Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard’s unselfish decision at the Fed Cup

April 20, 2015

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 Fed Cup weekend in Montreal.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that at least the two losses will not count on her year-to-date official record. Eugenie Bouchard lost two Fed Cup matches, but I guess that they don’t count.

Canada lost its tie in the World Group Playoffs over the weekend against Romania by the score of 3-1, a result that relegates the country in the World Group II of the Fed Cup for the 2016 season; the team’s first stint in the main group since 1994 lasted all of a few months.

A look at the team’s roster for the tie says that captain Sylvain Bruneau settled on very much the same lineup as the one he had selected for the previous tie against Czech Republic (i.e. Sharon Fichman, Gabriela Dabrowski and Françoise Abanda), save for one exception.

Yep, hometown favourite Eugenie Bouchard was among those donning the Canadian colours, something she had decided not to do in Quebec City against Czech Republic earlier in 2015. Had she been available then, Bruneau would have of course picked Bouchard but the player had decided to forego the opportunity. As a result, she was criticized in many places, notably in this very column (i.e. my wish is that my readers bring the same passion that they criticize with when they praise someone; they were rough in that column).

But this week, let’s praise her. Let’s praise her for understanding that while the Fed Cup isn’t the biggest competition of the WTA Tour season, she knows that she shouldn’t turn down too many matches when her confidence appears shaken, no matter where these matches happen. She has withdrawn from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix this week, sure, but that’s likely due to the fact that she wanted to compete in this Fed Cup tie.

Yes, this weekend back in her hometown only added to Bouchard’s misery, but at least she can hold her head high knowing that she competed and represented her country. It’s not a match won, but maybe it’s something?

Then again, maybe not. In the two matches that she played at Maurice-Richard Arena—yep, a Fed Cup tie played in an arena, only in Canada—Bouchard looked distraught and like she would have preferred to do ANYTHING but play tennis.

This malaise isn’t new for the Canadian. For the past few months, starting with the inaugural Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open last September and then following this season with her coaching saga, Bouchard has made headlines mostly for the wrong reasons. This weekend also, maybe you want to overlook the two matches she lost against lower-ranked players, in which case you’re still left with a bad headline.

A bad headline and a non-handshake. When she was the young upstart, a stunt like not shaking an opponent’s hand at a press conference was adorable and tolerated because winning cures all ills.

But now? Bouchard has lost three Tour matches in a row (plus those Fed Cup matches) and has only a 15-15 record since losing the 2014 Wimbledon final. So when she decides to not shake her hand this time, it’s not quite as funny. What is funny, rather, is when the opponent that she shunned at the press conference beats her and then mocks her non-handshake gesture with her coach. Because, yep, winning cures all.

And yet, are we making too much out of this? Sure, her confidence appears incredibly shaken. But she did make the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and that’s what Bouchard’s fans (and optimists) will point to.

But if she continues playing this way, surely she will not equal that result at Roland Garros.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters draw preview and analysis

April 13, 2015

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 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Welcome to the clay court season, a part of the calendar where a whole lot happens in a matter of just a few weeks.

For us North American folks, the moment that we start seeing the red clay also usually coincides with the return of our green grass, with snow finally relegated to our nightmares and unfortunate situations.

This season has traditionally been the rock upon which Rafael Nadal has built his impressive empire, as he’s made it a habit of winning just about every clay court tournament, but there have been little chinks in his armor in years past.

Never has this been more obvious than in this 2015 season, as King Rafa’s confidence is at rock bottom. Will a return to his old kingdom cure all ills, or will the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters crown a different champion for the third season in a row?

Main draw

Yes. Yes, I believe so, that the 2015 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters will crown a non-Nadal champion for the third year in a row. It’s all yours, Mr. Novak Djokovic. With the way that the Serb is currently playing, his draw seems entirely inconsequential so why not throw up a prayer and predict that Mikhail Youzhny might join him in the quarterfinals? It will not matter anyway.

Unthinkably, Nadal is seeded No. 3 in his old kingdom and his quest for his first title of the season will be difficult. In succession, he is slated to face Dominic Thiem, John Isner and, yep, his old pal David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, because making the quarterfinals is what Ferrer (almost) always does.

The main draw was kind to Tomas Berdych and Canadian Milos Raonic. Both have a potential match with a Spaniard (i.e. Roberto Bautista Agut for the former and Tommy Robredo for the latter) standing in the way of their place in the quarterfinals. I don’t foresee many problems; if they need a three-set win to make it, then so be it.

If you had asked me before the tournament to name the defending champion, I don’t believe I would have guessed Stanislas Wawrinka: this shows how much he’s relatively disappointed since winning the 2014 Australian Open. Or maybe it’s not right to say that he has disappointed? Maybe we just thought that the man would take the ATP World Tour by storm after Melbourne and then Monte-Carlo, but that was never in the works. Wawrinka is yet again a member of the Top 10; that’s what he’s mostly been during his career. Despite the few bigger wins to his name, nothing’s really changed.

But anyway, the final section of the draw has a few potential titanic matches, notably Fernando Verdasco and Grigor Dimitrov in the first round. Fabio Fognini, Jerzy Janowicz and Alexandr Dolgopolov also all could have success against the right opponents… except that Wawrinka and Roger Federer aren’t the right opponents. I see the two Swiss emerging unscathed from this section.

*****

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Mikhail Youzhny; Rafael Nadal over David Ferrer; Milos Raonic over Tomas Berdych; Stanislas Wawrinka over Roger Federer

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal; Stanislas Wawrinka over Milos Raonic

Final: Novak Djokovic over Stanislas Wawrinka

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The season of Novak Djokovic

April 6, 2015

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 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau.

They’re born a week apart, but that’s just about all they have in common these days.

The younger Novak Djokovic beat the older Andy Murray to take home the title at the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau. The 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 win is the Serb’s seventh over the Brit, with already three coming in 2015 after the Australian Open final and the BNP Paribas Open semifinal. Djokovic has an 18-8 head-to-head record against Murray and, most importantly, has already three important titles in this young 2015 season.

He’s playing as well as he can and he knows it too. After his win, Djokovic said that, “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and also utilize this time of my career where I’m probably playing the tennis of my life.”

This “tennis of my life” is probably between his current level in 2015 and when he excelled during the 2011 season, but I suppose that he would know best—at worst, this is the recency effect and who can blame him? Any which way you see it, Djokovic is playing excellent tennis right now, but just how excellent has he been?

There have been three tournaments of note thus far this season in the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open, and the Serb has been crowned champion at each. He’s laboured a little bit each time, notably against Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne, or Roger Federer at Indian Wells, or Alexandr Dolgopolov earlier in Miami, but Djokovic has won each time.

Just how much has he excelled? The Serb has become the first man in history to pull off the Indian Wells/Miami combo in three different seasons. This week will be the Djoker’s 141st week on top the Emirates ATP Rankings, tying him with Rafael Nadal for the sixth-most in history. And with over 4,000 points more than Federer, the year-end No. 1 ranking could be his for the fourth time in the past five years.

“I’m feeling confident and physically fit,” Djokovic said after the final in Miami. “I am aware that this cannot go forever.”

Maybe not, but there’s no doubt that he’ll take it for now.

And wait, there is more. This win in Miami gives Djokovic a 22nd Masters 1000 title, one short of Federer and five away from Nadal.

We’ve often harped here, in part because we are such big Djokovic fans we know, that the man will go down in history as underappreciated because he will be remembered as the third banana to Federer and Nadal. But it seems increasingly likely that the Serb will both 1) reach 10 Grand Slam titles for his career and 2) complete the career Grand Slam. With a little luck, Djokovic could capture another three majors and move into a tie with Rod Laver and Björn Borg for fifth in history.

Should he reach those lofty heights, then suddenly he’s much better than just the best returner in history. Consider that 43 of Djokovic’s 142 career losses have come against Nadal and Federer, possibly the two greatest champions of the sport. We’ll remember him as one of the 10 best in history, but maybe it should be more considering that he’ll have played his entire career with the Fed and Rafa.

But of course, Djokovic will not win those tournaments all at once, or today. For now, this fifth Miami Open title suffices.

Murray, meanwhile, makes a return at No. 3 this week. Seven days older than Djokovic, he still lags behind on the tennis courts however. In fact, he continues his work as the de facto rich man’s David Ferrer, winning often and beating just about everyone but the top, top three players. There is no shame in that.

Murray was seven total points away from Djokovic on Sunday in Miami and his arrow is pointing upward, like Djokovic’s I guess, but that’s about where the comparisons end.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The new normal of Rafael Nadal?

March 30, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau.

We make predictions mostly to be wrong, sure, but sometimes we’d rather be right.

If only because our prediction had been on a safe bet and the fact that it went awry suggests that maybe something could be wrong. If only because this means that maybe that safe bet isn’t quite so safe anymore.

Rafael Nadal lost in his second match at the Miami Open, presented by Itau, against Fernando Verdasco by the score of 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. This is Verdasco’s second win over Nadal in a row, a feat that wouldn’t exactly be noteworthy if Verdasco hadn’t lost in the prior 13 times of this match-up.

So there it is, Rafael Nadal has lost it and will never be the same… unless, of course, if maybe this doesn’t mean much. That other loss against Verdasco only happened in 2012 in Madrid, so it’s not exactly right to say that Nadal has lost it based on two losses that occurred three years apart.

Neither is it right for the other three losses Nadal has suffered in 2015, against Milos Raonic (i.e. in Indian Wells), Fabio Fognini (i.e. in Rio de Janeiro) and Tomas Berdych (i.e. in Melbourne). Singularly, these losses aren’t significant or really meaningful—they’re only so when lumped together. Here are three men against whom the Spaniard had been riding a 27-0 combined streak.

What is significant, however, is that Nadal was relatively harmless against his countryman this past week in Miami. He had all the chances in the world, also known as 12, to break Verdasco’s serve, but only converted three times. The best players don’t win most, or all, of the points—they win most of the key points, and Nadal certainly didn’t do this in Miami. And he hasn’t really done it so far this season.

Part of the reason why has to do with the fact that he again and again chose to retreat against Verdasco. His backhand lacked any kind of bite and power and Nadal chose to hit rallies from behind the baseline. This strategy works on clay and the Spaniard will be ecstatic to see the ATP World Tour calendar now turn to the clay season.

Most of all, that’s why it’s important not to overreact to Nadal’s curious losses since the beginning of the year—he’ll always have clay, right? He will turn 29 in June and does not have many seasons left before he retires, which is another way of saying that Nadal can’t keep doing this forever. He knows it and we know it.

But he also knows that he doesn’t have to keep doing it forever, it’s only for two months at a time between April and May. Should he manage this, stay intent on focusing strictly on the clay court season, then he could add the points, the prize money and, perhaps, the Roland Garros titles to one day soon challenge Roger Federer. (Who knows? It’s only four more years, right?) And that’s when his “King of Clay” moniker would find all its meaning.

I’ll let Nadal leave out of his own accord however. He’s earned this distinction ten times over. For now, let’s just say that he had visions of excellence and grandeur for Indian Wells and Miami, as Chris Fowler noted on Twitter, but he couldn’t live up to his own expectations.

From now on, 250 points from two Masters 1000 events might be all that Nadal can manage away from the clay. But I certainly hope to be wrong with this prediction.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Miami Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 24, 2015

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 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau.

There is no time to waste on the tennis calendar, where one big tournament does not wait for another.

Those of you lucky enough to have the means to escape our brutal (and never-ending) winter should head over to Miami with Grand Slam Tennis Tours for some sun and some excellent tennis. (A shameless plug: I’m happy and proud to announce that I’m joining our friends at GSTT for Travels & Tennis, a column that applauds readers who decide to combine business with pleasure.)

After an excellent 2015 BNP Paribas Open last week, we turn to the warmth of Florida for the Miami Open, presented by Itau. Right after the biggest non-Grand Slam is the second biggest. We’re the real winners here, folks.

Oh, and the tournament will crown two actual winners, of course. Read on for my predictions.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams closed the books on a traumatic and sad episode of her career by participating in the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since 2001. Now, she gets to focus strictly on tennis.

The No. 1-ranked player arrives in Key Biscayne as the defending champion and gets a fairly tricky draw. (This is saying a lot, knowing who she is.) She will likely play her first match against her old friend Monica Niculescu, then either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Angelique Kerber will be next. She’ll beat Garbine Muguruza before getting rid of Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals.

Simona Halep is playing as well as she ever has and, except for maybe fatigue, I don’t see how she loses in this second section. She will have tricky matches, possibly against fellow Indian Wells finalist Jelena Jankovic, but she should pull through. She’ll be matched up against American Madison Keys, who will have overcome Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in the “Who’s got next?” battle.

We are not in the business of patting ourselves in the back when we make a correct prediction, if only because it looks so tacky and is so much more convincing when a third party does the patting on our back, but we are proud of having called Carla Suarez Navarro’s march to the Indian Wells quarterfinals last week. We don’t get many predictions right, so we cherish the ones that we do nail. I’m trying it again this week.

There’s a fourth and final section, from which Maria Sharapova should emerge rather unscathed. There really aren’t many players that should give her fits, although if she were to stumble early then it would wreak havoc and open things up for someone like Andrea Petkovic. The German has enjoyed a good 2015 season thus far—though, it must be said, her lone title came on a walkover in the final at Antwerp.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Sabine Lisicki; Simona Halep over Madison Keys; Caroline Wozniacki over Carla Suarez Navarro; Maria Sharapova over Andrea Petkovic

Semifinals: Simona Halep over Serena Williams; Maria Sharapova over Caroline Wozniacki

Final: Maria Sharapova over Simona Halep

*****

Men’s draw

The wins, and the money, keep piling up for Novak Djokovic. Can he add a fifth title at Key Biscayne?

Yes. Yes, he certainly can. The Serb has won 18 of his previous 19 matches in Miami and has a very favourable draw. Maybe Tommy Robredo can win a set off of him, sure. But not Lukas Rosol in the quarterfinals.

You have to feel for Canadian Milos Raonic. In his never-ending quest to further break through and maybe challenge and threaten the royal trio of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Raonic keeps hitting the glass ceiling. He tries to soar so, so hard but it seems like every time, one of the three is there to hit a smash winner—or, when that first player fails, then another awaits and is successful. Raonic will likely be among the two or three best players on the ATP World Tour, but it may not happen before the current top 3 players have retired. To win a Masters 1000 event, a player shouldn’t have to beat, in succession, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. One day, Milos. One day.

Andy Murray has fared well over the years in Florida and the 2015 season should be no exception. The draw is manageable and the Brit wouldn’t even mind finding Feliciano Lopez in his path in the quarterfinals—he’s 10-0 against the Spaniard for his career. (He should also pull through against Stanislas Wawrinka, but this implies that the Swiss makes it that far—far from a certainty, considering that he is only 2-2 in his most recent four matches.

The final section of the main draw belongs to Rafael Nadal and that would mean something at any other tournament except for this one. In his entire career, the Spaniard has yet to capture a single “Miami Open, presented by Itau” title. (I’m writing this as if it should be a gimme.) Nadal will prefer not to expand too much energy here, given that the clay court season is right around the corner, but he should make quick work of Fernando Verdasco and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his first two matches. Tomas Berdych looms in the quarterfinals, and the Spaniard will get to avenge his loss in Melbourne.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Lukas Rosol; Milos Raonic over Kei Nishikori; Andy Murray over Feliciano Lopez; Rafael Nadal over Tomas Berdych

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Milos Raonic; Rafael Nadal over Andy Murray

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: From darkest to brightest, for Serena Williams

March 16, 2015

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 an emotional first week for the great champion.

Serena Williams had called it one of the “darkest moments” of her career, but maybe now that changes.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion won her first match at Indian Wells, 7-5 and 7-5 against Monica Niculescu, in her first visit since 2001, but it didn’t matter as much as simply the fact that she was back. Just two hours away from the Compton neighborhood where she grew up, Indian Wells is where Williams was met with hate and racism when she stepped on the court for a final against Kim Clijsters after beating her older sister when Venus withdrew with tendinitis.

She competes for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open title this week, and that’s progress. It’s progress and it’s not me saying so, it’s herself—that first match she played in 14 years in Indian Wells was one of her “biggest … and proudest moments.”

Surely, tennis fans know the scene by now and what happened for that first match but just in case some readers haven’t had the chance to watch it happen live, here it is.

Biggest and proudest moment, yes, and maybe also most touching. Because when Williams walked on the court, she was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation—a stark contrast with the way that the crowd reacted during that fateful final of 2001.

It’s an event that has stayed with her over the years, as evidenced by the fact that she both boycotted the BNP Paribas Open all those years and that she has written extensively about the experience and the decision to go back.

What was, or wasn’t, said or done to Williams and her family on that day in 2001 remains controversial, but what isn’t is the fact that Venus and Serena changed the world of tennis. Long before becoming part of the tennis firmament, and long before her sister Venus was lauded for her graciousness and her determination in the face of a difficult illness, Serena Williams was an outcast and an outsider.

The two sisters changed the sport of tennis, introducing dominant serves and powerful groundstrokes in a sport where finesse often dominated. That change occurred whether fans and the tennis powers that be were ready for it or not—and by and large, as this 2001 incident shows us, they were not.

But time fixes all, they say, and it appears so. This year at Indian Wells, we are forced to confront an ugly episode and our ugly side because that’s what Williams chose to do it when she decided to compete for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open title.

It’s not exact to say that a sport like tennis should remain strictly about the sport. Not when the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour are well entrenched in countries such as Qatar. Not when the ATP Qatar tournament is the Exxonmobil Open. Not when Williams and Niculescu take a photo with a Sergeant Hollie West ([Note: if anyone knows the right name and spelling, please write it in the comments. I am going off of what I hear in that video]), who had just made the coin toss before that first match. And not when players represent their countries at the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup. In our world, sports and politics usually mix.

So do sports and sociology and social rights.

Right after the lede, I wrote that it didn’t really matter that Williams won that first match back but maybe that’s not totally right. Maybe it does matter—because tennis, at least professional tennis, exists only in so that a match has a victor and a loser.

Most times, Serena Williams emerges as the victor and that’s all there is to it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 BNP Paribas Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 11, 2015

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 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

The BNP Paribas Open isn’t a Grand Slam tournament, because no tournament other than the four actual Grand Slams possibly ever could.

BUT!

But if one tournament ever could, it’s probably this one. Backed by Larry Ellison and his 52 billion $ fortune, the event has grown to become the “world’s largest ATP World Tour and WTA combined professional tennis tournament.”

That’s just a fancy way of explaining that 1) just about every player from the men’s and the women’s sides competes in the event every year, 2) the tournament hands out over 10 million $ in prize money and 3) more people attend the event than the typical tennis tournament.

That’s where we are for the next two weeks, folks, so buckle up. Once more this year, I’ll have a few tournament previews in lieu of discussing a recent event in the Tennis Elbow column.

Women’s draw

Last year crowned the tournament’s oldest winner, Flavia Pennetta, in almost 20 years. I maybe do not envision the same happening, but I do foresee a few surprises.

The Cinderella version of this BNP Paribas Open would crown Serena Williams as the champion in her first visit to Indian Wells since her 2001 win was marred by racism. Long story short, I’ll say that this is what I hope happens.

Simona Halep, the Sportswoman of the Month for February, already has two titles in 2015; should she keep this up, she would finish with an even 12 for the year and probably be named the best player on the WTA Tour. This isn’t likely, but the Romanian does have a fairly favourable draw until the quarterfinals. I hesitated between Agnieszka Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro and, because I explained that I would rely on a few surprises, I’ll choose the latter.

I am a French Canadian from Montreal and thus, Eugenie Bouchard is my favourite player on the tour. The 21-year-old has had an eventful past few months and must now somehow focus and regroup to continue growing as a player after the dream season in 2014. A quarterfinal loss against Caroline Wozniacki would be good for her resolve.

The fourth quarter of the main draw is probably the best and the one that likely will be the most hotly contested. We have three former World No. 1 players in Ana Ivanovic, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, a former World No. 2 in Vera Zvonareva, two former World No. 4’s in Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone, a World No. 5 in Sara Errani, as well as Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci. Of course, not all of those players are playing at a good level or in the same stage of their respective careers, but the draw is still loaded. Of course, that probably means that someone like Azarenka will roll over everyone.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Lucie Safarova; Simona Halep over Carla Suarez Navarro; Caroline Wozniacki over Eugenie Bouchard; Victoria Azarenka over Sabine Lisicki

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Simona Halep; Victoria Azarenka over Caroline Wozniacki

Final: Serena Williams over Victoria Azarenka

*****

Men’s draw

I’m delighted to see that Novak Djokovic is now fairly clearly the alpha male on the ATP World Tour—I can follow my hearts when I’m making these predictions.

I’ll go ahead and pencil in the Serb’s name in the quarterfinals, and beyond, of this year’s tournament. Also emerging from this quarter is Marin Cilic, if only because I would like to pretend like last season’s US Open wasn’t just some sort of fluke and that the Croatian is still intent on playing good tennis.

According to Andre Agassi, the best years of Andy Murray’s career are yet to come… but I don’t believe we’ll see his best in Indian Wells. After all, the Scot has only one final appearance at the BNP Paribas Open, in 2009. Instead, I foresee a nice three-set battle between Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez.

For what it’s worth, and admittedly it’s not so much, Rafael Nadal answered a difficult quarterfinal loss against Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open in January by cleaning house in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. In the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, I think the Spaniard will toy a little bit with the emotions of Canadian Milos Raonic, who’s good but still not quite good enough.

The final section of the main draw is home to a bunch of heavy servers in Lukas Rosol, Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey and Jerzy Janowicz, but none of them should bother the two Swiss too much. Keep an eye on Berdych, though remember that he is capable of any- and everything. Beyond him, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer have a fairly favourable path to the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Marin Cilic; Kei Nishikori over Feliciano Lopez; Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic; Stanislas Wawrinka over Roger Federer

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Stanislas Wawrinka over Rafael Nadal

Final: Novak Djokovic over Stanislas Wawrinka

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a Masters 1000 event?

March 2, 2015

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 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

In 2015, Dubai has a familiar king, with Roger Federer dominating Novak Djokovic 6-3 and 7-5 in the final to capture a seventh career crown at the United Arabs Emirate.

But, it’s about the loser of this final that I would rather write this week, as Djokovic had lofty praise for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships earlier in February. “I don’t know a single player who has played here and has a negative feeling about the tournament,” Djokovic said, according to The National. “It definitely deserves to have a 1000 event, in my opinion.”

The “it” in that last quote stands for Dubai, and should this promotion happen the city would have an event in the same Masters 1000 category that includes the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. If this happened, the event almost certainly would have to be moved, as it would be unprecedented to have three tournaments of such magnitude so close to one another. Spread the wealth, so to speak.

Should the ATP World Tour reconsider Dubai’s event classification? Well for one thing, the tournament certainly attracts the bigger and the better players on Tour. It’s well respected among them and if you don’t believe Djokovic, then consider the fact it has been voted the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the year award every year (except 2007) since 2003.

There’s one sign that the tournament may be much bigger—some may even say “major”—than what it currently is. Federer’s win in 2015 means that the champion has been him, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in 13 of the previous 14 years. We’re used to this trend at the Grand Slams, or the Masters 1000s, but not for tournaments in Dubai’s class.

But of course, this is mostly coincidental and not quite a supportive reason for the event’s promotion.

What is, however, a reason is the following. The event is undoubtedly popular, with more than 115,000 spectators in 2014 (i.e. as a point of comparison, 148,341 attended the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto). The Duty Free Championships doubles as a WTA Tour tournament, which means that an awful lot unfolds over the course of a mere few days and for what remains just a Masters 500 event.

Yet, there’s another side to this same token. Of the 13 Masters 500 events on the ATP calendar, Dubai’s financial commitment of $2,5 million is fairly average.

But the players love the event—or rather, the most important players love it and that’s the most important thing. Should Dubai be promoted? If only because more and more players may share Djokovic’s opinion and say as much in the future, and smart money would be on the players getting what they want.

Money rules the world, and the tennis world appears intent on conquering the Middle East. The creation of the International Premier Tennis League says as much, and so would the promotion of the Dubai masters to the 1000 category.

From an outsider’s perspective, the UAE certainly seem to be the kind to get what they want. Burj Khalifa. Palm Jumeirah. The Dubai Foutain and the Dubai Mall. As we’ve learned recently with Madrid’s ill foray into blue tennis courts, money can buy you just about whatever you want.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard’s selfish decision for the Fed Cup

February 23, 2015

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 Eugenie Bouchard’s decision to skip the Fed Cup.

The truth is, Eugenie Bouchard may not have even changed anything because it lost so thoroughly.

When Canada had the privilege of hosting Czech Republic earlier this month, captain Sylvain Bruneau had no other choice but to roll out a very, very, very green line-up consisting of No. 150-ranked Sharon Fichman, No. 183-ranked Gabriela Dabrowski, No. 250-ranked (and 17-year-old Françoise Abanda) and No. 791-ranked (and 15-year-old) Charlotte Robillard-Millette.

Bouchard had forced Bruneau’s hand by declining the invitation to help Canada against the Fed Cup defending champion and one of the bigger and better tennis superpowers. Canada, which is “barely getting on the map as a nation” according to the tennis director of Mayfair Tennis Clubs Michael Emmett, and which is in the World Group for the very first time, stood little chance without its very best player.

“It’s a big mistake on her part and she’s going to regret it,” Emmett says. “She wants to be known as a good person.”

Certainly. Though Bouchard had been instrumental in getting Canada to the World Group in the first place, “she hasn’t made (the Fed Cup) a priority.”

It’s the latest in a series of “questionable decisions,” Emmett calls them. From the ongoing beef with the Hong Kong Tennis Association representatives to her recent decision to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, not to mention the coaching saga that was finally resolved this month, Bouchard “is starting to get a bit of a bad rap.”

Indeed, so why skip the Fed Cup? Emmett calls is a selfish decision and contrasts it with Maria Sharapova’s decision to help Russia against Poland and the two Radwanska sisters. If Sharapova can be there, why can’t Bouchard? (That’s a question that keeps coming back during our discussion with Emmett.)

It’s certainly her right, and Emmett understands that. He says that, “I totally get why she’s doing it, but it’s a selfish decision.”

But selfish doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, this decision is probably the best one she can make for Bouchard the tennis player, if not for Canada the country. If she indeed has played too much tennis recently and she indeed does want to win Grand Slams above anything else, then this is the right decision for Eugenie Bouchard. Furthermore, in a twisted logic, a Bouchard win at, say, Wimbledon would galvanize and help Canada emerge and progress even more than a Fed Cup likely could/would. There’s no doubt about that in Emmett’s mind.

But that doesn’t mean that a Fed Cup win wouldn’t help, because it would. Emmett recalls Canada’s run to the semfinals of the 2013 Davis Cup, admittedly a bigger and more recognizable event than its counterpart for women.

“Hockey players represent their players (at the Olympics), why can’t Bouchard?” asks Emmett. One may counter by saying that in this comparison, the Fed Cup is more like the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships than the Olympics, and that the Sidney Crosbys of the world ideally don’t play in these World Championships because they’re battling for a Stanley Cup.

And yet, the comparison still holds. Should better players play in the Fed Cup every year, then the prestige of the year-long tournament would rise and so would the merit of winning it all for any one country—especially Canada.

In 2013, as Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and co. battled against the big, bad boys of Serbia, Emmett was a guest on CBC News. He believes the same would happen for the Fed Cup. But alas, Canada was decimated 4-0 and will have to beat Romania April 18 and 19 to remain in the World Group in 2016. Bouchard hasn’t said whether she will play in that tie.

Our best bet is probably on Roland Garros and the other majors. Just like Bouchard would want it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Stanislas Wawrinka wins in the Netherlands

February 16, 2015

by: Charles Blouin-Gascon

If we start with the premise that not all tennis tournaments can be treated as equals over a 12-month calendar, then this wasn’t a major event.

The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, a Masters 500 event held every year in Rotterdam, is more or less a footnote on the ATP World Tour calendar—but this year, it’s as if the event seemed bigger. Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka, respectively ranked No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 in the world, were the four top seeds in the Netherlands.

Should we be surprised that Stanislas Wawrinka managed to win the tournament in his first visit in the Netherlands in a decade?

The (other) Swiss joined fellow countrymen Heinz Gunthardt, Jakob Hlasek and Roger Federer in capturing this Rotterdam title. But it was far from an easy win, as Wawrinka lost a set against Jesse Huta Galung in his first match, then against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his second, and in the final against defending champion Tomas Berdych, whom he beat for the sixth straight time.

It’s an important win for Wawrinka, because it’s such an important time for him. At 29, he likely doesn’t have much time left with the sport’s elite—unless there’s something about being from Switzerland, as Federer proves to us—and yet he’s just a few months removed from his best season yet.

A year ago, Wawrinka captured the 2014 Australian Open only a few months after a semifinal loss in the 2013 US Open. His career was on the upswing and it probably still is—in Melbourne this year, it is he who gave Novak Djokovic his biggest test in the semfinal. (He lost, but that’s beside the point.)

Much to my dismay, I continue to believe that Federer’s level will one day soon dip well below the standards we’ve been accustomed to from him, while Rafael Nadal’s body may be in the process of forever breaking down. Beside the Djoker, there could shortly be a very massive void on Tour. Why couldn’t Wawrinka be that No. 2 player for a season or two? For example, he has played about 200, or so, fewer matches than Berdych, also a 29-year-old.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve figured out why this Rotterdam tournament was so much fun. If every tennis season starts on a high note with the Australian Open, there’s quickly a lull after the first major tournament—the clay court season only starts in April, meaning that there are two full months with not many large-scale tournaments. Players need to play, and thus a draw such as Rotterdam’s. Maybe it’s not a surprise that this weekend’s final was its third between members of the Top 10 in seven years.

Next on the list of similar smaller events is the Rio Open this week and the Argentina Open on the last week of February. The BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open are both held next month and, of course, neither of the main draws should disappoint.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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