Tennis Elbow: What the hell, Canada?

July 7, 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 reviews the first week of Wimbledon on the Canadian side.

So that’s what it feels like to have the hero we need, but not the one we deserve? Or put another way: just what has happened to Canadian tennis?

For a few years now, the country has seemed on the verge of finally (finally!) breaking through and joining the ranks of the worldwide powers thanks to its three foremost flag bearers. Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard, ranked No. 8 and No. 12 respectively, are Canada’s best ever singles players in the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour, and have been for quite some time. Vasek Pospisil, ranked No. 56 but with a career-high of No. 25, would be just that too, if not for the presence of Raonic.

But the trio’s results in 2015 have been, erm, rather uneven. As Wimbledon marches on to its second week, Pospisil remains the lone Canadian standing after coming back from a two-set deficit and reaching the quarterfinals by defeating Viktor Troicki by the score of 4-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3.

This win was Pospisil’s first after trailing by two sets and also marks his first time reaching the quarterfinals of a major tournament; it’s also a win that has restored the country’s faith in the young man, who had been somewhat disappointing since helping Canada reach the Davis Cup semifinal in 2013. (This is where the reader complains and says, “Well actually doubles!” and, sure, yes Pospisil has excelled in doubles. But in tennis, there might as well only be singles and no doubles, considering the money and resources allocated to covering the former and not the latter.)

Raonic had bowed out of Wimbledon long before Pospisil finished off Troicki, falling in the third round against the fiery Australian Nick Kyrgios. The Canadian was seeded No. 7 this year at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club but, having been limited with an injury during the spring, a repeat of last year’s semifinal was always a long shot.

Most damning is Bouchard, who lost in the first round against qualifier Duan Ying-Ying only one year after reaching the final of this same Wimbledon Grand Slam. Her troubles, actually, can be traced back to this very match: Bouchard has now lost 12 of her past 14 matches, and only has 8 wins since falling on her face against Petra Kvitova in the 2014 Wimbledon final. It’s so bad that Canadian columnists are writing #hottakes, thinking that there simply has to be something wrong in Bouchard’s personal life—because, well, how else can you explain this?

What’s wrong? No one knows for sure, which is why it’s silly to give credence to any theory unless you would know for a fact. But Bouchard can’t win anymore, and this is now a problem. That’s because we’ve come to expect so many great things from Bouchard in so little time (and Pospisil and Raonic too, albeit to a lesser extent).

We’ve come to expect greatness from Bouchard, despite the fact that she is still only 21 years old and that she enjoyed about as perfect of a beginning to her career as you can dream of; unfair or not, it shouldn’t be surprising to see her struggle after not struggling at all.

More thoughts on Bouchard, here.

She’s not just “struggling” though, of course. Bouchard appears to have lost her confidence, abilities and self-belief, a dangerous combination. If this is the end for her, and the dream of our dream for her, then so be it. It would only mean that she never was meant to be the next Maria Sharapova, which would simply make her like literally every other tennis player: very good, but not excellent. It would be about time for Canada to meet that standard.

But there is still hope for Canada. Indeed, a season does not necessarily have make a career for the likes of Bouchard and Raonic; plus, if the lesser player of the trio in Pospisil is the country’s “new tennis hope,” then everything should be fine for Canada.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The youngsters arrive at Wimbledon

June 28, 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 third Grand Slam of the season.

The world of tennis has descended upon the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for the prestigious Wimbledon Grand Slam. Already.

Every year is the same: the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals seem so far away in January but before you know it, you look up and Rafael Nadal has already crushed someone’s dreams at Roland Garros and Wimbledon is here. Switch Stanislas Wawrinka for the Spaniard for this season, but the point remains: time goes by so quickly.

The same thing can certainly be said about life in general: what once seemed so far away will arrive before you’ve really had time to realize that it has. Oh, you’ve graduated from elementary school? Congratulations, you’ll choose your major for college before you know it.

Time offers the promise of potential for young tennis players, but you have to work hard to turn potential into actuality: otherwise, you’ll find that the Wimbledons just seem to be coming and going, and you keep getting older, without getting better.

As we’ve done for Roland Garros, let’s the younger players to know at Wimbledon, because they could surprise us this year.

Women’s draw

Who: Belinda Bencic

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 31

Nationality: Swiss

First-round opponent: Tsevtana Pironkova

Feat of arms: Ever since Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has taken the WTA Tour by storm, it seems like we’ve reassessed the typical career trajectory and script of young players. Most don’t simply jump in and win matches at the Grand Slam events; they tend to first win at the relatively lower tournaments, and it’s certainly been the case for Belinda Bencic.

And yet, she does have quite one notable feat of arms: a year ago at the US Open, she enjoyed her first real breakthrough, reaching the quarterfinals and reminding everyone that the future of women’s tennis didn’t simply belong to Canada. Jump ahead to this month, and you’ll find a player who has reached two finals on grass and has captured the Eastbourne International title by beating former No. 2-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.

Who: Ana Konjuh

Age: 17

Ranking: No. 55

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Alize Cornet

Feat of arms: You say and think that Ana Konjuh is young and can’t drink champagne yet, and while this is certainly true, she does happen to have made her entry into the Top 100 in October of last year at age 16. So Konjuh is young, yes, but that hasn’t stopped her so far, including at the Nottingham Open where she became the youngest champion on tour since 2006.

The Croatian is great and has plenty of potential, as evidenced by her winning the 2013 Australian Open and US Open junior events and becoming the No. 1-ranked juniors. But she’s already started turning that potential into concrete results.

Who: Laura Robson

Age: 21

Ranking: Unranked

Nationality: British

First-round opponent: Evgeniya Rodina

Feat of arms: It would be silly to expect anything from Laura Robson, who enters the main draw of Wimbledon with a wildcard after a layoff of a year and a half due to a wrist injury. We simply mention her because 1) she is British, 2) she has been through a lot and we’d like to see good things happen to her, 3) she has received the kind draw for this to be possible and 4) we have mentioned Eugenie Bouchard earlier, and Watson and Bouchard still aren’t friends.

Gangnam Style seems so long ago :( .

*****

Men’s draw

Who: Nick Kyrgios

Age: 20

Ranking: No. 29

Nationality: Australian

First-round opponent: Diego Schwartzman

Feat of arms: Nick Kyrgios may not be the most talented of the new crop of players on the ATP World Tour, though I personally would pick him, but one look at him on a tennis court shows that he certainly is the most boisterous. He’s the most controversial too, reminding us of this when he admitted last week that he doesn’t love tennis and prefers basketball.

Mind you, he says this on the eve of his follow-up to his first breakthrough, when he beat Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon a year ago. And still, all is right for the most marketable Australian athlete.

Who: Borna Coric

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 40

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Sergiy Stakhovsky

Feat of arms: Hey, speaking of youngsters who have defeated Nadal… Borna Coric already loves “His Wimbledon” experience, and has the overall game to excel on any surface and a style of play that has drawn comparisons with the No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Coric is the star of tomorrow, so long as you admit that tomorrow has already arrived. The draw hasn’t been especially kind for the Croatian, with Andreas Seppi likely on his path in the second round, before Andy Murray in the next match. A tough ask… then again, Coric has already beaten Murray once.

Who: Hyeon Chung

Age: 19

Ranking: No. 79

Nationality: South Korean

First-round opponent: Pierre-Hugues Herbert

Feat of arms: Let’s end with the 19-year-old South Korean, who has enjoyed his greatest result at the Grand Slam level this week at Wimbledon simply by making the first round of the main draw. Chung mostly focuses on the Challenger Tour, but his future is bright and, if not for a silly, silly mistake, his breakthrough at a major might have arrived earlier. He received a wildcard entry to the qualifying draw of the French Open from the Roland Garros officials despite being ranked No. 69 at the time: he and the Korean tennis association had missed the entry deadline for the tournament.

That’s right—Chung had become so good so quickly that he hadn’t anticipated he could compete in the French Open. That’s #humblebrag if I’ve ever seen it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The potential trump card of Serena Williams

June 22, 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 asks an important question.

Can Serena Williams win the calendar Grand Slam this season?

This is another way of asking whether she can complete what she is already halfway through, after winning last month’s French Open, and win the remaining two Grand Slam tournaments of this season to put her career total at 22 and on par with the great Steffi Graf. The quest continues in a week when the tennis faithful descend upon the cathedral of the sport that is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

I’ll spare you the suspense and confess that yes this is another column praising the younger of the Williams sisters. But to say this isn’t right either, because it’s much more than that. What’s left to say about someone, after all, when everything has already been said?

Maybe you haven’t heard, but this Serena Williams is fairly great at tennis. She will turn 34 at the end of September and is still thriving on the WTA Tour. Williams has lost just once in 33 matches in 2015, and even that one loss doesn’t actually count: it came in a walkover in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia against Christina McHale.

Considering her record this year, and despite her age, Williams has to be seen as a clear favourite for the remaining two majors. It would simply meet the standard of excellence she’s long ago defined for herself: winning Wimbledon would guarantee her at least three majors this season, something she has already accomplished once, all the way back in 2002 when she was much younger. A Wimbledon win would also mean that she would hold all four Grand Slam tournaments at once yet again, a feat she is the last player to manage 12 years ago. So really, what’s a calendar Slam?

Williams’s journey starts in Wimbledon at tennis’s greatest cathedral, where she’ll likely have to overcome defending champion Petra Kvitova if she hopes to add a sixth title at yet another major. After a win there, Williams will have all the pressure in the world when she heads to the US Open, her home tournament where she has felt home only very recently: of her six US Open titles, three have come in the previous three years.

This potential calendar Slam would give Williams the ultimate trump card in the debate over which player is the greatest of all time. It would be more impressive than Martina Navratilova’s six Grand Slam titles in a row, more impressive than Steffi Graf’s 13 straight finals and 22 major titles, and 89.74 per cent winning percentage at majors, and more impressive than Chris Evert’s 34 overall major finals.

With a calendar slam, Williams would have accomplished something none of her historic peers has done. This basically describes her entire career—accomplishing what no one else has—so maybe we should expect those two wins. (Even though, at the beginning of the season, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything from her.)

It’s simple really. Win the last two Grand Slams of the season and become the best ever. She’s done it once already: this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Everybody loves everybody but Boris Becker hates this

June 15, 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 ponders the rivalry between the top players.

Boris Becker would call this, what, too much love found? What’s the opposite of “No love lost”?

The German has published a new book, appropriately titled “Wimbledon: My life and career at the All England Club” considering his success at the place during his career, and discusses many topics. (Not that I’ve read it. I just know, because that’s how all books work. The book was released on June 8, 2015; why not buy it for your dad? Father’s Day is this weekend, and your father most definitely did watch Becker play about 20+ years ago.)

Among said topics the 47-year-old tackles is the current lack of rivalry between top players of the ATP World Tour. Notably, he insists that his protégé Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer “don’t particularly like each other,” despite the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any kind of contention between the two.

There’s no love lost between Federer and Djokovic is what Becker is saying, and it’s apparently because of the Swiss. “The reason Roger is one of the highest-paid athletes of all time is because he’s liked by everybody. But think about this—you can’t possibly be liked by everybody… He makes good money out of his image, but would he make less if we saw a bit more of his true feelings?”

Maybe.

It’s no secret that Federer has built an empire on being a gentleman, on being a man every parent can point to with their children and say, “See? That’s someone you should look up to” as they watch him play matches. Federer never speaks out, either because he never has anything bad to say or, more likely, because he chooses not to.

But the post-script of Becker’s quote is that if the 33-year-old were to speak his mind, then we may hear him say some not-so-gracious things about Djokovic.

That’s not exactly surprising.

The two have faced each other 39 times so far in their career, with the Swiss holding a slight 20-19 edge (but Djokovic leading the way at 9-5 in finals). Their last real classic confrontation happened, for my money, four years ago in the semi-final of the US Open.

After that match (which he lost, oh by the way), Federer acted out. He was, let’s not mince words here, a crybaby, a petulant child who couldn’t accept the result. “It’s awkward having to explain this loss, because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference,” he said. “To lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go.”

Djokovic was only starting his ascent by then, distancing himself from the likes of Andy Murray to join the firmament of the sport, where Federer and Rafael Nadal resided. And if there is a rivalry between him and Federer, it stems from a contrast between their two personalities: the Swiss is like his country, neutral and gracious, and friends with everyone; Djokovic is boisterous, a showman, and at times funny and silly. Becker would say that he finds Djokovic much less boring than Federer, but we can’t overlook that it’s coming from one of the Serb’s two coaches.

But in 2015, that contrast is overplayed: the Serb has matured, both on the court during matches and afterward, and is not quite the Djoker anymore. Gone are his player imitations: thrilling as they might have been, he’s understood that it will neither help him win matches, nor gain the respect of his peers.

Rather, it’s for moments like the following, at the Roland Garros final just over a week ago, that Djokovic is remembered now. In 2015, Djokovic is gracious in defeat, in part because he’s had so many sad moments at Grand Slam finals over the years; it’s like he’s taken a page out of the Roger Federer notebook.

Back to Becker now for a minute, he has since softened his stance re: Federer on his Twitter account.

To his credit, he doesn’t hide from the fact that it all has served as great publicity for his book.

Hey, I’ll buy his book. I don’t care. Either for myself or for my father, but I’ll sure buy his book.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Stanislas Wawrinka spoils Novak Djokovic’s party

June 8, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of the 2015 Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic has done it. The No. 1-ranked player has completed the career Grand Slam and won Roland Garros for the first time in his career.

That was supposed to be the lead for most columns today; most of us had decided on this after the Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. But Stanislas Wawrinka had other plans and, in the end, he was the one left standing in this 2015 Roland Garros final after winning by the score of 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-4.

But the beginning of the match stayed true to the fairytale. The Swiss started the match on a strong note and didn’t make mistakes in the opening set; it was Djokovic who made these at the beginning, though it didn’t quite hurt him. The two stayed on serve until the Serb cracked the Swiss code to escape with the set.

That would be the last of the great times in this final for the Serb.

From the second set and onward, Wawrinka was the more ascendant, confident and aggressive player. And because Djokovic served a little worse in this second set and, most importantly, lost the all-too-important battle of second-serve points won, and eventually the set itself, to Wawrinka. The Swiss was holding his end of the bargain of the tournament thus far, making sure that his serve was just about as unbreakable as it had been up until this match.

After two sets, Djokovic and Wawrinka were tied at a set apiece, but the Swiss was the more deserving, and active, player: he had won one total points more than the Serb at 67-66, but the tally would be much more slanted to Wawrinka’s advantage by the end of the match.

This is where I slot in the reminder that Djokovic had played almost two hours more than Wawrinka in his “off day” against Andy Murray, when their semifinal match was interrupted on the last Friday of the tournament due to rain and darkness. This was partly due to the match’s late start, yes, but also and very much so self-inflicted from Djokovic: at 3-2 in the third set, he had two break chances to perhaps finish the match. He couldn’t and, because of it, couldn’t rest on the Saturday before the final, eventually needing all of five sets against Murray.

This is also where I slot in the reminder that the main draw hadn’t been especially kind to Djokovic, who had to take on a player who only had lost once in his career in Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, and then one who was unbeaten on clay in 2015 in Murray.

But you can only beat the players that are standing across the court from you, and that’s all Wawrinka did, notably beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals—though that isn’t quite what it once was. And in the final, or the first time in their previous five matches at Grand Slams, the two wouldn’t need a deciding and fifth set: Wawrinka beat the best player in the world, dominating a spent, drained and (as a result) very passive Serb over the remainder of the match to win the first French Open of his career in four sets.

The win gives Wawrinka a second Grand Slam title after his title in Australia a year ago, a remarkable feat for someone who has played his entire career in the era of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and who broke through in any meaningful way only in 2013 after teaming up with Magnus Norman and unleashing the deadly and heavy groundstrokes he has become known for.

A second Grand Slam title is big for Wawrinka, as history has been kinder to players with more than just the lone major title. He will now forever stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Patrick Rafter and, yes, Andy Murray. (Whether or not you think Murray is or isn’t better than Wawrinka depends on if you give credit to one for four Grand Slam finals lost, but the facts are that they have two Grand Slams each.)

But this debate of what place will be Wawrinka’s in tennis lore will be for the day he retires. On Sunday, against the world’s best player, he was the better one by quite a large margin. That should suffice.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The kids are doing all right for themselves

June 1, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of the 2015 Roland Garros.

Everything seems to have unfolded right according to plan so far in this 2015 Roland Garros tournament.

On the women’s side, favourites like Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova have been faring well and seem to be well on their way to making a star-studded final four. (Or maybe not, in light of today’s results…)

On the men’s side, there have been fewer overall surprises: in the fourth round, the only unseeded players have been Jack Sock, Jeremy Chardy and Teymuraz Gabashvili.

But this count could have been higher.

Over the weekend, the three youngsters I had deemed worthy of perhaps a surprise or two at this Roland Garros had their chance to deliver just that; and well, they couldn’t quite pull it off, as Thanasi Kokkinakis, Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios each lost in straight sets.

The two Australians were going up against, respectively, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray and this means that the knee-jerk reaction is probably to condemn Coric for letting an opportunity pass by, considering that he was matched up with American Jack Sock and lost 6-2, 6-1 and 6-4. But it’s expecting a lot from an 18-year-old, even one as precociously talented as Coric is, to expect more than a place in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament. He had had his moment just a match earlier anyway, besting crafty veteran and 18th-seed Tommy Robredo.

Matched up against Andy Murray, Nick Kyrgios also had his moments in the third round. Namely, he certainly had one hell of a moment.

The 20-year-old ultimately lost pretty soundly against the Brit, losing 6-4, 6-2 and 6-3 on a surface that is far from his best. The future, which has very much arrived, is still very bright for the young Kyrgios, who has all the tools and the shots to be a champion.

Take this rally earlier in the year in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

As you see, Kyrgios is a showman and will go as far as his strong forehand can carry him…only if his emotions don’t betray him. Maybe that’s why my colleague Nima Naderi sees bigger and better things for Kyrgios’s countryman Kokkinakis.

The 19-year-old Kokkinakis appears to indeed be wise beyond his years, reacting with a grace and calm that is typical of older and more experienced players. Maybe Kyrgios can use his fire to rekindle his passion during a match, but you don’t need to pump yourself back up when you’re always even-keeled like Kokkinakis.

Djokovic also praised his young opponent after his win.

Big, but not big enough, they say.

In the end, maybe the results of this first week at Roland Garros are the best thing we could have hoped for. We got a glimpse of the very bright future ahead of us, but it also didn’t compromise the very bright present.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Can the youngsters hang with the old cats at Roland Garros?

May 25, 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 Roland Garros.

Youth offers the promise of potential. It’s the best time in your life, your mother has told you, because it’s the one time in your life where everything that is possible seemingly really is.

It’s the case in tennis, too. A promising youngster will have his or her fans dreaming and saying aloud things like, “Oh he/she could totally be the new No. 1 player in the world. Look how great he/she is right now, at 16/17/18.”

Yes, younger people, and players, have all the potential in the world, but the tricky part is to turn this potential into actual and concrete results. And with concrete results come heightened expectations, which somehow only sets the bar that much higher for players who often don’t have the mental tools to deal with these.

That being said, who are the young players to know because they could surprise at this year’s French Open?

*****

Women’s draw

Who: Belinda Bencic

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 35

Nationality: Swiss

First-round opponent: Daniela Hantuchova

Feat of arms: The tall Swiss has a career record of 105-59 and one doubles title, at the Prague Open this season, but her big breakthrough came a year ago. She became the youngest player since her countrywoman Martina Hingis to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open and in doing so, notched the first two wins of her career against Top 10 players in defeating Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic. She was deservedly named the WTA Tour Newcomer of the Year.

Who: Ana Konjuh

Age: 17

Ranking: No. 94

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Margarita Gasparyan

Feat of arms: The Croatian turned 17 fairly “recently,” at the very end of December 2014. As such, we should probably temper expectations for Ana Konjuh, at least for the 2015 season. And yet! Oh yes, despite her young age, Konjuh is part of the Top 100 and notably scored a big win over fellow promising youngster Belinda Bencic at the Prague Open this year. Konjuh’s titles at the 2013 Wimbledon and US Open juniors’ events hint at a whole lot of greatness in the near future.

Who: Zheng Saisai

Age: 21

Ranking: No. 62

Nationality: Chinese

First-round opponent: Lucie Hradecka

Feat of arms: I know, she’s maybe not so young at 21 years of age but she does offer good potential still. She has been playing, and winning, often in China: of the 13 singles finals and the 14 doubles finals she reached, only three in total occurred outside of Asia. Still, Zheng Saisai is a member of the Top 100 and is already quite the accomplished doubles player. If the reader happens to know her from one performance and one tournament, it’s from a semifinal at the 2013 Australian Open; that or a quarterfinal at the 2013 French Open.

*****

Men’s draw

Who: Thanasi Kokkinakis

Age: 19

Ranking: No. 84

Nationality: Australian

First-round opponent: Nikoloz Basilashvili

Feat of arms: It’s mostly in 2015 that Thanasi Kokkinakis has made a name for himself. Sure, there were the two Australian Open and US Open juniors’ finals he reached in 2013, but come on. This season, the young Aussie broke in the Top 100 for the first time, perhaps being the first to contribute to Ernests Gulbis’s 2015 season of hell, while also making the fourth round at Indian Wells after receiving a wild card entry for the tournament. Before long, he won’t ever need these wild card invitations.

Who: Borna Coric

Age: 18

Ranking: No. 46

Nationality: Croatian

First-round opponent: Sam Querrey

Feat of arms: Remember that thing about potential? Borna Coric will turn 19 only at the very, very end of the 2015 season in November but already boasts a strong ATP World Tour ranking. His 2013 season was a banner year for him, as he made the semifinals in the juniors for the Australian Open, the French Open, the quarterfinal at Wimbledon and won the US Open and became the No. 1 junior in the world. Coric’s best at a Grand Slam event is a second round at last year’s US Open; that he qualified for the main draw makes me think that maybe, just maybe, he could eventually become the best player on tour.

Who: Nick Kyrgios

Age: 20

Ranking: No. 30

Nationality: Australian

First-round opponent: Denis Istomin

Feat of arms: Or if it’s not Borna Coric who replaces Novak Djokovic, then it might be this other young Aussie. We’d like to take credit for Nick Kyrgios’s excellence after predicting great and grand things for him in this very space, but we’re far too humble for that. We said in our season preview that we thought he would make a Grand Slam final in 2015 and while the French Open is not the event where his style of play is most likely to translate to success, he remains promising. Kyrgios is seeded at a major tournament for the first time in his career, which is the next normal step after making the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon and this season’s Australian Open. If you’ve followed tennis recently, you know that Kyrgios beat some guy named Rafael Nadal on the way to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Why is nobody talking about Carla Suarez Navarro’s season?

May 18, 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 quite the season for an overlooked player.

Her WTA Tour webpage says that Carla Suarez Navarro stands five-foot-four and, for having interviewed her twice, she can’t possibly be much taller.

Yet, she is ranked at No. 8 this morning after losing in the 2015 BNL Internazionali d’Italia final against Maria Sharapova by the score of 4-6, 7-5 and 6-1. That ranking is already quite the progression from the No. 18 echelon she reached at end of the 2014 season and for that, she can thank her performances in 2015.

Indeed, the small one is having quite the large season on the WTA Tour. Suarez Navarro has remained busy in 2015, already competing in 11 tournaments, and she’s certainly made the most of it: after her loss in the Rome final, she now has qualified for the quarterfinals or better at 10 of the 11 events, amassing over $1,273,672 in the process. If the 26-year-old keeps winning at this pace, a spot in Singapore for the year-end WTA Finals seems all but assured.

She’s currently 12-7 against seeded players in 2015, another reason why her season has been amazing. What is amazing, too, is that as far as I can tell there isn’t much fanfare about the kind of tennis the Spaniard is playing. (Maybe there is in Spain, but I can’t speak Spanish and I wouldn’t know.)

Maybe it’s because despite all the excellence, Suarez Navarro isn’t winning the tournaments. She has progressed so far in the draw of so many tournaments, but still hasn’t won in 2015. Maybe that’s why, but that would overlook the fact that she has lost finals against Andrea Petkovic, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who aren’t exactly novice players on the WTA Tour.

Suarez Navarro isn’t winning tournaments and, in that respect, she’s pretty much like the vast majority on players on tour: much is made about the dominance of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the past decade on the ATP World Tour, but only a rare few players actually win tournaments in the WTA too. That’s the nature of tennis anyway—you battle an opponent only for the right, if you win, to repeat it all again the next day and against a new opponent.

In tennis, you’re much more likely not to win the events you do compete in. That doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

Or maybe it’s not that she isn’t winning tournaments, but the fact that she couldn’t win at the big one. Remember that one tournament where Suarez Navarro couldn’t qualify for the quarterfinals? It happened at the Australian Open early in January, where the Spaniard lost in the first round against a player named Carina Witthoeft; Suarez Navarro’s worst event in 2015 also happens to have been the year’s biggest, and maybe that’s been what has doomed her.

Whatever the reason, I hope this modest column can help shine a light on Suarez Navarro’s excellence. She’s small in stature, but plays an exciting brand of tennis with topspin-heavy groundstrokes, and many attacking shots and volleys. She is equally as compelling off the courts in interviews, when she used her broken English to delight reporters (…on her way to the quarterfinals!) in last summer’s Rogers Cup in Montreal.

Another big tournament starts at the end of this month, with the tennis world descending on the City of Paris. This year at the French Open, Suarez Navarro has quarterfinals points to defend from a year ago; she should be fine.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Internazionali BNL d’Italia: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

May 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 recaps the 2015 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

This is it: the last big one before the big one.

The clay court season has just about concluded, as quickly as it has arrived and started. In only two weeks from now, the 2015 Roland Garros Grand Slam tournament will start, and 14 days later we will all move on to prepare for Wimbledon.

That’s tennis in 2015, folks; seldom is there ever any downtime. Andy Murray and Petra Kvitova won the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open titles for men and women just this previous week, and now we get to preview another joint ATP World Tour/WTA Tour venture.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams has finally lost in 2015, but will this matter?

Probably not. Serena Williams has lost, but she remains by far the best player on the WTA Tour and, though she has been dealt a relatively tough draw in Italy, the smart bet is always on the American. Meeting her in the quarterfinals? Fellow American Sloane Stephens.

The second portion of the main draw belongs to Maria Sharapova, who played again this past week in Madrid after taking some time off/losing matches she shouldn’t have. The Russian will be looking to complete her preparation for the French Open and I believe she can equal in Rome the semifinal she reached in Madrid: making it to the final four would pit her up against Serena Williams and, well, Sharapova hasn’t beaten the Williams sister in more than a decade.

Somehow, some way, through the controversy, the new coach and the many, many losses (i.e. six matches in a row now) Eugenie Bouchard is still seeded at No. 6 for a WTA Premier event. If the Canadian doesn’t start winning soon, this is likely to change, as she’ll be hard pressed to equal her French Open semifinal of 2014.

Simona Halep also needs a good showing in Italy, as she’ll hope to use the event as a springboard for a repeat of her 2014 French Open final; she lost her very first match in Madrid, never a good omen. The Romanian has a tricky draw in Rome, with two players in Lucie Safarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova who made the quarterfinals in Madrid.

Quaterfinals: Serena Williams over Sloane Stephens; Maria Sharapova over Angelique Kerber; Petra Kvitova over Carla Suarez Navarro; Simona Halep over Ekaterina Makarova

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova; Petra Kvitova over Simona Halep

Final: Petra Kvitova over Serena Williams

*****

Men’s draw

Can Novak Djokovic keep it going this week? Would a loss hinder his confidence and his preparation for the French Open?

The Serb has played better than everyone in this 2015 season and the next big tournament he loses will be the first in about eight months. His draw is very manageable, but he was still dealt a difficult potential quarterfinal match against Kei Nishikori, a player who has the game to overtake him.

Andy Murray will arrive in Rome high on confidence; whether this is a result of him having won last week’s Mutua Madrid Open or the fact that he approves of Charlotte as the given name of the new Royal Princess, we may never know. Murray’s section of the main draw is littered with big names of players who haven’t played well recently and I wouldn’t be too concerned if I were the Brit. A place in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer should come rather easily for Murray.

We have come to this, yes: Rafael Nadal enters the last clay court tournament before the French Open as the …4th seed? Yep. The Spaniard has been better in recent weeks but in the same way that he can’t reliably count on his health, neither can the tennis world fully count on Nadal. What was once seemingly his given right, to win all clay court events in the world, is now more uncertain than ever. But why not one last vintage performance from Nadal this week?

The final section of the main draw will probably be the most contested of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Masters 1000, with plenty of star power, tricky veterans and players in form. But because the previous three quarterfinals have been fairly conservative, I’ll pick a surprise contestant in Kevin Anderson.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Andy Murray over David Ferrer; Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Tomas Berdych over Kevin Anderson

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray; Rafael Nadal over Tomas Berdych

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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

May 4, 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 Mutua Madrid Open.

The tennis clay court season continues this week, as the world of tennis descends upon the Spanish capital. The Mutua Madrid Open is among the biggest events in the world every year with a joint ATP World Tour/WTA Tour venture, and this year it’s no different. This year, there are a few big names missing on both sides, but by and large the draws are loaded.

Our series of tournament previews continues this week for the Mutua Madrid Open. We have no idea who might win, but that has never stopped us before.

Women’s draw

If Serena Williams intends to keep her strong 2015 season going, she will certainly have to earn it.

The best player on Tour enters as the favourite, but she gets a much tougher main draw than she might otherwise deserve—though, of course, deserving something means nothing. Though she is in Spain, Williams will likely feel right at home, with potentially three matches against fellow Americans just to reach the quarterfinals. Waiting, and getting defeated, will be Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.

The second quarter is full of players who either 1) don’t quite excel on clay or 2) are slumping. The section is wide open, so let’s have a quarterfinal prediction that reflects this.

The same thing could be said about the third quarter, which includes two qualifiers and three wild-card entries, except that there are three pretty large tenors as well. Agnieszka Radwanska has already played in 8 tournaments in 2015, but her results have been extremely poor: only three times has she won at least two matches at a same tournament. Maybe her turnaround can start this week.

The big winner, on paper, is the second-seeded Simona Halep, who gets a draw with very few potential stumbling blocks. Joining her in the quarterfinals will be the other big winner from this final section, American Madison Keys, but only if she can navigate a tricky match against Angelique Kerber in the second round.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Carla Suarez Navarro; Andrea Petkovic over Sara Errani; Maria Sharapova over Agnieszka Radwanska; Simona Halep over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Andrea Petkovic; Simona Halep over Maria Sharapova

Final: Serena Williams over Simona Halep

*****

Men’s draw

With the absence of Novak Djokovic, the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open is suddenly wide open; we expect (relative) chaos and the unknown to prevail.

Roger Federer isn’t quite the beast on clay that he was once upon a time, but he is still among the best. He will compete in Madrid to avenge a difficult Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and to perfect his preparation for the French Open. After a potential tricky match against Nick Kyrgios, it should be smooth sailing until the quarterfinals against Tomas Berdych for King Roger.

Rafael Nadal is back on the ATP World Tour, but will this be the week that he finally, you know, is back? The Spaniard hasn’t been up to his standards in 2015 and, though he deserves some kind of benefit of the doubt, we’re probably at the point where he shouldn’t be considered the de facto favourite for Roland Garros. A good showing in his home tournament would go a long way toward helping him regain his confidence.

The third section of the main draw is the hometown draw, with no fewer than five Spaniards. Among them? David Ferrer, of whom we like to say that he is the man who simply never loses before, or wins after, the quarterfinals of tournaments…And yet, we see Ferrer bowing down relatively early, a round earlier than usual, against Fernando Verdasco. But Kei Nishikori stands alone in this draw.

Andy Murray hasn’t played in about five weeks and we’ll be curious to see what the birth of a new royal baby will have on his game. We know that the Scot had been beaming with anticipation and that he had managed to master his emotions in 2015, with excellent results at the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. Alas, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge still haven’t announced the name of their new baby girl and we suspect this might hurt Murray’s chances in Madrid. In his place in the quarterfinals against the Canadian Milos Raonic, count on the Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Quarterfinals: Roger Federer over Tomas Berdych; Rafael Nadal over Fabio Fognini; Kei Nishikori over Fernando Verdasco; Milos Raonic over Gael Monfils

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Kei Nishikori over Milos Raonic

Final: Kei Nishikori over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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