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

Tennis Elbow: No one can touch Novak Djokovic in Australia

February 9, 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 Novak Djokovic’s win at the 2015 Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic started the 2015 season as the undisputed No. 1 player on the ATP World Tour and if the first Grand Slam of the season is any indication, the Serb has solidified his hold on the position.

In taking the 2015 Australian Open, Djokovic won 20 of the 24 sets he played—he lost one in the final against Andy Murray, and another two against Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals because he seemingly always loses two sets (or more) against the Swiss.

By now, surely you’ve heard that this win gives the Djoker a fifth title in Australia and an eighth Grand Slam title overall. The former leaves him tied for eighth in history while only Roy Emerson has more than his haul of five Aussie titles. You know both of those things by now.

The win assures Djokovic of at least a modicum of success this year, even if everything goes wrong the rest of the way.

Not that this doomsday scenario is very likely, mind you. The 27-year-old had a great 2013 season and will need excellent play to finish another season as the year-end No. 1 player, but it’s feasible. He’ll have to defend his Wimbledon title as well as four Masters 1000 events, starting next month in Indian Wells and Miami, and his Barclays World Tour Finals in November.

But sure, even if the sky falls down on him the rest of the way, Djokovic’s floor of one Grand Slam title will be no worse than the fourth best result in 2015. That’s the part where you say, “Not too shabby.”

Entering the year, it was only right to give Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer the benefit of the doubt that they would overcome, respectively, injury and age and Father Time, but it’s a trickier position to defend after this Australian Open. Maybe Nadal and Federer didn’t look injured or old, but they didn’t look right either. They looked, well, unmotivated in Melbourne and a lack of motivation can be hard to overcome. If it happens just at the beginning of the season, then why would they eventually be motivated in June or July, amidst the grueling stretch of the season and especially considering that they’ve both already accomplished all there is to accomplish?

(At this point, I’m tempted to declare that Djokovic should be the favourite for Roland Garros regardless of whether/how Nadal plays in Paris. But of course, May is still very far away and I’ll take every minute I have before potentially making a fool of myself and picking against Nadal on the French clay.)

If the current golden age of tennis is truly over, then what might come next could be something that delights all of Djokovic’s fans. After the end of this golden age, the man would still be in his prime and his adversaries would be few and far between, and definitely a notch below the combo that was Federer and Nadal.

Murray looks to be back to battling his inner demons, as much as his Twitter trolls, and when he’s not it’s his soon-to-be-wife Kim Sears who does it for him. At 27, Murray is also technically right in his prime—though after this Australian Open, that doesn’t seem as obvious, or as good, as Djokovic’s.

Otherwise, maybe it’ll be Kei Nishikori who challenges Djokovic and, when the Serb retires, who rules supreme. But he appears just a tiny bit green behind the ears and a year or two away. Beyond him, or maybe Nick Kyrgios though maybe let’s let him turn legal first, there aren’t many clear choices currently on Tour.

You might say that we’ll cross that bridge of life post-Nadal and post-Federer when we get there. I’ll say that maybe we already have.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: If not Serena Williams, then who?

February 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 Serena Williams’s win at the 2015 Australian Open.

Very quickly, Serena Williams is turning what was once a semi-contentious debate into something approaching a definite.

Over the weekend, she beat Maria Sharapova by the final score of 6-3 and 7-6(5) to win her sixth Australian Open and, most importantly, her 19th career Grand Slam title.

But why is this 19th title so important? Aren’t they all just as important, as per that old cliché that professional athletes tend to use so often? Well, that 19th title is so important, because it moves Williams past Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the most career Grand Slam titles in history and into second place behind only Steffi Graf’s 22 titles.

That’s right.

We’ve wondered for some time now whether Serena Williams might be the greatest player in history. She’s been comfortably the best player of her generation—no one is even close, really—but the debate was whether she belonged on Mount Rushmore. She had proved that, at the latest, when she enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts in 2012 after taking time off for a hematoma and pulmonary embolism—by then, she had 13 Grand Slam titles.

That debate of whether she might be better than the aforementioned Graf, Evert and Navratilova had hinged in part on our ability to project and compare and contrast different eras and different playing styles. But now? Now, Williams is at 19 majors.

In other words, with those 19 Grand Slam titles, not only does she have a legitimate claim as the best player in history… but she might have the numbers to back the claim up too. She may lack the overall title haul (i.e. Williams has 65, Graf has 107, Evert is at 157 and Navratilova is at 167), but her Grand Slam resume is as good as anyone else’s. Williams has six Australian Open titles, two French Opens, five Wimbledon titles and six US Opens—that tally tells me she’s just about equally good on every surface.

Maybe she doesn’t have the 19 straight semifinals of Navratilova, or the 34 overall finals of Evert or the 13 straight finals of Graf, of which she won nine, including five in a row, but she does have the 19 major titles. And she does have the distinction of being the oldest No. 1 player in history.

(She also is ludicrously ahead on the career earnings list… though, of course, different eras had different prize money. As a reference, Victoria Azarenka is fifth on that list, so yeah.)

We shouldn’t or I shouldn’t I suppose since I’m the one writing this, write Williams’s eulogy just yet—this 2015 Australian Open proved as much. She may be at No. 19 right now, but the odds that she adds to her haul before she retires are quite high.

Now more than perhaps ever in her career, she appears to be peerless. Not even vomiting could stop her in Melbourne, so imagine how powerless Maria Sharapova, no slouch with her five Grand Slam titles, must have felt.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter at RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Age is nothing but a number except when it isn’t

January 26, 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 in Melbourne.

Eventually—maybe even soon—the current era of men’s tennis, with three of the 10 greatest players ever, will end.

God will this suck so bad, am I right? That’s what you’re thinking, right? You’re thinking that, because it may ruin an event like the Australian Open. Oh, it would make the event much more wide-open and thrilling, but it turn that would just make it more untenable for folks like yourself who live in the western hemisphere and have a regular 9-to-5 job. There are only so many nights that you can go to bed at 4 a.m. and in this era, you’ll obviously focus on potential matches between Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to stay awake all night. And not to watch, say, Gilles Muller beat John Isner. (Though what a win for Muller!)

(Of course, you understand that complaining about this is very much #FirstWorldProblems, but the act itself of watching tennis is very #FirstWorldProblems—let’s carry on.)

You think that the new ATP World Tour will suck, because the predictability of Djokovic/Nadal, or Nadal/Federer, or Federer/Djokovic (currently the best rivalry of all time, as per FiveThirtyEight), is what has made the sport so fascinating in the past decade. We all knew, sort of, that they would be among the remaining few still standing at any given event and what has made this more fun than unpredictability has been to see how far they would push each other.

But what happens when none of the three players can go? That’s what you don’t like—what happens then? Then, the ATP World Tour becomes one full of surprises and seemingly random results. One where everything can, and often does, go. A more unpredictable Tour where someone, if we’re lucky, turns out to be our new champion… or one closer to the WTA Tour, but without even a Serena Williams.

Has the first domino fallen this past week in Melbourne when Federer lost against Andreas Seppi in the third round, you wonder? Maybe it’s too premature, but then again maybe it isn’t because this Australian Open result is the Swiss’s worst result since 2001.

And 2001 is such a long time ago, you say, that it might as well be a lifetime away. In 2001, it’s not just that Federer hadn’t won a Grand Slam yet. He was a 19-year-old whose highlight was a fourth round loss at Roland Garros and who was another two years away from a first Grand Slam title. In 2001 for the Australian Open, Federer was ranked No. 29—he certainly wasn’t King Roger. He had a ponytail in 2001.

Those are all your fears. Change can be good, but not all change is good—and how could any change away from this current triumvirate of men’s tennis be potentially good?

Well, while you complained about it all, you missed out on probably what was the best match of this first week between Seppi and Nick Kyrgios. Sure, maybe Federer should have been there, but what we did see was excellent tennis.

Let’s never complain about excellent tennis.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The “underdogs” of the 2015 Australian Open

January 19, 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 Australian Open.

God, it feels good to be back in Melbourne—not that we, by which I mean “I,” actually am in Australia, but the tennis world certainly is.

The tennis season is so constructed that it unofficially launches right away with one of the four biggest events of the year. In tennis, there’s never any easing back in—the calendar starts, and you jump right in. It’s wonderful and reason No. 938 why this sport is the greatest.

The Australian Open also perhaps is my favourite Grand Slam tournament, if only because it allows me to momentarily forget about the awful cold winter I otherwise live in. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known players who may make a dent on both the men’s and the women’s draws.

I could just write about the usual suspects that are Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Eugenie Bouchard, but where’s the fun in that? (Plus, my colleague Tom Cochrane has already written quite the excellent preview and analysis.)

*****

Men’s draw

Juan Martin Del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro could have been the great equalizer. The former World No. 4 came back after almost a year off following, what else, a wrist injury at the Apia International Sydney tournament and promptly reached the quarterfinals. The tall Argentine is likely too rusty (and currently at No. 338, he’s probably too far removed to make any lasting impression in Melbourne). But he would have made things very interesting in his section. But alas, he is out with a, yep, wrist injury.

Feliciano Lopez

The Spaniard enjoyed a string of good results last summer and a solid overall 2014 season and, as a result, he could be poised for a good Melbourne run. He’s ranked No. 14, which gives some kind of respite. In reaching the third round a year ago, Lopez lost to Andy Murray. This year, he should have no problem equaling last year’s result. Lopez has the strokes to give a few players headaches, and his higher seeding should give him at least a few matches where he’ll be the favourite.

Gael Monfils

…Except that Gael Monfils would be Lopez’s opponent in the fourth round if everything goes according to plan. Very quietly, Monfils bounced back in 2014 to play relatively injury-free tennis—the flying Frenchman made two Grand Slam quarterfinals at Roland Garros and at Flushing Meadows (along with, erm, a second round at Wimbledon and a third round in Australia), and he will give anyone playing him fits. What we see as showmanship is annoying to his opponents, but that’s how Monfils plays. He has good groundstrokes, but this is probably more wishful thinking on my part—he needed a little luck in the draw in order to realistically hope a Melbourne breakthrough. Instead, he’s slated to play the aforementioned Lopez in the third round, or Milos Raonic should he win that match.

Nick Kyrgios

I have to be consistent, right? I can’t say that I expect the young Aussie to challenge the better players on the ATP World Tour in one column, and then not mention his name among those we should keep an eye for at the Australian Open, right?

But a breakthrough at his home major, in front of friends and family, in the same country he was raised? The tennis world isn’t Hollywood—it comes close, but it isn’t.

*****

Women’s draw

Sania Mirza

Alright, Sania Mirza isn’t actually playing in Melbourne, but her story is worth telling.

Sara Errani

You never quite know why, but the Italian always seems to hang around at major tournaments. Since breaking through in 2012, Sara Errani has made the quarterfinals, or better, at every Grand Slam except for Wimbledon. Just last year, there she was among the final 8 at the US Open and Roland Garros. (She also lost in the first round in Australia and England, so I suppose she’s a little boom or bust.)

Errani will never overpower her opponent, but she’s smart and will not beat herself.

Venus Williams

What should we make of Venus Williams? The older Williams sister arrives in Melbourne after winning the ASB Classic in Auckland to continue building upon a strong 2014 season, where she captured one title (i.e. in Dubai) and reached three other finals (i.e. Auckland, Montreal and Quebec City). Williams will likely only go as far as her health allows her to, but it’s good to see her back and stringing together a few good matches in a row. It’s also bad, bad news for the rest of the players on the WTA Tour.

Sloane Stephens

A coach who meets one player’s displeasure only needs to look elsewhere and find acceptance again, is that it? Nick Saviano, who was last seen getting axed by Canadian Eugenie Bouchard because he (perhaps) didn’t want to embark on a full-time relationship, will now coach Sloane Stephens. And the American needs it, after a 2014 season where she stalled and finished the year at No. 37 only 12 months after being No. 12. Stephens’s confidence likely isn’t at an all-time high, but she knows she can win big matches in Australia—before her fourth round loss in 2014, she had beat Serena Williams on the way to the semifinal in 2013.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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