Tennis Elbow: Where’s your new coach when you need one?

December 22, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines Eugenie Bouchard’s off-season so far.

Eugenie Bouchard still has no coach. The 2015 season starts in just two weeks and the young Canadian still doesn’t have a coach.

Maybe you’ve heard about this pseudo controversy already—it’s a pretty big deal over here in Canada.

After a 2014 season where she perhaps established herself as the future of the WTA Tour, Bouchard has decided to part ways with her longtime coach—Nick Saviano is the same person she had been brought up under since breaking through two years ago. And because neither Bouchard nor Saviano was especially forthright about explanations and motives behind this decision, it’s up to us to read into signs that probably mean nothing because it’s likely just a tennis decision.

Is there more to it? Meh. Bouchard is currently ranked No. 7 and will have about 80,987 (approximate) points at just the Grand Slam events, where she made one fourth round, two semifinals and one final. While the 2014 season was magical in many ways, the one thing it did highlight was that Bouchard couldn’t win the biggest matches of her season—she was on the wrong end of the Australian Open and Roland Garros semifinals, as well as the Wimbledon final.

Of course, she was. No 20-year-old ever wins her first big matches, especially not when they come against Li Na, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova.

The thing is, Bouchard will have about 88 (again, approximation) big matches during the 2015 season and maybe she doesn’t feel like Saviano is the one person who can help her the most. That’s certainly her prerogative and a player will always be right until he/she is proven wrong—coaches, for the most part, are said to be interchangeable.

A relative unknown could be stepping into the spotlight for the #GenieArmy. Marko Dragic, 30, is a former pro and supposedly is working with the Canadian on a trial basis right now. We’ll see if he sticks over the long haul—he’d presumable have to be willing to travel with Bouchard on a full-time basis, which is what may have led to the split between Saviano and his former pupil.

After the 2014 season, Bouchard has used this off-season to capitalize on her image. She joined the IMG/WME agency, signing on as another face on the modeling roster of IMG Models Worldwide, and will thus likely maximize her earnings off the tennis courts. “I am really excited about joining WME/IMG, a company that is in the best possible position to help me achieve my business goals and maximize the value of my brand,” Bouchard says.

In 2014, every athlete becomes a business and a brand, and Bouchard understands this. But of course, the value of a brand only goes so far if the tennis results aren’t up to par.

Knowing that, it makes sense that she would want a new tennis coach to bolster her. Who that new coach becomes is really just fodder to help us make it to the new season. The difference between the very best (non-Serena Williams) players is minimal, but in a way that only makes the decision of hiring a coach that much more critical.

So no, it’s not ideal that Bouchard hasn’t found her replacement so close to 2015, but there’s one thing that’s even worse.

It’s hiring the wrong coach.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Welcome to the International Premier Tennis League

December 15, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon celebrates a league that has helped the off-season go by just a little quicker in 2014.

A theme that I’ve been harping on in the past month is that the off-season is rather short. And that I’m thankful that this is the case, because just because there isn’t tennis played doesn’t mean that I don’t need to write every Monday.

Yet, the 2014 off-season is different. In 2014, there still is tennis played in November.

WAIT, what??

Yes, that is right. This November and December, you were watching television late one evening and you found yourself watching live tennis matches. It was the International Premier Tennis League, sure, but tennis is still tennis, right?

Well hold on before I answer you, answer me this. What is the International Premier Tennis League?

The IPTL had its inaugural season in 2014, from November to December 13, and the Indian Aces were crowned champions.

That technically does tell me what the league is, but can you be more specific with details? Also, who plays, and where?

Sure thing, buddy. The IPTL is the creative offspring of an executive team that includes former tennis greats like Carlos Moya and Mahesh Bhupathi. The aim of the league is to “fulfill the increasing demand for top-level tennis in Asia,” as per its website.

The IPTL has four teams in Asia, each of which has a stronger name than the other—the Indian Aces, the Manila Mavericks, the Singapore Slammers and the UAE Royals. Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur were also supposed to have a franchise, but oh well.

Sure, but I still don’t know who plays in the IPTL. I guess what I’m really asking is, should I care?

Yes, the answer to “who plays in the IPTL?” question is also the reason of why you should care. (It’s as if one person who set up this fake Q&A did so with the intent of having seamless transitions.)

The IPTL held a draft in March.

Wait, what? A draft?

Hold on, let me finish. The IPTL held a draft in March, yes, and the four franchises participating could choose players from a pool of—as best as I can tell—80 current and former WTA Tour and ATP World Tour players.

In 2014, the players drafted ranged from the icons of yesterday (i.e. Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi) to those of today (i.e. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer), from the solid players of yesterday (i.e. Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter) to those of today (i.e. Gael Monfils, Thomas Berdych). Each team also has two WTA players, and most are current greats (i.e. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka).

Okay, this sure seems like all fun and games but how do the games actually work? Is it just typical tennis, with the team format added to it?

Actually, no. The IPTL crowns a champion at the end of a round-robin tournament—the team with the most points at the end wins the title (and the $US 1 million prize money).

What??? A round-robin tournament?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Each team plays 12 matches total, and each match consists of five sets: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles and past champions’ singles. Win six games before your opponent, and you win the set. Each team must also keep a running tally of games won, because you may get points depending on how many games you won over five sets.

The IPTL has more subtle differences, like no-ad scoring, power points, timed shoot-outs, but that’s basically it. Win the match, and you get four points. Lose and get to 20 games? Two points. Lose and get to 10 games? One point. (Lose and get fewer than 10 games? You don’t deserve a point.)

Alright so maybe I should care, but should I be a fan?

That’s a trickier question to answer—I’m personally still on the fence. I watched the set that Djokovic and Federer played, and it was great because tennis is still tennis and tennis is great. But the stakes were nowhere near as high as what we’re used to, right? It’s not Wimbledon, but the thing is that it never pretends to be either. The IPTL is a show put on for the people—think a cross between the typical Davis Cup tie and the annual Player X showcase.

Any #hottakes out there?

Ah, yes! The year 2014 also happens to be the year of the contrarians and that of the provocateur. Of course there already is a #hottake out there.

The league is still young and will continue to evolve. I’m willing to give it a chance, which is something not everyone seems intent on doing. There’s this semi lukewarm #hottake already, complaining that the IPTL “is a circus, most likely mounted for TV, to hook couch-potatoes to the idiot box’s version of tennis.”

This author is right—the IPTL is a business, and tennis is its product. Just like it is at the US Open—how do you really think the tournament can foot almost a $30-million bill just for prize money?

The IPTL isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still tennis. It’s a sport. It’s a business, like it’s supposed to be.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Let’s revisit those 14 wonky predictions

December 11, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon revisits the predictions he made at the beginning of the 2014 season.

The off-season is short in tennis.

On the ATP World Tour, it lasts about seven weeks while it’s a little over two months on the WTA Tour. (Unless you count some of the more minor tournaments that happen after the tour finale in the latter’s case, but you shouldn’t.)

So yeah, two months is a short period of time. And yet for a writer with a weekly column on the sport, two months is a long, long time—just because they don’t play matches anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t have to write. During the season, I keep a list of a few potential topics that aren’t necessarily time-related and which I may write about at this time.

But sometimes, I just decide to revisit the 14 predictions that I made at the very beginning of the season and see where I was right (highly unlikely) and where I was wrong (mostly everywhere, I bet).

Keep in mind that these are supposed to be wonky by design.

1. Novak Djokovic wins the 2014 Australian Open: NAY

Well, I was off to a rocking start. While the loss in the quarterfinals was bad, the fact that it occurred against the eventual tournament winner, and the fact that Stanislas Wawrinka enjoyed a strong 2014 season, means that the logic was sound. Wrong prediction, but sound logic.

2. Novak Djokovic completes the career Grand Slam: NAY

Wrong again on this one, because winning Roland Garros might as well be Rafael Nadal’s birth right. Still, I don’t care—I’ll keep rolling with this prediction until it happens.

3. Serena Williams wins the Grand Slam: NAY

No. Instead, she had to win the US Open to salvage a dismal Grand Slam season, where she lost in the fourth round in Australia, in the second round in Paris and in the third round at Wimbledon.

4. Andy Murray is still Andy Murray: YAY

There it is—my crowning achievement of the 2014 prediction season. After spending, oh I don’t know, seemingly 87 years as the fourth wheel to the triumvirate of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Andy Murray was as peculiar as ever in 2014. It’s not right, or fair to him, that he’s always been grouped with the head trio, especially pre-Ivan Lendl and pre-Grand Slam titles, but because he has been he has always had a lot of pressure to live up to. Just the fact that he made it to London for the O2 Finals was a minor miracle for the man who was ranked as low as No. 12 as late as Sept. 15.

5. Roger Federer has his swan song: YAY

Roger Federer finished the 2014 season at No. 2 after having made Djokovic fight for the year-end No. 1 ranking with every might of his body. I choose to believe that in a way this was his swan song. I choose to believe that his disappointing 2013 season is as indicative of his level of play as his stellar finish in 2014. I choose to believe that the Swiss turned 33 in August and that at some point, this will mean something.

Mostly, I choose to celebrate while I still can.

6. Roger Federer doesn’t finish in the top 15: NAY

This may have been the prediction I was most wrong about. Let’s just move on.

7. Eugenie Bouchard is not a superstar yet: NAY

Or maybe it’s this one. She’s not a superstar, she’s just ranked No. 7 and has finished a 2014 season with a 19-4 record in Grand Slams, including two semifinals and a final. Right, she’s totally not a superstar.

8. Canadians don’t eat their cake at the 2014 Rogers Cup: NAY

The 2013 Rogers Cup in La belle province unfolded like a dream, with superstars Nadal and Djokovic in one semifinal and Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil in the other. All the reasons were there for a successful encore this season, notably that Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard were both now established stars in tennis and that they were playing in their hometown.

And yet, this meant that the stage was set for a massive disappointment. Raonic lost in the quarterfinals in Toronto, a miracle compared to Bouchard’s flameout in the first round in Montreal. In the end, the cake was there but Canadians couldn’t even blow out the candles before it was taken away.

9. Roger realizes the racquet makes a bigger difference than the coach: YAY

After playing for quite a long part of the 2013 season with a prototype Wilson racquet, Federer again switched things up in 2014. He let go of his classic Pro Staff frame for one that was better suited to his style. The 2014 results show that the move paid dividends. Federer also hired a new coach, but even the man doesn’t think the word “coach” is appropriate—who are we to disagree?

10. Victoria Azarenka’s don has his moment under the sun: NAY

I mostly wrote this one as more of a wish than an actual prediction… In the summer of 2013, we learned that Stefan “Redfoo” Gordy, he of LMFAO fame, had decided to see if he could party-rock all the way to Flushing Meadows. In another life, the pop star was apparently a fairly decent tennis player and he tried to qualify for the 2012 US Open. He failed miserably and in spectacular fashion. I thought that he might make it in 2014, but he didn’t. This makes me sad.

11. Sugarpova is a horrible name for a horrible candy: YAY

Unfortunately, I never managed to find Sugarpova candy anywhere—not that I really looked that hard, of course—but let’s look exactly at what this prediction entails… For me to have been proven right, all I would need would be the Sugarpova monicker. Whether the candy tastes horrible or not is irrelevant, because Sugarpova is still a terrible name.

12. Rafael Nadal plays injury-free tennis in 2014: NAY

The 2013 season may have been the very best of Rafael Nadal’s career, proving to all of us that sometimes if you hope to come back healthy, you just need to shut it down for six months prior to your return. And yet, at what price did that success come?

The Spaniard played in only three tournaments after his loss in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2014 before deciding to shut it down for good. This looks to be the new normal for him—he’ll put his everything into defending his French Open crown every year, and anything else has to be treated as a bonus. It sucks, because the ATP World Tour is better with a healthy Nadal.

13. … But he doesn’t finish the season ranked No. 1: YAY

I was right on this one, in part because I am such a homer, yes.

14. The reign of Djokovic continues: YAY

It wasn’t always easy, and he had to make us patiently wait until the very last tournament, but Novak Djokovic is still the best and top-ranked player on the ATP World Tour. Maybe he didn’t win multiple Grand Slam tournaments, but no one else did either. For the third time in four years, he finishes as the year-end No. 1. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is Djokovic’s world.

Add it all up and I went 6/14. This is not good.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic is my choice for player of the year

December 1, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon celebrates the incredible year Novak Djokovic has enjoyed.

You’ll say that I’m a homer making a homer pick, but it can’t be a homer pick if it’s the right pick.

Novak Djokovic is the player of the year this season. The ATP World Tour does this thing where it names the year-end No. 1 player its player of the year, and I guess there is some truth to this but it’s not an exact science. They know what they are doing—surely, if the award were dependent on anything but who finished the year as No. 1, there could and would debates about it. That’s where all the fun lies, though you can’t fault the ATP for avoiding it.

But if there were a Player of the Year award, I say that Djokovic would deserve to win it. Now, I know that deserve has nothing to do with it and that just because you deserve to win something does not mean that you will. But let’s examine Djokovic’s candidacy for the 2014 season.

Right off the bat, let’s explain that for all his excellence on the courts, he may have shined most in his every day life. He started a family, getting married to longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic in July and welcoming a son in October. Tennis is great, but real life is better. But this is a tennis award, so I must look at tennis reasons for giving it to him.

Let’s look at match wins then. He has 61 for the year, more than anyone else but Roger Federer (i.e. 73) in the Top 10. And yet, he is the only player with fewer than 10 losses—he has eight. He’s won 88 per cent of his matches, which is a large reason why the Serb finishes the year ranked No. 1 once more. Second best, here, is Federer with almost 86 per cent of his matches won.

Let’s look at the tournament wins as well. He has “only” one Grand Slam, Wimbledon, but that’s because four different men won the four major tournaments in 2014. He did make two finals though, losing against Nadal in Paris because life, and that’s more than anyone else can say. No one can point out his lack of overall tournament wins either, because his haul of seven is more than his counterparts. Not all tournaments are created equal, either, and that’s another advantage Djokovic has—he won one Masters 500, four Masters 1000’s, one Grand Slam and the ATP World Tour Finals.

The 27-year-old has the quantity and quality of tournament wins, but still there’s more. You can look at his current 19-match unbeaten streak, or his 24-6 record against fellow top 10 players in 2014. What’s that mantra? To be the best, you have to beat the best? Djokovic did just that this season, at an 80 per cent clip. (Federer, by comparison, won 68 per cent of his matches against the Top 10.)

These are all great reasons, but that’s not why I’m choosing him as the player of the year. For a while after the US Open, it seemed like his year-end No. 1 ranking might be in danger. Because he had won so often after the US Open in 2013, there was a worry as to whether Djokovic would be able to hold on to the distinction this season. Would he have even enough points, mathematically?

Well, that’s when Djokovic doubled down and, basically, said “Only over my dead body will you have this.” He then proceeded to kill everyone in sight, figuratively of course, winning Paris and London while dropping only a single set in the Paris semifinal against Kei Nishikori. We thought we would have a suspenseful end to the season and for the most part, we did. Until Djokovic said there was no way he would lose. And he didn’t.

It’s 2014 and Djokovic is the ATP’s Player of the Year Award for the third time in four seasons. We all are living in Djokovic’s world, and I love it—because I’m a homer, yes.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Rog and Stan: End of a friendship?

November 24, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon revisits the one narrative everyone swept under the rug a week ago in London.

Roger Federer insists that he and Stanislas Wawrinka “are friends, not enemies.”

You read this and say, “Gee, of course they are. Why does Fed feel like he must insist and has to clarify to us that they are friends. They’re both from Switzerland and about the same age, so why wouldn’t they be?”

If you say that, it’s because, yes, you don’t know the reason why they maybe wouldn’t be friends right now. (I think that double negative was used correctly.) In London at the O2 Arena for the Barclays ATP World Tour semifinals, the scandal-less one Federer came as close as he ever has to find himself in the thick of a full-pledged “he said, she said, I said” war. With the score at 5-5, and at deuce on Wawrinka’s serve after he had squandered, count ‘em, five match points, the 29-year-old motioned toward Federer’s box and asked that they keep quiet between serves.

That didn’t sit too well with Mirka, whom you might know as Federer’s wife, and she answered in kind to the other Swiss, using the dreaded “crybaby” insult. (I suppose the insults that sting the most are the ones you used to hear in the schoolyard in 1st grade.)

La femme de Roger Federer a bien perturbé Wawrinka par beINSPORTS

Again, let’s reiterate that Federer has yet to do anything at this point. His image of the perfect tennis player, and the perfect gentleman, shouldn’t be shot to pieces just because someone relatively directly related to him actually showed a lack of class, right? Well actually yes, but no one would ever dare blame Federer because no one ever does.

It’s not fair to say that this is Federer’s fault because, though Mirka is a large part of his life (“awwww”), she isn’t him. It’s also not fair to expect Federer to not reply to Wawrinka after the match (and his win). He does confront him about it, as he should have done. Likewise, it’s not fair to Wawrinka to have to battle not only the man who is perhaps the best player ever, but also his wife. For his entire career, Wawrinka has been known as “The Other Swiss guy” but in 2014 he’s as much a part of the tennis firmament as his countryman. He had a right to be angry, pissed, whatever.

Just like now he has a right to make “bunny ears” behind Federer.

As you can see, they have since made up, just in time for the start of the Davis Cup final. (I could talk about that, but I’ll save it for my kicker—it’s a little thing called strategy.)

Mirka Federer insulting and disturbing Wawrinka during a match reminds me of something else. Just because these are professionals, and just because the cameras are on them at all times, and just because they’ve been playing this game their entire lives, it doesn’t mean that they don’t still love the sport so much.

And Mirka is just like the average “hockey dad” or “soccer mom.” She cares that her loved one wins and, because she can’t possibly hit the balls for him (it wouldn’t really help anyway, though she remains an accomplished player in her own right) she helps in any way that she can. And that includes doing something very dumb and stupid like heckling Federer’s opponent.

As for Federer and Wawrinka, well, winning cures all ills, anyway.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic’s meaningful win in London

November 20, 2014

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 2014 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

In the end, it didn’t even matter.

As a sports fan, you always hope that the matches and games will remain meaningful until the very last one, and that’s the beauty with tennis—the matches are basically always meaningful, because they basically always are a one-off affair. Win or lose, you move on to the next day (or the next tournament). That’s almost always the case. Players don’t win, say, the US Open by the eighth day of the event, right?

There are no playoffs in tennis, but there is the year-end No. 1 ranking that depends on the year at hand. In the end in 2014, Novak Djokovic was just good enough to secure this ranking a little bit before the last match, not having to sweat it out until the very last possible moment. Djokovic, actually, didn’t sweat at all in the final, but more on that in a minute.

The task was straightforward for the Serb in London for the 2014 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals—win your three matches in the round robin and finish the year at No. 1. Regardless of anything else, of how many beatdowns Roger Federer handed out in Group B and of what happened beyond the group stage. Win three matches in the round robin and finish first.

So what did Djokovic do? He won the entire tournament and didn’t really sweat in the final because Federer pulled out.

Every year, this event lets the eight best players in the world duke it out, but the 2014 edition felt different. It felt like the tournament between the two best players and the other six, and it’s exactly what we got. Djokovic and Federer were as efficient as they possibly could have been in reaching the semifinal—they were playing some of the best players on Tour, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t lose a set before moving through to the final in a pair of tough (especially for Federer’s) semifinal wins.

Of course, the odds were tilted in the World No. 1’s favour at the onset of the tournament. Federer could win all his matches, but he also needed help from others to beat Djokovic…and he never received that help. Djokovic just needed to win, and that’s what he did.

Knowing what we know today, namely that Federer still has the Davis Cup final to play, can we say for sure that he would have still pulled out of the final at the O2 Arena if it had been against, say, Kei Nishikori? If he had a chance to finish at No. 1, would Federer have still pulled out? Probably not, but then again I do not doubt the severity of whatever ailment he may or may not have had on Nov. 16 for the final.

But I understand that he may not have wanted to push his body further and play a match where he had nothing to gain, especially that the Davis Cup Final follows. And that’s definitely a meaningful event, that title being one of the last ones he still hasn’t conquered.

I’ll get back to my choice for player of the year, or what it all means for 2015 and moving forward but later because, hey, it’s the offseason and I still have another six columns to write before the calendar moves to a new season.

For now, Djokovic ends the year at No. 1. For the tennis fan that I am, that’s all that matters.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Barclays ATP World Tour Finals 2014 Preview

November 9, 2014

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 final event of the season.

Novak Djokovic appears motivated to finish the 2014 season with a bang.

In Paris last week, Milos Raonic helped him a tiny bit by beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and all he received for his trouble was a thorough beatdown from Djokovic in the final. The score was 6-2 and 6-3 but if it could have been 6-0 and 6-0, it would have been.

So much for Paris being the city of love, right?

This season has mostly been Djokovic’s, but a recent push from Federer has threatened to ruin it all. The stakes are clear this week in London—if one of Djokovic or Federer wants to finish first, then he must win. (And in the case of the latter, he must also hope that the former loses.)

When that’s the case, all of us tennis fans win. This week, I’ll preview the final event of this 2014 season. I could do it the same way that I have for all other events I’ve previewed this year, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s get cute with it.

The rookies: Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori

Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori could be on their first of many London berths. In that sense, they’re rookies, sure, but I do expect more from the pair at O2 than I would from typical debutants. Since his final at Flushing Meadows, the Japanese has only won two tournaments (i.e. Malaysian Open and Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships) and made the semifinals of another (i.e. BNP Paribas Masters). He hits the ball well and will give a member of Group B fits. Meanwhile, Raonic would be my pick for a surprise winner. Playing on an indoor court, the Canadian will have a massive advantage every time he serves.

The rookie who’s there because he got hot in New York: Marin Cilic

I don’t put Marin Cilic along with the previous two players even though he’s also making his London debut. It’s nothing personal against the man, but I just don’t expect much from him—there’s always one guy who gives the “Happy to be here” vibe, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be Cilic. He has a poor head-to-head record against all three of his Group A opponents and hasn’t played a Top 10 player since his US Open win against Nishikori. And yet, I’ll be happy to have the 26-year-old prove me wrong—I’m the one with a weekly column, but it really doesn’t mean that I know what I’m talking about.

The enigmas: Stanislas Wawrinka, Andy Murray

Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray are two players who could spoil everyone’s plan and very possibly meet in the final if everything breaks right, and they each go on a roll—because both are surely capable of doing so. Wawrinka has proven this past January that he’s got the nerves and the shots to beat the best, and a strong finish in London would give him confidence for his title defense in Melbourne. As for Murray, if he can overcome contentment at simply being there after playing 173 matches since the US Open, he could surprise. He’ll definitely make Federer earn it.

The Tomas Berdych: Tomas Berdych

Though he has been a fair bit more reliable from week to week this season—or at least, that’s the impression that I get—Tomas Berdych is still very much one of a kind. He’s the mercurial one, but he’s also 29 years old now so maybe it’s time for us to recognize that he’s just a very solid tennis player who makes the quarterfinals, or better, at most tournaments that he plays. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s something I could only dream of. (But I don’t, because I don’t like to feel down.)

The favourites: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic

I’ve said at least twice already that I hope the tennis Gods will simply let these two duke it out for the title in the final. They even put them in opposite groups, now the least they could do is go undefeated until there. No pressure, guys.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Milos Raonic helps himself, and Novak Djokovic

November 3, 2014

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 final Masters 1000 event of the season.

There is no tournament on the ATP World Tour calendar this week, so the players were always going to settle this eventually in Paris at the BNP Paribas Masters.

Entering the final Masters 1000 events of the season, not all eight spots for the ATP World Tour Finals were secured. Then, the tournament started and the suspense lasted until the day of Halloween, when Milos Raonic did his part in beating Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori booked the Canadian’s ticket (and his own) in the following match by beating David Ferrer, all in the quarterfinals. This meant that the Japanese and the Canadian will join Novak Djokovic, Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych in London, but that’s something I’ll tackle next week in a preview.

What happened in Paris? I’m glad you asked.

Djokovic defended his title with a 6-2 and 6-3 win (the 600th of his career so kudos) in the final, and I’ll get to him shortly, but let’s start with our Canadian boy. Let’s start with him beating Federer, who had been perhaps his biggest nemesis on Tour with six wins in as many tries. The Swiss was entering the match riding a 12-match unbeaten streak and playing as well as he had all year, but he found his match in Raonic. The 23-year-old is perhaps the one player whose game is as well suited for indoor courts as Federer’s and it showed in his 7-6(5) and 7-5 win.

With the win, Raonic booked his London ticket, yes, but he also helped Djokovic. It’s no secret that Federer has used his surge this past month to fuel a possible return to World No. 1. (Well, he used his two tournament wins and also the fact that Djokovic had about 173,273 points to defend from last season.)

For the first time in a while, Federer lost points in Paris, because he couldn’t reach the semifinals. He lost points, because Raonic beat him and he now sits 1,310 points behind Djokovic at No. 2. In London, the Swiss can win 1,500 points if he goes undefeated. Meanwhile, Djokovic has a title to defend. If the tennis Gods are half as good as they think they are, they’ll put the two in the final and let them juke it out.

But here’s where I’ll spoil my big preview next week and mention that I believe Raonic will spoil some of those plans. His 2014 season was his “Are you not entertained” Maximus moment where he proved that he belonged at the top with the best. Raonic is here to stay and the O2 arena is perfect for his style of play.

In the preview for this BNP Paribas Masters, I had predicted a Djokovic win. The Serb is long removed from his semi lull in the middle of the summer. He’s playing great again and seems more focused. It’s as if Federer’s bid for No. 1 gave him a renewed motivation for the season. And in a way, it sure has.

And so has the birth of his son. I’m not a father, but I know better than to pick against a newborn son. Especially, yes, if that newborn son is that of my favourite player’s. Win-win.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2014 BNP Paribas Masters: Draw preview and analysis

October 27, 2014

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 final Masters 1000 event of the season.

For the second time of the year, welcome to Paris! Everyone in tennis seems to keep forgetting that while there’s only one tournament in the French capital (i.e. Roland Garros), there are actually two.

Not only that, but this BNP Paribas Masters is a rather major one on the ATP World Tour calendar. It’s not Roland Garros, but it’s close. (And anyway, with the way that Nadal is playing in France for Roland Garros it’s great that this event is not the French Open.)

It’s a big event and this year’s event should be even bigger than usual. Because the 8 places in London for the ATP World Tour Finals aren’t decided yet. And because it’s technically possible—if, like, Novak Djokovic breaks a leg and retires before his first match while Roger Federer captures the title—that we could have a new World No. 1 player at the end of the week. But the most likely thing is that this event will make the tour finale that much more interesting for the year-end race to No. 1.

Main draw

It’s just about the thick of (Cap’n) Crunch Time for World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who has, oh you know, just 2,500 points to defend in the final two events of the season. It’s pretty simple for the Serb if he hopes to finish 2014 as the top-ranked player—he cannot lose. I see him beating Andy Murray in the quarterfinals here, and then taking home the title. And not losing… Maybe that won’t actually happen, but who wants to bet against a newborn son?

The second section seems poised for chaos, with a few favourites in David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori going through a difficult post-US Open stretch—despite, yes, the former’s great run to the Erste Bank Open final in Vienna. Frenchmen Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also in this part of the draw and could meet in an all-France quarterfinal. Here, let’s give the French cousins some love and give the quarterfinal they deserve.

Tomas Berdych has quarterfinal points to defend this year in Paris, and doing so successfully would go a long way toward possibly securing a spot in London in two weeks. He has a fairly favourable draw and, if he can’t make it to the remaining 8 in Paris, he just doesn’t deserve a spot at the O2 Arena either. I give the Czech the advantage over Stanislas Wawrinka, who simply hasn’t played since New York. Well, okay, he’s played but he hasn’t won—except for one Davis Cup match, Wawrinka has three losses in as many matches. It doesn’t bode well for Paris or for London.

No one in the world is playing better (or as much) than Roger Federer right now, so let’s just ink his name in the final. It’s an easy draw for him, so there’s no need for me to waste your time. (Nor mine.)

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic defeats Andy Murray; Gilles Simon defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; Tomas Berdych defeats Stanislas Wawrinka; Roger Federer defeats Richard Gasquet

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic defeats Gilles Simon; Roger Federer defeats Tomas Berdych

Final: Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Robin Soderling: From tennis to paint

October 20, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon updates his readers on an old friend.

I suppose the easy (or cheesy?) way to start would be to say that I’ll try to paint you a picture. It’s not the picture of a painter, though Robin Soderling sure does dress like a painter these days.

It’s not one with the perfect ending, either. In fact, it has no ending to speak of, as if the painter had sort of stopped midway and said that he was done with it. To start the 2011 season, Soderling won three events out of four on the ATP World Tour and was soaring…until his ascent came to a brutal end, right around Wimbledon. He would be diagnosed with mononucleosis and the question would change from whether Soderling would ever win a Grand Slam tournament to whether he would ever come back.

About 1,200 days later, neither has happened. But The New York Times has caught up with the Swede last week for a fascinating feature (which starts with Soderling and paint, and thus the lede to my column). I recommend everyone to read it, but I’ve taken the liberty of underlining a few of my favourite highlights from The Times’ reporting.

-Robin Soderling is designing tennis balls.

That’s right. I don’t think I could possibly think of any more fitting occupation for the man who remains the only one in history to have had the fortitude and the cojones (and the deadly forehand) to overthrow Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Maybe the Swede doesn’t play tennis competitively anymore, but he has just been named tournament director of the Stockholm Open for a year—and in the meantime, he’s designing the tennis balls that he hopes will be used at the event next year. I know of no one else who designs tennis balls, and it’s only right. You probably need to have a win over Nadal in France on your resume.

-Robin Soderling discusses paint.

File this one under “sounds so good as a concept.” If all you do is read the lede of that feature, then all you’ll have is this: “Robin Soderling was not sure where the paint should go.” That’s all you’ll have—well, that and the photo that goes with the feature, which turns Soderling into some kind of fancy painter or artist. Regrettably, the only paint that he is not sure where to put is not on any postmodern tableau he may have designed. Rather, it’s just the paint with which the Stockholm Open logo will be painted. It’s too bad, you say, but you think that maybe Soderling reads this column. And you think that if he does, maybe he takes this suggestion to heart and becomes a painter. And signs his paintings “Robin,” not “Soderling.”

-Dora the Explorer conquers all.

The man who broke Nadal’s 31-match unbeaten streak at Porte d’Auteuil in 2009 is no match for the über-popular cartoon. In the feature, we learn that Soderling was watching a match during this year’s US Open when his daughter walked in the room. She watched with him for a minute, and then asked him to watch Dora. And, because she probably did that thing where children ask just the darnest thing but with the most adorable face, and because her father loves her very much, well, they watched Dora.

-Even Robin Soderling is powerless against his children.

And maybe this final one is related to the previous one, actually. Maybe Soderling’s daughter wants to watch Dora only because she doesn’t know what it’s like to watch tennis. No young child would want to watch tennis, but if it were his or her father playing? Then it’s something different. Then, maybe that child would want to watch tennis.

But only if daddy is playing. Which he might still do. (Ish.)

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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