whether Williams is actually out of sorts is something we’ll know for sure when the U.S. Open arrives in August. It’s a tournament she’s already won five times.

Winning her home Slam for the sixth time—the only one she would have captured this many times—would salvage her entire season. It would certainly show that after 16 seasons, she’s still here.

And that she’s not quite the young teenager she once was.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The North Americans at the Cathedral of tennis

June 23, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews North American players competing at Roland Garros.

Every tennis season is the same way—you blink once, and you suddenly realize it’s already the start of the Wimbledon Championships.

I’ve badgered the Wimbledon folks more than once for I think that it is a ridiculously excessively pompous event. Wimbledon is the place where organizers think the uniforms of umpires and ballboys and ballgirls should be good for a runway show. It’s the place where players must adhere to a strict all-white clothing policy, as though this were high school. It’s the place where the event stops on the middle Sunday just so we can enjoy tea and cake. It’s the place where you’re not allowed to dance after you win it all, because, well, why exactly? Wimbledon is the cathedral of tennis, and that’s the thing with religion—you don’t need a reason, only faith.

But you know what? It’s also the best.

This week, we continue our series of tournament previews with a look at the North American players that are poised to do well on the holy grounds of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (For a look at the entire draw, please read my colleague Tom Cochrane.)

Gentlemen’s Singles draw

Milos Raonic

Many signs point to the fact that Milos Raonic has officially arrived. He’s a member of the top 10, still has fewer than 10 losses for the year and, most importantly, has reached at least the quarterfinals at six of the nine tournaments he’s played in 2014. He arrives at Wimbledon with only one match on grass under his belt, but I’m confident this will be the year he finally fulfills his potential on the surface.

The future is now for Raonic—at least until his quarterfinal against Nadal. At which point, the future will be 2015.

Frank Dancevic

Remember what I just wrote about Wimbledon being the best? Maybe it’s not quite true. “I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed at the player services at Wimbledon Qualifying this year,” Frank Dancevic wrote on his Facebook page. “Given that it is the biggest tournament in the world you would think that the players would feel welcome and comfortable on site.”

First, I recommend you to read the blog post in its entirety, because it’s quite enlightening. Now of course, one man’s experience does not make a trend, yada yada. But no one player should have to participate in as prestigious a tournament as this one under these conditions. Second, the more you have power in this world, the more you’ll be treated with respect—and tennis is no exception. And third, well yeah, this was just a way to discuss these things. At the absolute most, Dancevic will promptly fall to Rafael Nadal in the third round.

Sam Querrey

I mean, the cup is at least half empty. I don’t necessarily have a right reason, but I think that Sam Querrey could do well in London. For a while, he was the top ranked American on the ATP World Tour and unlike the other American giant John Isner, he’s at least shown a history of performing on the holy hollow grounds—he did make the fourth round and then the third round in 2010 and 2011. Querrey has solid ground strokes and a dependable service game—and it should be dependable enough for him to ride all the way to the fourth round.

Who else but Querrey on the American side? I mean, Jack Sock? Sure, he can lose in three sets by Raonic in the second round.

Ladies’ Singles draw

Serena Williams

Was the early Roland Garros loss just a blip on the radar? Since the middle of the 2012 season, also known as the era of the New Serena (I mean, winning four Grand Slam titles and counting will do that), it seemed like Serena Williams had managed to purge herself of the shockingly early losses that have marred her throughout her career. But so far in 2014, she is just 4-2 at Grand Slam tournaments.

Well, Wimbledon is a tournament she’s won five times in her career (exactly as many times as every other non-French Open Grand Slam event). She’s my pick this year to win in London.

Eugenie Bouchard

Just because you’re not supposed to be there, not yet, not so soon, doesn’t mean that you don’t belong. Somehow, against all odds (or at least the odds of this columnist, as I picked against her both times), the Montrealer has made two Grand Slam semifinals in two tries this year. Could she make it three for three? Well, Bouchard’s draw is quite manageable…until a battle against Serena Williams in the fourth round. Her game is great for grass, as a Junior Wimbledon title would attest just two years ago, but this is likely too much.

Sloane Stephens

Where Sloane Stephens had the lead in the race for the title of “future of women’s tennis” once upon a time, she was beat to the finish line by Bouchard. The young Canadian made up about a year in a few months in 2014, and now it’s up to Stephens to answer. She’s made it to the fourth round in Melbourne and Paris this year, only to fall to a bigger and better foe. Here in Wimbledon, she’s slated to play ex-champion Petra Kvitova. It’s a tough ask, but these are the matches she must win from time to time.

Though I don’t think she will this year.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Behind Babolat’s Play Racket

June 16, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon gets a glimpse of what the future of tennis might look like.

After the smartphones come the smart racquets.

Lost amid all that happened this year at Roland Garros—and really, there was so much, from Rafael Nadal’s triumph to Eugenie Bouchard’s continuing rise—is perhaps the one thing that could shape and change the future of the sport the most in the long run.

Karolina Pliskova, Julia Görges and Ana Konjuh all played in the French Open in 2014. That they didn’t make it far in the main draw matter little, because in a way they already had. They used the Babolat Play Pure Drive.

Maybe you’ve heard of this technology that launched last December in the U.S. (i.e. for $399) and in May 2014 in Europe, maybe not, but either way it’s fine. That’s what this edition of the Tennis Elbow column is for. What follows is an email Q & A with a Babolat spokesperson regarding this new technology. It’s abbreviated in some places, mostly for brevity’s sake.

1) In a few words, what is the Play Pure Drive technology and racquet?

The Babolat Play Pure Drive racket is built with the exact same specifications as a regular Babolat Pure Drive, but has sensors integrated into the handle that capture and analyze players’ movements, giving them access to every facet of their game from stroke type to ball impact to endurance, technique and power.

The social sharing aspect of Babolat Play offers tennis players everything they love about the game: fun, competition and a social dimension that allows the player to become the actor in his own game.

2) How did the project start? Can I have a rough timeline from the inception of the idea until this French Open, where three players used it?

The idea for Babolat Play was born 10 years ago, but the technology was not ready then. We have been heavily focused on this project for six years. The prototype was introduced at the French Open in 2012.

3) What does Babolat think this technology can bring to tennis?

The Babolat Play racket will allow the players to better understand themselves and their game. No matter their level, from beginner to professional, players will be able to use Babolat Play to obtain concrete information on their game. The mystery of what happens when the ball hits the strings during four milliseconds is finally revealed.

The lack of data during a tennis game was a real deficiency. Gathering data to quantify your game and skills is a new concept in the game of tennis. Just as sports like running and biking have changed with quantified-self technologies, Babolat Play will alter the game of tennis for future generations.

4) Though Karolina Pliskova, Julia Görges and Ana Konjuh all used the technology at Roland Garros this year, what has been the feedback from the players? Is it something they had been looking for/asking?

Babolat has always worked closely with players to anticipate their needs and the changing evolution of the game. It is exciting for the players to be able to unlock new information about how to improve their game. Players haven’t had any data like this before, all they had was feeling, but Babolat Play gives them concrete data.

5) How does Babolat believe this changes tennis? In what ways?

Tennis won’t be only based on sensations, or feel, anymore, but on concrete information—it’s a new way to understand the game. We like to compare this breakthrough innovation in tennis to the time when movies from silent to talking.

6) Perhaps it’s too early to ask this, but what comes next?

Babolat has 140 years of innovation from the invention of strings to the first connected racket. We are 100 per cent a tennis company: all innovative products and services we provide are dedicated to the tennis player. We want this technology to be accessible to the largest number of players—the Babolat Pure Drive is our most versatile and maneuverable racket, used by club players as well as competition players.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The boring life of sitting in an IKEA chair at Roland Garros

June 9, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2014 French Open.

Well, talk about boring. Right? Rafael Nadal won the 2014 French Open by defeating Novak Djokovic in four sets of 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 and 6-4 in three hours and 31 minutes.

There’s no way around it. Nadal is boring. Specifically, him winning Roland Garros is boring. Boring is boring, and nobody likes boring. And that’s why we do it. What, exactly?

In anticipation of the French Open every year, we assess the forces on the ATP World Tour and we fool ourselves. We reason that Novak Djokovic, the second best player on clay in the world (the privilege of which is to hold a now tidy 0-6 record against Nadal in Paris), may win the tournament this year. That he might complete the career Slam. We ground our reasoning on whatever, because that’s essentially as good a reason as any other one.

We say that Djokovic might complete the career Slam, but why exactly? Because it’s time. Because he’s donated the prize money that he won for capturing the BNL Internazionali d’Italia to the flood relief efforts in his native Serbia. Because he’ll soon be a newlywed too, and that he’s about to be a father.

You want other reasons? We even come up with some that are at least somewhat related to tennis. We posit that the weather may give the advantage to the Serb, if only it can be cool and rainy. We mention that Djokovic has turned a corner since the above-mentioned win in Rome, as if all roads to France went through Italy. Oh, but not everyone stands strong. Sometimes, we predict that Novak will win only to do an about-turn at the very last possible second and explain that actually, Nadal should be the favourite. (Greg Garber also writes that Ladbrokes had made the Spaniard a 4-to-5 favourite entering the final. That was our cue—the house never loses.)

But mostly, we do it, because it’d be so much fun. Most of us like boring in our daily lives—we don’t like, necessarily, to see the IKEA chair we’ve just assembled lose its leg just as we sit down on it. But goddamn is it not funny when that same thing happens to our best friend. Well, every year in Paris, we assemble our IKEA chair and ask our best friend to sit on it, and when he does and nothing happens, then we fume. Because we know that we’re the only other person that’s going to sit on it, and of course the leg will fall.

That IKEA chair is Djokovic and Nadal playing at the French Open. We like boring in our daily lives, sure, but we hate it in sports. Change is hard, but it’s so much fun in sports.

Well, we’re wrong. All of us. Year after year, Nadal winning the French Open is anything but boring. Legend has it that he’s actually lost once in his career in Paris, though nobody can confirm that it has happened. (It would help if Robin Soderling were to give us a sign that he still knows how to hit a crosscourt forehand. I mean, where are you, Soderling? Oh, really?? Don’t call it a comeback! This loss just adds to Nadal’s mystique. Sure, he lost, but a relative unknown.)

But that’s what’s fun. Excellence is fun. Being in awe is a great feeling. What do you say when you’ve run out of things to say? When a man has won one Grand Slam tournament two more times than any other man in history has won any other Grand Slam? When this man hasn’t lost on this court in 1,833 days? When this man has a 31-win streak in France that’s not the longest ever, because he’s currently riding a 35-match streak at this same event? When he’s a career 66-1 at the Porte d’Auteuil? When everyone already knows all those statistics? What do you say then?

You say it’s boring. But how can this be boring? Now sit on your IKEA chair.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Up and down at Roland Garros 2014

June 2, 2014

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

How do you like your croissants in the morning? What do you think of the Hermès store? How does—

Alright alright, I’m not going to pretend like I have a great opener to the column this week. The first seven days of the 2014 French Open are behind us, so let’s examine whose arrow is pointing upward and whose arrow is pointing downward.

A Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic men’s final: Arrow pointing upward

This dream scenario for the men’s final is just around the corner, with the Djokovic having moved on to the quarterfinals and Nadal about to do the same as I write this. Seeded No. 1 and No. 2, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not only the two best players on the ATP World Tour, they’re especially the two strongest on clay. Nadal’s resume, especially at the French Open, is ludicrous and needs no reminder. And if Djokovic hasn’t won Roland Garros yet, it’s only because only one player, Roger Federer in 2009, has since Nadal won his first title in 2005. On the men’s side, the best match of the past two French Opens was their two duels—it’s only right that they do it a third time, this time in the final.

Canadians: Arrow pointing upward

Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard are also through to the quarterfinals, showing that the very future of men and women tennis might reside in Canada. (Really, that’s an astonishing feat.) Depending on where you fall on fellow youngsters Grigor Dimitrov and Sloane Stephens, the two Canadians represent the two best young players in tennis. Raonic has enjoyed a stellar season, but the draw wasn’t kind to him when it pitted him in Djokovic’s corner. For now, the task will likely be too big. Meanwhile, the draw was nothing if not kind to Bouchard, a huge plus considering that clay is her weakest surface. She aced her first test against Angelique Kerber, basically relegating the No. 9-seed to the ITF circuit, and now all she needs is to beat Carla Suarez Navarro for her second Grand Slam semifinal of the season. This one would be against Maria Sharapova in all likelihood, and heads would explode.

WTA Tour favourites: Arrow pointing downward

Well, where do we start? Serena and Venus Williams, Dominika Cibulkova, Agniezska Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Kirsten Flipkens and Li Na are all notable and seeded players who lost before the round of 16. Will this be the tournament that the future of the sport (i.e. Bouchard) conquers? Will it be the other upstart (i.e. Stephens)? Or will a semblance of logic prevail and Maria Sharapova meet Simona Halep, who’s finally learned to win, in the final?

Ernests Gulbis: Arrow pointing downward

How exactly is a player’s arrow pointing downward when this player has just equaled the best performance of his career at a Grand Slam and did so by beating Roger Federer in a classic five-set match? Well, it happens when this player has an equally poor week off the courts. “I wouldn’t like my sisters to become professional tennis players,” the 25-year-old told the Daily Mail. “It’s a tough choice of life. A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids.”

So yeah, euhm, since when have men’s tennis players started to think of themselves as eminences when it comes to gender relations? Because apparently Gilles Simon’s dumb comments at Wimbledon in 2012 begat these from the Latvian. Let’s not mention the fact that 30 years old is fairly young. Or that the prize money a woman wins during her career will ensure that her children will want for nothing. Or that a woman, once she retires and decides to have a family, can then spend her entire life raising her children. Or that there’s a way to do both (just ask Kim Clijsters). Or—well, you get it.

Instead, let’s wonder why Gulbis thinks just because he’s a man he shouldn’t, or doesn’t need to, think of having a family of his own. Instead of, you know, hitting balls. Because he sure isn’t doing it for the money—he doesn’t need it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: North American state of mind in Paris

May 26, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews North American players competing at Roland Garros.

BONJOUR! We’re in Paris—well okay, I’m not but the tennis world is—this week for the second major tournament of the season. This year especially, Roland Garros feels like it could be the most fascinating Grand Slam of the year.

This week, we continue our series of tournament previews…sort of. I say “sort of,” because my colleague Tom Cochrane has already written a draw preview and analysis. While it’s fine to kill two birds with one stone, you shouldn’t kill only one bird with two stones. I mean, sure you can, but why not use just the one stone to kill and kill another one with your now extra stone?

Accordingly, I’ll focus on something else entirely…sort of. Which North American players are poised to do well in Paris? I’m glad you asked.

Men’s draw

Vasek Pospisil

Vasek Pospisil has been secretly average since his breakout party at the Rogers Cup in Montreal last summer, winning one or two matches before losing one or two matches. In 2014 actually, he’s just 4-7, which is the opposite of excellent. (It’s a word that rhymes with ochre. But guess what color the courts are at Roland Garros. Yep, ochre.) But I still believe in the 23-year-old—he’s Canadian, he’s still the second most promising young player in North America and, despite all his problems, he’s still seeded No. 30 at a Grand Slam tournament. It’s not in Paris that he’ll get back on track, but I don’t care. Someone deserves the right to be annihilated in the third round against Rafael Nadal.

Milos Raonic

Has the Canadian wunderkind at long last arrived for good? For three years now, he’s been hailed as the next big thing—and not only for his height!—in tennis and in 2014, the results have perhaps caught up to the reputation and the praise. Not that Raonic never performed well at events, but this season he seems to be on a mission to prove that he belongs to the top. He’s 15-7 on the year and has reached at least the quarterfinals of five of the seven tournaments he’s played in. If you’re a member of the top 10, which he is, this is what you have to do.

It bodes especially well that he’s accomplished all this despite the fact that the thick of the year has been played on Raonic’s worst surface. And that on his worst surface in Rome, he very nearly beat Novak Djokovic, who’s perhaps the presumptive favourite in Roland Garros. The draw is a little tricky, but I see the 23-year-old handling either a marathon match against Kei Nishikori or a visit to the dog pound against Alexandr Dolgopolov, to reach the quarterfinals against Djokovic.

That’s the dirty little secret now, especially on the men’s side. In North American tennis, it’s Canada that has the most promising young players. Of course, beyond Raonic and Pospisil, the cupboard may be bare, but those two are years ahead of any young American player. In American tennis, who exactly do you look at beside…John Isner? Sure then, let’s look at John Isner.

John Isner

Somehow, the American giant seems to never rest the week before major tournaments. Just this past week, for example, he competed in the Open de Nice—when the top players rest, John Isner plays. And John Isner isn’t one of the world’s top players. I can’t say they’re definitely related, but I can’t say that they’re not either.

We all know the formula for the 29-year-old. Even on clay, he will rarely lose a game on his serve and, if need be, he’ll take all his sets at the tiebreak. It’ll work in the first round against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, but it will not in the third round against Tommy Robredo.

Beyond Isner, who’s there on the American side? Jack Sock? Donald Young? Meh.


Women’s draw

Serena Williams

Does she even count? She is American, but she is also the very best player on the WTA Tour so I’m not exactly going on a limb when I scream, “Please look out for Serena Williams at the French Open!” Just write her name in her half of the draw for the final and proceed to figure out who emerges from the other half.

Sloane Stephens

While most in the tennis community might only have eyes for another young promising player, it’s actually Sloane Stephens who’s the higher ranked of the two. Just 21 years old, Stephens is working on a two-year streak of reaching the fourth round in Paris. Clay isn’t her best surface, but she has good groundstrokes and enough mobility. This year, her draw is fairly routine until…the fourth round, where she’d be slated to meet Simona Halep! Make that three years in a row for Stephens.

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard has been the darling on Tour ever since her surprising run to the semifinals of the Australian Open and all she’s done since is reach a semifinal (i.e. Charleston), a quarterfinal (i.e. Estoril) and win her first career title (i.e. Nürnberg). Bouchard’s 2014 season has been stellar, and I haven’t even mentioned her Fed Cup run (4-0 so far, and an epic bullying of Kristina Kulcova, of Slovakia.)

But the clay is far from her best surface. All the advantages she gets in power from the hard courts will be nonexistent in France—just like they were in Rome, where she lost against the venerable Francesca Schiavone. Still, her draw is manageable and she could even beat Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

Christina McHale

I’d love to say good things about the 22-year-old American, but the draw didn’t do her any favours. She’d play Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. Good night!

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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