Tennis Elbow: The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a Masters 1000 event?

March 2, 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 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

In 2015, Dubai has a familiar king, with Roger Federer dominating Novak Djokovic 6-3 and 7-5 in the final to capture a seventh career crown at the United Arabs Emirate.

But, it’s about the loser of this final that I would rather write this week, as Djokovic had lofty praise for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships earlier in February. “I don’t know a single player who has played here and has a negative feeling about the tournament,” Djokovic said, according to The National. “It definitely deserves to have a 1000 event, in my opinion.”

The “it” in that last quote stands for Dubai, and should this promotion happen the city would have an event in the same Masters 1000 category that includes the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. If this happened, the event almost certainly would have to be moved, as it would be unprecedented to have three tournaments of such magnitude so close to one another. Spread the wealth, so to speak.

Should the ATP World Tour reconsider Dubai’s event classification? Well for one thing, the tournament certainly attracts the bigger and the better players on Tour. It’s well respected among them and if you don’t believe Djokovic, then consider the fact it has been voted the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the year award every year (except 2007) since 2003.

There’s one sign that the tournament may be much bigger—some may even say “major”—than what it currently is. Federer’s win in 2015 means that the champion has been him, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in 13 of the previous 14 years. We’re used to this trend at the Grand Slams, or the Masters 1000s, but not for tournaments in Dubai’s class.

But of course, this is mostly coincidental and not quite a supportive reason for the event’s promotion.

What is, however, a reason is the following. The event is undoubtedly popular, with more than 115,000 spectators in 2014 (i.e. as a point of comparison, 148,341 attended the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto). The Duty Free Championships doubles as a WTA Tour tournament, which means that an awful lot unfolds over the course of a mere few days and for what remains just a Masters 500 event.

Yet, there’s another side to this same token. Of the 13 Masters 500 events on the ATP calendar, Dubai’s financial commitment of $2,5 million is fairly average.

But the players love the event—or rather, the most important players love it and that’s the most important thing. Should Dubai be promoted? If only because more and more players may share Djokovic’s opinion and say as much in the future, and smart money would be on the players getting what they want.

Money rules the world, and the tennis world appears intent on conquering the Middle East. The creation of the International Premier Tennis League says as much, and so would the promotion of the Dubai masters to the 1000 category.

From an outsider’s perspective, the UAE certainly seem to be the kind to get what they want. Burj Khalifa. Palm Jumeirah. The Dubai Foutain and the Dubai Mall. As we’ve learned recently with Madrid’s ill foray into blue tennis courts, money can buy you just about whatever you want.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard’s selfish decision for the Fed Cup

February 23, 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 looks at Eugenie Bouchard’s decision to skip the Fed Cup.

The truth is, Eugenie Bouchard may not have even changed anything because it lost so thoroughly.

When Canada had the privilege of hosting Czech Republic earlier this month, captain Sylvain Bruneau had no other choice but to roll out a very, very, very green line-up consisting of No. 150-ranked Sharon Fichman, No. 183-ranked Gabriela Dabrowski, No. 250-ranked (and 17-year-old Françoise Abanda) and No. 791-ranked (and 15-year-old) Charlotte Robillard-Millette.

Bouchard had forced Bruneau’s hand by declining the invitation to help Canada against the Fed Cup defending champion and one of the bigger and better tennis superpowers. Canada, which is “barely getting on the map as a nation” according to the tennis director of Mayfair Tennis Clubs Michael Emmett, and which is in the World Group for the very first time, stood little chance without its very best player.

“It’s a big mistake on her part and she’s going to regret it,” Emmett says. “She wants to be known as a good person.”

Certainly. Though Bouchard had been instrumental in getting Canada to the World Group in the first place, “she hasn’t made (the Fed Cup) a priority.”

It’s the latest in a series of “questionable decisions,” Emmett calls them. From the ongoing beef with the Hong Kong Tennis Association representatives to her recent decision to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, not to mention the coaching saga that was finally resolved this month, Bouchard “is starting to get a bit of a bad rap.”

Indeed, so why skip the Fed Cup? Emmett calls is a selfish decision and contrasts it with Maria Sharapova’s decision to help Russia against Poland and the two Radwanska sisters. If Sharapova can be there, why can’t Bouchard? (That’s a question that keeps coming back during our discussion with Emmett.)

It’s certainly her right, and Emmett understands that. He says that, “I totally get why she’s doing it, but it’s a selfish decision.”

But selfish doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, this decision is probably the best one she can make for Bouchard the tennis player, if not for Canada the country. If she indeed has played too much tennis recently and she indeed does want to win Grand Slams above anything else, then this is the right decision for Eugenie Bouchard. Furthermore, in a twisted logic, a Bouchard win at, say, Wimbledon would galvanize and help Canada emerge and progress even more than a Fed Cup likely could/would. There’s no doubt about that in Emmett’s mind.

But that doesn’t mean that a Fed Cup win wouldn’t help, because it would. Emmett recalls Canada’s run to the semfinals of the 2013 Davis Cup, admittedly a bigger and more recognizable event than its counterpart for women.

“Hockey players represent their players (at the Olympics), why can’t Bouchard?” asks Emmett. One may counter by saying that in this comparison, the Fed Cup is more like the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships than the Olympics, and that the Sidney Crosbys of the world ideally don’t play in these World Championships because they’re battling for a Stanley Cup.

And yet, the comparison still holds. Should better players play in the Fed Cup every year, then the prestige of the year-long tournament would rise and so would the merit of winning it all for any one country—especially Canada.

In 2013, as Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and co. battled against the big, bad boys of Serbia, Emmett was a guest on CBC News. He believes the same would happen for the Fed Cup. But alas, Canada was decimated 4-0 and will have to beat Romania April 18 and 19 to remain in the World Group in 2016. Bouchard hasn’t said whether she will play in that tie.

Our best bet is probably on Roland Garros and the other majors. Just like Bouchard would want it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Stanislas Wawrinka wins in the Netherlands

February 16, 2015

by: Charles Blouin-Gascon

If we start with the premise that not all tennis tournaments can be treated as equals over a 12-month calendar, then this wasn’t a major event.

The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, a Masters 500 event held every year in Rotterdam, is more or less a footnote on the ATP World Tour calendar—but this year, it’s as if the event seemed bigger. Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka, respectively ranked No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 in the world, were the four top seeds in the Netherlands.

Should we be surprised that Stanislas Wawrinka managed to win the tournament in his first visit in the Netherlands in a decade?

The (other) Swiss joined fellow countrymen Heinz Gunthardt, Jakob Hlasek and Roger Federer in capturing this Rotterdam title. But it was far from an easy win, as Wawrinka lost a set against Jesse Huta Galung in his first match, then against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his second, and in the final against defending champion Tomas Berdych, whom he beat for the sixth straight time.

It’s an important win for Wawrinka, because it’s such an important time for him. At 29, he likely doesn’t have much time left with the sport’s elite—unless there’s something about being from Switzerland, as Federer proves to us—and yet he’s just a few months removed from his best season yet.

A year ago, Wawrinka captured the 2014 Australian Open only a few months after a semifinal loss in the 2013 US Open. His career was on the upswing and it probably still is—in Melbourne this year, it is he who gave Novak Djokovic his biggest test in the semfinal. (He lost, but that’s beside the point.)

Much to my dismay, I continue to believe that Federer’s level will one day soon dip well below the standards we’ve been accustomed to from him, while Rafael Nadal’s body may be in the process of forever breaking down. Beside the Djoker, there could shortly be a very massive void on Tour. Why couldn’t Wawrinka be that No. 2 player for a season or two? For example, he has played about 200, or so, fewer matches than Berdych, also a 29-year-old.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve figured out why this Rotterdam tournament was so much fun. If every tennis season starts on a high note with the Australian Open, there’s quickly a lull after the first major tournament—the clay court season only starts in April, meaning that there are two full months with not many large-scale tournaments. Players need to play, and thus a draw such as Rotterdam’s. Maybe it’s not a surprise that this weekend’s final was its third between members of the Top 10 in seven years.

Next on the list of similar smaller events is the Rio Open this week and the Argentina Open on the last week of February. The BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open are both held next month and, of course, neither of the main draws should disappoint.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: No one can touch Novak Djokovic in Australia

February 9, 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 Novak Djokovic’s win at the 2015 Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic started the 2015 season as the undisputed No. 1 player on the ATP World Tour and if the first Grand Slam of the season is any indication, the Serb has solidified his hold on the position.

In taking the 2015 Australian Open, Djokovic won 20 of the 24 sets he played—he lost one in the final against Andy Murray, and another two against Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals because he seemingly always loses two sets (or more) against the Swiss.

By now, surely you’ve heard that this win gives the Djoker a fifth title in Australia and an eighth Grand Slam title overall. The former leaves him tied for eighth in history while only Roy Emerson has more than his haul of five Aussie titles. You know both of those things by now.

The win assures Djokovic of at least a modicum of success this year, even if everything goes wrong the rest of the way.

Not that this doomsday scenario is very likely, mind you. The 27-year-old had a great 2013 season and will need excellent play to finish another season as the year-end No. 1 player, but it’s feasible. He’ll have to defend his Wimbledon title as well as four Masters 1000 events, starting next month in Indian Wells and Miami, and his Barclays World Tour Finals in November.

But sure, even if the sky falls down on him the rest of the way, Djokovic’s floor of one Grand Slam title will be no worse than the fourth best result in 2015. That’s the part where you say, “Not too shabby.”

Entering the year, it was only right to give Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer the benefit of the doubt that they would overcome, respectively, injury and age and Father Time, but it’s a trickier position to defend after this Australian Open. Maybe Nadal and Federer didn’t look injured or old, but they didn’t look right either. They looked, well, unmotivated in Melbourne and a lack of motivation can be hard to overcome. If it happens just at the beginning of the season, then why would they eventually be motivated in June or July, amidst the grueling stretch of the season and especially considering that they’ve both already accomplished all there is to accomplish?

(At this point, I’m tempted to declare that Djokovic should be the favourite for Roland Garros regardless of whether/how Nadal plays in Paris. But of course, May is still very far away and I’ll take every minute I have before potentially making a fool of myself and picking against Nadal on the French clay.)

If the current golden age of tennis is truly over, then what might come next could be something that delights all of Djokovic’s fans. After the end of this golden age, the man would still be in his prime and his adversaries would be few and far between, and definitely a notch below the combo that was Federer and Nadal.

Murray looks to be back to battling his inner demons, as much as his Twitter trolls, and when he’s not it’s his soon-to-be-wife Kim Sears who does it for him. At 27, Murray is also technically right in his prime—though after this Australian Open, that doesn’t seem as obvious, or as good, as Djokovic’s.

Otherwise, maybe it’ll be Kei Nishikori who challenges Djokovic and, when the Serb retires, who rules supreme. But he appears just a tiny bit green behind the ears and a year or two away. Beyond him, or maybe Nick Kyrgios though maybe let’s let him turn legal first, there aren’t many clear choices currently on Tour.

You might say that we’ll cross that bridge of life post-Nadal and post-Federer when we get there. I’ll say that maybe we already have.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: If not Serena Williams, then who?

February 2, 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 Serena Williams’s win at the 2015 Australian Open.

Very quickly, Serena Williams is turning what was once a semi-contentious debate into something approaching a definite.

Over the weekend, she beat Maria Sharapova by the final score of 6-3 and 7-6(5) to win her sixth Australian Open and, most importantly, her 19th career Grand Slam title.

But why is this 19th title so important? Aren’t they all just as important, as per that old cliché that professional athletes tend to use so often? Well, that 19th title is so important, because it moves Williams past Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the most career Grand Slam titles in history and into second place behind only Steffi Graf’s 22 titles.

That’s right.

We’ve wondered for some time now whether Serena Williams might be the greatest player in history. She’s been comfortably the best player of her generation—no one is even close, really—but the debate was whether she belonged on Mount Rushmore. She had proved that, at the latest, when she enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts in 2012 after taking time off for a hematoma and pulmonary embolism—by then, she had 13 Grand Slam titles.

That debate of whether she might be better than the aforementioned Graf, Evert and Navratilova had hinged in part on our ability to project and compare and contrast different eras and different playing styles. But now? Now, Williams is at 19 majors.

In other words, with those 19 Grand Slam titles, not only does she have a legitimate claim as the best player in history… but she might have the numbers to back the claim up too. She may lack the overall title haul (i.e. Williams has 65, Graf has 107, Evert is at 157 and Navratilova is at 167), but her Grand Slam resume is as good as anyone else’s. Williams has six Australian Open titles, two French Opens, five Wimbledon titles and six US Opens—that tally tells me she’s just about equally good on every surface.

Maybe she doesn’t have the 19 straight semifinals of Navratilova, or the 34 overall finals of Evert or the 13 straight finals of Graf, of which she won nine, including five in a row, but she does have the 19 major titles. And she does have the distinction of being the oldest No. 1 player in history.

(She also is ludicrously ahead on the career earnings list… though, of course, different eras had different prize money. As a reference, Victoria Azarenka is fifth on that list, so yeah.)

We shouldn’t or I shouldn’t I suppose since I’m the one writing this, write Williams’s eulogy just yet—this 2015 Australian Open proved as much. She may be at No. 19 right now, but the odds that she adds to her haul before she retires are quite high.

Now more than perhaps ever in her career, she appears to be peerless. Not even vomiting could stop her in Melbourne, so imagine how powerless Maria Sharapova, no slouch with her five Grand Slam titles, must have felt.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter at RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Age is nothing but a number except when it isn’t

January 26, 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 in Melbourne.

Eventually—maybe even soon—the current era of men’s tennis, with three of the 10 greatest players ever, will end.

God will this suck so bad, am I right? That’s what you’re thinking, right? You’re thinking that, because it may ruin an event like the Australian Open. Oh, it would make the event much more wide-open and thrilling, but it turn that would just make it more untenable for folks like yourself who live in the western hemisphere and have a regular 9-to-5 job. There are only so many nights that you can go to bed at 4 a.m. and in this era, you’ll obviously focus on potential matches between Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to stay awake all night. And not to watch, say, Gilles Muller beat John Isner. (Though what a win for Muller!)

(Of course, you understand that complaining about this is very much #FirstWorldProblems, but the act itself of watching tennis is very #FirstWorldProblems—let’s carry on.)

You think that the new ATP World Tour will suck, because the predictability of Djokovic/Nadal, or Nadal/Federer, or Federer/Djokovic (currently the best rivalry of all time, as per FiveThirtyEight), is what has made the sport so fascinating in the past decade. We all knew, sort of, that they would be among the remaining few still standing at any given event and what has made this more fun than unpredictability has been to see how far they would push each other.

But what happens when none of the three players can go? That’s what you don’t like—what happens then? Then, the ATP World Tour becomes one full of surprises and seemingly random results. One where everything can, and often does, go. A more unpredictable Tour where someone, if we’re lucky, turns out to be our new champion… or one closer to the WTA Tour, but without even a Serena Williams.

Has the first domino fallen this past week in Melbourne when Federer lost against Andreas Seppi in the third round, you wonder? Maybe it’s too premature, but then again maybe it isn’t because this Australian Open result is the Swiss’s worst result since 2001.

And 2001 is such a long time ago, you say, that it might as well be a lifetime away. In 2001, it’s not just that Federer hadn’t won a Grand Slam yet. He was a 19-year-old whose highlight was a fourth round loss at Roland Garros and who was another two years away from a first Grand Slam title. In 2001 for the Australian Open, Federer was ranked No. 29—he certainly wasn’t King Roger. He had a ponytail in 2001.

Those are all your fears. Change can be good, but not all change is good—and how could any change away from this current triumvirate of men’s tennis be potentially good?

Well, while you complained about it all, you missed out on probably what was the best match of this first week between Seppi and Nick Kyrgios. Sure, maybe Federer should have been there, but what we did see was excellent tennis.

Let’s never complain about excellent tennis.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The “underdogs” of the 2015 Australian Open

January 19, 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 Australian Open.

God, it feels good to be back in Melbourne—not that we, by which I mean “I,” actually am in Australia, but the tennis world certainly is.

The tennis season is so constructed that it unofficially launches right away with one of the four biggest events of the year. In tennis, there’s never any easing back in—the calendar starts, and you jump right in. It’s wonderful and reason No. 938 why this sport is the greatest.

The Australian Open also perhaps is my favourite Grand Slam tournament, if only because it allows me to momentarily forget about the awful cold winter I otherwise live in. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known players who may make a dent on both the men’s and the women’s draws.

I could just write about the usual suspects that are Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Eugenie Bouchard, but where’s the fun in that? (Plus, my colleague Tom Cochrane has already written quite the excellent preview and analysis.)

*****

Men’s draw

Juan Martin Del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro could have been the great equalizer. The former World No. 4 came back after almost a year off following, what else, a wrist injury at the Apia International Sydney tournament and promptly reached the quarterfinals. The tall Argentine is likely too rusty (and currently at No. 338, he’s probably too far removed to make any lasting impression in Melbourne). But he would have made things very interesting in his section. But alas, he is out with a, yep, wrist injury.

Feliciano Lopez

The Spaniard enjoyed a string of good results last summer and a solid overall 2014 season and, as a result, he could be poised for a good Melbourne run. He’s ranked No. 14, which gives some kind of respite. In reaching the third round a year ago, Lopez lost to Andy Murray. This year, he should have no problem equaling last year’s result. Lopez has the strokes to give a few players headaches, and his higher seeding should give him at least a few matches where he’ll be the favourite.

Gael Monfils

…Except that Gael Monfils would be Lopez’s opponent in the fourth round if everything goes according to plan. Very quietly, Monfils bounced back in 2014 to play relatively injury-free tennis—the flying Frenchman made two Grand Slam quarterfinals at Roland Garros and at Flushing Meadows (along with, erm, a second round at Wimbledon and a third round in Australia), and he will give anyone playing him fits. What we see as showmanship is annoying to his opponents, but that’s how Monfils plays. He has good groundstrokes, but this is probably more wishful thinking on my part—he needed a little luck in the draw in order to realistically hope a Melbourne breakthrough. Instead, he’s slated to play the aforementioned Lopez in the third round, or Milos Raonic should he win that match.

Nick Kyrgios

I have to be consistent, right? I can’t say that I expect the young Aussie to challenge the better players on the ATP World Tour in one column, and then not mention his name among those we should keep an eye for at the Australian Open, right?

But a breakthrough at his home major, in front of friends and family, in the same country he was raised? The tennis world isn’t Hollywood—it comes close, but it isn’t.

*****

Women’s draw

Sania Mirza

Alright, Sania Mirza isn’t actually playing in Melbourne, but her story is worth telling.

Sara Errani

You never quite know why, but the Italian always seems to hang around at major tournaments. Since breaking through in 2012, Sara Errani has made the quarterfinals, or better, at every Grand Slam except for Wimbledon. Just last year, there she was among the final 8 at the US Open and Roland Garros. (She also lost in the first round in Australia and England, so I suppose she’s a little boom or bust.)

Errani will never overpower her opponent, but she’s smart and will not beat herself.

Venus Williams

What should we make of Venus Williams? The older Williams sister arrives in Melbourne after winning the ASB Classic in Auckland to continue building upon a strong 2014 season, where she captured one title (i.e. in Dubai) and reached three other finals (i.e. Auckland, Montreal and Quebec City). Williams will likely only go as far as her health allows her to, but it’s good to see her back and stringing together a few good matches in a row. It’s also bad, bad news for the rest of the players on the WTA Tour.

Sloane Stephens

A coach who meets one player’s displeasure only needs to look elsewhere and find acceptance again, is that it? Nick Saviano, who was last seen getting axed by Canadian Eugenie Bouchard because he (perhaps) didn’t want to embark on a full-time relationship, will now coach Sloane Stephens. And the American needs it, after a 2014 season where she stalled and finished the year at No. 37 only 12 months after being No. 12. Stephens’s confidence likely isn’t at an all-time high, but she knows she can win big matches in Australia—before her fourth round loss in 2014, she had beat Serena Williams on the way to the semifinal in 2013.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The hard knock life of Eugenie Bouchard

January 12, 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 looks at the latest controversy of Eugenie Bouchard.

Could there be trouble brewing for the #GenieArmy? Because the Eugenie Bouchard headlines sure abound, but they’re not always pretty.

Take this most recent one, for example, where Bouchard is front and center in a dispute between the WTA Tour and the Hong Kong Tennis Association. According to the South China Morning Post, association president Herbert Chow Siu-lung has said that the women’s tour has tried to bully and intimidate the folks of the inaugural Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open last September.

What does this really have to do with Bouchard? Right. Well, at the last minute in September, Bouchard had decided to pull out of this tournament, and that accusation from Chow stems from the WTA’s decision to impose a $10,000 fine after tournament officials had had “disparaging” remarks about the Canadian.

“We are very disappointed that Bouchard is not honouring her commitment even though she lost in the fourth round [at the US Open],” Chow had said then, “and it took her until now to officially inform us that she is not coming.”

Wait, didn’t you say disparaging? Oh right, there’s a follow-up quote. “If Bouchard was injured, we would understand and would wish her well. But she is simply tired,” Chow said. “To say she is tired and cannot turn up because she is tired is poor form.”

We get it, too. The tournament was in its very first year of existence, which will always be a stressful time of uncertainty. Bouchard was and is among the brightest stars on Tour, and Chow and co. wanted to avoid creating the precedent that their tournament can’t attract the best players.

But we also understand that this fine was a given, considering Chow’s remarks—it goes against article F of the WTA code of conduct. The star players are the reason why the sport is successful, right or wrong, and to publicly slam them is to be begging for a fine.

Part of me thinks that Chow knows and understands this very well, and that the association doesn’t fully mind the fine despite the group’s decision to appeal it. $10,000 is not nothing, but it isn’t $1,000,000 either—it’s a relatively small penance for a group that could otherwise manage $250,000 in prize money. Could it be that they believe that the potential payoff of making other star players think twice about skipping out on participating at the event far outweighs this cost? My guess is yes. (Maybe a safer bet to do so would be to act humbled, be grateful of players even considering the event.)

I don’t know if I side with one over another in this debate, but it’s at least refreshing. I don’t endorse slamming a player publicly, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Rogers Cup, then named the du Maurier Open, had difficulty attracting the better players. (Or in the case of Serena Williams, it still does—this past summer the American played her first match in Montreal since 2000.) In retrospect, that’s how the likes of Andrei Pavel and Chris Woodruff won the event—many others just thought the event happened too close to the start of the US Open.

And that’s probably the gist of the issue. Above anything else, this is a scheduling problem. And if it is a scheduling problem, this means that the fault probably lies within the WTA itself… although it is true that it’s a little annoying to learn that someone has decided to withdraw for fatigue. But it’s Bouchard’s prerogative to do it.

If nothing else, this is a first controversy for the young Canadian, who has had about as smooth a sailing as anyone can have to launch her career but now sees that her star has faded considerably since the Wimbledon final.

And yet, among the most recent headlines is also this one—the Canadian has been selected by the agency IMG/WME, with whom she has signed a contract for representation, to join the IMG Models Worldwide roster.

See? Life is still plenty good. Now, she just needs a new coach.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 15 wonky predictions for the 2015

January 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 comes up with a series of predictions for the upcoming season.

They say that whenever God closes a door, he opens a new one. This holds true for tennis seasons as well, as the closing of one means the start of another one. Now, the 2015 season has technically already started, I know, but I’ve never been one to be about technicalities.

We tried the exercise exactly a year ago and loved it, so let’s try again. Here are 15 wonky predictions for the 2015 season. Keep in mind that they are supposed to be wonky by design.

Novak Djokovic has a season for the ages

It’s impossible for Novak Djokovic to ever repeat his 2011 season, because that one will live on in the short list of greatest ever, but his supporters have reason to believe that the Serb is the best player on Tour. The Djoker was dominant in 2014 and will start this season with the knowledge that he withstood an onslaught on his year-end No. 1 ranking—the four Grand Slams will not have four different champions in 2015, because Djokovic will win more than one.

Novak Djokovic completes the career Slam

I mean, I’ll keep rolling with this one until it happens. Both because I think he’s likely to win one French Open title in his career and because I wish that he does.

Roger Federer calls it quits

We keep thinking Roger Federer will one day remember how old he is and fade to black. It’s his prerogative to want to keep playing and, if he continues to play as well as he did over the second half of the 2014 season, why wouldn’t he? He’s a great ambassador to the sport, a great champion and, most importantly, a father of four. Let’s all enjoy watching him play in 2015, because it may not happen again in 2016.

…Probably because he wins something else

There. This prediction, that Federer wins yet another Grand Slam title despite having only one since 2010 and turning 34 during this upcoming season, is legitimately bold. Or a compromise—let’s say that Federer wins the year-end Barclays World Tour Finals and say it’s a worthy and meaningful title, okay?

Eugenie Bouchard wins a Grand Slam title

The #haterswillhate, especially given the sudden and oddly-timed decision to part ways with longtime coach Nick Saviano, but I’ll go the other way. Instead of breaking Eugenie Bouchard, this decision will galvanize and fuel her new season.

…And the Rogers Cup

There will be hiccups first, however. The Canadian will be under intense scrutiny right away and has about 273,083 points (i.e. approximate) to defend at the first three Grand Slam tournaments—I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bouchard will not reach a final and two semifinals as she did in 2014. But she’ll make everyone forget about last summer’s Montreal choke job and use that title to launch a New York takeover for the US Open.

Serena Williams does not win a Grand Slam title

Serena Williams plays for Grand Slam titles, so her 2014 season has to go down as a failure. Before winning at Flushing Meadows, she had a second round loss (i.e. Roland Garros), a third round loss (i.e. Wimbledon) and a fourth round loss (i.e. Australian Open). I don’t believe Williams will fail to reach the second week at the first three majors again this year, but I don’t believe she’ll add to her haul of 18 Grand Slams. Expect a weird season in 2015 on the women’s side.

…But still finishes the year at No. 1

Who else would it be? Serena Williams had about as bad a 2014 season until the US Open as she possibly could have, and yet she was never threatened at the top. There’s her, then there’s everyone else on the WTA Tour.

Rafael Nadal has a 2013-lite season

More and more, it seems like excellence comes at a price for Rafael Nadal and that a major title is the lone bright spot before a few weeks/months of darkness. At the beginning of the season, the Spaniard is presumably healthy and I like his odds over just about everyone when he is healthy. If you recall, he followed a seven-month hiatus in 2012 with arguably the greatest season of his career in 2013, one that included 10 titles, including two Grand Slam, and over $12 million in prize money. I don’t foresee all this again, but why not a few gut wrenching major finals against Djokovic? We haven’t had these in some time.

Postmodern Andy Murray will be just fine

Wikipedia defines postmodernism “as the skeptical interpretation of culture, literature, art, etc.” and Andy Murray signing a sponsorship deal with Under Armour is postmodern tennis. Murray knows he’s not Nadal nor Federer, and will never be, and he now embraces it. No more adidas. And the 27-year-old will be fine.

…And adds to the hardware collection

The only way this previous prediction makes sense is if I throw Murray a bone. At Flushing Meadows, the Brit will prove to everyone, including himself, that he wasn’t just a creation of Ivan Lendl.

Nick Kyrgios makes a Grand Slam final

Because why not? I like the guy, his shots and passion both, and think the 2015 season will be his breakout. If Federer scales back a little bit, and I sure am predicting as much, then I might as well say that someone like the Aussie can pick up the scraps. Let’s just as well etch it in stone right now—Kyrgios will lose to Murray in the US Open final.

Simona Halep wins Roland Garros

Simona Halep should have been a bigger deal, but I live in Canada. And if there’s one thing that Canadians love beyond sports, it’s supporting their own Canadian athletes. So while Halep’s 2014 season was not quite on par with Eugenie Bouchard’s, it was still excellent. But it may as well have been nonexistent here in Canada.

Stanislas Wawrinka becomes the foremost “Swiss guy” on the ATP World Tour

And not only because I hinted at the fact that this season may be Federer’s last (ish)! Stanislas Wawrinka may not repeat his successes of 2014, but he’s firmly entrenched at the top of the ATP World Tour rankings. He’s not the favourite to win every tournament, but he’s a threat at every event he plays in.

Novak Djokovic finishes the year at No. 1 again

Yep, those predictions are both wonky and subjective.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The “Elbows” of the 2014 season

December 29, 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 season in the form of a fake awards show.

Is it possible for a season to have been both wide open and yet fairly clearly dominated by a single player?

The 2014 season on the ATP World Tour had four different players win the four different Grand Slam tournaments, yet it was still pretty clearly just another year in the reign of Novak Djokovic.

The Djoker broke through in a major way in 2011—we all know that—and we’ve been living in his world ever since, save for a short time in 2013. We’ve all loved it, too. (Or, at least I’ve loved it. HA!)

As I’ve done year since this Tennis Elbow column started, I’ll use this year-end edition to create an awards ceremony. The Elbows of the year reflect one man’s experience of the 2014 season as a fan and a columnist. They are totally pointless, fake, and arbitrary (and at times irrelevant)—because how fun would it be if they weren’t?

The Alpha Male of the Year Elbow

…To Novak Djokovic. For the third time in four years, the ATP World Tour is Novak Djokovic’s world and the case for the Serb as player of the year is rather simple. The captain of the #myguyyy all-stars has more wins than anyone else but Roger Federer in the Top 10, more tournament wins, better tournament wins and more prize money.

Djokovic is the best player on Tour, and 2014 was his year once more. You don’t have to agree with it, as long as you can live with the knowledge that you’re wrong.

The Mission Impossible Elbow

…To Roger Federer. If we’re totally honest, King Roger was always unlikely to catch Djokovic for the year-end No. 1 ranking—he was too many points behind (i.e. he was No. 8 as late as March) and too little time, but he sure made Djokovic work for it. After a loss against Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round at Roland Garros, Federer won 36 of the 40 matches he played to enter the Barclays finals with a (very long) shot at overtaking the Serb. He fell just short, but it was still amazing.

The Superstar Elbow

…To Eugenie Bouchard. The young Canadian saw the Phenom Elbow she won in 2013 and told herself, “I can do better.” Where do you go when you’ve broken through the glass ceiling as the WTA newcomer of the year in 2013? Well, it turns out that you see a second glass ceiling, and that’s what you aim for—it’s one with things like the No. 1 ranking, Grand Slam titles, etc., and it’s damn hard to reach. After two Grand Slam semifinals and one final in 2014, the stakes will be at their highest for Bouchard. Will she be up for it?

The Flameout of the Year Elbow

…To Eugenie Bouchard. The 20-year-old will have a chance to meet raised expectations so long as she’s not up to task the same way she was for the 2014 Rogers Cup. Let’s set the scene, in case you forgot how she wasted her summer. After semifinals at the Australian Open and the French Open, and a final at Wimbledon, Bouchard was coming home. Tickets sales were high, tennis was on every Montrealer’s mind and… she promptly chocked. Bouchard lost to qualifier Shelby Rogers 6-0, 2-6, and 6-0 in a darkened Stade Uniprix that had no scoreboard and had lost power earlier in the day. By the end of the match, the entire Rogers Cup was without power.

The This Is So Weird For Canada Elbow

…To Canada and Canadian tennis fans. For the majority of my life, Canada has been terrible at tennis. We played the sport, sure, and even had players in the Top 100, but we never won anything of note at the highest level. In fact, Canada was the country you left in order to maximize your earning potential (see: Rusedski, Greg).  For a while, Sebastien Lareau was the country’s best singles player and the best thing you could say about him was that he was a great, great doubles player.

But in 2014, Canada has Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard and, though we still haven’t won anything of note, we’ve come much closer than ever before. That’s what stung about Bouchard’s loss in Montreal—for once, we were disappointed. We had never been good enough to feel disappointment, because disappointment comes from expectations. And we had never been good enough to have any.

The Anybody Wants It? Elbow

…To the WTA Tour. We like to think that the WTA Tour goes as the great Serena Williams does, but what happens when she has an off year? Well, not much, it turns out! In 2014, Li Na retired, two young players enjoyed a career year, and otherwise we basically just spent our time waiting for the younger of the Williams sisters to assert herself and her will.

The Injury of the Year Elbow

…To Rafael Nadal. Increasingly, it seems like the new normal for any given season is for the Spaniard to 1) win Roland Garros every year, because it is his birthright and 2) get injured. It’s only about a year ago that Nadal finished perhaps the best overall season of his career, though that one had come on the heels of a seven-month hiatus in 2012. Our days with the Spaniard are numbered, sadly. We’ll all miss him while he’s gone, but let’s hope Nadal can bounce back in 2015 and play (relatively) injury-free.

The Non-Beef Beef of the Year Elbow

…To Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. It’s all fun and games when the cheering and the “come on” are between two rivals and countrymen. When that’s the case, the two friends can remain just that—at the end of a match, there’s a winner and a loser, but it’s just business. It isn’t personal, because it never is… until Mirka Federer starts chirping against Wawrinka. No one would dare criticize Federer, because no one ever does but I’ll be that guy. Let me say that Mirka’s reaction is terrible, and that it likely would have compromised things between two other men. (So maybe that’s why no one ever criticizes Federer.)

The week after that dust-up in London, the two Swiss guys teamed up to give Switzerland its first ever Davis Cup. That’s a testament to Stan.

The This Should Have Been a Bigger Deal, But You Live in Canada Elbow

…To Simona Halep. Yet for all her excellence, Bouchard wasn’t the young player who enjoyed the biggest breakthrough in 2014—Halep played in the very last possible match of 2014, against Serena Williams for the Singapore finals, and finished ranked No. 3. The Romanian has had the shots for a while, but it’s only in 2013 that she learned how to win on Tour, and in 2014 that she managed to put it all together for the Grand Slam tournaments. Halep reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne, the final in Paris, the semifinal at Wimbledon (and the third round in New York)—but because I live in Canada, I never heard about her. She deserves better.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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