Tennis Elbow: 2016 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore preview and analysis

October 24, 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 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.

Welcome to Singapore for the 2016 BNP Paribas WTA Finals, the year-end coronation of women’s tennis—except, there’s actually another event after this one on the WTA calendar.

Oh well. Still, these WTA Finals, as they say, are for all the marbles.

Another quirky feature of this year’s edition? The main draw for the round-robin portion of these WTA Finals was made even though only seven of the participants were known as I started writing this. By the time you’ll read this, I’ll have waited on the outcome of the weekend’s Kremlin Cup title to know whether Svetlana Kunetsova managed to defend her title and book her ticket for Singapore. (Hint: she did.)

Still, let’s preview these WTA Finals.

The absentee: Serena Williams

In a perfect world, Serena Williams would have been in Singapore and battled for the year-end No. 1 ranking, and we would have witnessed quite a finale between her and the current best player in the world… but alas, this isn’t the case. Williams has pulled out of the event, ensuring that Angelique Kerber will finish at No. 1.

Although, would we even have had that perfect scenario? Williams has been great in 2016 but with only  two titles to her name, she’s fallen way below the lofty expectations she’s set for herself. We’ll never know what would have happened, and it’s okay.

The favourite: Angelique Kerber

It’s okay, because Kerber is here and the German has reigned supreme over this entire season. Her unlikely ascent to World No. 1 player started with a title at the Australian Open, and here we are eight or so months later. Kerber doesn’t have much to play for in Singapore and has yet to emerge from the round robin in three prior appearances, but something tells us this year may be different.

The next ones up: Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza

As Williams fades away, and maybe this season was a first glance, Simona Halep could be next in line. We know, we know: it’s Kerber who’s atop the rankings, and who has the major titles, but Halep is no slouch. This season, she won as many titles as the German, and the only things left for her to win are the cream of the crop of the WTA calendar; a win in Singapore would go a long way.

Meanwhile, Garbine Muguruza hasn’t enjoyed as stellar a season as you may think she has: you’ll say that she does one major title at the French Open, and we’ll counter that this is the one title she has captured all season long. It could be better, let’s say, and Singapore would help.

The veterans: Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova

Agnieszka Radwanska is the Singapore defending champion and has won three titles this season; other than Kerber, no one in this field has more than her 51 WTA wins in 2016. Dominika Cibulkova has three titles and has used this season as a rebound after her run to the 2014 Australian Open final; she also got married this past summer, so we’re pulling for her. Could this be it for Svetlana Kuznetsova? At 31, she knows her best playing days are behind her and is enjoying every moment of this late-career surge.

The happy-to-be-here newcomers: Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys

This pair could be make the trip to the WTA Finals often in the years to come, as both are young and in ascension. Watching Karolina Pliskova’s run to the US Open final, defeating Venus and Serena Williams in the process, was as thrilling as anything this season; a nice showing her would propel her for the 2017 season. Madison Keys, meanwhile, is the youngest player in the field at just 21 years old. She’s probably angling for the future, though a win would let everyone know the future has arrived.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Maria Sharapova will soon be free

October 17, 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 discusses the latest in the Maria Sharapova doping saga.

At long last Maria Sharapova is free.

Alright, she actually isn’t and remains suspended for some time, but it seems like we might have just heard the last of things in this saga, at least for the time being.

A week ago in the lead-up to the 2016 Shanghai Rolex Masters, we had all learned that Sharapova’s punishment and ban for a positive test for Meldonium had been reduced from 24 to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It’s like the CAS had looked at the International Tennis Federation’s decision and said, “Hmm not quite.”

The CAS, if you recall, is that organization you had no idea existed until a few days ago and that is actually the highest ranking authority in sports. Its decision is final on the matter, too: Sharapova will come back to tennis, if she wants to, in late April 2017.

In our write up last week, we had asked that this decision only lent itself to a few more questions, so let’s run through some of them.

What happens in late April 2017?

Well Sharapova is eligible to come back to action, if she so chooses.

Why the need to include that “If…” in there. Is it not a given? Will Sharapova even come back?

We know nothing that you don’t as well so we’re only guessing here. But nothing about Sharapova’s actions and reactions, ever since this whole thing started, seems to hint at her not coming back.

When the news broke about her positive drug test, she went ahead and scheduled a press conference; it seemed she wanted to jump ahead of the story. Now that she’s been (somewhat) exonerated, the Russian has gone on the offensive against World Anti-Doping Agency and the ITF. That’s not someone who thinks of retiring.

Targeted? Is she kidding us??

She isn’t, but for now let’s backtrack a little.

Alright sure.

The reason why WADA and the ITF, if you recall, had decided to suspend Sharapova for two years was a positive drug test for meldonium. The substance, maybe you remember, had been deemed fine to use until January 1, 2016. Meldonium was added to the WADA watch list last year, and Sharapova apparently tested positive for it five times in 2015 but, like, who cares because it wasn’t illegal then?

Sure, I get what you mean. Or do I?

What I mean is that there are quite a few problems with WADA, as it came upon this positive test of Sharapova during the Australian Open. Namely, the agency had no idea just how long meldonium could stay in the human body.

Right, I remember that. You already explained it.

I sure did, right here.

Cool, cool.

Any other questions?

Well sure, what should we expect from the Russian once she comes back?

Aren’t you in luck, because the folks at ESPN wrote here about the daunting challenge facing the player and here about what our expectations should be. It’s pretty interesting and, like, basically is the one thing related to actual tennis in this whole saga.

You don’t seem in a hurry to discuss this.

I’m sure not.

Well, then. Anything else?

Oh, for sure.

What is it?

Well you see, I don’t really see what the big deal is in this entire doping saga. I suppose that Sharapova indeed has broken the rules, and should be punished for this (as she has been already), but maybe there’s a bigger picture here.

Maybe it’s not necessarily that different to inject meldonium in your body than to replace a torn ligament in your elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in your body. If you’re enhancing your performance, you’re enhancing your performance and that should be that. But of course, we treat one behaviour as entirely natural while another as illegal and morally reprehensible.

Might that negatively affect Sharapova’s lasting legacy?

It almost surely will, but I don’t believe it should. It seems like all of us are still studying meldonium and the ways through which the substance may have performance-enhancing qualities; Sharapova’s legacy may suffer if we ultimately find out that the drug does enhance one’s performance in some major capacity.

I see an “And yet”?

Oh damn right. And yet, plenty won’t care about that caveat and have made up their mind already. Sharapova tested positive and, despite all the problems that come with it, that will be that in the eyes of many.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Shanghai Rolex Masters draw preview and analysis

October 9, 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 Shanghai Rolex Masters.

Maybe you’ve watched the news this past week?

Well we have—though it really was more Twitter than the actual news, but you get the gist. We were on Twitter the other day and, lo and behold, we saw some actual breaking news.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport—I didn’t know that was a thing and neither did you, stop lying—issued its decision in the Maria Sharapova doping saga, ultimately reducing the two-year suspension that the International Tennis Federation had imposed to a ban of 15 months.

The five-month reduction ultimately means that the Russian player will be able to compete again on the WTA Tour in late April 2017. The CAS is apparently the highest authority in sports and, as such, its word on the matter is final. So we’re glad we’ve got that settled: Sharapova, if she so chooses, will be back at that time. What does this mean for her? What will happen in late April?

Those are all valid questions, ones we would normally be all too happy to tackle in this column. But part of the challenge of writing a weakly column such as this one is actually finding 52 topics to write about on any given year. And when there’s a big tournament on the calendar that week, you write a preview about said tournament—and you table whatever else.

So stay for the following Shanghai Rolex Masters preview, and come back next week for discussion of the Sharapova latest.


Main draw

If last week’s China Open had a fairly open draw (on the men’s side at least), then this week it’s the very opposite. Welcome to life at a Masters 1000 event.

Novak Djokovic is back in action for the first time since losing in the US Open final against Stanislas Wawrinka a month ago. It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for the World No. 1, as rumours of personal trouble and injuries have taken their toll. To top it off, the Serb has seen his lead at the top of the ATP World Tour rankings to a mere 1,500 points because Andy Murray has been on the hottest streak of  all hot streaks, but let’s not lose sight of the 56-6 record, the 7 titles and one more thing: Djokovic did complete the career Grand Slam in 2016. No matter what happens the rest of the way, it’s already been a success.

Djokovic will want to do well in Shanghai just to reaffirm his stronghold on the sport. Facing him in the quarterfinals will be Australian Nick Kyrgios and, if it really comes to that, buckle up because it’ll be an awesome match.

The second section of the draw, meanwhile, is fairly wide-open, with a struggling Rafael Nadal as the supposed favorite. Let’s give the edge to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Bernard Tomic because why not? Canadian Milos Raonic had to pull out of his semifinal match at the China Open last week but is still slated to compete in Shanghai; so long as he’s healthy, he’ll be fine and a potential battle against a fuego Stanislas Wawrinka would be wonderful.

Meanwhile, maybe you’ve heard about this Andy Murray fella? He’s been playing pretty damn good tennis since the Rio Olympics and here we’ll give him a spot in the quarterfinals, where he’ll lose against Gael Monfils because we like the Frenchman.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Nick Kyrgios; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Bernard Tomic; Milos Raonic over Stanislas Wawrinka; Gael Monfils over Andy Murray

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; Milos Raonic over Gael Monfils

Final: Milos Raonic over Novak Djokovic

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 China Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

October 3, 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 China Open.

Welcome to Beijing, China.

Indeed, every year the tennis world descends on the Chinese metropolis for the China Open, a Masters 500 on the ATP World Tour calendar but a Premier (and mandatory) event on the WTA Tour; a main draw with 32 men competing and 60 women (+4 first-round byes); and, ultimately, with $4,164,780 in prize money for men and $5,424,394 for women.

Because it is a combined event, it is the biggest stop of the annual Asian swing. Welcome to China.


Women’s draw

On the women’s side, there are four first-round byes that have gone to Dominika Cibulkova, Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova—or the 10th, fourth, ninth and 14th seeds. While Serena Williams isn’t there, this is still a fairly loaded main draw.

A fitting end to the Cinderella 2016 season of Angelique Kerber would be to do well, very well, here at the China Open as well as next in Singapore. It would be a tidy and perfect ending, so that’s exactly what we’ll predict will happen. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Caroline Wozniacki has strung together a nice little run, having made the semifinals at the US Open, then winning in Tokyo and making the third round of the Wuhan Open. The third section of the draw, meanwhile, is anyone’s. The big name, of course, is Simona Halep and I feel a bit more confident in predicting great things for the Romanian after seeing her make the semifinals last week. Finally, we’ll go out and mention that Madison Keys is currently the odd one out in the race toward Singapore for the WTA Finals, coming in at ninth. A quarterfinal here would help her.

How will this year’s tournament compare to last year’s?

Quarterfinals: Angelique Kerber over Timea Bacsinszky; Belinda Bencic over Caroline Wozniacki; Karolina Pliskova over Simona Halep; Petra Kvitova over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Angelique Kerber over Belinda Bencic; Karolina Pliskova over Petra Kvitova

Final: Karolina Pliskova over Angelique Kerber


Men’s draw

On the men’s side, the main draw is fairly wide-open, both for the fact that this is a Masters 500 event and that there are quite a few notable injuries with the absence of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. And because there are so few contestants, all anyone needs is a win or two to find themselves in the quarterfinals.

That said, while we do see a few surprising names making it all the way to the Final 8, we actually expect the bigger names and mainstays to prevail once there. This is to say that we’ll give Guillermo Garcia-Lopez a win over his countryman Roberto Batista Agut, but overtaking Andy Murray would be too tall an order. Likewise, we’ll give David Ferrer the benefit of the doubt and give him one last stand, downing Jack Sock in the quarters. We’re not quite sure what to make of the third section of the draw, which is to say that we’ll say that the two favourites will emerge unscathed. Finally, Rafael Nadal has basically always beaten Roger Federer and we choose to believe he wouldn’t any more problems against Grigor «Baby Fed» Dimitrov.

The real question: will we get a more entertaining final than last season’s?

Quarterfinals: Andy Murray over Guillermo Garcia Lopez; David Ferrer over Jack Sock; Milos Raonic over Richard Gasquet; Rafael Nadal over Grigor Dimitrov

Semifinals: Andy Murray over David Ferrer; Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic

Final: Andy Murray over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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.


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.



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

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