December 9, 2013
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon has a special edition of the column—one that profiles two Toronto entrepreneurs and their new app.
Mario Filipas and Alan Fong are living proof of that old cliché, that the friends you make in university are the ones you will keep your entire life.
I meet Filipas in late September at a café in downtown Toronto, and soon enough Fong joins us. And when I say that he joins us, I mean that he comes in barging through the door, hits Filipas in the back, and Filipas screams “Ouch!” and then they both laugh—you know, university friends!
But Filipas and Fong aren’t in university anymore. They’re middle-aged men, entrepreneurs living in Toronto, and they have developed an idea. And for that idea, they have developed an app. “There’s an app for that,” and now there could also be an app for tennis.
LoveCourts allows any- and everyone to “play like the pros.” That’s the tagline. With the LoveCourts app, you can play like the pros. Mario and Alan are saying this, “Play like the pros,” as they’re showing me a demo of the app on an iPad. “Why can’t the everyday player get a taste of that experience?” Filipas asks.
Everything, in 2013, is about interaction and connecting more and more people to each other. LoveCourts is working toward that, specifically for tennis players. “You have your small circle of tennis players that you play with and unless you join a club and enter a league,” Filipas says, “there’s no way to find other tennis players.”
That’s what LoveCourts helps most with.
Filipas thinks the logic is sound. “Anyone who occasionally plays,” he says, “ must want to get into (tennis), and this is to help encourage them.”
With LoveCourts you can play like the pros, remember?
Professional tennis is a weird sport—let’s pretend, here, that you’re a professional player. You play against a fellow pro, and the spectators know your strengths, your weaknesses, your head-to-head record and your ranking. You play and play and play until there’s a winner and maybe you’re the winner. In which case, you get to repeat it again the following day until there’s yet another winner, and so on until only one person is left standing and that’s the person who has won the tournament. One week has passed, and with the start of a new week comes the start of another tournament, and new winners, losers, etc.
Contrast that with the way us average folks play tennis.
We play and play and play until there’s a winner, and whether we’re the winner or not really doesn’t matter. We hit the showers, and then we drive back home because we’ve played in the evening and we have to work the following morning—or worse, we played this match in the morning and we now need to rush to the office for our 9-to-5-p.m. regular job.
We can’t play every day, because we’re not good enough and because we have a life outside of the sport. For us, tennis is a hobby but that doesn’t mean that we’re not happy when we beat “Bob from accounting” 6-1, 6-4. LoveCourts helps with that. “What if you could record all the matches that were played on that one court?” Filipas asks. “You have an instant league on that court.”
Or maybe you don’t play competitive tennis. In this case, you still probably would like to see “track your own progress” over time, Fong says, and LoveCourts helps here too. “You bring your phone to the tennis courts after all,” as Fong says. Entering data in a mobile app should be easy enough.
With the app, you can host and participate in more tournaments, in your neighbourhood or otherwise. You can schedule regular matches against people you know and others against people you don’t know, confident that in all cases you will be pitted against someone of your level. You can have more competitive matches or track your progress. That’s what Fong and Filipas mean with the tagline “Play like the pros.” It’s not that you can hit a backhand down the line like Novak Djokovic can. It’s that you can play tennis matches more regularly and with more partners.
Manage your tennis life—Fong says that’s what the app is for. They both know a thing or two about managing a tennis life, as they’ve played more matches against one another than against anyone else. They both have loved the sport as much as they remember, and Fong says that he won “every single match that we played for 10 years.” (Filipas, on the other hand, contests that assessment.) For the longest time, they would debate who won the most matches. This app fixes that problem, recording the date, opponent, result and even location of each match entered.
If the “whole goal is to play more,” as Fong and Filipas explain, then LoveCourts only needs to be reliable to fulfill what could be a large potential. I’m the perfect guinea pig for it too. This past summer, I played tennis almost twice a week on average, every time with the one same friend of mine. We are both recent graduates, live close to each other, have the same type of financial capabilities (read: non-existent) and, most importantly, are on the same level. I play with friend X, because he’s the only person that I know in Toronto who is as good/bad as I am.
Canada will never be a tennis country, everyone knows this—Milos Raonic, Alan, Mario, myself, all of us know. Canada is hockey country, always has been and always will be. But tennis is growing. “It’s a snowball effect, right? So we just want to be part of that snow to make that ball bigger,” says Fong. “We think we can do that.”
Filipas is confident that the app could develop into something big and says that the end game is hopefully his photo and Fong’s on the cover of TENNIS magazine. The tagline? “Changed tennis forever.” Filipas is at a loss for words on what a successful product would mean. “For others to like our product, I mean… Wow,” he says. “But the other thing is that it won’t be successful for me if it isn’t successful for others too.”
LoveCourts is just a beta version when I see it, but I can definitely see the appeal right away. If nothing else, it’s because it looks very good. They have relied on the traditional Wimbledon colours, the purple and green that reminds everyone of the Cathedral of tennis.
We leave the café after about an hour, and I walk home even though I live about half an hour away. I’d rather save the three bucks the transit would cost me, plus it’s nice and warm outside. It’s in late September, which means that the snow will arrive soon enough in Toronto.
I have maybe six more good weeks of tennis, if I’m lucky. We’ve yet to invent an app to fix that problem. Damn snow.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 25, 2013
For the second year in a row, a year-end edition of this column will serve as a de facto awards ceremony. Just like for the 2012 season, these categories are absolutely arbitrary and reflect nothing but my own subjective experience of the 2013 tennis season as a fan and columnist.
The Alpha Male of the Year Elbow
…To Rafael Nadal. Just about any- and everything that could be said of Nadal’s prowess this year has already been said, but still let’s pile on. After seven months away from the ATP World Tour, he finally came back this year and warned us not to call this a comeback. No one knew, really, what to expect, and maybe that’s why we got exactly what no one could have foreseen—the best season of his career. The Spaniard concluded 2013 with 75 wins in 82 matches, over $ 14 million in prize money and no fewer than 10 titles. The 27-year-old added a Coupe des Mousquetaire and a U.S. Open trophy to his mantle, the 12th and 13th Grand Slam titles of his career. And suddenly, Federer’s haul doesn’t seem so out of reach.
The Who’s That Girl Elbow
…To Serena Williams. The younger of the two Williams sisters had herself quite the 2013 season and was equally as impressive on the WTA Tour as Nadal was on the men’s circuit—78 wins in 82 matches, 11 titles and over $ 12 million in prize money. What’s perhaps most remarkable is that this season came just on the heels of an equally great 2012 season. After two such great seasons at her age, Serena Williams is more than just the best player of her generation—she’s now in the same class as Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the best player ever.
The Kleenex Moment Elbow
…To Andy Murray after the 2013 Wimbledon final. Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, since Fred Perry did so if we’re to believe the record books—though I hear the jury remains out on these. The 26-year-old gave an entire country what poor lad Tim Henman could never give them, and nobody was unhappy to see him celebrate with the members of his team and, really, just about everyone else. Nobody, and that includes the mighty Novak Djokovic fan that I am, despite the fact that it’s Djokovic who Murray defeated in three little sets in the final.
The Phenom Elbow
…To Eugenie Bouchard. In a season where the young 19-year-old gained more than 100 spots on the WTA Tour rankings to end the season at No. 32, Bouchard was deservedly named the WTA’s newcomer of the year. She reached at least the quarterfinals of five events, and defeated top 10 mainstays Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur on her way to 39 wins in 63 matches. Her breakout season was not unlike Milos Raonic’s own, in 2011—and, oh by the way, Raonic himself was named the ATP newcomer of the year when he finished that year ranked No. 31. There are a lot of similarities between Bouchard and Raonic, including this one—let’s give the young Eugenie all the time that she needs to become a star. She’s not that, not yet.
The We Like Our Apples With Maple Syrup, Thanks For Asking Elbow
…To Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. The two Canadians dazzled the Montreal public this summer, as they served and aced their way—apologizing for every win, because they’re Canadians—to an all-Canadian Rogers Cup semifinal. If Raonic couldn’t eat his cake in the final against Nadal, losing 6-2 and 6-2, by then Montrealers didn’t mind because the 2013 Rogers Cup had been perfect, already. Not only that, but the two musketeers joined forces with the ageless wonder Daniel Nestor to bring their country to within one rubber of a spot in the 2013 Davis Cup final. So while many are gonzo over the potential of Eugenie Bouchard, they would be wise not to overlook the actual results of these two great players.
The Candy Cane Elbow
…To Maria Sharapova. The resident diva of the WTA Tour had a seemingly difficult 2013 season, though she still only lost 7 of 44 matches played. Sharapova is still a great champion, and this year she showed that she had business acumen too—though that was probably never really in doubt—when she released her first line of candy, the incredibly tacky-named Sugarpova. I’ve yet to try it, and I’ve made righting this wrong my No. 1 resolution for 2014.
The Andy Murray Elbow
…To Andy Murray himself. Incredibly, Murray gets a second Elbow for the 2013 season, this time taking home the one named after him. Meant in no way to diminish what a player accomplished in the previous 12 months, this award recognizes the person for whom it seems like 2013 was nothing but a year-long walk on the treadmill. Of course, Murray thrilled everyone with a major win at Wimbledon…and then, he pretty much packed it in the rest of the way. With the win, Murray was supposed to have turned a corner—and maybe he has, but he’s still looking up to Nadal and Djokovic. How very Andy Murray of him.
The Hello, Old Sport Elbow
…To Stanislas Wawrinka. At age 28, he enjoyed his finest year to date on the ATP World Tour and reached a career-high ranking of No. 8 in October—where he’s been entrenched since. Stan the Man even momentarily lived down his nickname of “the other Swiss,” as Roger Federer enjoyed one of his most frustrating seasons in recent memory (i.e. more on that later). But for all his excellence this season, he didn’t quite break through—twice he had Djokovic on the ropes and twice he lost in agonizing fashion. And Wawrinka remains “that other Swiss,” even on the Tour rankings.
The Foot In My Mouth Elbow
…To Serena Williams. Williams shined on the court in 2013, but not necessarily off of it. In a lengthy Rolling Stone feature—which wasn’t without its problems itself, as the lede compared the tennis player to the leader of North Korea—the great champion had a bit of a faux pas. When she decided to voice her opinion on the Steubenville rape case, what she said came across almost as victim blaming. It wasn’t that, and those who read the entire quote will understand—but a “I’m not blaming the girl, but…” doesn’t look good.
The Tonight We Die In Hell Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, for their epic battle in Wimbledon—a match that wins my choice as match of the year. Sure, that match probably cost Djokovic a much better shot at the title against Murray, but boy it was a thrill. Watching the Djoker and DelPo exchange haymaker after haymaker after haymaker after haymaker over five sets and four hours and 40 minutes—the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history—was unlike anything ever. Well, actually, that’s not true. It reminded me of watching that incredible Australian Open in 2012—and thankfully, it all unfolded a tad later during the day.
The My name is my name Elbow
…To myself. While covering the 2012 Rogers Cup in my native Montreal was an exercise in overcoming giddiness and maintaining professionalism, covering the tournament in Toronto this year also had its challenges—but mostly its perks. In the past two years, I’ve been lucky to have the freedom to file only once a day and write on the matches, and players, that I personally want to write about. Another perk was attending a great second round match between Sorana Cirstea and Caroline Wozniacki and afterward finding a Tennis TV link to it on YouTube. That’s how I saw myself on TV.
The 60-degree day Elbow
…To Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman was among the unlikeliest winners of the sport’s biggest prize at Wimbledon, riding a streak of good fortune where she didn’t face a single player ranked higher than her all the way to the top. Always a bit of a character, Bartoli won the prize of a career on the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club—and six weeks after her Wimbledon title, she decided to retire. Somehow, it all was the perfect ending.
The 1a Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic. In any other year, the Serb would have been the undisputed King on Tour—and despite Nadal’s signature season, Djokovic really was this close of finishing on top for a third straight year. With 74 wins in 83 matches, over $12 million in prize money and 7 titles, including his third Australian Open in a row, Djokovic did just about everything possible this season. Except that he lost a fifth-set lead against Nadal in the semifinal of Roland Garros. The 26-year-old will have another shot at completing the career Slam this season, and something tells me he may do just that. Until then, he and Jelena Ristic got engaged. #DjokovicWins.
The One Last Kiss Elbow
…To King Roger. By most accounts, 2013 wasn’t kind to Roger Federer, as he finished with as many as 17 losses (against 45 wins). That total was his highest in 10 years but unlike during his breakout 2003 season, this year the King only had one crown—that of the Gerry Weber Open, a Masters 250 event. Beyond the losses, it’s the quality of them that shocked: seeing the great champion lose to Gael Monfils, Tommy Robredo or, gulp, Federico Delbonis is not a pretty sight. He’s currently ranked No. 6 and he’s just about hopeless against Nadal these days. More and more, the 2014 season feels like a swan song for King Roger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 18, 2013
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the special 2013 seasons of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
The 2013 season was good to us tennis fans.
It was good to us, because two players who will live on as no worse than, likely, the fifth best players of their respective sport; two players, yes, had their signature season.
At 32 years of age, Serena Williams had arguably the best season of her illustrious career—even though the same could probably be said of a few other seasons as well. The younger of the two Williams sisters won 78 of 82 matches played, captured 11 titles (including Roland Garros and the U.S. Open) as well as over $12 million in prize money.
Serena was the dominant force that she’s seemingly always been and was the odds-on favourite for just about every event she entered, with very few minor hiccups (i.e. losses against Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and Sloane Stephens in Australia). In the middle of the season, after she had won the French Open, I surprised myself telling a friend that I thought she could run the table and capture the in-season Slam—even though, you know, she had lost in Melbourne already. It was that kind of season for Serena Williams.
(Some may argue that it should ways be that kind of season for her, if she could only have focused strictly on the sport for her entire career. I disagree and think that’s looking at it backwards—it’s because she hasn’t made tennis her entire reason for being that she can still excel at this age.)
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal’s excellence this year, if we’re being completely honest, was completely unexpected. Oh, we knew that he would compete with and rival the best, because this is all he always does. But after seven months away from the sport, how could we foresee this? How could we anticipate this kind of season, one where he won 75 of 83 matches, 10 titles (including Roland Garros and the U.S. Open) and over $12 million in prize money?
We couldn’t, and if you say that you did then you’re lying.
We couldn’t anticipate this, not even when he kept winning those clay-court (read: minor) tournaments at the beginning of the season. It’s only when he captured the BNP Paribas Open title, I would say, that I realized that the 27-year-old was back. He was fine, healthy, and showed everyone that revenge is a dish best served dusty and under the Parisian sun when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the de factor Roland Garros final. That match, possibly the best of the season on the men’s side, was a return of the pendulum for Nadal after his gut-wrenching loss in 2012 in Melbourne at the hands of this same man.
(Speaking of Novak here, it’s a testament to the kind of season he’s enjoyed too that despite Nadal’s brilliance, Djokovic finished only 770 points behind him. While Nadal was the No. 1 player on the ATP World Tour this season, the Serb was really just a 1a. Their season series ended at 3-3, and let’s give the split decision to the Spaniard for his ending the year as the No. 1-ranked player. That all said, the race between him and Djokovic was closer than most realize.)
When their playing days are over and we write the career obituaries of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, two great champions, their excellence in 2013 will come no later than the second or third sentence. That’s how good they were this year. And that’s how lucky we were to see it all.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 12, 2013
In London, for the conclusion of the 2013 ATP World Tour season and for the 39th meeting of their storied rivalry, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal reprised their game of cat and mouse, and the Serb was victorious 6-3 and 6-4.
I’m running out of ways to describe this rivalry.
Well, for one thing, it’s probably not right to call it a game of cat and mouse. If Djokovic is the cat, here, because he sure is as nimble as one, then that means that Nadal is the mouse—and if Nadal is a mouse, then that should be enough to alert all of us to the looming end of humanity. No mouse is, can, and should be this powerful, big, and strong-minded. (Plus, can you picture a mouse being left-handed? Nope. Or rather, a mouse never would have switched hands when she was young and played left-handed when it was right-handed to transform a weakness into an advantage. That’s not how animals operate, not even gerbils.)
Yeah, let’s move on.
By defending his title at the 2013 ATP Barclays World Tour Finals, Djokovic eased the pain of having lost his No. 1-ranking. He countered Nadal’s move with one of his own—wait, what is that? A waltz?
In London, Djokovic and Nadal resumed their waltz? Well, that’s not right either. They’re dancing, but they’re not dancing to the same beat. There’s not one leader, there are two of them with no one who follows the other. Rather, each is hoping to outmaneuver the other.
The Serb will go into the offseason on a 22-match winning streak, knowing that he managed to even the season series with the Spaniard at 3-3. He’ll know that he’ll have kept Nadal from putting the finishing touch to his resume, from correcting the one blemish still remaining. He’ll know that if Nadal wakes up today and is still without any year-end finale title, it’ll be because of him this time. (He’ll also know that it’ll be some sort of payback for the lone blemish of his resume, a Roland Garros title that still escapes him due to Nadal’s excellence at Porte d’Auteuil. Call it tit for tat, so to speak.)
So what is this rivalry? Is it dancehall? With the festivities, outside and under the moonlight, and with men and women dancing passionately to the loud music, and … No, let’s not go there. There’s no Sean Paul music, for one thing, and I have a better analogy anyway.
Djokovic is the matador, and the rivalry is bullfighting. Indeed, theirs is the fine art of the corrida. It’s a rivalry that has gone through different stages, with first the Spaniard dominating, then Djokovic, and then back to Nadal and now Djokovic again, maybe?
Yeah, that feels kind of right… Only, even in this analogy we must define a few things more precisely. Nadal is the bull, but only if the bull were to win about 56 per cent of the fights in the real-life corrida.
Let’s keep at it, because the analogy still isn’t perfect.
Djokovic is the matador. He’s the one with all the flash, with the nice costume on the court. He’s the one who’s nimble on his feet and who likes to put on a good show for all those in attendance. He’s the one who beats you only because deep down he believes with all his might that he will. So he does. He’s the one who’s not afraid to show you that he’s that confident, so he does.
Nadal is the one who charges forward. He’s the one who’s stronger than everyone else and who never stops (except for a seven-month hiatus) because to stop is to rollover and die. He’s the one who pushes you to the limit, because that’s where he thrives. He’s the one who always believes that this one time will be the one time you make a mistake. And that’s when he’ll pounce and a topspin-heavy forehand to the utmost corner, to your backhand, and you’ll have little chance of doing anything but to hit the ball in the net.
…Only, Nadal is pitted against Djokovic, and Djokovic will reach back and fire a backhand down the line to Nadal’s weaker shot, on one leg probably, painting the line and winning the point, and maybe the game to level it at two sets apiece. And on and on, this rivalry will go on.
I know what you’ll say, that making this analogy to bullfighting is easy considering the country Nadal is from is also the country where bullfighting is most popular. You’ll say that I’m better than this. But I’m not. Sue me.
Theirs is a rivalry, above all, that’s full of respect and admiration. Is that what you want me to say? I’m grasping at straws here. What do you call something that’s already been called everything?
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 4, 2013
These guys made me look like a complete fool, as it turns out that professional tennis players will remain professional even as the season winds down.
They made me look like a fool, but I’m glad that they did because the 2013 BNP Paribas Masters turned out to be quite the tournament. Last week, I wrote that we may see a few surprises in Paris, because some of the top players had already qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals the following week and may have been more interested in wine-tasting than actual tennis.
What happened? The top 8 players, the ones who participate in this year’s Finals event at the O2 Arena, all qualified for the quarterfinals in Paris. Oops. (Then again, I correctly predicted that seven of those eight players would make it, and three of four semifinalists, two of two finalists and one of one title winner. I got Rafael Nadal wrong only because I decided to be cute.)
And when that happens, we all win.
This season, the ATP World Tour closes the books on yet another season. Here, I will preview the final event, and I promise not to get cute with it.
-The “We come in peace and we are happy to be here”: Richard Gasquet, David Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka
I don’t see any of these three making much noise. David Ferrer may technically make it to the knockout stage, and possibly beyond, as all he does is win (and lose to players ranked higher than he is). Meanwhile, Richard Gasquet is enjoying a late career renaissance and, at age 27, enjoyed his best season in six years. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that the musketeer celebrated his qualification to the event a little hard in his native France this week, especially after seeing that he’s been drawn to the stronger of the two groups in Group B. Stanislas Wawrinka, for all his excellence this year, remains behind King Roger both in their homeland and in the ATP rankings.
-The Tomas Berdych: Tomas Berdych
I have no clue how Tomas Berdych will fare this week. I would literally expect anything from him, from losing in a double bagel in his first match and convincing everyone watching that they could take him out, to winning the entire event. The mercurial one hasn’t exactly enjoyed a great season, but that’s never stopped him before. (It’s always the rest that’s always stopped him.) He’ll tease us and probably make it to the semifinal against Novak Djokovic, but he will lose 6-1 and 6-3.
-The wild card: Roger Federer
What will Roger Federer do? (That really should be a hashtag: #WWRFD) After he’s been left for dead for the better part of the 2013 season, here he is again. He’s proof to all of us that Grace Sampson was right in Season 4 of The Wire. “Wherever you go, there you are.” Could Federer salvage his season with a title? It’s not like he’s never conquered the English crowd. Rather, just because it’s his luck, I see a certain Spaniard taking him out.
-The contenders: Juan Martin Del Potro, Novak Djokovic
In any other season, Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic would enter the event as co-favourites of sorts and current co-alpha males. To say nothing else, these two are the players I’m most confident in to reach the latter stages and maybe, just maybe, win the whole thing. Unfortunately, they’re in the group of death along with Federer (and Gasquet). They can beat anyone on Tour, and that includes the favourite. Djokovic, especially, is clinging to a very, very (very!) slim bid to finish the year ranked No. 1.
-The favourite: Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal has conquered just about everything else in his path in 2013 on his way to the very best season of his illustrious career. I don’t see why the Barclays title wouldn’t be his either. We’re all living in Nadal’s world and we should be happy about it!
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
October 28, 2013
I don’t think I’d ever make it as a professional tennis player. No way.
Not when I’ve been playing and traveling for about 10 full months before I’m expected to suck it up for one more week and head to Paris, say no to wine, food, cheese, baguettes and the likes, and compete against the top players of my sport for the very last Masters 1000 event—an event which, oh by the way, comes just one week before the very last event, the 2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
No, you’re not fooling me. I’d go to Paris and lose in the first round. And then I’d have baguettes and croissants for as long as the French capital wants to feed them to me. Yeah, I’d be a lousy pro.
All of which is to say that I’ll be previewing the 2013 BNP Paribas Masters this week.
Current alpha male Rafael Nadal is highlighting the top section, but I’m not sure just how much he wants this title. This isn’t Roland Garros, after all. With the Barclays Finals looming large next week, will the Spaniard go hard in Paris? He’s already won everything else this season, what’s another title? I say he loses early, against 14-seed Jerzy Janowicz in his second match, and I see the Polish Hammer making it to the quarterfinals. His opponent there will be Richard Gasquet, who will be the last musketeer standing after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will himself have defeated Julien Benneteau. (Does that make Gasquet D’Artagnan? I need to dust off my Alexandre Dumas novels.)
Defending champion David Ferrer (yes, really!) is the favourite in the second section, and he just might go all the way. Ferrer doesn’t lose to many players not named Andy Murray (who’s not here, this year), Rafael Nadal (who may not want to be here all that much) and Novak Djokovic—and, well, more on the Djoker in a little bit. I see Tomas Berdych annoying every last Canadian fan he may still have, taking down Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic to meet Ferrer in the quarterfinals. (Canadian readers, relax. This is a reverse jinx.)
My favourite section of this main draw is the third one. A couple of tough players lurk in Grigor Dimitrov, Tommy Haas—who needs to win the tournament to qualify for London—and Fabio Fognini, but Roger Federer—who qualifies for Barclays with one win—and Juan Martin Del Potro seem destined to meet in the quarterfinals. Once there, I see the Swiss master avenging his loss in Basel, because these are some of the things that happen in a tennis season.
I’m convinced that Djokovic wants to defend his Barclays Finals title more than he wants to do much more in Paris than eat baguettes and drink good wine. That said, who will take him out here? Beyond John Isner in the third round, it’s not Bernard Tomic, Nicolas Almagro or Jarkko Nieminen who can scare the Serb. Standing in his path in the quarterfinals will be Stanislas Wawrinka, who is back to being “that other Swiss” due to his No. 8 ranking to Federer’s No. 7. The life of a Stan is a hard one.
Quarterfinals: Jerzy Janowicz over Richard Gasquet; David Ferrer over Tomas Berdych; Roger Federer over Juan Martin Del Potro; Novak Djokovic over Stanislas Wawrinka.
Semifinals: David Ferrer over Jerzy Janowicz; Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer.
Final: Novak Djokovic over David Ferrer.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
October 21, 2013
Life is good for Richard Gasquet this week.
While he’s an extremely gifted tennis player in the grand scheme of things, in the minuscule sample size and 99.999999th percentile of the general population that is the ATP World Tour, Gasquet is not all great.
Throughout 2013, he had tried and tried but had kept hitting a wall and, despite his best efforts, it had seemed like he would fall short of receiving an invite to London—until about two weeks ago, when Andy Murray announced he was withdrawing from the 2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. That’s when Gasquet at last realized that he didn’t need to be that good. He just needed to get lucky.
There will be a lucky loser this year in London for the World Tour Finals, and Frenchman Gasquet is hoping to be that player who, if that’s what it needs, will be more lucky than good. (Of course, let’s not totally dismiss Gasquet’s efforts—there’s a new opportunity for a handful of players with Murray’s absence, and he might be the one who’s making the most of it.)
Murray’s withdrawal from the grand finale has opened the door for whoever finishes at No. 9 in the rankings. That’s exactly where Gasquet is waking up this morning after defeating Mikhail Kukushkin 4-6, 6-4 and 6-4 to win the 2013 Kremlin Cup by Bank of Moscow title. The whopping 160 points that he has gained at the event are enough to build a cushion 65 over fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
This means that unless our Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic, or Tommy Haas, goes on a rampage over the next two weeks, then the final chapter of the race to London will likely be played in Paris between two Frenchmen. Weird how it works out, right?
It’s a weird time of the year, indeed, when relatively minor tournaments in late October attract many of the top players, but that’s what we have this year. If the race to London is still very much open, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer will all look for a strong result this week when they travel to the King’s Court in Switzerland to play in the Swiss Indoors Basel tournament. For Federer, it would be a fitting end to a disappointing season that an early loss in his hometown cost him a place at the year-end event.
But just before the World Tour Finals, there’s the final Masters 1000 event, in Paris. Because it’s held so late in the season, and so close to the Barclays conclusion, I don’t know that it’s as important as the other eight Masters of the kind for top players.
No one player would probably say so, but I’m thinking that the top players would rather have their ticket to London booked well in advance so that they can show up in Paris, shop a little, play a little tennis without trying too, too hard, drink a little wine and then move on to London and the rain.
But it’s not like I would know anyway. I’m not a tennis player, not even a lucky loser.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
October 14, 2013
The end of the U.S. Open feels a little like the end of the tennis season, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s because it’s the last Grand Slam of the season and, with apologies to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, there’s no bigger tournament than the four major ones.
Still, now that the Tour went on an Asian swing in the latter half of this month, it seems like there are still things to learn if you happened to have been watching.
Chief among them is the fact that Asia looks to be Novak Djokovic country. The Djoker captured the 2013 China Open and 2013 Shanghai Rolex Masters in back-to-back weeks, having somehow put behind him a disappointing turn of events against Rafael Nadal in the final at Flushing Meadows. And as it turns out, while the Spaniard may have took his World No. 1 ranking, he couldn’t take his fight.
One of the things that I loved most about Djokovic’s invincible run in 2011 was that he wore the timeless Sergio Tacchini brand (i.e. I even bought myself the shirt). The Serb is confident in who he is and isn’t afraid to show it on the tennis courts, and this choice of sponsor said exactly that. But he has since moved on to Uniqlo, and this choice may be even better for the 26-year-old. Uniqlo is a Chinese retail giant, and it’s telling that the best player of the previous three seasons is with it. Djokovic’s gift, apparently, is to pay the Asian community with the gift of winning, as he’s been dominant this season in Asia.
I wrote that this 2013 season was going to become the marquee Nadal season. And 2013 even sticking to the script of the last timeless season that the tennis community has known. Just like Djokovic in 2011, Nadal is experiencing a little post-New York blues. It’s now two losses in five matches—nothing alarming, but not up to par with his 2013 standards. If Nadal is done with this season, there’s really no shame.
The player who beat Nadal for his latest loss is Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine, though he hasn’t reached the promised land since his 2009 U.S. Open title, continues to prove that he may be the most destructive force on Tour. If nothing else, he’s definitely the most likely to make the top group of Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray a four-headed monster.
Because Roger Federer is fading, yes, and fast. King Roger is now 32 years old and showing every last bit of it. He broke up with his coach (read: consultant) Paul Annacone this past week, after having lost in the third round in Shanghai. He’s played with a Wilson prototype as a tennis racquet for a few months in 2013, a curious decision. One might have expected the Swiss to keep risks to a minimum as his career winds down, but choosing the prototype was the opposite. It couldn’t have paid off big dividends, but instead it seems like it might have cost him dearly.
The last thing that this has shown is that everyone has forgotten about Murray. Sure, he won the 2013 Wimbledon on home soil, but what has he done for us lately? He’s had an injured back that has forced him to retire from the season-ending Barclays finals. We’ve forgotten about Andy Murray, but it’s not because we’re in the lull of the tennis season. It’s just Andy Murray.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
October 7, 2013
This preview of the 2013 Shanghai Rolex Masters could be written in either five or five hundred words. Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve always loved the scenic route.
Because of the time difference between Canada and China, the tournament will already be underway by the time you read this preview. But while any- and everything is technically possible at the start of a tournament, it’s not true that any- and everything is actually possible. Not this season.
Let’s start with, yes, the beginning. Though he is the first-seed, Novak Djokovic arrives in Shanghai ranked No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings (i.e. more on that in a minute). His results have been stellar all season long, as he’s reached the latter stage of just about every tournament he entered—the problem being that one Spaniard who’s been unstoppable. Djokovic is the defending champion, and his section is fairly easy. He could feast on his comrade Janko Tipsarevic in his first match, and a quarterfinal with Roger Federer looms large—but who knows what to expect anymore from King Roger, who’s looking more and more like a king without a crown.
Third-seed David Ferrer headlines what may be the weakest of the four quarters. He’s always there, because he’s David Ferrer and his road to a quarterfinal berth may be loaded with Frenchmen—Julien Benneteau, Giles Simon and Benoit Paire are all possible opponents in his first two rounds. Let’s call for what I will call a “Rise of the Frenchman” shocker, Paire overtaking Ferrer. Paire’s opponent in the quarterfinal? Kei Nishikori, who will take down Grigor Dimitrov in possibly the best opening-round match. (Don’t expect anything from the other Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, because his season has been at best disappointing.)
Fourth-seed Tomas Berdych, as inconsistent and as polarizing as anyone on Tour, leads the third quarter. He is in form right now, judging by his results in Beijing, and that’s usually exactly when he disappoints his fans—the problem with this theory is that this part of the draw is rather weak. There are a few willing guys (i.e. Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro, Philipp Kohlschreiber), but little in the way of sure things. Look for Berdych to lose in the third round to Australian Bernard Tomic, who himself will lose against Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinal.
Rafael Nadal, the man of the hour, is the favourite in the final section. And at this point, with the kind of season that he is having, how can anyone pick against Nadal. The 2013 season has quickly become his banner year, with his 10 titles, his more than $10-million in prize money and his 64-4 record coming after a seven-month layoff last season. With his career, and his consistency, it’s weird to think that this is only his third stint as World No. 1. It shows that Nadal is at his best when he’s the one chasing and pushing the ATP to new heights. Only right now, it doesn’t matter which players the draw puts with him. He’s all conquering.
So yeah, how can anyone pick against Nadal? I can’t. So here’s the short version of this preview—Nadal will win the 2013 Shanghai Rolex Masters. He’s won everything else.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer; Kei Nishikori over Benoit Paire; Juan Martin Del Potro over Bernard Tomic; Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Rafael Nadal over Juan Martin Del Potro
Final: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
September 30, 2013
Let me talk to you, Novak.
How are you doing? Well scratch that, I’m sure you’re ecstatic today. You and Jelena Ristic have decided to take the next step in your relationship and are now engaged, as per what you have written on Instagram and your other social media platforms.
The union that exists between a man and a woman is one that’s much more important than that between this same man and a tennis racquet, and you’ve always understood that. What I mean to say, Novak, is that you’ve always understood that your life wasn’t dependent on your results on the tennis courts and that your life’s worth needed to fuel the on-court results, not the opposite.
I’m proud of you, Novak. Not that this means anything coming from me, but I am. I haven’t talked to you in some time, since April actually, because I wanted you to be fully focused on the season.
It’s been a rough year otherwise though, am I right?
Let me talk to you, Novak, and let me explain why I say that. The pretend-psychologist that I am thinks that you had three goals entering this season. You aced the first one, overtaking the King of Clay in your backyard in Monte-Carlo for the Rolex Masters. But it’s Rafael Nadal who had the last laugh, barely beating you in the semifinal at the Porte d’Auteuil in Paris. A win there would have given you the career Grand Slam, but I know that you know that already—it was probably good payback in his mind for your equally agonizing win in Australia in 2012.
But of course, through it all you have remained the No. 1-ranked player on the ATP World Tour…but barely. That was probably your third goal this season, and you’ll probably fail at this one too. Because he has been the best player on Tour this year, Nadal is only 260 points behind you right now. And because he was injured a year ago and didn’t play after Wimbledon, he has absolutely no points to defend until 2014, making it extremely likely that he will surpass you.
It’s okay, though. Let me tell you, Novak, that your place in history is already assured. You have six Grand Slam titles, and counting, as well as a banner 2011 season—and both of which sound even more impressive considering that for all we know, Roger Federer and Nadal might be the two best players of all time.
(Plus, look at it this way. It’s possible, also, that once next year rolls around you’ll be the one who will overtake Nadal and be back as the alpha male as he’ll have about 12,944,926,346,888 points to defend from this 2013 season. A step back can lead to two steps forward right, Novak?)
Let me talk to you, Novak. I don’t know that you ever listen when I speak, but let it be known that it’s helping me make sense of my fandom. These letters give me the chance and time to reflect on the season at hand and on my feelings toward it. It helps me put things in perspective and that I should never care more than you do. It’s therapeutic, in that way.
I thought I’d reach out to you today, as the season is winding down. It’s not over, of course not, but in North America it might as well be. By now you’ll know that the Rogers Cup rolled around, and that it was hosted in my native Montreal. What you probably don’t know is that I was covering the tournament in Toronto rather than Montreal.
Novak, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m a columnist with Tennis Connected and, though the gig doesn’t help me put food on the table (i.e. it is unpaid right now), it does allow me a lot of freedom in the assignments and features that I choose to pursue. If I didn’t go to Montreal, it’s in part because I decided not to. Our website already had two journalists on hand and, though I’m a native of the place, I decided to stay here, in Toronto, to cover the women’s Rogers Cup. (Here’s what I wrote about the experience, fyi.)
I’ll stop boring you with tennis right now, though. I see that you’re an author too, now, though I must confess that I haven’t read Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence yet. I just haven’t had the time, to do anything beyond work and the odd writing project here and there, honestly. I know you’ll understand. My birthday and Christmas are coming right up in December and do believe that I’ll put the book on the list I send to Santa.
There’s more to life than tennis, and you above anyone else understand this. I’m not stupid enough to think that you listened to me, but here’s what I said when I first wrote to you last year. “Hold on tight to Jelena Ristic, but you already know that because you’re that dude. You two are great together, and you have done well for yourself in the same way that she has for herself. I tend to prefer brunettes, but I can’t say anything against her. I’m sure you’d say that she’s your driving force and that she keeps you calm and stable, because that’s the sign of a smart man–and you’re a smart man.”
Let me talk to you, Novak, and let me tell you that I’ve had my share of heartaches over the years, but that it only hurts if you decide to dwell on it. There’s no need to go into specifics, as no one would want to read about that. It’s that old classic—not every battle is worth fighting for, but once you find one that is, that’s when you step up. That’s when you step up and make sure you will not hurt anymore, heartache or not.
It’s funny how life works out honestly. We become fans of athletes, but it’s when these athletes step up for causes or moments in their lives that have nothing to do with their athletic feats that we feel the proudest.
You’ve stepped up, Novak. Those of us who are fans of yours are damn happy for you today. You’re a man—and most importantly, you’ve got your woman. It’s for life. The real life, the one that counts.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG