Tennis Elbow: Stacey Allaster steps down as WTA CEO

October 5, 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 explains a bizarre story in the world of tennis.

A week ago in this space, I wrote about the weird story of a young man who had awoken from an 11-year coma to find out that his favourite Roger Federer was still a dominant player on the ATP World Tour.

It’s not an especially great column, but we can only make the most of what we have. And what we have, in October in North America, is a whole lot of football and, very soon (i.e. this week? Already? It can’t be), hockey.

In the column, I explained that now is the time to revisit some of the ideas I had shelved for later. Except that this year, the post-US Open period has been rather fruitful for relevant and timely ideas.

For example, the following was announced on September 22.

One of the most powerful women in sports—that’s officially, according to Forbes—Stacey Allaster had been chair and CEO of the WTA Tour from July 2009 until this past Oct. 2, 2015.

As has been hinted, notably in the embedded press release, the 52-year-old Canadian resigned for personal reasons and cited the loss of her brother-in-law and also the death of her ATP World Tour counterpart Brad Drewett. In an exclusive interview with The New York Times, she’s admitted to being not ill but «profoundly weary.»

There’s no doubt that the WTA is losing quite an asset. If she was one of the most powerful women in sports, it’s because under her leadership the Tour has secured one billion dollars in something called «diversified contract revenues,» as the press release states.

There’s no real point in discussing what exactly those revenues include, or don’t include; we’ll just mention that one billion dollars just sounds like a whole lot of money. Under Allaster’s guidance, the association became perhaps the most powerful professional women’s association in the world.

She’s fought for, and obtained equal pay for her players at six WTA events and all four Grand Slams. If that sounds admirable, it’s because it is.

If there’s one thing we do find a little odd, it may be the timing of Allaster’s decision. It comes at the end of September and went into effect at the beginning of October; this means that Allaster was foregoing the rest of her contract, which had been extended until 2017. It also means that she was stepping away before finding a main sponsor for the WTA.

Both are fine.

It also means that the BNP Paribas WTA Tour Finals, from October 25 to November 1 and a huge success in their Singapore debut a year ago, would be played without the WTA chair and CEO who has most been associated with the Tour’s efforts to grow the game in Asia. Though, oh well I guess, the heart knows what the heart needs and if it needs a break then so it is, and so on.

All that being said, you might have thought about something else this past week; there’s the news of Allaster stepping down, yes, but that’s not all. There’s also something called Jello Tennis; click «Play» if you must.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The never-ending twilight of Roger Federer

September 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 explains a bizarre story in the world of tennis.

Every year, the time after the US Open typically coincides with a little down period for the tennis world.

I can only speak of the world that I know, of course: there are a few tournaments on the calendar, but because the end of the US Open typically means the return of American (college) football, then too often tennis fades into the background here in North America.

It’s during this period that writers such as myself tend to get back to the well of ideas and tackle one from earlier in the year that wasn’t entirely relevant or important at the time we had it.

But not this week. Because this past week brought three legitimate good story ideas. We’ll start with the quirkiest of the three and keep the other two for the next two editions of this column.

Legend has it—can we agree to call this a legend, because of how improbable it is?—that on Dec. 12, 2004, 18-year-old Jesus Aparicio was involved in a car crash that was severe enough to leave him in a coma.

Believe it or not, Aparicio apparently stayed in the coma until a month ago, when he awoke on Aug. 27. He slowly regained his speech and—well, that’s about where you’re asking what the hell that has to do with tennis.

The young teenager, see, had become a big fan of Roger Federer; it was in 2004 and the Swiss had just begun his ascent to the top of the tennis world, who could blame Aparicio? Naturally, when the young man woke up from his 11-year coma—again, 11 full years in a coma!—he reportedly asked his family about life, etc., but also tennis and Federer. To his surprise, he was told that Federer, now 34 years old, was still very much excelling at tennis.

When Aparicio (maybe we should simply call him Jesus?) went into a coma, Federer had turned 23 years old and was just getting started, having completed a season when he won three Grand Slam titles to put his total at four. In the years since, the Swiss would build a resume good enough to become, perhaps, the best of all time.

And he’s still excelling in 2015 and at 34, an age where most see a sharp decline in their play; that’s probably the lesson too. That at age 34, Federer defies logic and continues to postpone retirement.

Jesus’s story shows how absurd it is that a man can fall asleep one day in 2004 and only wake up years later in 2015, bypassing the titles of Rafael Nadal and the ascent of Novak Djokovic, to find out that the player he loved is not only still playing but is still thriving.

That’s Roger Federer, folks. Put it another way: a writer from Grantland can ponder the twilight of Federer’s career and its meaning in 2011 and write basically an addendum to this same column four years later after Federer lost in the Wimbledon final against Djokovic.

There is a downside to Jesus’s story of course, and it’s not (strictly) that he was in an 11-year coma. Rather, it’s that his coma forced him to miss out on what he would have loved to see most: Federer dominating and cementing his place in history.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Where will Novak Djokovic stop?

September 21, 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 men’s side of the 2015 US Open.

The question had never really been asked of Novak Djokovic, but it’s started to in earnest after the Serb’s win at this year’s US Open.

Namely, is Djokovic the one destined to become the best player of all time?

Maybe you think it’s preposterous to even entertain the thought. You may be right too, but we’re not the only ones asking the question.

And yet, you persist. You think of Roger Federer, the presumed best player of all time and, certainly, the most gentlemanly champion in the sport’s history. You think of the Swiss’s 17 Grand Slam titles and 87 overall titles, his $94 million won in prize money, his seven Wimbledon titles, his 1,047 career wins on the ATP World Tour or his 237 consecutive, and 302 overall, weeks as the No. 1-ranked player.

And you say that this is just for Federer. You think of Pete Sampras and the 14 Grand Slams that he has, including seven titles at the Great Cathedral of Wimbledon. You think of Bjorn Borg too, who won the French Open six times, Wimbledon five times and then decided to call it a day at the age of 26.

There’s Rafael Nadal too, who’s quite decidedly the best player ever on clay with his nine French Opens and also better than Roger Federer, the perhaps best player of all time who has lost 15 times in the pair’s previous 19 meetings. There’s Nadal, his 67 career titles, his 14 Grand Slams, and his $73 million in prize money.

They are all worthy champions, but so is Djokovic.

The Serb currently sits at 10 Grand Slam titles, 24 Masters 1000 titles, 55 career tournaments won and over $86 million in prize money. His winning percentage of 82.14 stands as the third best in history, trailing only slightly Borg and Nadal.

Of course, Djokovic’s numbers aren’t particularly better than his current counterparts in Federer and Nadal, but asking whether the Serb may be the greatest of all time starts by looking at what’s ahead.

And seemingly, what’s ahead is a whole lot of what’s unfolded over the previous five seasons.

You say that Djokovic, while he isn’t the best player in tennis’s history, may one day become just that. Because in 2015 and at age 28, he still very much is in the prime of his career: he’s currently in the midst of a season that rivals his famed 2011 ascent.

You say that Djokovic may become the best player in history, because as he’s become more and more dominant his two main rivals have faded. Nadal has won only one Grand Slam title since the 2013 US Open and has just completed his worst major performance over a season since 2005. The Spaniard is also 29 and seemingly in the nadir of his illustrious career.

Meanwhile, you say that Federer’s last Grand Slam title has come all the way back in 2012—and though he’s still going and still trying things (e.g. the SABR, or whatever)—the end is near at age 34. Most importantly, he’s had a few draws break the right way for him at majors and basically begging for him to emerge victorious; Federer hasn’t managed.

Then consider that 44 of Djokovic’s 145 career losses, or over 30 per cent of them, have come at the hands of Federer and Nadal. Consider, also, that Djokovic has excelled and amassed all the titles and money he has while playing in the same era as Federer and Nadal.

What happens when the Swiss and the Spaniard leave? Who beats the Serb then, if his prime lasts another two or three seasons?

That’s when it becomes a possibility.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Roberta Vinci loses in the final, wins US Open

September 14, 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 a wild 2015 US Open.

You know what happens next.

You know it because you’ve seen it happen so often that it’s become ingrained in your brain and it’s turned into expectations for most of Serena Williams’s tennis matches. It’s been this way ever since she started her run at last year’s US Open, a run that surely will culminate in a fifth Grand Slam title in a row, and a calendar-year Grand Slam.

She’s done it so often in the past year, and that’s how you know what happens next. Williams has won the first set, or lost it, then lost the second, or won it, and that’s when she usually takes off. Against Roberta Vinci in this semifinal, Williams won the first 6-2 only to lose the second 6-4. Now watch her go.

This should be just about where Williams does it, after losing that set. Surely, she’ll break her opponent’s serve and she’ll take off and win the match because Vinci can’t match her level. From there, it’s the Hollywood ending, with a final over Flavia Pennetta.

Instead, this happened.

Yes, Serena Williams lost against Roberta Vinci in the US Open semifinals. Cancel the parade and the festivities, we had an all-Italian US Open final instead. It’s easy to ascribe meaning and importance to moments after the fact, but here we are and maybe the first sign of trouble for Williams was the fact that she had lost that second set to Vinci, an opponent against whom she had never lost a set in four previous meetings. If Williams were to win, she would have won in straight sets—or at the very least, she would have pulled away in the third set after breaking Vinci’s serve. After the fact, that’s what you say. Because that’s what she had done so often this past year, remember? Instead, she lost.

The result is a stunning, stunning upset—one that FiveThirtyEight has dubbed «the biggest in modern women’s tennis history». We’ll leave that debate for another time and another day, but we will concede that it certainly was highly unlikely yes.

We even said as much on Twitter, look.

The loss means that Williams will need to wait another year to catch Steffi Graf and win the 22nd Grand Slam title of her career; she’ll need to wait another year if she hopes to complete the calendar Grand Slam too, though the odds aren’t in her favour. (Because the odds of someone accomplishing this are never in your favour.)

That’s the most shocking thing about her loss, too: Serena had been playing so well all year and all summer that, surely, if she were to miss out on the calendar Grand Slam it wouldn’t happen so close to the goal. Right?

Well it did and for now, maybe we get to wait a little bit on proclaiming Williams the greatest of all time. Like so: «Is she the best ever? -Meh. Let’s she where she stands when she’s officially retired.»

All this talk, and we’ve barely mentioned the victorious Roberta Vinci. Though Vinci would go on to lose in straight sets against her countrywoman Pennetta in the final, the 2015 US Open will forever live on as the Grand Slam where the 32-year-old Vinci captured the hearts of everyone.
A Williams win would have been nice, but that is even better.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Donald Young and the quest for greatness

September 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 recaps Donald Young’s wild first week at the US Open.

So, Donald Young? It turns out that the man can play tennis.

Oh, we already knew this, yes—we’ve known for a long time, as a matter of fact.

It’s the story you’ve already heard a few times: Donald Young, 26, was for some time in 2005 the best juniors player in the world. He earned the distinction after winning the Australian Open junior title in 2005 at age 15 and, at the end of that season, he was the youngest ever year-end No. 1 juniors player in the world. There’s also a Wimbledon boys’ title that he won in 2007, but you get the picture.

All of which is to say that Young was a stud who seemed destined for greatness before long, the latest in a long line of excellent American singles champions on the ATP World Tour.

Well, Young is now 26, yes, but the greatness really hasn’t followed him anywhere. He has followed up a stellar stint on the ITF circuit, where he had a 113-32 career record, by jumping to the pros; he has so far lost 128 times compared to 74 wins. Young is ranked No. 68 with a career-high of No. 38 and his next title on Tour will be the first of his career.

He’s an average pro, which is already much better than us mere mortals, and as a result expectations for the American have been tempered. (Though you still see the occasional ridiculous headline or post.)

But greatness comes in many forms, and maybe Young has found the well with the golden ticket this past week.

It’s the US Open, Young’s home Slam, and the man has already equalled the greatest Grand Slam performance of his career by reaching the fourth round, and the second week, of the year’s final major.

He’s taken the scenic route to get there, sure, but whatever: in the first round, he spotted Gilles Simon a two-set lead only to come back and win the match. Next came Aldjaz Bedene, for whom Young felt less charitable in beating in four sets after losing only the first one.

Young’s greatest act came in the third round against 22nd-seed Viktor Troicki: the Serb won the first two sets too, including an 0-6 bagel—but tragedy only makes the triumph that much sweeter, or something. And so, Young’s string of dramatic comebacks continued, as he rallied for the win.

Up next is a date with fifth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who will be heavily favoured against the American but Young likely doesn’t care. He’s found greatness.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: North Americans at home in New York

August 31, 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 US Open.

Can you hear the crescendo?

It’s here, and by here we mean in New York. The tennis world has descended upon the great metropolis (i.e. the US Open is in Flushing Meadows, but whatever) for what, this year again, profiles as the season’s biggest party.

In part because we live in North America, it feels like the final Grand Slam of the year annually serves as the end point of the current season—despite the fact that there is still much, much more tennis played after this turn in New York.

What is true, however, is that the final Grand Slam tends to be the biggest party and celebration of the sport. It’s the one where the fans are the loudest and the rowdiest and, well, let’s use this column to give these North Americans something to sink their teeth in. Let’s preview the North American players in the men’s and the women’s draw.


Men’s draw

John Isner

Is this the year that the tall American finally does it? Throughout his career, John Isner has typically not done so well at his home Slam, only once going beyond the third round—this happened in 2011 and, since, all Isner has done is bow down in the third round.

At now 30 years old, Isner is who he is but he does arrive in New York in form, notwithstanding an ugly loss against Sam Querry in the first round at the Western & Southern Open. We’ll go out on a limb and give Isner an extra round this year: the draw put him in Roger Federer’s section and, well, tough luck.

Milos Raonic

What will Milos Raonic do? The Canadian followed a poor showing at Wimbledon with two losses at the Rogers Cup and the Western & Southern Open.

He’s now 24 years old and the great, great promise he’s showed when he first broke through has given way to a sort of acceptance that Raonic may just be destined for the Top 10 player that he currently is. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in this country whose tennis tradition has been rather poor.

If Raonic manages to overcome in the third round the same Feliciano Lopez who beat him in the first round in Cincinnati, he’ll likely have to then overcome Novak Djokovic. Hey, there’s always next year.

Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Switching to doubles for this last spot, we’ll be eager to see if Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock pull another rabbit out of their hats and avenge a difficult 2014 US Open showing, where they lost in the third round.

The thing is, it does a disservice to the pair to mention that they managed a magic trick  in winning Wimbledon last season—because, you see, Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil are a great doubles team. They should be doing well, so it’s no surprise that they are.

Finally, let’s all remember to wish our guy Mardy Fish a happy retirement!


Women’s draw

Serena Williams

Yep. Because really, until she loses, no narrative on the women’s draw really matches the possibility of Serena Williams 1) completing the 2015 Grand Slam and 2) matching Steffi Graf’s 22 career Grand Slam titles.

Madison Keys

If Williams does lose before the quarterfinals, however? The smart money would be on the young Madison Keys upsetting the great champion. Keys has been one of the five best Grand Slam players on the WTA Tour this year after all, right?

The 20-year-old hasn’t played particularly well since making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, but I’m confident that Keys can bounce back on the surface that best suits her style of play.

Not Eugenie Bouchard

At this point, I would really love to do nothing more than to avoid discussing the fall from grace of Eugenie Bouchard—because it really doesn’t seem about to change.

Bouchard seemed destined to take over the sport just a year ago, but is now ranked No. 25 after a high of No. 5. The good news is that she finally enters a Grand Slam tournament where she doesn’t have a kazillion points to defend from last season. The bad news is that she has won only four times in her previous 20 matches, only nine times in 2015 and only 18 times since losing in the 2014 Wimbledon final.

But who else? Even when Bouchard plays terrible tennis, she still dominates the chatter.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Cincinnati is always so kind to Roger Federer

August 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 recaps the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

Cincinnati has always been kind to Roger Federer. Well, not Cincinnati exactly—the city of Mason has.

What’s Mason? It is a small city in Ohio, and in 2013 it had a population of only 32,282 (an increase of 42.1 per cent since 2000). You don’t particularly care for Mason or probably wouldn’t, but the city is only 22 miles away from downtown Cincinnati, and so you do.

Cincinnati is sort of where the tennis world gathered last week for the 2015 Western & Southern Open; we say sort of, because this Masters 1000 event is actually held in Mason, OH, every year—and hey, look, we’ve come full circle.

So it’s Mason, OH, that has been kind to Federer over the years and this season will not go down as an exception, not after the Swiss captured the Western & Southern Open over Novak Djokovic by the score of 7-6(1) and 6-3.

Federer has now emerged victorious in Mason, OH, in 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2005; this haul corresponds to about 8 per cent of his total 87 career titles and gives him a fourth event on the ATP World Tour calendar that he has won at least seven times (i.e. along with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Gerry Weber Open in Halle and Wimbledon).

Perhaps the King knew what he was doing by skipping out on the Rogers Cup the week before in order to better focus on his Western & Southern Open title defence? (Though the fans really did want to see you, Roger!)

The win reaffirms Federer’s place at No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings a mere few days after Andy Murray overtook him by winning said Rogers Cup. “Now I’ve got the confidence, I’ve got the matches, and I’m actually still feeling really fresh even after this week, because the matches have been rather short,” Federer said after his win. “I was explosive moving forward. Volleys were good. I think from the baseline I was hitting my forehand very well.”

The sad group of opponents the Swiss defeated on his way to the 2015 title would agree, as Federer managed to complete the event without losing any of his 49 service games.

Djokovic thinks the playing surface in Mason suits Federer perfectly. “I think he’s more aggressive here than in any other tournament, because the surface and conditions allow him to play very fast,” the Serb said. “He generally copes well with the fast balls. The fast game. He likes the rhythm.”

Something else that the Swiss will like is that this win gives him a slight 21-20 edge in his rivalry against Djokovic—but Federer praised the Serb more than anything else. “I’ve seem (him) adapt to my play over the years and he’s also improved a lot. His movement and his backhand and forehand are always so solid,” Federer said. “Our rivalry has definitely evolved.”

It’s evolved, but not in Mason, OH, where Djokovic falls to 0-5 in Western & Southern Open finals, including 0-3 against Federer. This 2015 US Open series will have turned out to be more challenging than many would have anticipated considering how his season up to this point had unfolded, with Djokovic making, but also losing, the two Masters 1000 finals he competed in. (It’s good, but it isn’t otherworldly like his season up to this point.)

Djokovic moves on to New York and Flushing Meadows for the US Open now, where he’ll hope to square his head-to-head rivalry with Federer at 21; a second career US Open title would also bring his record to 2-4 in the finals there.

You might say, then, that Flushing Meadows would be so much kinder to him than Mason, OH, has been. He’s not Federer.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Western & Southern Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

August 17, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-previews the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

And so it is, only one day after Belinda Bencic’s and Andy Murray’s respective wins in the women’s and men’s Rogers Cup, that the world of tennis heads over to the next big tournament on the calendar—in this instance, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Alright alright, this is basically what happens from the start of the clay court season and onward in tennis, but whatever. It’s the stretch run of the season. There. I can say that.

This week, let’s have another tournament preview and analysis. And by all means, if you missed what happened last week at the men’s Rogers Cup, then please do read my recaps in their entirety here.

Women’s draw

The Rogers Cup reminded everyone that Serena Williams is indeed human, as she suffered only her second non-walkover loss of the 2015 season when young Belinda Bencic beat her in the semifinals. This week, in her native USofA, she will be back to her former self: other than Ana Ivanovic, there is no one to bother her before the semifinals in this section.

Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but she could be the future of the sport; yet, that’s an entirely different discussion than a preview of the Cincinnati tournament, so let’s have that debate another day. What we can say, however, is that she might be the one playing the best tennis currently on the WTA Tour. She’ll prove it in the quarterfinals against Petra Kvitova.

Victoria Azarenka arrived in Toronto having played no matches since reaching the quarterfinals in Wimbledon and promptly reached the third round, which is good. With a relatively open draw, let’s say that she can do one better in Cincinnati We’ll also give the benefit of the doubt to Simona Halep and say that she’ll have recovered in time (i.e. she pulled out of the Rogers Cup final) for a good showing this week.

Maria Sharapova hasn’t played since losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon against Serena Williams earlier in July, but don’t expect this to stop her from making the Western & Southern Open final… where she will lose against Serena Williams. Yep.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Ana Ivanovic; Belinda Bencic over Petra Kvitova; Victoria Azarenka over Simona Halep; Maria Sharapova over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Belinda Bencic; Maria Sharapova over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova


Men’s draw

As hard as it may be for some to consider, Novak Djokovic is enjoying an even better season this year than his famed 2011 season. He has won six of the nine finals he has made this year and, well, we’re not sure which nugget is the most impressive here: that he has won so many or that he has made so many. He won’t always be the absolute best player on any given day, but he is quite comfortably ahead of the pack overall. Put him through to the final.

The second section of this main draw is—what, interesting? Interesting might not be the word, but how about wide-open? Let’s see we have a bunch of guys who did nothing in Montreal in Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils and a bunch of Americans. Give me John Isner and Bernard Tomic, who both did relatively well at the Rogers Cup.

Ah yes, the third section is the reminder that Marin Cilic as a seeded player is a thing. Maybe we’re being too hard on the Croatian, since he did make the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, and the Citi Open semifinals, but it does seem out-of-whack to the daily reality of the ATP World Tour to see Cilic as the seventh favourite of a Masters 1000 event. All of which is to say that we do not have him emerging from his section, choosing instead Andy Murray and the resident “bad boy” Nick Kyrgios.

We’ll just go ahead and pencil in Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Joining him will not be Rafael Nadal, because we would then be confronted with the possibility of a Federer win over Nadal, thereby signaling that the Spaniard has forever lost it, and we do not believe the universe is quite this cruel, not yet. Instead we’ll settle for Jeremy Chardy in Nadal’s place.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Borna Coric; John Isner over Bernard Tomic; Andy Murray over Nick Kyrgios; Roger Federer over Jeremy Chardy

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over John Isner; Andy Murray over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Andy Murray wins the Rogers Cup

August 17, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray played tennis at the Rogers Cup in the first men’s final with the top two seeds since 2004 Cup and the match-up lived up to the billing.

Judging from the way they played in the Rogers Cup final, you wouldn’t think that Novak Djokovic had beaten Andy Murray eight times in a row.

That’s not to say that the Brit was dominant and coasted to an easy win, but rather that it seems odd that their rivalry had been so one-sided recently. Because on Aug. 16, on the final Sunday at the Rogers Cup, the two combined for a very competitive match: throughout, the point tally never veered much to the advantage of one or the other, and Murray had an 118-112 edge by the end. Murray made 60 per cent of his first serves and won 69 per cent of the points, Djokovic 60 per cent and 65 per cent of the points. He made five double faults to the Serb’s two.

Go through the list of statistics, and the match was close. And it was.

But Murray will remember the number one—as in, his first win against Djokovic in nine matches. Indeed, the Brit captured a third Rogers Cup title with a 6-4, 4-6 and 6-3 win over Djokovic. “It was tough. This time, both of us were dictating the points,” Murray told reporters after his win. “I tried to play aggressive today.”

It worked, especially at the turning point of the match. This turned out to be a marathon game in the third set, on Andy Murray’s serve, a game that lasted over 17 minutes and 50 seconds. Up 3-1, Murray managed to save six break points and to consolidate his hold on the match. “Most of all the moments when he needed to, he served very, very well,” Djokovic said in his post-match conference. “He just came up always with big serves, so I couldn’t do much.”

Murray was already guaranteed to overtake Roger Federer at No. 2 on the new edition of the ATP World Tour rankings simply for having made the final, but the win is the icing on the cake.

It’s also a boost for the Brit as the season fast forwards and hits the stretch run of the US Open series, with the big prize of the US Open as the carrot at the end of the road for the players on tour. “When we play each other, we always kind of take the best out of ourselves,” Djokovic said. “We need to deliver the best game possible in order to win. That’s what he did and I congratulate him.”

The loss reminds us all that Djokovic is but a mortal and brings his record in 2015 to a mere 52-4, including a gaudy 18-3 against members of the Top 10. “I know people always expect me to do well,” Djokovic said, “but I try to be modest with my expectations.”

Whoever told you that losses can be good for you was lying because you actually can’t win for losing, but to the extent that a loss can be constructive, perhaps this one qualifies for Djokovic. The Serb had been cruising along, having won the previous five Masters 1000 events he competed in, riding a 30-match win streak, and another two Grand Slams. “You never like losing but any streak comes to an end,” Djokovic said. “Again, I lost to a better player today.”

Djokovic’s level has been much better than more or less everyone else on tour, but he’ll remember this Rogers Cup for the fact that he did improve. “I played better as the tournament progressed,” Djokovic explained. “I did fight until the last point and did try my best.”

That’s a positive, and that’s the thing about tennis if you’re Djokovic: more often than not you win, but sometimes you lose. Even in the finals.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the final

August 16, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Then, there were two.

After so many matches and a whole lot of rain, the final for the 2015 Rogers Cup is set. To the surprise of absolutely no one—okay maybe not, but the seeds didn’t lie this week—Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the two favourites at the start of the event, will battle for the right to hoist the Rogers Cup trophy.

After his win the previous day against John Isner, Chardy was asked if he would rather play Djokovic or Ernests Gulbis in the first Masters 1000 semifinal of his career. By way of answer, Chardy said that, “Well I’ve yet to win a set against Novak (Djokovic)…”

He trailed off, but his silence spoke loudly. The Frenchman nearly got his wish, after Nole needed three sets and to save two match points against Ernests Gulbis, but sure enough there stood the world’s best player across the net from him as the first semifinal got underway. At the post-match conference this time, after losing 6-4 and 6-4, Chardy spoke of playing against the No. 1-ranked player. “Every time if you win or lose,” he said, “you learn a lot about your game.”

This match was no different: Djokovic wasted little time in asserting his might and broke Chardy in the match’s first game. “I don’t know what happened, but when the match started I became extremely nervous and I made two double-faults,” Chardy told reporters. “But… it’s part of tennis. This is how you build your experience.”

And despite the fact that the Frenchman’s record against Djokovic now stands at 0 sets won and 24 sets lost in 10 match-ups, Chardy’s week in Montreal attests that he’s become a better player. “The more you play tournaments and the more you get used to it, you get used to the intensity,” Chardy said, “to the length of the matches.”

The 28-year-old closed the interview by praising Djokovic on a facet of his game that tends to be overlooked. “There’s not one single moment where I was able to read his serve,” he said. “He doesn’t serve that fast, but he changes the speed and he’s extremely precise.”

Speaking to reporters, Djokovic jokingly complained that the 42-year-old Daniel Nestor managed to maintain his immaculate record in doubles after he and Édouard Roger-Vasselin beat the Djoker and Janko Tipsarevic in three sets in the doubles semifinal. “He continues to annoy me,” Djokovic said, speaking of Nestor. “He’s an example of somebody that has so much passion for the sport (and who) can be a real role model for many young tennis players coming on the Tour.”

The Serb had teamed with Tipsarevic this week in Montreal and was thrilled for his great friend that they made the semifinals—even though he only had an hour or so, after his singles match, to prepare for the doubles match. Djokovic said that, “I enjoyed winning also with him on the court, because I know that’s going to help his confidence.”

Fans of Tipsarevic hope that it will, as the Serb has endured a difficult past two seasons. The 31-year-old was a Top 10 player in the world for two seasons, achieving a high of No. 8 in April of 2012. He’s since plummeted all the way to No. 443 following a number of injuries that has kept him off the courts for 17 months.

Djokovic also looked ahead to the final, saying that he needed to play his best match of the week. He’ll need to against an Andy Murray who was at the top of his powers in dismantling a spent and tired Kei Nishikori by the score of 6-3 and 6-1 in only 66 minutes.

With the win, Murray becomes the new No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings regardless of what happens in the final. But surely he’d rather punctuate the ranking with a win.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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