Tennis Elbow: Can an American win in North America?

August 29, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2016 US Open.

Here we are, at long last.

The Big One in the Big Apple, the 2016 US Open live from New York City. (It’s really more Flushing Meadows, but we’re willing to overlook the small difference here. New York is New York.)

Every year, the situation is the same, with the tennis season building and building to a crescendo, until the end of summer for the big show at ground zero of the United States Tennis Association and the US Open. The US Open.

The United States throw the tennis world’s biggest party and this much is evident, as we find in New York the biggest stadiums, the biggest crowds, the rowdiest atmosphere and just, generally, the most most everything.

In lieu of previewing the main draw for both men and women (something my colleague Tom Cochrane has already done), I’ll take a look at a few North American players who will be looking for a few statement wins over the next few days.

Men

Milos Raonic. The Canadian now sits at No. 6 on the ATP World Tour rankings, but he should overtake Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played really well, or been healthy, in a few years, at any point now. Milos Raonic has had himself quite a summer, making the Wimbledon final, the Rogers Cup quarterfinals and the Western & Southern Open semifinals. Raonic, now 25, could be next in line behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray if Roger Federer, Nadal and others are indeed as done as they’ve recently shown themselves to be. It’s not a coincidence Raonic’s name is third in the singles race this year.

Taylor Fritz. If American men’s tennis has a face, it’s that of the 18-year-old from California. Taylor Fritz has been seen as the next American men in line, after a long listless period, for about a year, and he’s shown quite a lot of promise. In his rookie season, Fritz has 12 wins in 28 matches and over $350,000 in prize money. He qualified for the Australian Open main draw, made the Memphis Open final and the BB&T Atlanta Open quarterfinals. He has spent quite some time on the Challenger circuit, but it doesn’t matter for now; at only 18, he’s already ranked at No. 54. Fritz will likely lose in the first round against 26th-seed Jack Sock, but that’s a match I wouldn’t want to miss.

*****

Women

Serena Williams. The American needs no introduction, but she might have received a little smudge of extra motivation as her No. 1 ranking was threatened in recent time due to Angelique Kerber’s excellent 2016 season. But on top of the rankings, Serena Williams has remained, inching closer and closer to Steffi Graf’s record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 with 186. With a win in Flushing Meadows, the American would move past Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in history. How’s that for motivation?

Eugenie Bouchard. You may not recall, but the Canadian had quite the 2015 US Open last year. Eugenie Bouchard made the fourth round, for one thing, which was about four extra rounds than most had expected; she was playing good, better than she had in about a year, but then she withdrew from her match against Roberta Vinci. The reason? A fall in the players’ dressing room that occurred under odd circumstances. Fast forward to a year later and Bouchard is back in New York. She has a lawsuit pending against the USTA, so expect quite a bit of awkwardness at every turn.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Look out, it’s Andy Murray

August 22, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the past few weeks in men’s tennis.

Don’t look now, but Andy Murray might be making his move to the top.

Lost in the madness that was Monica Puig’s triumph at the 2016 Rio Olympics, giving her native Puerto Rico its first Olympic gold medal, was that the Brit appears to be playing the best tennis of his career. He even says so, look. “I think I’m playing my best tennis just now. It’s not even close to anything else I had done before. Seven finals in a row, winning Wimbledon again, and the Olympics. It’s been really good,” he said. Okay? Okay.

In Rio, Murray took on everybody’s favourite Cinderella, ex-US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro who had managed to string together a few healthy days to compete, and discarded him rather easily by the score of 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 and 7-5.

By winning at Rio, Murray became the very first man to ever win two Olympic gold medals—which, to be honest, seems like a very “Andy Murray” distinction. “Hey, you know, we’ve never really given much weight to an Olympic gold in assessing players’ legacies, but let’s celebrate Murray for this one.”

Not too long ago, it might have felt like another way to throw the 29-year-old a bone. Tennis has been dominated by four men over the past decades, but the dirty little secret is that not all four men have dominated the sport in the same way or manner: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been mainstays, while it took Novak Djokovic until 2011 to really ascend to the top.

By contrast, Murray, nominally a member of the Big Four, was mostly spoken of in terms of all he could have done had he not been competing in the same era as the other three. “Yeah he’s got only a Grand Slam or two but imagine if he wasn’t with the others!”

Well yeah, that’s the point though!

Or rather: that was the point. After a second Olympic gold medal, Murray’s resume is slowly but surely looking better with every passing day: three Grand Slam titles, including two at fabled Wimbledon, 39 career titles, 600 match wins, etc. etc.

And most importantly for fans of the 29-year-old, the man appears to have hit another gear over the past two months. He has only seven losses in 2016 and until this past week, his last one had come all the way back to early June in the French Open final. He had added the AEGON Championships, Wimbledon, and the Rio Olympics crowns before losing again in the Western & Southern final. He had managed a career-best win streak of 22 matches. “I didn’t get broken the last couple of matches and when I was in difficult situations I made good choices,” Murray said, speaking after his win in the Cincinnati semifinal over Milos Raonic. “That’s helped keep the matches shorter. If you’re a bit lower on confidence, regardless of how fresh you are, if you haven’t played loads of matches you make bad decisions in those moments.”

Oddly enough, Murray’s last loss might have been a blessing in disguise. Over the last few years, Djokovic had put all, or most of, his eggs into the basket that was winning a first French Open title. He did, in 2016, and the Serb’s results since have been on a clear decline—understandably too, because it’s human nature to relax, just a tiny bit, after you’ve accomplished all that you’ve wanted to. You’re relentless until you’ve accomplished everything, at which point you relent just a little.

If Djokovic has declined, then Murray has risen. While the Scotsman, with 9,305 points, will not match the Serb, with 14,480 points, on the ATP World Tour rankings, he’s distanced himself quite a bit from the peloton of Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka, and the rest.

In 2016, it’s the Big One of Djokovic, followed by the other Big One of Murray.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Monica Puig reigns supreme over Rio 2016

August 15, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2016 Rio Olympic tennis tournament.

Now, only one week after its start, the 2016 Rio Olympic tennis tournament is a thing of the past.

And that’s the thing, once you’ve had a little time to reflect on it and aren’t so caught up in the lead-up to it, the Olympic Games are really just another tennis tournament. Sure, you’re representing your country and playing in front of millions and millions watching around the world, and the stakes couldn’t be higher, and…and, well, it’s just tennis.

Presumably, the non-professional athlete that I am believes this is the way to treat the Olympic Games: the stage is bigger, the lights are brighter and, oh look that’s Usain Bolt, but in the end the endgame is the same. It’s just you, your racquet, a yellow tennis ball and your opponent, and you trying your hardest to emerge victorious.

Except that, yeah, in many ways the Olympic tournament isn’t just like any other tournament.

In the stunner of all stunners, Monica Puig emerged victorious out of the women’s draw, beating the No. 3-seeded (and French Open champion) Garbine Muguruza and the No. 11-seeded (and two-time Wimbledon champion) Petra Kvitova, before defeating the No. 2-seeded (and Australian Open champion) Angelique Kerber in the final by the score of 6-4, 4-6 and 6-1.

After her victory, the native of Puerto Rico was understandably ecstatic. “I’m in shock, I just don’t even really know what to say. I’m so excited,” Puig said after winning the gold medal. “This is for Puerto Rico. This is definitely for them. […] I think I united a nation.”

You could say that, yes.

Puerto Rico sent athletes to the Olympic Games for the first time 68 years ago, and in reaching the final Puig has given her country its very first ever Olympic medal of any kind.

This medal, it turns out, is golden after undeniably the biggest victory of the 22-year-old’s career—though you might have said it was as easy as one, two, three. Coming into the Rio final, Puig would need to score her third career win over a Top 5 WTA player (her second such victory had come earlier in the event, against Muguruza) to secure the gold; she did. “It’s always tough,” Puig said. “There’s always a lot of jitters, a lot of anxiety there every single night. But I knew what was the main goal going in here, and I just can’t believe it.”

And if she were to defeat Kerber, who had yet to lose a set in the tournament and had defeated her in both of their career encounters, Puig would then add a second career title to her resume. She did, and what a title this one is: an Olympic gold medal, a first one for her and for her country!

This is all you, Monica. Enjoy it, it’s one hell of an achievement.

(Andy Murray also won gold in the men’s draw but, like, whatever.)

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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

August 8, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2016 Rio Olympic tennis tournament.

The 2016 Rio Olympics are here.

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

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

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

The flag bearers

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

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

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

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

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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

August 1, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal.

For a day at least, Montreal turned Romanian.

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

The reason?

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

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

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

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

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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

July 25, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2016 Rogers Cup.

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

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

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

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

Men’s draw

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

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

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

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

Final: Stanislas Wawrinka over David Goffin

*****

Women’s draw

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Garbine Muguruza over Simona Halep

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Who wants to win a gold medal in Rio?

July 18, 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 examines who will compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Every day, it seems, the field for the 2016 Rio Olympics becomes that much more diluted.

Last week, the Czech Tomas Berdych became the latest to withdraw from the event, following the lead of Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and plenty of others. They’ve had a variety of reasons to do so but mostly, it’s been for ongoing concerns over the Zika virus.

That’s right: the late-2015 scare over the virus has now potentially threatened the great sporting rendezvous. The concerns are real too: Reuters says that as many as 1.5 million people have been infected by the virus in Brazil, where the Rio Olympics are obviously held.

Milos Raonic statement: “It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my withdrawal from participation in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. After much deliberation with my family and coaches, I am making this decision for a variety of health concerns including the uncertainty around the Zika virus. This was a difficult, personal choice and I do not wish for it to impact the decision of any other athlete heading to the Games. I would like to thank Tennis Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee for their ongoing support. I am very proud to have competed for Canada at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and on the world stage at several Davis Cup events. I look forward to cheering on Team Canada this summer.”

So when someone says that, “I have founded a family recently, to limit health risks toward my nearest is the utmost priority,” as Berdych did, or, like Raonic in the above post, that “This was a difficult, personal choice,” we ought to believe them. It’s true that concerns over the spread of the virus because of the Olympics might be overblown but, you know, what if? What if the virus doesn’t really spread more, but that the only family this hurts is yours? Then the dream of a career would have turned out to cost you a lifetime dream.

Of course, there are many other reasons why one should not compete in or travel to Brazil to attend the Olympics. Look, here’s a tweet about one.

And here’s a short list of reasons: the faulty bike path. A financial disaster. Oil in the water. SUPER BACTERIA in the water. More crime than ever. Unpaid cops. A shortage of hospital beds, for which I have another tweet to show you:

All of the above have created some uncertainty among the athletes, many of which have decided to simply wait another four years. Raonic, Berdych and Simona Halep have. So has Lleyton Hewitt, who would have travelled as coach with Australians Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, who have withdrawn.

It’s too bad, some may think. It’s too bad to see athletes who aren’t dedicated enough to sport their country’s colors, or something of that ilk—to which I say, well, the Olympics are way past that and have been for quite some time.

But in tennis, in large part because the sport wasn’t on the program between 1924 and 1988, the Olympic medals aren’t necessarily as big a deal as other events on the calendar. Rarity, in this case, does not begat prestige necessarily. Legacies aren’t made or broken with an Olympic gold medal; they’re built on the strength of Grand Slam titles.

Sure, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have a gold medal. But so do Miloslav Mecir, Marc Rosset, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Nicolas Massu. (The list of modern gold medalist is a little more prestigious on the women’s side, but Elena Dementieva sticks out.) Maybe that’s it: it’s great if you win, but it won’t kill you if you don’t.

And so it’s great if you compete at the Olympics, but it doesn’t really matter—especially considering that, with all due respect to the players who have withdrawn, this isn’t a doomsday scenario. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray, and Serena Williams are all still set to compete in Brazil. We’ll soon know, too, if Maria Sharapova is allowed to.

We almost forgot Victoria Azarenka, who will miss something that doesn’t matter that much for the only thing that does.

Congrats!

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Andy Murray the legend, and other Wimbledon lessons

July 11, 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 what he’s learned at Wimbledon 2016.

Andy Murray and Serena Williams have emerged unscathed and as newly crowned champions of this 2016 Wimbledon, that much is clear.

That said, there are quite a few lessons to remember from this edition of this major’s major. (Of course, that isn’t Wimbledon’s official title, but only because showing off isn’t a gentlemanly thing to do—because make no mistake: Wimbledon certainly believes in the Wimbledon myth.)

Andy Murray the biggest winner

In defeating Canadian Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6(3) and 7-6(2), Murray has cemented his status as a true legend of the game. “I’m proud to have my hands on the trophy,” Murray said after his win. “I played really good stuff today.”

He now has a third Grand Slam title, which is about the point where history tends to differentiate between the “fluke” major winners and those that had and have lasting power and career. Put it this way: we always knew Murray was not, say, Marat Safin, and now history will make sure to remember the two as distinct.

We probably won’t care much for the fact that Murray’s tally may have been higher if he hadn’t played in the same era as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic—but whatever. “[It's the] most important tournament for me every year,” the Brit said. “The wins feel extra special because of the losses.”

Have a blast, Andy. You’ve certainly earned it!

The Williams renaissance

While it was great to see Serena Williams finally win a major in 2016 and catch up to Steffi Graf with the 22nd Grand Slam title of her career, our greatest joy on the women’s draw was seeing the 36-year-old Venus Williams make her first Grand Slam semifinal since 2010.

The older Williams sister has had a rough few years but it’s been great to watch her play. And don’t look now, but she somehow has made a return to the Top 10, coming in  ranked No. 7 on the WTA Tour.

What’s the excuse for Roger Federer now?

The 2016 Wimbledon should have been Roger Federer’s to lose. He was to play on his best and favourite surface while his biggest rival, Nadal, had pulled out. Then, a few days in, his “bête noire” of the moment, Djokovic, inexplicably lost against Sam Querrey.

The coast was clear for ol’ Rog’ to finally grab another major title. Smooth sailing, as they say…but for the past few years, even a clear sky has given the Swiss problems. Federer first needed five sets against Marin Cilic only to lose his next match, another five-set marathon against the eventual finalist.

Next month at the US Open, the then-35-year-old will have his final chance in 2016 to add yet another Grand Slam title, which he hasn’t managed to do since 2012. We’ve harped on it quite a few times already this year: in 2016, Federer is just old. And the days of him winning Grand Slam events seem gone.

Does Raonic have next?

Tennis has become an old man’s game for quite some time now, which is really just another way of saying that the sport needs new faces.

Consider that 29-year-old Djokovic, 29-year-old Murray and almost-35-year-old Federer are the three foremost players on the ATP World Tour. (Nadal, 30, is a fellow superstar—though his days of domination appear to be over.) Consider, too, that Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem are the lone trio in the world’s top 10 that are younger than 27.

Tennis is an old man’s game that’s looking for a few new faces, and Raonic certainly could be one of those. He’s been on the verge of a major breakthrough for what seems like forever and, though he’s already 25 years old, he’s still improving and so have his results.

The Canadian has shown promise and should continue to for a few years. I’ve been writing on Tennis Connected since the end of 2011 and, already then, he was supposed to be next.

Maybe I’ll tell you about how he’s the reason why I started writing for this site in the first place; I’ll do it when he wins his first Grand Slam tournament, how about that?

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Looking ahead at day 2 of Wimbledon 2016

June 27, 2016

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

Well at least now, all British eyes will be on Wimbledon—correct?

Alright, they always, always are. But still. On a day where the Brits shamefully (as they tend to do) bowed out of an international soccer competition, this time losing against the mighty nation of Island in the Euro 2016 knockout stage, Wimbledon 2016 got underway.

And while England’s eyes may have a bigger appetite than what its stomach can muster on a football pitch, it’s an entirely different story at Wimbledon. Because year after year, there is no more important show in tennis than what unfolds during these weeks at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Long-time readers know that I’ve never shied away from criticizing the tournament that I’ve dubbed the Cathedral of tennis, poking fun at how much Wimbledon believes in the myth of Wimbledon—but in that battle I’m fairly alone.

I may say that the Cathedral needs to adapt to continue thriving, but my voice pales in comparison to that of, say, Novak Djokovic (et tu, Novak?). “It is going to be the first match on the untouched grass,” the Serb said ahead of his first-round match. “That’s probably one of the most special tennis matches that you get to experience as a professional tennis player.”

Who cares about a match on untouched grass? Well at Wimbledon, everyone does care about it because this untouched grass was presumably blessed by the tennis Gods, or at the very least Princess Kate I guess, or someone else, or whatever it’s Wimbledon okay?!

So anyway, Wimbledon has started with Djokovic barely breaking a sweat in a straight sets win.

Tennis’s most eminent star Roger Federer also played his first match but we’ll get to him in a minute. For now, let’s mention that the first day of action at Wimbledon had a little bit of everything for everyone. There was, as we’ve covered above, the reigning champion and current best player in the world. There was the ex-Grand Slam winner (though elsewhere) who managed to give one more crowning achievement to her career.

There was the ex-young promising player, who hasn’t really shown much promise of late and who couldn’t quite catch magic in her home country.

There was the old veteran who managed to win a marathon match in which, and this is a joke, the longest point probably lasted all of four strokes.

There was also the qualifier who managed quite a huge win on this opening day.

Looking ahead to day two, here’s what we know. On day two, we know that Serena Williams will make her debut against Amra Sadikovic. Will this Wimbledon finally be her calling card at the 2016 majors? We also know that women will be front and center at the main courts, and that this is a good thing.

If we look just slightly ahead beyond the second day of action, you’ll notice one storyline—both for its sheer unlikelihood as well as because it opposes the monarch of the sport.

That’s right: for his second match at Wimbledon, Federer will battle Marcus Willis, the 772nd-ranked player in the world.

If we may interject here: to some, a match against Federer may be an even bigger and better trophy than the one you get for winning Wimbledon.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, back like the first time

June 21, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps yet another Queen’s Club title for Andy Murray.

Maybe it will all work out for Andy Murray?

At the Aegon Championships finals, in front of a boisterous and pro-Murray crowd, the Brit continued his excellent 2016 season and added a title to his name by beating Milos Raonic 6-7(5), 6-4 and 6-3.

“To do it means a lot… It’s a tournament that obviously means a lot to me. It’s been my most successful tournament. […] My best tennis is there. I’m happy with that,” Murray said. “I didn’t come in, like I said, with hardly any preparation so maybe consistency could be better. But when I needed to this week, I stepped up and played my best tennis.”

That, he certainly did—though for a time it looked like his best tennis might not be good enough. For a while, Raonic looked as good as he had all week at the Queen’s Club, going up a set and a break and seemingly on the verge of going away with the match.

“Normally I’m pretty confident in a situation up a set and a break. There were two very close challenges there, maybe could make a difference or not, but I thought he played well,” Raonic said after his loss. “He stepped it up after that and came up with an incredible return on the first break point chance he had.”

On his first chance, Murray managed to do what no one else had up to this point in London and broke Raonic’s, which hadn’t happened in 55 games.

This win is a memorable one for a few reasons for the 29-year-old Murray, who becomes the first man to win five titles at the Queen’s Club, where they’ve played a tournament since 1890. It’s also Murray’s seventh grass title of the Open era, which brings level with Ken Rosewall and Boris Becker. He’s only a few behind another few of history’s best in Lleyton Hewitt, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras. (He’s far, far from Roger Federer at the top, but that’s fine: we’ve never confused Murray for the Swiss.)

This win also validates him for making the decision to rehire Ivan Lendl as his coach.

If you recall, their first partnership had ended somewhat suddenly when the coach couldn’t fully commit to Murray’s schedule. “I would try to impress my girlfriend a lot more the first few months I was with her than I do now,” Murray said at the Australian Open two years ago, after the split. “It’s the same with Ivan.”

By then, the player and the coach had barely spent any time together in the previous six months and, despite what had been and still the best moments of Murray’s career, they parted ways.

Now Lendl is back in Murray’s corner. Who knows for how long, but their second stint is off to a good start.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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