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

Tennis Elbow: Is this the end for Maria Sharapova?

June 13, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses the verdict of the Maria Sharapova doping case.

The verdict arrived with little to no fanfare.

Alright, maybe it’s just that we’re all fairly busy but as far as we’re concerned, this past Wednesday was just about to be a typical Wednesday, when—boom!

That’s right, this past Wednesday turned out to be the day that the International Tennis Federation gave its verdict in the Maria Sharapova doping scandal, suspending the player for two years.

Oh, the Russian may not be away from the courts for that long, as she’s already said that she planned to appeal the decision (we’ll get to her note in a minute). But for now, one thing’s certain: she’s suspended for two years. What else is crystal clear from the ITF’s 33-page decision?

Well for one thing, this saga continues to fascinate us. We’ve said more than once that we just love mostly everything about it, and it continues to be the case. If you recall, Sharapova was facing a potential two-year if she was found to have taken meldonium unintentionally for performance-enhancing reasons.

Is the ITF’s decision to suspend her two years a sign that Sharapova’s un-intention was actually quite possibly intentional but they couldn’t prove it, or simply a sign that they fully expected her to appeal and that maybe the sanction will be diminished?

Here are quite a few more things that continue to have our attention as this saga inevitably carries on.

We’re eager to see whether the ITF continues calling Sharapova on her bullsh*t.

This excerpt from the 33-page decision, which you can read in full here, makes pretty clear that the ITF does not believe that Sharapova was taking meldonium for any other reason but to boost her performance. It’s all fine and dandy that the 29-year-old may have once upon a time been prescribed meldonium for legitimate reasons, but the organization believes the player had since gone out of her way to conceal her meldonium intake; where there’s smoke, there’s fire, if you will.

You can’t get something prescribed for a legitimate issue, but then only take the substance on match day. It doesn’t make sense, says the ITF.

The next step would be for the organization to respond to Sharapova after her apology turned out to be one of the best non apologies we’ve seen in recent times. There’s a lot of BS in that statement.

We’re also eager to see if WADA can get its sh*t together. Last we checked, WADA still didn’t know how long meldonium took to leave a person’s body; what does that mean for the Sharapova case? Will it change anything now that she’s been suspended?

Probably nothing, sure, but it’s mightily ballsy of the ITF to then react with such verve.

What, ITF? Have you never sinned, and thus you now feel compelled with proceeding to stone Sharapova incessantly?

We’re eager to see what comes next for Sharapova. Sure, she has appealed now and, considering that she has amassed quite a large deal of money in her career, will likely fight this thing until the end—but what if the decision is upheld? What then? Will the Russian just walk away?

We’re eager to see whether this decision, as well as the other athletes who have tested positive for meldonium since Jan. 1, may shine a light on the broader doping culture. Why was Sharapova, then just a teenager at 18 years old, prescribed meldonium in the first place? Why did this first doctor who gave her the substance also prescribe her 18 (!!!) medications and supplements at such a young (and critical) age?

We would like to have a discussion on doping and sports in general: why do we punish someone for taking meldonium but tolerate a basketball star that travels to Germany for a non-FDA surgery on his knee? Why do we punish someone for blood doping, but not for replacing a torn ligament in an elbow?

On that last part, here’s what we’ll say: sure, there are actual reasons, we know. But if you’re being honest, you know that the difference is not nearly as large as you would like it to be.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic makes tennis history

June 6, 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 week of the 2016 French Open and looks ahead at the second.

At long last, Paris smiled back to Novak Djokovic.

After quite a number of failures at the French Open, the Serb is finally a career Grand Slam champion after beating Andy Murray in the Roland Garros final by the score of 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 and 6-4. “It’s a thrilling moment,” Djokovic said after the win. “One of the most beautiful I have had in my career…”

The win makes him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, as well as the eight man in history to win a title of each of the four majors and complete the career Grand Slam. This win feels like a big deal, because it is.

This wasn’t lost on the No. 1 player in the world. “It’s incredibly flattering to know that Rod Laver is the last one that managed to do that. There are not many words that can describe it. It’s one of the ultimate challenges that you have as a tennis player. I’m very proud and very thrilled,” he said. “It’s hard for me to reflect on what has happened before and what’s going to happen after. I’m just so overwhelmed with having this trophy next to me that I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.”

Murray, in defeat, also echoed many of the same sentiments. “This is Novak’s day,” he said. “Winning all four Grand Slams at once is a great achievement. This is something that is so rare in tennis. What he’s achieved the last 12 months is phenomenal. I’m proud to be part of it today.”

In our era of #hottakes and #instantanalysis, the reflex would be to look to understand this win in its broader context and to give to Djokovic the place in tennis lore that is rightfully his after such a win.

But that’s not what we’ll do; we’ll keep the broader context for another day because ours is also an era of social media, GIFs, videos, tweets and photos. So we’ll turn to Twitter to examine Djokovic’s first career French Open title under a few different lights—because there’s really a tweet for any- and everything.

See, here are tweets for the actual match itself, and Djokovic’s reactions to his win.

There are also good tweets that show us just how wonderful and dominant Djokovic was against Murray, and has been over the past year.

But of course, you’ve been following tennis for quite some time now and already knew this, so you think the above tweets are a little boring. In which case you are in luck, because Twitter is also great for illustrating with images or emoji what we used to have to write in words.

In 2016, social media are also excellent for putting things into their broader and historical context—and Twitter, after Djokovic’s win, was no exception.

Oh but right, we weren’t supposed to discuss the historical significance of this win; let’s keep that for another day.

See? There’s plenty to see and examine on Twitter and for the most part, we’ve stayed in the moment; we didn’t want to reflect on this landmark win for the Djoker, so we didn’t. We simply wanted to celebrate the win, and so we did.

Enjoy this French Open win, Novak. You’ve earned it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Two titans lost, but a third one’s still there at the French Open

May 30, 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 week of the 2016 French Open and looks ahead at the second.

A week ago, we said that the 2016 French Open seemed destined to become one of the better ones in recent memory.

Well we were wrong on it being “better”: a French Open that lacks the people’s champ in Roger Federer AND the best clay court player ever in Rafael Nadal can’t be “better” in any sort of way.

But we were right on the nose in predicting that it would indeed be memorable.

While we’ve had over a week to process the Swiss’s absence—maybe we’ll just need to start acknowledging that he’s an old man now?—Nadal’s withdrawal stings a whole lot right now.

Nadal has played 12 French Opens
9 titles
72 wins
2 losses (Soderling, Djokovic)
1 withdrawal with left-wrist injuryhttps://t.co/Wb1S4i000A

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

Consider that this is the first time in the Spaniard’s career that he withdraws from a Grand Slam event he has entered, and that it comes at the French Open, the tournament he has traditionally owned.

Life comes at you fast, and now’s probably as good a time as any to think about a tennis world where neither Nadal nor Federer is as relevant as they have been.

Let’s see, what else did we get over the first week at Roland Garros?

Hmm, well we know that Milos Raonic, though he was very much still in the running when it was announced (i.e. the Canadian has since lost 2-6, 4-6 and 4-6 against unseeded Albert Ramos-Vinola), will add the great John McEnroe to his coaching staff for the grass season.

'Milos has a great team with Ricardo Piatti and Carlos Moya. I'm going to be a consultant on the grass. I'm excited'. McEnroe (Eurosport)

— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) May 27, 2016

Raonic is probably one of a select few players capable of winning Wimbledon, and his hope has to be that the presence of McEnroe can help make the difference in a tight match.

Oh, there was also tennis played this week in Paris and, as usual at the French Open, it was excellent; perhaps none as crazy as this point between Barbora Strycova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

The most fun point of the year, from Barbora Strycova and Agnieszka Radwanska. #RG16: https://t.co/MOzJshp5ZZ

— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 27, 2016

As for what lies ahead, all eyes will be on the likely two favourites, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

For the former, this French Open is a chance to fully sink her teeth into this 2016 season, where she still has only one title to her name. She’s won a bunch of matches, as she typically always has, sure, but Serena Williams is known for winning tournaments. Better yet, she’s known for winning major tournaments: of her 70 career titles, a full 30 per cent have occurred at Grand Slams.

Williams very well may add a 22nd major title this week in Paris, as she’s yet to truly be bothered in winning her three first matches in straight sets. She’d take it.

Meanwhile, Djokovic will hope to make history at the end of this week by winning his first French Open title, thereby completing the career Grand Slam. It’s become harder and harder to ever doubt his credentials, but possessing at least one title at each Grand Slam would forever etch his name in tennis lore. If ever there remained doubt whether he belonged alongside Federer’s and Nadal’s names, this win would fix everything—and possibly push him over the top.

Djokovic is odds-on favorite to win the French Open. Murray is a distant second; Wawrinka a really distant third https://t.co/SFAvGs6qyK

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

And with the withdrawal of his two chief rivals, Djokovic has as good a chance to win Roland Garros as he ever has.

Since Sept. 2010, Djokovic has won 74 of 78 matches against the guys he could face before the final: https://t.co/cYZ582wTo0

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

The folks at FiveThirtyEight believe Djokovic would already two French Opens if not for Nadal. Let’s go get the first one.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Looking ahead to Day 3 of the 2016 French Open

May 23, 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 weekend of the 2016 French Open.

Already, this edition of Roland Garros profiles as one of the better ones of recent memory—right?

Okay, it sure is too soon to decide anything when there’s a good 14 days of the event remaining, but the first day of this 2016 French Open sure was a memorable one.

Though, really if we’re being honest, the memorable headlines started before Roland Garros even did.

Indeed, on May 19, the Swiss (and people’s champ) Roger Federer withdrew from the event and ended his streak of 65 straight Grand Slam events at which he had competed. “I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100 percent and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready,” Federer said. “The decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career. I remain as motivated and excited as ever.”

Just like that, one of the sport’s most impressive streaks was over.

Federer’s (fake) alter ego took to the Twitterverse to ease the pain of his legion of fans, reassuring them that while we may not see him on the court in Paris, he would certainly remain active on the social media platform with the little blue bird: because while you may need good knees to hit tennis balls, you don’t need them for #goodtweeting.

Still, not all was lost. While the Swiss and foremost tennis player in the world wouldn’t be present, plenty of others would be. And the tennis Gods made sure to heal our wounds a little bit, creating two wonderful, wonderful main draws.

Roland Garros has now started and, well, it seems to have taken a few favourites by surprise. Garbine Muguruza, seeded No. 4 and working on two career French Open quarterfinals, needed all of two hours and 24 minutes to beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova by the score of 3-6, 6-3 and 6-3.

Boom or bust candidate Stanislas Wawrinka, meanwhile, very nearly busted his way out of the main draw escaped a forceful escape bid from Lukas Rosol and managed to see another day by winning 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 and 6-4. Will it propel him to another French Open title?

Wawrinka and Muguruza weren’t the only two either, as a number of big names had more difficulty getting through their opening match than what most had anticipated.

What’s the end result? The end result is that day 3 in Paris promises to be one hell of a ride.

That’s right, day 3 will feature the opening statements from Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal and, who knows, maybe Andy Murray will manage to stick around beyond the first Tuesday as he and Radek Stepanek complete their first match.

There is probably the most notable of six first-round matches that haven’t been completed on the first day of action; Lucas Pouille and Julien Benneteau, notably, appear locked in a back burner of a match, one that could take still quite a long time to complete. We’ll also keep our eyes on Ekaterina Makarova and Sam Stosur, both of whom need to finish their match and both of whom hope to advance.

And don’t forget that through it all, “Roger Federer” will be tweeting; there’s no better way to spend your Tuesday.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: So who should be the Roland Garros favourites?

May 16, 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 clay court season.

At long last, here we are.

At long last, all that separates us from the 2016 Roland Garros is one mere week of rest. After more or less two full months of clay court tournaments of relative importance, we’ve reached the big one.

And you know what’s the fun part?

On both the men’s and women’s sides, results from April and May have made this edition of the French Open, often the most fascinating event of the year, as unsettled as it’s been in recent memory.

This year when we ask, “Who should be the favourites?” we can make a legitimate case for plenty of players.

Men

The would-be favourite: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal going back to his winning ways in Paris for the tournament he has traditionally owned would make one hell of a storyline. Unfortunately, the Spaniard has become hopeless against Novak Djokovic, losing seven matches and 15 sets in a row. If he wants to win, he’ll likely have to avoid the Djoker—because even when he’s great, he’s not good enough.

The people’s choice: Roger Federer

Everyone loves Roger Federer and, at Roland Garros just like everywhere else, everyone wants to see him win. But while he’s an excellent clay court player, Federer has also been hampered by a myriad of little injuries since the Australian Open; if his body hasn’t completely broken down, it’s close. We forget that he’s turning 35 and that this shouldn’t be surprising.

The hot streak: Andy Murray

Andy Murray celebrated his 29th birthday with a first title in 2016, defeating Novak Djokovic a week after the Serb had overcome him to win the Madrid Open title. He’s concluded the pre-Roland Garros portion of the clay court with a 12-2 record and is as playing as good tennis as anyone else.

The boom or bust: Stanislas Wawrinka

One who isn’t playing especially well is Stanislas Wawrinka. Since winning in Dubai in February, the 31-year-old has won only five of his 10 matches. That simply won’t be good enough for the French Open, though maybe not all is lost? Before he lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2015, Wawrinka arrived in Paris on an 8-7 run. The Swiss can catch fire at any time.

The young blood: Dominic Thiem or David Goffin

The 25-year-old David Goffin and 22-year-old Dominic Thiem have been playing especially great tennis in 2016 and both possess the kind of games that translates well to clay courts. They’re now firmly entrenched in the Top 15 and will be as dangerous as anyone else in Paris.

The favourite: Novak Djokovic

He’ll be fine. Novak Djokovic suffered his third defeat of 2016 against Andy Murray, losing 6-3 and 6-3 in the Rome final. Some may see signs for worry but other than an inexplicable early defeat in Monte-Carlo, and an early retirement at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Djokovic hasn’t done worse than a final in 2016.

He’ll be fine, and anyway the weather probably played a role in his loss against Murray. (Alright alright, no excuses.)

Women

The would-be favourite: Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka was always going to come back down to earth. After the blistering start to the 2016 season she had, after winning 26 of 27 matches and three tournaments, she was always going to run into some trouble—that these unfolded at Madrid and Rome, two clay court events that don’t play to her strengths, shouldn’t be surprising. On a different surface, we would have been inclined to pick the Belarus but alas.

The absentee: Maria Sharapova

We have already discussed the Maria Sharapova (non)-doping case ad nauseam already. It’s really too bad for her that her suspension had to carry through the month of May, because the clay court season has typically been perhaps the best time of the year for the Russian. But there’s always next year! (Unless she’s suspended, of course.)

The boom or bust: Simona Halep

Up until she took advantage of a (very) favourable main draw in Madrid for her first title of the 2016 season, Simona Halep had been in the midst of a relatively okay season: not bad, but not particularly good either. She’ll hope to avoid the same fate as she suffered in Paris in 2015, as she lost in the second round just a year after making the finals.

The young blood: Garbine Muguruza

Lest we forget, and you’d be forgotten for overlooking her this season as she’s been only average, but Garbine Muguruza has reached the quarterfinals of the past two French Opens. We envision the Spaniard once again among the last eight standing, if not even better.

The favourite: Serena Williams

It’s silly to think so, but Serena Williams’s 2016 season had been disappointing up to this point. Sure, she had amassed $1.8 million in prize money while losing only three times in 16 matches, but she was on the verge of entering Roland Garros still without a title to her name. Mostly, that’s why this Internazionali BNL d’Italia was important for the American.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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