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

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Internazionali BNL d’Italia men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

May 9, 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 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

They have it pretty hard, tennis pros do. Right?

One week they’re in Madrid in Spain, and the next Monday, well, they’re in Rome and Italy. Oh sure, maybe they’re there to work, to compete, to practice and earn a living. They’re not traveling to two of the world’s most gorgeous cities to just wine and dine, we know; they’re going to work.

They’re going to work just like anyone would, except they’re doing so in Madrid and Rome—unlike anyone else.

All of this to say: here’s a new tournament preview.

Men’s draw

Pros

-The quarter from hell of Novak Djokovic. Really, you would be hard pressed to find a tougher draw for a tournament favourite than the one Novak Djokovic will need to navigate in Rome. Not only does he get to battle in-form players like Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic, he also gets a possibly rejuvenated Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. And his prize for this win would be a likely date with Roger Federer in the next round—though is that really a problem?

-The return of Roger Federer. After withdrawing from the Mutua Madrid Open, Roger Federer still has only played 13 matches, and competed in three tournaments, in 2016. At first he took a break after hurting his knee (while preparing a bath for his twin daughters!), then he did so after hurting his back. You’ll say that it’s fine, that Federer is actually playing great when he plays; we’ll say that this is the problem. Federer rarely plays; he’s is just old now.

Cons

-A weak third quarter. Because this draw is so top-heavy, there is bound to be an underwhelming section; for us, the third section, with two struggling favourites in Stanislas Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a couple of qualifiers and just a general group of uninspired players, is that one. There’s Bernard Tomic too.

-Grigor Dimitrov. Since we’re on the topic of stupid reactions, let’s also highlight Grigor Dimitrov’s recent turn for the worse in Istanbul when he willingly took a penalty on match point for equipment abuse.

Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic; Roger Federer over Kei Nishikori; Stan Wawrinka over Fabio Fognini; Andy Murray over David Goffin

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Andy Murray over Stan Wawrinka

Final: Rafael Nadal over Andy Murray

*****

Women’s draw

Pros

-The return of Serena Williams. On any other year, we think that the world No. 1 might not try too hard this week in Rome, but we figure that this year it may be different; while she sports a typically excellent 13-3 record in 2016, Serena Williams still hasn’t captured a title in 2016 and, most importantly, hasn’t played anywhere in over a month. If she hopes for a good Roland Garros, she’ll show up in Rome.

-Victoria Azarenka, supernova. Will the resurgent Victoria Azarenka play in Italy? She withdrew in Madrid last week and, so far, seems in line to compete in Rome. Injuries would ruin what has been the best story so far in 2016 on the WTA Tour.

Cons

-How is Angelique Kerber still seeded No. 2? This is nothing personal against the German Angelique Kerber. She does have two titles to her name in 2016, including a pretty important one at the Australian Open—but she also has three first-round losses and, if you recall, she very nearly lost in the first round of the Australian Open she won.

-Is anybody else out there? We suppose that this is related to what’s above because Kerber certainly remains the third-ranked player on the WTA Tour; can anyone overtake her? Last week, Dominika Cibulkova became the lowest ranked player ever to make the final of a WTA Premier event; she’s nowhere to be found this week in Rome.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Sabine Lisicki; Victoria Azarenka over Lucie Safarova; Kristina Mladenovic over Carla Suarez Navarro; Sara Errani over Petra Kvitova

Semifinals: Victoria Azarenka over Serena Williams; Sara Errani over Kristina Mladenovic

Final: Victoria Azarenka over Sara Errani

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Mutua Madrid Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

May 2, 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 Mutua Madrid Open.

Remember the blue clay?

Let’s start there, sure: the blue clay. In 2012, Ion Tiriac, a former ATP pro from Romania, and the owner of the Mutua Madrid Open, decided to rebrand the event by having players play on blue clay.

Really. It was not unlike the folks at hard court events deciding to move from the green court to a two-toned, green-and-purple court. That is, not unlike except for the fact that in this case, Tiriac walked back the switch by going back to the typical clay court only one year after moving to blue clay.

But if only for a year, this was fun.

Men’s draw

Pros

-Rafael Nadal, superhero. King Rafa has won all 10 of his previous matches, turning back the clock and acting dominant during clay court season once again in 2016. For some, it’s been a sign of things to come, a sign that the Rafael Nadal of old is back and ready to spoil dreams once more. We’re not so confident, at least not yet.

-What now, Novak? Can Novak Djokovic do it? The Serb and best player in the world may only get a few more occasions to complete the career Grand Slam before he retires, and this year is as good as any other season to add a Coupe Des Mousquetaires to his trophy case. If he hopes to do this, he’ll have to start winning some matches on clay.

Cons

-Rafael Nadal beating down Roger Federer. Unlike what many may claim, we’ll be ready to say that Nadal is indeed back if and only when he dominates Roger Federer in what’s become such a one-sided rivalry.

-What now, Novak? You’ll say that I’m cheating and that I’m entirely non-objective, given that I love the Serb and that I would love to see him do well. There are those who believed that Djokovic’s finals streak was boring and meant nothing, but we Nole fans disagree; that’s why it’ll really be sad if Djokovic actually is affected and can’t complete the career Grand Slam once we arrive at the French Open. Let’s get a few wins under your belt, Nole.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Milos Raonic; Kei Nishikori over Gael Monfils; Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Gilles Simon over Andy Murray

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Rafael Nadal over Gilles Simon

Final: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic

Women’s draw

Pros

-Anything is possible. By which we mean that any number of players can realistically hope for the best in Madrid; it’s the type of main draws that feels ripe for just about anyone. Let’s see who steps up.

-Victoria Azarenka, supernova. Don’t look now, but Victoria Azarenka, formerly the world’s best player for some time in 2012, is now up to No. 5 after a fuego start to this 2016 season that includes three titles, including the Miami/Indian Wells double. Should Maria Sharapova a miss significant amount of time, this return to prominence of Azarenka would be great.

Cons

-Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 1 seed. This certainly isn’t a knock against the Polish player, quite the accomplished star in her own right—but Agnieszka Radwanska is not in Serena Williams’s league (because nobody is, we know). But with Williams missing the event with the flu, and Sharapova’s ongoing meldonium saga, it feels like there’s a little lack of star power in Madrid for a WTA Tour Premier event.

-The fall of Dominika Cibulkova. While we admit that this makes for a pretty great first round match against the aforementioned Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova deserves better than a opening match against the top-ranked player; and this matchup seems better suited for later in the tournament. Oh well.

Quarterfinals: Svetlana Kuznetsova over Agnieszka Radwanska; Victoria Azarenka over Petra Kvitova; Garbine Muguruza over Simona Halep; Carla Suarez Navarro over Angelique Kerber

Semifinals: Victoria Azarenka over Svetlana Kuznetsova; Carla Suarez Navarro over Garbine Muguruza

Final: Victoria Azarenka over Carla Suarez Navarro

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Tennis and doping (or not) with meldonium

April 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 discusses the latest in the meldonium doping saga

At long last, we have new developments in the ongoing tennis doping saga.

Alright alright, maybe we’re overselling it with this opener, because who knows if it’s really a saga at all, but there certainly appears to be some news in what has become our favourite story of this 2016 season.

Let’s remind folks that since January 1, 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has banned meldonium. Let’s also remind folks that Maria Sharapova has been out of tennis since March 8 when she announced that she had tested positive for the substance at this year’s Australian Open, and that she’s (or had) been using meldonium for the better part of the past decade.

Okay, but you knew that already. So what’s new?

What’s new is that we may know when Sharapova’s disciplinary hearing will happen and, most importantly, that a ruling may come before the start of Wimbledon. This is important, because the Russian Federation wants Sharapova to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and, also, well that the following is the punishment that the 29-year-old faces.

…unless it doesn’t come to that?

Oh you’ll accuse us of burying the lede, we know, but we don’t mind; it’s just too good.

You see, while there have been 172 positive tests for meldonium in 2016, not to mention Sharapova and the fact that the Russian U18 hockey team pulled out of competition on the eve of a tournament, WADA now has released one incredible mea culpa. “There is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times,” the organization mentioned.

We’ll put this in clearer terms: WADA really has no idea just how long meldonium may stay in an athlete’s system.

Really? Really.

You can see the logical conclusion: this means that an athlete like, hmm, say Sharapova may have consumed meldonium for the last time at some point in 2015 (when meldonium was legal) but still see signs of the substance in their system in 2016 (with meldonium now illegal). WADA even recognizes that in this case, said athlete may be capable of proving that they «could not have known or suspected» that a positive test would occur.  “In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” added the organization.

Again, in clearer terms, this means that an athlete could argue that they shouldn’t be punished because, well, that trace of meldonium is just an old residue from 2015.

So again we ask: really?? Really.

Of course, incoming WADA director general Olivier Niggli has said that Sharapova’s case absolutely must move forward. “For her, given her levels [of meldonium], it is not even a question,” Niggli told The Associated Press this week.

Niggli is a dreamer, so we’re inclined to continue allowing him to show his ass. Keep going, WADA, because you see, it actually is a question with Sharapova whether she should be punished at all—and it’s all your own fault.

See, that’s the problem with our ever-going quest to clean our sports: we’re stuck with organizations like WADA. We’re stuck with organizations that would rather hastily declare that a substance appear on the list of banned substances before they, and we, truly understand it. We’re stuck with organizations who will suspend athletes who test positive for a banned substance, again, before we know how long this substance stay in an organism’s system. We’re stuck with organizations that seem hellbent on treating every singular case as if they were a reflection of some sort of morality, or lending it some sort of meaning when it’s not.

Oh you’ll say that we’re exaggerating, that painting a grim picture from one unfortunate case, that we’re not saying all this in good faith. Sure—and we’re actually doing precisely what WADA is doing: because punishing athletes before they’ve done their homework is anything but good faith.

Otherwise, we’ll simply repeat what we wrote in this space not so long ago: that we’re not looking to grandstand anyone here, and that in our eyes the difference between someone injecting a substance like meldonium in their body and someone replacing a torn ligament in their elbow with a tendon; well that difference is mostly one of degree.

It’s a topic we’ll revisit again once the Sharapova ruling is announced.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: One last Monte-Carlo hurray for Rafael Nadal, or a sign of bigger things to come?

April 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 reviews the 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Is it too late now to say sorry to Rafael Nadal? (You’ll get that song stuck in your head now, I know. Sorry.)

Last week, the Spaniard continued his excellent start to the 2016 this past week, capturing the 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title by defeating Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7 and 6-0 in two hours and 46 minutes. This, of course, marks the ninth time in his career that Nadal emerges from the pack with the crown in the principality. “The victory here confirms that I am better and I am very happy… It’s been a very, very emotional week for me, a very important event,” Nadal said after the win. “Monte-Carlo is one of the most important places in my career without any doubt. To win again here after three years is so special for me.”

The win accomplishes a few things. First, it gives the Spaniard yet another title, one of the Masters 1000 kind. Why is this noteworthy and important? This Masters 1000 title is Nadal’s 28th career; if you remember, we made a big deal of it when Djokovic reached this number only two weeks ago, so we shall mention that in this case it’s a big deal as well. A record is a big deal, even if there’s a tie between two players in first place.

Nadal also became the sixth man in history to reach at least 100 tournament finals, and won his 68th career title. This win also reestablishes Nadal’s standing on the ATP World Tour. What do we mean by that? Despite a rather excellent 2013 season, the Spaniard really hasn’t been up to his former self over the past few years: lest we forget, the 29-year-old very nearly slipped out of the Top 10 only eight months ago.

But now Nadal is back, firmly entrenched in the top 5, looking as dangerous as he has in a long time and seemingly ready to nip at Roger Federer’s heels. What has long contributed to Nadal’s legend was an aura of invincibility: he looked more physical and played more physical than his opponents, yes, but it’s not just that.

For a long time, the myth of Nadal was that he seemed simply unstoppable in a few places. Once upon a time, Monte-Carlo was one of those places. Between 2005 and the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters final, Nadal won all 46 matches that he played in Monaco. This period recalls the time when he would almost routinely capture more or less every clay court event on the calendar—including, of course, Roland Garros, and it’s there that this win should be most beneficial in 2016. Indeed, Nadal’s confidence should be as high as it has been in recent time.

If he can recapture past glory in Monaco, why couldn’t he do it in Paris as well, right? Well, right, except that this logic ignores the fact that he may well need to overcome Djokovic if he hopes to add another French Open title to his name. Of late, that rivalry has been quite lopsided, with Djokovic winning the previous six matches and 10 of the previous 11.

Already in 2016, he has lost twice against the Serb. But that comes later. For now, let’s just add another chapter to this story.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters draw preview and analysis

April 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 previews the 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Now is when the fun can start.

Every year, the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters signifies the start of the year’s clay-court season and always the dawn of what becomes a sprint all the way until the end of August at the US Open.

That may be even more the case in 2016, an Olympic year with the end result that an already loaded calendar may be as overloaded as it ever has.

There is no time to waste in the tennis world. One week you’re just finishing a back-to-back of the two mini Grand Slams in Indian Wells and Miami, and the next you’re in Monaco for the Monte-Carlo Masters.

The latter, FYI, is no slouch.


Let’s have a preview of this 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, discussing some of the pros and cons of this tournament.

Main draw

Pros

-The return of Roger Federer. Though we’re on the record as saying that we believe this 2016 season may be Roger Federer’s very last, or at least very last near the top of the rankings, we take no pleasure in seeing his body send him signals. Lest we forget, the Swiss hasn’t played a match since his semifinal loss at the Australian Open, after injuring his knee while «walking with daughters.» (Hey, it’s the headline that uses those exact words.) But for this week at least, King Roger is slated to be back in action. He’s looking mighty good, too.

-Novak Djokovic and his rival Federer pitted in the same half. Let’s double on all things with the Swiss, as the main draw has slotted the No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic in the same half as the No. 3-seeded Federer. Djokovic tends to render most things moot these days, but the Swiss usually at least manages to make things interesting for a little bit.

-The overall setting and scenery of the Monte-Carlo site. Really, this can’t be overstated: the site of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters is absolutely stunning. Just look at this—arrive for the tennis, stay for literally everything else.

Cons

-A diminished Rafael Nadal. Lest we forget, Rafael Nadal used to do pretty well in Monte-Carlo. Indeed, as recently as 2013, this Masters 1000 was seemingly Nadal’s lordship, his Roland Garros before Roland Garros: between the first round in 2005 and the 2013 final, the Spaniard won 46 consecutive matches, and eight overall titles, in Monaco. In 2016, he’s already lost six times in 18 matches. Growing old sucks.

-The lack of suspense? Maybe it’s a good thing that Djokovic and Federer were drawn into the same part of the draw: these days, it seems like the 34-year-old Federer remains the most (lone?) credible threat to the Serb on the ATP World Tour. The Swiss is 6-9 over his previous 15 matches against the Serb since the start of the 2014 season; those six defeats account for 40 per cent of Djokovic’s losses over that time frame.

-The fact that I’m publishing this a day after the start of the event? I don’t know, I’m really grasping at straws here, because the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters is awesome.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over David Goffin; Roger Federer over Richard Gasquet; Dominic Thiem over Stanislas Wawrinka; Milos Raonic over Andy Murray

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer; Dominic Thiem over Milos Raonic

Final: Novak Djokovic over Dominic Thiem

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic stands alone at the top of the Masters 1000 food chain

April 5, 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 Miami Open on the men’s side.

No one’s ever going to take this from him.

In winning his sixth career title at the Miami Open (thereby equaling Andre Agassi’s record) over Kei Nishikori by the score of 6-3 and 6-3, Novak Djokovic won all 12 sets he played at the tournament this year. “I have a very special connection to this tournament,” Djokovic said after his win. “In 2007 it was the biggest title I had won in my career. It has been a springboard for everything coming after that. I certainly hope that the love affair continues in the years to come.”

The years to come will come later—because the present time is damn good already: Djokovic’s sixth title in Key Biscayne was also his 28th career Masters 1000 title, which is a record in the Open era.

That’s right. The man who’s had to withstand the prime of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the five players in history, before ascending to the throne, this man has now stepped into his own. “As I go along, and as I have achieved so much success in the last two years, I give myself more opportunities to make records,” Djokovic said. “So [the singles title record] is in the back of my mind somewhere. But I don’t give myself that as main motivation. Because then things can go a little out of control. It can create a distraction that I don’t need.”

The Serb may never get enough credit for being, as Peter Bodo says, master of the Masters—but he really should.

This 2016 season marks the third in a row where he’s managed the Indian Wells and Miami double. If his streak that means something of 17 straight tournament finals is over, he’s got another one going right now: 11 straight Masters 1000 finals, which started in the fall 2014 and which is equally ridiculous. Over that span, Djokovic has managed a 55-2 record, which, you know isn’t too shabby considering that these tournaments are played against the alleged best players in the world.

But of course, “best players” really doesn’t mean much when they have to go up against the Djoker.

What’s that? You want more specific? Alright, alright.

Djokovic has amassed his 28 titles at eight of the Masters 1000’s (i.e. with the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati having eluded him to this day) and, considering how he’s playing and how Federer and Nadal are, this record may be his to keep for quite a while.

Why is it a big deal? Consider that behind Djokovic’s 28, Nadal’s 27 and Federer’s 24, Andy Murray is next on the list of current players with most Masters wins, with 11. After him? Well, good luck. Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer—you know, fairly decent players—each have only one Masters 1000 to their name. Meanwhile, the next one that Marin Cilic, Nishikori and Richard Gasquet win will be the first of their career.

How well have previous champions fared? Ivan Lendl has 22 titles, John McEnroe has 19 and Jimmy Connors has 17. Tied with him is Andre Agassi, followed by Boris Becker with 13 and Pete Sampras with 11. Not one player in that group will ever catch the Serb.

So winning a Masters 1000? Quite a big deal because not every does it (often).

Despite all this, and being quite the clear best player on the ATP World Tour at the moment (and having been so for a good three-four-five years if we’re honest), Djokovic is behind Federer and Nadal for Grand Slam titles. And, ultimately, that’s what matters. In tennis, it’s not “How good were you and how much did you win?”; it’s “How many Grand Slam titles did you win?”

Also important? Djokovic has become the all-time leader in career prize money won after his win in Miami, ahead of Federer. It pays to be this good!

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Tennis has a sexism problem

March 28, 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 sexism in tennis.

Tennis has a sexism problem.

It’s not exactly news because we’ve all known about it, but it’s dominated headlines over the past week when four of the sport’s key figures—or rather, three of them, plus an ex-tournament CEO—ventured into some thoughts about women in tennis.

Raymond Moore, still then the CEO of Indian Wells Tennis Garden where the BNP Paribas Open was hosted, first went down that well with some remarks that ended up costing him his cushy seat at the big table. Here, we’ll remind you.

What do you think; pretty wild, right? We’ll underline the point where Mr. Moore says women players should get on their knees and thank God, and where he calls the next generation of WTA players “physically attractive and competitively attractive.”

We knew you were an old white man, Raymond, but you didn’t need to spell it out so clearly for us!

That was at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open, a tournament which Novak Djokovic won. After the final, reporters asked the Serb to comment on Mr. Moore’s remarks and, well, just see for yourself.

“I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.”

There’s an opinion there—that men and women maybe shouldn’t get equal prize and should fight for what they deserve separately; it’s not a particularly good one, but still a relatively coherent one from Djokovic. Then, the Serb veers into weird territory.

“I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving. Their bodies are much different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details.”

“I have great admiration and respect for them to be able to fight on such a high level. Many of them have to sacrifice for certain periods of time, the family time or decisions that they make on their own bodies in order to play tennis and play professional sport.”

We’ll marvel at Djokovic’s brilliance and say that, yes by God men tennis players do incredible things on a tennis court. Just look at this brilliance.

That’s the good stuff and why you deserve the big bucks, Novak, right?

In all seriousness, Djokovic’s remarks weren’t especially surprising because the trope of men believing they are better, or deserve better, than their female counterparts isn’t new.

Here’s Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic’s old buddy, saying that “99 per cent of male tennis players can’t stand women’s tennis”—which, okay whatevs bro. Here’s dumb-dumb Justin Gimelstob calling female players “sexpots.” Here’s Gilles Simon, maybe the world’s most boring man, saying men’s tennis “is more interesting than women’s tennis.”

Have you seen enough? No, no there are more; read on. Here’s Sergiy Stakhovsky saying that, “almost every other player is a lesbian” and showing his homophobic side all at once. Here’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saying women “are more unstable emotionally than us.” Here’s Marinko Matosevic saying he could never hire a woman for head coach.

Let’s stop there. Here are they are, all of them current or ex-pro and, as such, all of them relatively important figures in the sport—most importantly, all of them with relatively damaging and backwards opinions.

Also? Also, this: all of them basically dumber than a sack of potatoes. (For more from this author, read this.)

Here’s where we mention that at this same Indian Wells event, Serena Williams was asked about Mr. Moore’s remarks and that she basically ether’d him.

But that was to be expected, right? Since Moore essentially called her out, Williams responded in kind, not to mention that she’s worked so hard on this issue of equal rights throughout her career (random exhibit here).

Also expected, though maybe not at first glance, was Andy Murray’s foray into the limelight on this issue. “Men’s tennis has been lucky over the last nine or 10 years with the players they’ve had, the rivalries which have come out of that. That’s great but the whole of tennis should capitalize on that – not just the men’s game,” he said. “I think there should be equal pay, 100 per cent, at all combined events…I think it will happen one day.”

Essentially, that’s what we believe in, too: equality between men and women in every regard for equal accomplishments. By winning the 2015 Miami Open, both Djokovic and Serena Williams pocketed $900,400; that’s good. By winning the 2016 BNP Paribas Open, the Serb added a nice $1,028,300 and Victoria Azarenka, $1,028,300; that too is good.

Both of those are good, yes, but they hide deeper problems. They hide the fact that overall and outside of joint events like the BNP Paribas Open, the Miami Open and the four Grand Slams; outside of these, players “on the WTA Tour earn 76 cents on the ATP’s dollar.”

And there’s no real reason for that. Two men and women who win the same tournament deserve the same prize—because it’s the same tournament.

Here’s where you’ll counter that well, nope the ATP and WTA do not have joint events every single week. Of course not, it wouldn’t be feasible. But maybe that’s something that the International Tennis Federation should look into: tournaments are already categorized in both men’s and women’s tennis according to their prestige and their strength. The ATP has Masters 1000’s while the WTA Premier Mandatory events, and so on.

If you feel like they need to play the same number of sets, or whatever, then sure change that. But give both men and women the same prize money for accomplishing the same things.

Then let players distinguish themselves through spokesperson gigs, sponsors, and the likes.

Otherwise, yep: equality in every regard.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Miami Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 22, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines the latest with BNP Paribas Open CEO Raymond Moore and the Miami Open men’s and women’s draws.

Apparently, the tournaments follow one another in pretty similar fashion, right?

The last time we were set on writing an event preview, the news that Maria Sharapova had failed a drug test broke just at the Australian Open.

This, in fact, made for a richer and better preview—and I’m glad it’s happened again this week, just before the 2016 Miami Open, presented by Itau. In this case, it’s Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore who, maybe out of spite, jealousy, stupidity, or whatever else, decided to say something incredibly 1) sexist, 2) offensive and 3) idiotic.

But wait, there’s more.

See? Pretty moronic, right? Don’t give me that «everyone is entitled to their own opinion» stuff; the consequence of that is that I’m entitled to my opinion of thinking your opinion is fairly moronic. And if you don’t believe me, please understand that Moore has since resigned from his position.

In all likelihood, this will become a thing where any- and everyone will start debating the merits of gender equality in tennis, asking past, present and future champions what  they believe on the topic and taking mostly everyone unprepared as they stumble through a somewhat coherent opinion.

Come back next week to see us discuss this in earnest and more detail, as well as Novak Djokovic’s problematic thinking on the matter. For now, we’ll give you Serena Williams’s answer and move on to the draws of this 2016 Miami Open.

*******

Women’s draw

Pros

-Uncertainty at the top? Could it be that for the first time in a long while, Serena Williams isn’t quite as all-powerful as in years past? It would make sense given her age, sure, but we’re probably grabbing at straws here: while Williams has lost the two finals she reached in 2016, the fact of the matter is that she did reach the final of the two tournaments she competed in this year. Still, a two- or three-headed WTA Tour, rather than a Serena Williams monopoly, wouldn’t be bad.

-The return to form of Victoria Azarenka. Credibly, Victoria Azarenka could be one of the challengers to Williams’s dominance.

Cons

-The absence of Maria Sharapova. Face it, the Russian is perhaps the second biggest name in women’s tennis and her suspension and scandal hurt the sport. She wasn’t necessarily the best player, but she was a credible force at the top—at least until she faced Serena Williams, against whom Maria Sharapova is mostly hopeless.

-Upsets galore. Once again, we’ll mention that there is a fine line between an event where upsets create a good buzz and one where upsets reign supreme to the point where the average fan finds it overwhelming.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Elina Svitolina; Simona Halep over Agonisezka Radwanska; Victoria Azarenka over Johanna Konta; Belinda Bencic over Angelique Kerber

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Simona Halep; Belinda Bencic over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Belinda Bencic over Serena Williams

*******


Men’s draw

Pros

-The dominance of Novak Djokovic. Well whaddayaknow, it turns out that the end of the streak that means something… really doesn’t mean much other than it took the perfect storm to create a streak that ultimately doesn’t matter. He still hasn’t lost in 2016 in matches he hasn’t had to walk off the court and he still profiles as the favourite just about everywhere. Just, you know, don’t listen to him on prize money and gender equality.

-The return of Roger Federer. King Roger has been missing in action for over a month after injuring his knee, missing the BNP Paribas Open where he’s typically played and excelled. But he lit up the Twittersphere when he announced he was coming back this week.

Cons

-Milos Raonic’s injury. Before the season, Milos Raonic made changes to his coaching staff, naming Carlos Moya as his head coach and parting ways with Ivan Ljubicic; this prompted us asking whether we’d see a different Raonic in 2016 and, so far, we can probably say that yes, we have. While he was mostly non-competitive against Djokovic in the Indian Wells final, that he made it this far after returning from an abductor injury is a net positive. As of this writing, the Canadian still hasn’t announced that he would miss this Miami Open; even if he does compete, he may be diminished, which is too bad because this draw is within his grasp.

-But will Federer’s return be one to form? Still, it remains to be seen just how good and ready Federer will be in his first matches back from injury. We’re on the record as saying that we don’t believe the Swiss will manage to snatch a singles gold medal this year in Rio; if that’s the case, will he keep playing beyond this season? In other words, is 2016 the final curtain call for Federer?

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Benoit Paire; Roger Federer over David Ferrer; Stanislas Wawrinka over Jack Sock; Andy Murray over Alexandr Dolgopolov

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer; Andy Murray over Stanislas Wawrinka

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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