Tennis Elbow: 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters: draw preview and analysis

April 15, 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 the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

The series of tournament previews continues this week, with a look at the royalty of the Masters 1000 events.

While the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters does not have the excess of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, or the carelessness of the Sony Open Tennis in Miami, it has panache (and a Rolex) of its own. It’s set in Monaco, a principality that is governed by an actual monarchy. I call it the royalty of tournaments, because it basically is—if you played tennis on the backdrop of Mont Agel and the Mediterranean Sea, you’d probably feel like a king, too!

This tournament also serves as the de facto launch of the clay court season. Buckle up, people. We have about five months of tennis with very little interruption ahead of us.

The first section of the main draw is that of Rafael Nadal. I could give more details, but let this previous fact suffice. The Spaniard is the best clay court player in the world, and he’s only ever lost one (!!!) match at Monte-Carlo in his career. He’ll make it to the quarterfinals, then the semifinals and again to the final, because Nadal always does. Look for Grigor Dimitrov to continue his great season and join Nadal in the quarterfinals, if only because one player must—but he may as well be lamb thrown to the slaughter.

“Crazy” Stanislas Wawrinka headlines the second quarter, and something tells me Monte-Carlo might be the setting that reminds him that there’s more to the 2014 season than the Australian Open. He hasn’t played particularly well since January and he doesn’t even have to bring his A+ game to make the quarterfinals. There, Crazy Stan will battle…who exactly? I guess I’ll say Tommy Robredo. Because, that’s why.

Somehow, some way, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga remains ranked high enough to be the No. 9 seed. I don’t expect much, maybe one win and one loss because that’s essentially what he’s done so far this year at every tournament—he’ll lose his place in the final 8 to Italian Fabio Fognini, who unlike the Frenchman is playing as well as he ever has in his career. In the first four months in 2014, Roger Federer has proven to everyone that he’s maybe not quite ripe for the hospice like the end of last season seemed to say. So pencil him in across from Fognini.

While Nadal enters as the No. 1 seed and No. 1-ranked player, he somehow isn’t the defending champion, because Djokovic convincingly beat him a year ago. It was a big win for the Serb, coming in what is essentially his backyard (i.e. Djokovic lives in Monaco) and also the Spaniard’s figurative backyard. If Nadal is the Ned Stark of red clay, Djokovic could be its Joffrey (what, you don’t watch Game of Thrones?).

He’s almost as good as Nadal on the surface, and he’ll want to use this as the start of his march to his ultimate triumph at Porte d’Auteuil in Paris.

Oh, and the dog pound master himself, Alexandr Dolgopolov, is also in this final quarter. This time, it’ll be Tomas Berdych’s turn to suffer an ignominious death in the dog pound. It happens to the best of you, Berdych! (Well, except it won’t happen to Djokovic.)

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Grigor Dimitrov; Stanislas Wawrinka over Tommy Robredo; Roger Federer over Fabio Fognini; Novak Djokovic over Alexandr Dolgopolov

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Six degrees of John Lennon

April 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 looks at the wonderful world of Internet.

Before I begin this week, or rather in lieu of my beginning the week’s column, let me entertain you with a little game I like to call “Six degrees of John Lennon.”

It’s a simple game to play, really. You start with your name, or that of any tennis fan you know, and you find a way to reach the name of the late great singer within six steps. And it never fails.

Here, I’ll get it started.

Charles Blouin-Gascon :: Rogers Cup* :: Andy Murray** :: Judy Murray :: Yoko Ono :: John Lennon

(*) The name of an ATP World Tour tournament that you’ve attended. If you’ve never attended an ATP tournament yet still call yourself a tennis fan, it’s time for a little bit of traveling.

(*) The name of one ATP player who’s participated in tournament mentioned just before.

Ta-da! What’s that? You’re asking me what exactly is the link between Andy Murray’s mother and the widow of the late British singer? What if I told you that it’s an exchange the two had over the social media service Twitter? You’d tell me to just forget my game and lead with that?

Yeah, you’re probably right.

Just as the 2014 Sony Open Tennis was getting underway in Miami, Judy Murray, mother of the Scottish Andy, sent the following tweet (i.e. find her @judmoo): “But, as in all great rivalries –Beatles/Stones, Murray/Djokovic, cake/SPACE TRANSFORMER – the fight never ends: .@yokoono Face. Palm.”

Though that original tweet has since been deleted, it’s notable for the reason that it is a tennis player’s mother responding to an icon on social media. If this isn’t proof that the world is different in 2014, I don’t know what is. The Internet is far from perfect, but when you get Judy Murray trolling Yoko One, I’m willing to concede that it comes darn close.

There are many things to say about this exchange, so let’s start with the only way I could. No, it’s not the first time Judy Murray has done this. In fact, it appears that she has had a bone to pick with the online presence of Yoko Ono for quite some time. There’s derision, confusion, puns, frustration, advice and the odd fleeting glimpse into the subconscious of a tennis mom that goes back to at least last fall. It’s all a lot to take in, for us as it is for Yoko Ono, which explains possibly why the icon has yet to grace Murray with an answer tweet. Even when Judy trolls her to others, Yoko Ono doesn’t bulge.

Let’s mention too that because of this silence, the 81-year-old artist is the one with the upper hand. That’s the difficulty with trolling—as good as your troll game may be, it’s only as good as whether your trollee acknowledges it. It’s like that old cliché goes—if a troll falls down in the twitterverse, but no one laughs at it, did it make a noise?

We hear crickets. We also hear a song, that old classic. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart…”

Paul McCartney wrote the song, but don’t let Yoko Ono know. Let Judy Murray be the one to rub that one in, we might all finally see Yoko Ono answer her.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Familiar Kings for the 2014 Sony Open

March 31, 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 Sony Open.

Forget the collegiate basketball edition, the real March Madness, the one that I watch year after year, happens on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Key Biscayne.

Every year as the calendar turns to March, and as the world of sport turns to an organization that denies basic rights to “student”-athletes in order to accrue over $60 million in surplus, and $627 for net assets, well, I turn to tennis in California and Florida. And I have no busted brackets to worry about.

Before I move on to bigger and better things in the next few weeks, such as the death of the perfect love of all between Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, the Twitter beef between Judy Murray and Oko Ono, and the basketball career of Joakim Noah, son of tennis legend Yannick Noah, I look back at this year’s edition of the Sony Open.

The tournament this year has familiar kings in Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, who have won the event seven and four times respectively. This could be all we say, but it won’t be.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams reminded everyone who had bet the house on her that she’s a great champion. In taking home the title a seventh time, Williams lost all one of set, against little known Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in the third round.

She started slow against Na Li in the final and even had to fight off a first-set set point, which she did because she’s Serena Williams. Everything tends to start and end with her on the WTA Tour, and this final was another reminder. She made only 44 per cent of her first serves and converted just five of 17 break points, yet still beat the No. 2-ranked player for the 10th time in a row and in straight sets.

This was also her 15th win in a row against fellow members of the top 10. Against the group of Li, No. 3-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 4-ranked Victoria Azarenka and No. 7-ranked Maria Sharapova, she is an unreal 49-6 in her career. The women’s tour is Williams’s world and everyone else’s just living in it.

On the men’s side, the Djoker probably wondered whether the joke was on him. In capturing the title, he played all of four matches—in a draw of 96 (128-32 byes for the seeds = 96), the Serb beat Jeremy Chardy, then “beat” Florian Mayer in a walkover, then Tommy Robredo and Murray before booking his ticket in the final by “beating” Kei Nishikori in a walkover.

Yet with hindsight, can we say an extra two matches would have made much of a difference? Djokovic had clearly brought his talents to South Beach and anyway, it’s not like Nadal needed five hours to beat Tomas Berdych in his previous match either. That, too, was a walkover.

Rather, this was a beatdown from the player who’s currently playing the best tennis on Tour, a result that stands out like a sore blister in this rivalry. And Nadal was just there for the ride, which lasted all of 84 minutes.

Is it too late to talk about the Big Two yet? Nadal and Djokovic are currently No. 1 and No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings, have won 12 of the previous 17 Grand Slam tournaments and are the current defending champions of all nine Masters 1000 events. There’s no one better and, most importantly, there’s not even anyone quite in their class—oh, for a few weeks, or a few tournaments, sure, but no one is currently as reliable as this pair is. And the rivalry continues to surprise, even as it’s become by far the most frequent in tennis history (i.e. 40 matches and counting).

Though Djokovic lost his Melbourne crown this year, he has now won the next two best things. Not a bad consolation prize. Though he’s won three in a row against Nadal, the calendar now slowly turns to the clay court season.

Can we just fast-forward to the Roland Garros final?

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2014 Sony Ericsson Open: Stanislas Wawrinka’s turn in the dog pound

March 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 recaps the first few days at the 2014 Sony Ericsson Open.

This week, we will recap the first few days of the 2014 Sony Ericsson Open for both men and women. Upsets? Humanity? Twitter beef? We have got you covered—well, except for “Twitter beef,” the one between Andy Murray’s mother and Yoko Ono. That one deserves its own column at a later date. (I mean, just read that again. Judy Murray and Yoko Ono!!)

Women’s draw

Well, talk about March madness—only, the exact opposite. As young student-athletes battle on the road to the 2014 Final Four in college basketball, the final four in Miami could be a memorable one. Should Agnieszka Radwanska and Na Li book their ticket for the semifinals—and they are favourites in their matches—all four top seeds would have made it.

As fun as it is to see a Flavia Pennetta finally capture an elusive title, the WTA Tour probably wouldn’t mind some sort of stability at the top. There’s a reason why it lags behind the ATP World Tour in popularity—unpredictability. If you can’t predict results, you can’t have storylines. And if you can’t have storylines, the average fan isn’t likely tune in.

Of course, that’s probably why it won’t happen. Bet the house on either Dominika Cibulkova or Caroline Wozniacki to manage the upset.

Men’s draw

The men’s draw has unfolded fairly according to script, except for two surprises. First, Kei Nishikori defeated David Ferrer in three sets in an entertaining fourth-round match to book his audition with King Roger Federer.

And then, the dog Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 3-6 and 6-1 in the fourth round. (Of note: the “Crazy Stan” nickname I gave him doesn’t appear to be unanimous, but I’ll continue to use it.) After his semifinal berth in Indian Wells, this continues what is a banner year, at least in the early going, for Dolgopolov. Kudos to him for not letting the ongoing tension in his native Ukraine affect his play, and here’s to hoping that he continues to play this well and get such great results. Greatness hasn’t been his calling yet and, though he’s 25, it doesn’t mean that it never could.

After Spain last week, it’s Switzerland that finds no ally in the dog pound. Whomever it was that said that a dog is a man’s best friend wasn’t talking about the Swiss—they’re neutral with humans, but they hate this dog.

That said, the real highlight came in the match between Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. In the tiebreak of the first set, the Bulgarian noticed that a ball girl was struggling with the heat—so he helped her off the court. Truly, that’s wonderful. Dimitrov is a tennis player, but that’s just his job description—wonderful human being is what, and who, he is.

Unfortunately for him, he lost the match. He might have won our hearts, but our hearts don’t put food on his table. I’d say the tennis Gods owe him one, let’s hope they were watching.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2014 Sony Open Tennis: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 18, 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 the 2014 Sony Open Tennis.

Because time, and the tennis calendar, waits for one, here we are in Miami this week—well not physically, though I’m told the good folks at Grand Slam Tennis Tours are a good destination for all your tennis traveling needs.

Really, as a 1-2 punch, this could be worse. Year after year, the BNP Paribas Open is among the biggest prizes and it’s followed by this Sony Open Tennis Masters 1000 just a mere three days after it ends. Right after the fifth wheel is the sixth. We’re spoiled and we’d be silly to complain.

As I did for the former, I will write a tournament preview for the latter. While I can’t guarantee the exactitude of my analysis, I can guarantee that I’ll explain it.

Women’s draw

Unlike for Indian Wells, I could choose to just say “Serena Williams” and keep it moving—because the World No. 1 player hasn’t yet pulled out and is set to compete in Miami.

Williams doesn’t need any help, and yet her section of the draw is very kind. Sure, there’s a potential fourth-round match against Sam Stosur, and I suppose that the Aussie could give the American some difficulty. But she’s just as likely to lose in the third round like in California. So yes, expect a few routine wins for Serena until the quarterfinals, where she will meet Sorana Cirstea. If Stosur’s showing at the BNP Paribas Open was disappointing, then what do you call Cirstea’s loss to qualifier Camila Giorgi? It’s a trick question—the answer is that Miami is different than Indian Wells. (I’m grasping at straws, I know.)

The second section is full of intriguing players who could probably break through in a big way, one who has broken through in a big way in Flavia Pennetta, and a wildcard in Maria Sharapova. Though she’s the No. 4 seed, I call the Russian a wildcard—you’ll pick her over and over and over, and feel great about it, until the point that she loses in the third round. The following tournament? You’ll still pick her to reach the quarterfinals, where she will bow down to the power of Petra Kvitova.

I don’t have anything against Simona Halep, I swear. But I must recognize that she has surprised me in reaching the semifinals in California and as odd as it may seem, the Romanian may currently be the most reliable player on the WTA Tour. You want to bet on someone to make the final four of a random tournament? You could do worse than choosing Halep. And yet…I’m picking Agnieszka Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova. (I’m a fan of Eugenie Bouchard as much as the next Canadian, but no way is she beating Radwanska.)

The final section is fairly routine although it’s deeply unfortunate that Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki would compete as early as the third round. We all know that this is a match-up worthy of much more, but the tennis Gods like to play games with our hearts. If the young American ever hopes to break through in a meaningful way, these are the matches she must win. She will, and she’ll win another big one in the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Sorana Cirstea; Petra Kvitova over Maria Sharapova; Agnieszka Radwanska over Dominika Cibulkova; Sloane Stephens over Na Li

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Petra Kvitova; Agnieszka Radwanska over Sloane Stephens

Final: Serena Williams over Agnieszka Radwanska

***See the main draw here.

Men’s draw

In the preview for the 2014 BNP Paribas Open, I asked whether it seemed like this season could be as wide open as any that we’ve had in the past decade, and the unfolding of the tournament sure seemed to prove us right. That is, right until the final between two of the usual suspects in Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. So go figure.

Rafael Nadal was unsuccessful in the first leg of his Great Golden Odyssey, but the tennis Gods have been kind this time—the earliest he could find himself in the dog pound would be the semifinal. The Spaniard will make the quarterfinals and figuring out his opponent is where the fun begins. Let’s hope for a Rogers Cup remix, where an all-Canadian match between Vasek Pospisil (who would have beaten Juan Martin Del Potro) and Milos Raonic gets the spot next to Nadal.

The second section might as well be nicknamed the nickname section, because it’s remarkable. Really, truly poetic. On the tennis side of things, it’s ripe for the taking for whomever wants it, and I think that’s precisely what the Mercurial One, Tomas Berdych, could take advantage of. Expect to see him reach the quarterfinals and lose to “Crazy” Stanislas Wawrinka after a disappointing tournament last week. Meanwhile, all I’ll be watching is the third-round match between the dog, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and the Ageless Wonder, Tommy Haas.

We all feel foolish watching Roger Federer play tennis. Oh, this is nothing new, I know, but it’s especially egregious to watch him come oh so close of winning yet another big tournament last week. We all thought he was done but it turns out that he was only done with this prototype racket from last summer last season. If ever someone tells you that the player makes a difference, not the racket, just point to King Roger. (Why he chose to use that racket in the first place, well, we don’t know. The King has reasons that the mere humans simply can’t understand.)

As for this tournament, expect to see Federer beat “Baby Fed” in the quarterfinals—though as Grigor Dimitrov continues to progress, maybe we should find him a new nickname.

Not that we really care all that much, but someone might want to page Andy Murray and tell the man that the 2014 season has indeed started. Let’s hope he shows up, as this section offers little but a quarterfinal between him and Novak Djokovic—though if Indian Wells was any indication, the Serb could already be in midseason form. Watch out!

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic; Stanislas Wawrinka over Tomas Berdych; Roger Federer over Grigor Dimitrov; Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

***See the main draw here.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2014 BNP Paribas Open: Rafael Nadal in the dog pound

March 11, 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 few days at the 2014 BNP Paribas Open.

This week, we will recap the first few days of the 2014 BNP Paribas Open for both men and women. Were there upsets? Surprises? Strong moments? We have got you covered.

Women’s draw

The women’s draw has played out more or less exactly as anticipated except for one result that sticks out like a sore thumb. In that sense qualifier Camila Giorgi’s defeat of Maria Sharapova is to tennis results as Sugarpova is to tacky brand names—even in a world where upsets abound, this one still surprises us.

That Giorgi overtook the Russian 6-4, 4-6 and 7-5 is a massive statement. She’ll surpass her career-high ranking of No. 73 and has as good a shot as any to make the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, with only a match-up against fellow countrywoman Flavia Pennetta standing in her way. Giorgi finished the 2013 season strongly, making the third round in Wimbledon and the fourth round in Flushing Meadows. Maybe she’s figured it all out now, at 22 years old.

A year ago, Sharapova arrived in Indian Wells and promptly added another trophy to the mantle. In 2014, she has come to California and promptly added…one win and one loss to her career win-loss record. Every season is a new day!

Men’s draw

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! We have quite a show for you tonight, and let’s jump right in with a timeless question. If a Masters 1000 event goes by without a single hint of a surprise, did the tournament ever happen? Did it make noise?

Hold on, who is this?? Well, dear viewers, it appears that Alexandr Dolgopolov has walked in right as we were ready to let contestant Scott answer the question. He’s now speaking. He’s explaining that this question is premature but that the answer is “dog pound”. He’s now walked off stage. Ha! I tell you, what a weird moment!

Yeah, so basically that’s a (very, very, very) long and silly roundabout way of illustrating what I was thinking when I started writing this column. On the men’s side, there had been no surprises whatsoever. And then Dolgopolov beat Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6 7-6 (5).

The dog brought his best to the Indian Wells dog pound on March 10, outlasting the best player on Tour in three tough sets and winning at the tiebreak. Throughout Dolgopolov’s career, we’ve seen plenty of signs that hinted at upcoming greatness, only that greatness never fully materialized and he’s now 25 years old. This could be the start of something new or just another hint, another tease. What’s certain is that the Ukrainian has all the shots. What’s also certain is that he’ll go against someone who’s currently playing as well as anyone in Fabio Fognini.

As for Nadal, this is a rough start to his defense of the approximately 139 756 976 668 points he needs to defend until the U.S. Open. (Alright, alright, it’s actually “only” 10,110.) So far, this season has proved that “you can’t win ‘em all” like in 2013.

The only problem is we’ll never quite know the answer to that pretend-game show. But that’s probably for the best—the less my readers know about my subconscious, the better it is for everyone.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2014 BNP Paribas Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 5, 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 the 2014 BNP Paribas Open.

Here we are, the granddaddy of them all after the actual four granddaddies. The BNP Paribas Open is not exactly a Grand Slam event, because it can’t possibly be, but it also certainly feels a wee bit bigger and better than other Masters 1000 events. For one thing, its director is none other than Larry Ellison, he of the $48-billion fortune that ranks fifth (!!!!) in the entire world! For another, it’s a tournament of 96 players—a draw of 128, except that the 32 seeds get a bye.

It’s not fully Grand Slam, but it’s neither fully Masters 1000. It’s like a sphere of its own. A fifth wheel, if you will, only in this case it’s certainly a good thing to be stuck as the proverbial fifth wheel.

My esteemed editor-in-chief Nima Naderi asked me to contribute a few more tournament previews this year, and this is my first crack at it for the season. Just know that, like, if you bet the rent money, respect that “don’t kill the messenger” routine…

Women’s draw

It would have been fun to just say “Serena Williams” and keep it moving, but she has withdrawn from the event. And maybe that’s for the best, because the last time I ran with Serena she didn’t exactly meet the expectations I had set out for her.

So instead of Williams, we have Na Li—and I definitely will not pick her without explaining some of my rationale. (In fact, I actually am not picking her to win the tournament…or am I? Read on!) The draw is fairly easy for the Chinese and but for a match against No. 15 seed Sabrine Lisicki, her place in the quarterfinals is likely assured. And since this is Indian Wells and not Wimbledon, the German shouldn’t be a problem. Expect the No. 1 seed to waltz in to the last 16…where she will meet Dominika Cibulkova, the little one who could. With a final in Australia and a title in Acapulco, the Slovak is playing as well as anyone on the WTA Tour.

In the second quarter, I find it a shame that Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic may meet as early as the third round because this is a match-up worthy of bigger and better things. But alas, it’s the little things in life… I see Stephens winning that match, and then meeting and beating Russian Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals—neither of the two has played much this season, but I think this could be the year the young American breaks through in a big way.

I’m Canadian so I will of course look for any possible reason to give Eugenie Bouchard the upper hand, but I feel like this draw breaks perfectly for her and that I barely need to stretch the truth. Sara Errani is certainly within the Canadian’s grasp and, from there it’s Simona Halep? Are we sure that the Romanian is that good? She’s playing as well as just about anyone, but she entered the 2013 season ranked No. 47. In the quarterfinals, Bouchard will lose to Victoria Azarenka, and she shouldn’t be ashamed of it if that’s how it unfolds.

Caroline Wozniacki always seems to reach the later stages of tournaments but not win, doesn’t she? So let’s say this hold true—Wozniacki reaches the quarterfinals, and even beats Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in a match where both combine for all of three unforced errors. Remember when you were younger and you watched your dad play tennis against the wall, and how the wall never missed? That’s how this quarterfinal will feel.

Quarterfinals: Na Li over Dominika Cibulkova; Sloane Stephens over Maria Sharapova; Victoria Azarenka over Eugenie Bouchard; Caroline Wozniacki over Agnieszka Radwanska

Semifinals: Na Li over Sloane Stephens; Victoria Azarenka over Caroline Wozniacki

Final: Victoria Azarenka over Na Li

***See the main draw here.

*****

Men’s draw

Doesn’t it feel like this year, the ATP World Tour may be more open than any other in the previous decade? This sure should help the accuracy of previews like this one, only the exact opposite.

The Great Golden Odyssey starts now for Rafael Nadal, as he must defend no fewer than 10,110 of his 14,085 points to defend between now and the U.S. Open. (And you thought you had it rough!) To make matters worse, the powers that be dealt him a fairly rough draw here, with Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka all in his portion. It’s not fair, but it doesn’t have to be. To reach the quarterfinals against Murray however, the Spaniard could play right-handed and still be fine.

I know that “Crazy” Stan has won the Australian Open and that he’s been playing as well as anyone for about six months, but it still feels weird to see a [3] next to his name in the main draw of a relatively large tournament, which this BNP Paribas Open certainly is. Likewise, a [7] seems a bit harsh for the way that Federer is currently playing. While the tour isn’t King Roger’s kingdom anymore, I think he’ll get to prove he’s still top dog in Switzerland in an all-Swiss quarterfinal. (Please, tennis gods, make this happen. I don’t ever ask you for much.)

The third quarter of this main draw is a weird one, and it’s usually these conditions that allow for a random “Wait, it’s a quarterfinal between Ernests Gulbis and Grigor Dimitrov? How did we get here?” realization from the tennis fan. Alas, we will not get there, the two players slated to meet in the third round. I say this quarter is weird, because there isn’t one player I am confident in predicting a Final 8 berth. Could it be Richard Gasquet or Philipp Kohlschreiber? Sure, why not? I could see Dimitrov or Fernando Verdasco also making it—so instead I’ll predict good things for Tomas Berdych and Dimitrov. But I don’t feel good about it!

I have two things to say about this portion. First, it’s a ridiculously easy draw, on paper, for Novak Djokovic. Before the quarterfinals, he will likely play against three players against whom he has a career 14-1 record in Victor Hanescu, Ivan Dodig and Tommy Robredo. Also, the match between Canadian wunderkind Vasek Pospisil and Juan Martin Del Potro deserves better than the third round. It’s a shame.

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic; Roger Federer over Stanislas Warinka; Grigor Dimitrov over Tomas Berdych; Novak Djokovic over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Novak Djokovic over Grigor Dimitrov

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

***See the main draw here.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Venus Williams is underappreciated

February 24, 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 the older of the two Williams sisters.

There wasn’t much that happened this past week in tennis, neither on the men’s side nor the women’s. I looked everywhere and, yeah, not a whole lot to talk about.

On the men’s side, there was Rafael Nadal winning the Rio Open, Marin Cilic winning the Delray Beach Open and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking the Open 13 crown in France. There was my guy too, Novak Djokovic, somehow going fake-skydiving in anticipation of the defense of his Dubai Duty Free championship title—so yeah, not much.

But even if there’s nothing necessarily relevant to discuss, it doesn’t mean that I won’t have anything to write about. As fun as last year’s Waiting for Godot column was, and it really, really was, it’s a cop-out to write a column about nothing just because I have nothing. (But I don’t totally cross out the possibility of revisiting that column about nothing later in the year. It was just that good.)

So I looked at the WTA Tour. I looked, first, at Kurumi Nara’s win at the Rio Open—and, well, as much as I appreciate what it takes to win a tournament in this sport, and that there are no minor titles—yeah, this doesn’t quite cut it. So I looked at the Dubai Duty Free Championship and saw that Venus Williams had won the title, and thought that this was—hey why not?

Williams’s third title in Dubai was her first on the tour in about 16 months, which seems like a mighty long time for a player of her stature.

That was my first reaction, but then I realized that it might be wrong. The older of the two Williams sisters is among the tour’s biggest stars, but she’s currently ranked No. 29. In 2014, and at age 33, she resides on tour much more as dean would than as class president.

When the Williams sisters broke through in 1994 (i.e. Venus) and 1995 (i.e. Serena), tennis didn’t know what to do with them. It was obvious early on that they would take over the sport, and that the sport had never seen anyone like them—it wasn’t exactly a malaise, but there was uneasiness. The two African-American teenagers were taking over the tour and destroying the Caucasian teenager that was Martina Hingis.

They were expected to take over the world together, and for a while they did. They were more powerful than anyone else, especially at their young age, and would only improve from there. They won tournaments and often played, or forfeited, finals against one another. So many finals had the two of them, because they were the two best players on Tour.

Venus became the first African-American player ever to be the top ranked WTA player almost 12 years ago to the day today, and sister Serena was right there as 1a. That same year, in 2002, it’s Serena, not Venus, who captured three Grand Slam titles. Right when Serena took off farther to another stratosphere, Venus crashed. Serena might have won a Grand Slam before her sister, but it’s Venus who had won four in a row afterward. She was still the big sister, but then she crashed.

Well alright, I realized that that’s not exactly right. Venus’s No. 1-ranking was followed by a French Open title that same year, and an Australian Open the following year. It’s only afterward that she couldn’t keep up with the rhythm of Serena.

I thought further and realized that Venus’s following years were marred by injuries and that we’d come very, very close to never see her ever again on a tennis court.

I continued thinking and found it telling that her other Grand Slam titles all came at Wimbledon (in 2005, 2007 and 2008). Because that shows the type of player that she is. The Williams sisters were grouped together when they first came on, but the latter part of their respective careers has proven that it wasn’t totally accurate to do so. While Serena was always going to be a great, great champion, Venus wasn’t that.

There are differences. Venus has been a great champion, but not to the extent of her sister. Venus was always just a girl along with the other ones. She had, still does actually, a great serve and a great forehand, and it made sense that the grass was and is where she was, and has been, most successful. She could beat a Lindsay Davenport, or a Jennifer Capriati, just as well as she could lose to either of them. That’s basically what she was, and it’s fine—one of the top girls.

She wasn’t marred by controversy either the same way that Serena was, and continues to be. There hasn’t been an outrage like this one, or that one, and Venus has never crip-walked all over the hollow grounds of the All-England Club (let me stress this: as ridiculous as this criticism was) the way that Serena did.

Likewise, a common reaction to the ascent of the Williams sisters was a malaise with the way they played, all physical and power, when the sport was always so graceful. But that was always more about Serena than Venus, who stands six-foot-one. Venus is a tall and graceful woman who isn’t built like her younger sister. She’s pretty too, but that has nothing to do with her tennis skills.

She currently has 45 career titles and an 80.3 career winning percentage. Is she underrated? Probably not, she’s among the biggest stars of the sport, in that second tier of players after the rarified air that her sister breathes along with Steffi Graf and the likes—and that’s precisely how Venus is viewed, I think.

But she’s definitely underappreciated. Given her health issues, it’s a wonder just to see her playing, let alone winning matches and tournaments.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: A method to the madness of ranking players in history

February 17, 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 examines a different way to tackle the debate of the best player ever.

It’s something that I’ve been waiting on for close to a month now, waiting for the right moment (read: lull) in the tennis season to tackle it. Well this week I decided to stop waiting, because there are no right moments, in tennis as in life, only moments.

So I decided to write the damn thing.

But first, a question for you, my dear reader—who is the greatest tennis player of all time?

As it stands right now, the main method of ranking players in history is to look at their performances on the biggest of stages—with one Grand Slam title being better than none, and than a Masters 1000 event title, and so on. According to that logic then, the Mount Rushmore of men’s tennis includes Roger Federer (i.e. 17), Pete Sampras (i.e. 14), Rafael Nadal (i.e. 13) and a tie between Rod Laver (i.e. 11) and Bjorn Borg (i.e. 11).

But should it be that way? Could it be that there is a way to determine the right answer to that question, at least with some math and science that goes beyond the typical “Federer has the most Grand Slam titles of anyone ever” argument? (Granted, for all we know, this argument may be the correct one.)

Probably not, but we may approach that day. Indeed, Deadspin published an article last month that answers that question with a “Yes.”

The premise, really, is simple: it’s definitely fine to reward a player for winning major titles, but what if someone has constantly performed well and reached the later stages of major tournaments? What is most impressive, Federer’s haul of 17 majors or his streak of 23 straight semifinals? (Probably the fact that the same man managed both, I agree!)

What Deadspin does, rather than just counting the major titles, is smart, and it’s something I wish I had thought of myself. (That’s why the people of the website are paid the big bucks. And I’m not.)

The website does a few things. (I suggest that you follow along to the Deadspin charts. Listing  the actual numbers for each of the steps here would do nothing.)

First, it tallies the amount of points that each player accumulated at the Grand Slam tournaments during his career, based on the 2014 point system. The biggest advantage of this method is that it allows comparing players from different eras. This contextualizes and tries to isolate the influence of things such as equipment and traveling on a player’s successes. It’s simple: how did a player fare compared to the other players in his era? In this case, Federer’s lead only increases and he appears to be the clear King of History.

Yet it’s not perfect. Borg moves from fourth to seventh, because he ended his career so early, so abruptly, and only played in one Australian Open tournament. Likewise, is Jimmy Connors really the third best player ever or is his point total that high simply because he played about 34 seasons on Tour?

What if we flip it then? What if we rank players according to how many points they tallied relative to how many Grand Slam tournaments they played? In this case, three things happen. First, Borg is the big winner since he never played past his prime years nor did he suffer through difficult results in his later years. Then, the current triumvirate of Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic is ranked 4th, 3rd and 5th according to this method—our era very well may be the golden age of the sport.

Except that it’s not really fair to throw Djokovic in that top four, a top four which, oh by the way, is very similar to the one with which we first started with: Borg, Laver, Nadal and Federer. Djokovic appears to be clearly in the second tier of superstars according to that method. I’d say it’s one of those good problems to have!

Now, Deadspin continues and examines at the different players’ streaks of Grand Slam finals made and the average amount of points per event during that streak (i.e. Federer being first for both), but I’ll spare you the details.

It’s clear already, anyway. This exercise started with a Mount Rushmore of Federer, Sampras, Nadal and Laver/Borg and, save for Sampras, it ends with just about the same one. Welp. So much for that! Perhaps the better question should be whether it all matters. Why do we need to say that one player is better than another, that he is the best ever, or that he has the best earring or the best hairstyle, etc.?

We really don’t.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Go Canada!

February 10, 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 celebrates his country.

So it’s this time of the year—well, this time of every other two years, when nations come together to celebrate the best of sports, athleticism, athletics and competition. It’s time for the Olympics, this time the one of the winter kind in Sochi, Russia.

And if it’s time for the Olympics, it means it’s also time for patriotism. It’s time for you to wear your CANADA toque, or sweater, or sox though no one will see them, and scream at your TV when young Mark McMorris nails his second run in the slopestyle final. It’s time to get your Canada flag and wave it proudly, especially when two-thirds—19-year-old Justine and 22-year-old Chloé—of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters capture the gold and silver medals of the freestyle skiing women’s moguls.

So here’s my rally cry—Go Canada! Go Québec! Just GO! Original, I know… We wake up today, and my beloved country has four medals. And, well, sure this isn’t tennis exactly (okay, precisely isn’t!), and the United States has four medals as well anyway, so let’s move on.

So yeah, patriotism… Somehow, this relates to tennis, I just ask that you stay with me a little while longer.

Whereas the international community focuses on patriotism every two years between the Winter and Summer Olympics, the tennis world does so every single year at this time. The Australian Open has just concluded, and the tennis hemisphere fills the void with international team tennis—this year, there was the first round of both the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup in back-to-back weekends in late January and early February.

These competitions are where the tennis fans, who perhaps aren’t that interested in flying abroad, to Sochi or elsewhere, can show their patriotism.

It just so happens that Canada played host to Serbia in my native Montreal this weekend and won the tie 3-1. Eugenie Bouchard and Aleksandra Wozniak, two fellow Québécois, assured the tie when they capture three wins in as many matches to start the weekend.

Look, I’m proud of this. There are definitely plenty of sides that come with identifying yourself as a Québécois in Canada in 2014—I don’t even really believe in separatism nor do I want the province to secede from Canada. I’m a Québécois living in Toronto, is all—that should tell it all. To me, it’s akin to Ontarians being proud of Ontarians when they compete and success. I love my country, definitely. But an essential part of that country is the fact that inside that country is my province.

In other words, I’m happy when Mark McMorris wins Canada’s first medal at the 2014 Sochi Games, but I’m especially happy when young Justine wins Canada’s first gold medal of the Games. Because when Dufour-Lapointe, and her sister Chloé who wins silver, and her other sister Maxime who finishes 12th, and Audrey Robichaud who finishes 10th, all succeed in making the women’s moguls finals at the 2014 Sochi Games, then it’s all of Canada who wins—but in my eyes, especially Québec.

On the men’s side in tennis at the Davis Cup, the team that came oh so close of going all the way last season lost to Japan 4-1 a week ago. It was no surprise, as Milos Raonic wasn’t available, and head coach Martin Laurendeau had to rely on a little bit of Vasek Pospisil, Daniel Nestor and Peter Polansky, but mostly a whole lot of Frank Dancevic.

Would that tie have unfolded differently had the Canadian team relied on Québécois players? No, that’s stupid and silly logic. I’m just happy to see Québécois do well at their sport if and when that happens—and in men’s tennis, there is no player from my province ranked in the ATP World Tour Top 200. The tie against Japan would have been just the same with players from Québec.

Go Canada! Go Québec, too, but that means the same thing.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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