Tennis Elbow: Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams at the Australian Open

February 1, 2016

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 2016 Australian Open women’s final.

What a time to be alive.

While we can’t pretend to know for sure whether Angelique Kerber listens to Drake and Future, we have a wild guess that #WATTBA is probably what’s going through her mind today.

Today, the German wakes up as a Grand Slam champion, having beaten the great Serena Williams by the final score of 6-4, 3-6 and 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes in the Australian Open final.

With the win, the 28-year-old becomes the second German in the Open era, after Steffi Graf, to win a Grand Slam tournament. «I got my second chance and this is my dream come true,» Kerber said after the win. «My whole life I am working really hard, and now I am here and call myself a Grand Slam champion.» That’s something most probably didn’t expect to see happen, not in 2016 after years of relatively pedestrian results at the majors. Indeed, Kerber hadn’t done better than a fourth round at a major since 2012—in fact, other than a four-Grand Slam stretch where she made two semifinals and one quarterfinal (and one third round) over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Kerber’s career had been relatively underwhelming at majors. That run very nearly continued in Australia. You may recall that in her first match against Misaki Doi, Kerber had «one leg in the plane for Germany,» as she called it after winning the tournament; that’s how she describes being down a set and to match point, before she finally righted the ship. Now after a few more matches and wins over Victoria Azarenka and Williams, Kerber is a Grand Slam champion. Meanwhile, the six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams will need to wait until at least Roland-Garros to match Graf’s career haul of 22 Grand Slams. She seemed fine with it afterward; just look at her.


It’s a rare reminder that the American is merely human and can’t, or won’t, win them all. “Every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life,” Williams said after her loss. “As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not. I try to. But, you know, I do the best that I can.»

All this means for the 2016 season is that we won’t get the same «will she or won’t she» narrative that pursued Serena Williams in 2015; no, Williams will not win all four Grand Slams this year. This loss against Kerber still may be her lone Grand Slam loss in 2016; it’ll have just happened (way) earlier than in 2015.

Why this loss is so surprising is that it’s so rare for Williams to 1) lose in the Grand Slams and 2) to lose in the Grand Slam finals. Because, yes, the latter is what’s quietly been underrated with her and what’s allowed her to be on Graf’s heels: sure, she has won 21 majors but she’s managed this in only 26 finals; of her 41 career losses at major events, only five have come in the finals.

Because when she reaches the ultimate game, she tends to win the ultimate prize. “I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it,» she said after her loss. «Maybe someone else can, but I wasn’t able to do it.”

This about sums it up.


Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Tennis and match-fixing

January 25, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses possible match-fixing in tennis.

Does professional tennis have a match-fixing problem?

In dropping quite the bombshell just a day before the start of this 2016 Australian Open, BuzzFeed’s Heidi Blake and John Templon, with help from the BBC, sought to answer the above question.

And what did they find? Essentially: that yes, perhaps it does.

Or to use the terms that the two reporters put it in:

“The sport’s governing bodies have been warned repeatedly about a core group of 16 players – all of whom have ranked in the top 50 – but none have faced any sanctions and more than half of them will begin playing at the Australian Open on Monday.”

Essentially, this joint investigation does two things: it looks at leaked documents that make allegations of possible instances of match-fixing and it also analyzes betting data to see whether these allegations have merit.

It starts with the case of a match that’s become infamous in the years since, one that most readers have probably heard of—that between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello in August 2007 at the Orange Prokom Open. Davydenko, ranked No. 4 at the time and defending champion at the event, faced the No. 87-ranked player and should have been an overwhelming favourite; in fact, he was that, right up until the point that so many had bet on Vassallo Arguello that the odds had tipped against the Russian Davydenko.

Then he pulled out, giving all those who had tilted the odds in the Argentine’s favour a big, fat reason to smile.

Davydenko and Vassallo Arguello are among a group of players who have been linked to matches that bookmakers had identified as being suspicious over the years. “There were consistently matches across the depth and breadth of men’s pro tennis with extremely suspicious shifts in betting odds,” Richard Ings, the ATP’s executive vice president for rules and competition, told Blake and Templon. “What became very clear is that, whilst there were lots of matches with suspicious betting patterns, you tended to see the names of the same players cropping up again and again.”

Another interesting aspect of this investigation regards tanking. Indeed, while many have suspected that it may be a possibility in tennis, it seems that the practice was much more prevalent than we otherwise would have thought. Two players, for example, can tank one match easily: one decides to lose on purpose but keep the prize money, while the winner is all too happy to win a few extra rankings points.

The difference here, in a sport that continuously attracts billions of dollars in online gambling, is that repercussions of such tanking between two players are far-reaching: a group of illegal and corrupt gamblers can tip the odds in their favour, against more innocent and compliant ones and win big.

All it takes, Ings says in the BuzzFeed/BBC investigation, is one player. If you turn one player and convince him to throw away a few matches per year, you can make a fortune; that’s why he says that tennis may be the most vulnerable sport to corruption. How do you truly decide whether a player is trying or isn’t? Errors and mistakes are built into the very fabric of the sport, where a player rarely ever wins if he doesn’t push the limits of what he knows to do and makes mistakes; in beating Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco made 91 unforced mistakes—but he still won.

Can you still win if you throw away a set you’re losing 5-0 anyway? Are you tanking, if only momentarily, when you do that? Ings says that the possible answer to this question can only be found on the gambling market and through suspicious betting trends.

This is all to say that it’s a pretty fascinating and damning expose if, of course, it happens to be true. It’s also been fascinating what names have emerged as being among those linked to this investigation. (Hint: it does appear that there is one Grand Slam champion, yes.)

Equally fascinating has been the reaction from top players on the ATP World Tour, who have decide to jump ahead of the story. Roger Federer called for names to be revealed, as if to say that he knows there’s no way his name would be anywhere near that list, while Novak Djokovic has claimed he refused $200,000 to throw a match, also in 2007.

Another reason why tennis may be so vulnerable to match-fixing: that $200,000 Djokovic claims he refuse to purposely lose a match? As Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim points out, that’s more than all but a few players make in any given year. The temptation is high, not to mention that most players will compete in much lesser tournaments than this Australian Open and make money only if/when they win matches.

How do you resist, say, $50,000 to throw a match at the Tampa Challenger, which pays $104 to players who lose in the first round according to Wertheim. You don’t—or rather, some may not.

Andy Murray is another who spoke out against players who fixed matches, though he did a little more than that. After his win in the first round, Murray said that, “I think it’s a little bit hypocritical, really. I don’t believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies but then the tournaments are. I don’t really understand how it all works. I think it’s a bit strange.”

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the governing bodies in tennis haven’t acted swiftly in any meaningful way against players who may have fixed matches, if a betting company like William Hill can sponsor your Australian Open.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Which North Americans to keep an eye on in Australia?

January 17, 2016

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 2016 Australian Open.

Well, there it is: the first Grand Slam of the 2016 season, the one that asks us folks in North America to either stay up way, way late or wake up way, way early to watch some tennis.

It’s a tradition unlike any other: you’re barely awake, but battle through insomnia to watch the athletes you love playing the sport you love and that they so excel at. If you’ve woken up early, you’re probably sloppily eating a bowl of Froot Loops, or something else, in your pyjamas; or if you’ve stayed up, you’re probably half delusional. Either way, you’re having a good time once the matches start.

In light of all of this and for all of our North American readers (and for everyone else too!), let’s run through some of the North Americans who may impress most in Melbourne over the next two weeks.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams

What can the great American do for an encore? After a 2015 season in which she came oh so close of running away with all four Grand Slams of the year, there’s a case to be made that maybe she won’t be as motivated; not after such a season and not at her age. And yet, who would bet against her?

Madison Keys

Madison Keys is still only 20 years old, but the 2015 season was the first time when the American made real progress in her ascent toward the top of the WTA Tour and looked like she belonged with the very best. She made the third round at Roland-Garros, the fourth round in Flushing Meadows for the US Open, the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and, best of all, the semifinal in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Maybe two in a row?

Eugenie Bouchard

We feel more or less obliged to include Eugenie Bouchard, even after a disastrous 2015 season that followed her remarkable and swift ascent in 2014, because we’re on record saying that the Canadian would settle as being a perennial Top 30 player this season.

*****

Men’s draw

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic is another Canadian for whom we foresee good things in 2016—and so far so good, after he’s won in Brisbane; he has relaunched with a new head coach who should help him develop a more well-rounded game in Carlos Moya. Since he’s arrived in 2011, Raonic hasn’t done worse than the third round in at the Australian Open. As the 13th seed, the 25-year-old is slotted in Rafael Nadal’s and Stanislas Wawrinka’s section. He would need to beat the latter in order to equal the quarterfinals he reached last season, quite the tall order.

Taylor Fritz

News of the demise of American tennis may have been overblown, though it is true that the cupboard appeared bare not long ago. And yet, Taylor Fritz may be the cure to all that ails the sport in the United States. The year-end Junior No. 1 player in 2015, Fritz has the look and the game to become quite a force on the ATP World Tour. A season ago, he reached the Junior French Open final, made the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and won the Junior US Open. That’s when he turned pro: he’s since qualified for this first Grand Slam of the season and comes in at No. 154. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock

We’re grouping the two together, because Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil may have a better chance of advancing far at this Australian Open together than they do on their own. In singles, Sock will likely take care of Fritz, but he’ll soon find Wawrinka in his way. Meanwhile, Pospisil will have to battle Gilles Simon in the first round. In doubles however, the two are a legitimate force and, as the 9th seeds, have an actual chance.

We’ll end with a cool moment starring the American Sock from earlier this year.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: A new Milos Raonic in 2016?

January 11, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses Milos Raonic’s win in Brisbane.

What a difference a year makes for Canadian Milos Raonic.

After losing the 2015 Brisbane International presented by Suncorp final by the score of 4-6, 7-6(2) and 4-6, the 25-year-old again reached the final this past weekend and, again, found the great Roger Federer standing across the net from him. That win, in 2015, had been the 1000th of the Swiss’s illustrious career.

But this was then and this, as they say, is now; and this time, Raonic emerged victorious with a 6-4 and 6-4 win. Understandably, he was thrilled after the match. “It feels great considering how the past nine months have been. It adds a sort of cherry on top to all that,” he said. “[The win] does great things. For myself it signifies within the team how concrete and good the work we’re doing is.”

It signifies that Raonic has snagged a second career win against King Roger, the very first player born in 1990s to do so; and before we discuss the «concrete and good» work Raonic and his team are doing and have done, a word first on that team.

Because lest we forget, the Canadian has made changes to his coaching staff after a difficult and frustrating 2015 season: since peaking at No. 4 in the Emirates ATP Rankings early last year, Raonic battled back and foot injuries. Ending the year at No. 14, he parted ways with head coach Ivan Ljubicic this offseason and he’s since replaced him with Carlos Moya.

The catch? Ljubicic is now part of the Federer coaching team, so this win had to be twice as satisfying for Raonic.

To get the win, the Canadian was more aggressive than he’s been against Federer in the past, if only because his serve was so effective: for the match, Raonic won 82 per cent of the points on his first serve. He knew he needed to. “Against him it’s always about who can dictate,” Raonic said after the win. “I felt that other than maybe one service game where I double faulted three times, I was staying quite a bit ahead on my serve and always close on his, except for one that I lost at love. […] I was giving myself opportunities and then was able to capitalize twice.”

This wasn’t lost on Federer, who managed to reach the 136th final of his career despite battling the flu earlier in the tournament.

Maybe this win signifies a new normal for Raonic: in his playing days, Moya was a well-rounded and agile player with a massive forehand. While he never had any weapon quite like Raonic’s serve, it didn’t stop him from reaching the top of the rankings.

The hope is that under Moya’s guidance, Raonic can add a bit more pizzazz and agility to his game; at this point, the Canadian has proved that the difference between himself and the top players is mostly one of degree. Because at his best, he’s right there with the best.

That’s what this win means for Raonic, who discussed this after the win in Brisbane. “At the same time, with the difficulties I’ve had last year, it’s maybe a good way for me to show the other guys I will face going in Melbourne that I’ve got my stuff back together and I can play some good tennis again.”

He started to this past week.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 16 wonky predictions for the 2016 season

January 4, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon makes a series of predictions for the upcoming season.

It’s time to make predictions.

It can be difficult to find ways to write a few hundreds of words about tennis if and when there were no matches played in the previous week, especially if a column is supposed to recap the previous week’s actions. That’s why we sometimes pull rabbits out of our hats: we wouldn’t dare cheat our readers from the chance to read us, so we figure something out. For the third year in a row, we start the year with our wonky predictions.

Please keep in mind that these are meant to be wonky by design; we don’t expect to get most of them right.

Novak Djokovic will not repeat his 2015 season

Bad news, folks: there’s no way the best player in the world can up the ante once more. While my colleague Parsa Samii is on the record predicting a calendar Slam for the Serb in 2016, I temper my expectations. Oh sure, a season ago we thought there was no way that Novak Djokovic could ever top his fabled 2011 season but this time it’s true. The only way that he could is if he wins all four Grand Slams of the season. Making such a bold claim is too much, even for these wonky predictions.

Novak Djokovic will complete the career Slam

I’ll keep throwing this one out there, because not having won the French Open is probably the one thing, if there is any, keeping Djokovic from claiming a spot as one of the true legends of the sports and one of the five or six best players ever.


Rafael Nadal loses yet again at Roland Garros

Wouldn’t it be great if the one man Djokovic beats in Paris to cement his standing as one of the greats were the Ultimate Warriors Rafael Nadal?

Roger Federer wins a gold medal in Rio

But much to his dismay, it will not be the one he wants.

…But it will not be in singles

When Roger Federer announced his 2016 schedule, what was most noteworthy was his decision to compete in Rio in mixed doubles with Martina Hingis. I don’t really know who they’ll compete against, but I like their chances. On the other hand, this would mean that the Olympic singles gold medal would remain the one prize that continues to haunt Federer: he’s won everything except that.

Milos Raonic steps up

Since turning pro in 2008, the Canadian has been on an upward trajectory, steadily but surely progressing. He hit a little bit of a wall in 2015 and has decided to more or less replace Ivan Ljubicic for Carlos Moya on his coaching staff; he’s now at 14 on the ATP World Tour rankings, but a place inside the Top 10, or even Top 5, can be his.

Borna Coric is the “next big thing” of today

The young Croatian must prove that he’s not just a youngster with plenty of potential, but that he can achieve the results to fulfill this potential. I think he’s up to the task.


How about Andy Murray?

I’m actually asking you the question. I just don’t know what to make of Andy Murray in 2016. He’ll be fine, I guess—but don’t ask me to specify what that will look like.

Serena Williams wins the gold medal in Rio

Just as proof that Serena Williams is the all-encompassing force in women’s tennis, here’s a trio of predictions on the World No. 1-ranked player.

Serena Williams beats Steffi Graf’s Grand Slam record

In the modern era, no player has won more Grand Slam tournaments than Steffi Graf’s haul of 22. Second on the list with 21, the younger Williams sisters seems destined to pass the great German.

…And retires

By the end of the US Open in 2016, Serena Williams will be 35 years old. She will retire at some point.

Eugenie Bouchard settles on being a perennial Top 30 player

This is assuming that the Canadian does come back to the sport she so excelled at in 2014. Maybe she’ll never fulfill the visions of grandeur everyone had for her when she was running through just about everyone on the WTA Tour, but it’s fine. She can still be a very good, at times great, player.

Belinda Bencic makes a Grand Slam final

Why not? Belinda Bencic is still just 18 years old and is coming off a 2015 season where she won twice in Eastbourne and Toronto and reached three other finals. If she could conquer the Rogers Cup in Ontario so quickly, what’s stopping her from winning on the biggest of stages?


Garbine Muguruza emerges

And if it’s not the young Swiss who reigns over the WTA Tour when Williams has retired, why couldn’t it be the Spaniard? She turned pro in 2011 but only really broke through in 2014; since, she’s made two French Open quarterfinals and one Wimbledon final. If you think that means her game is well-rounded, it’s because it is: she’s ranked No. 3 in singles and No. 16 in doubles.

Simona Halep overtakes Serena Williams at No. 1?

I mean, this isn’t likely to happen: Simona Halep trails Serena Williams by 3,885 points… but maybe when the latter retires?

Novak Djokovic finishes the year at No. 1 yet again

Hey, I’ll keep running with this one until I’m wrong.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: A schedule, a mixed doubles partner and a head coach for Roger Federer

December 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 latest happenings in Ferederland.

The offseason is an oxymoron.

There is no time off in tennis, no matter what the calendar says: how are you going to prepare for the new season if you’re not going to do it when you don’t play any matches? There’s no time off, only time to be proactive and productive.

Roger Federer, at 34 years old, has understood that and, this past week, announced three legitimately important decisions; he keeps busy even when he doesn’t play. Let’s start with the most recent one, shall we?

Alright, that seems pretty straightforward, right? The King announces his playing schedule for 2016—except, isn’t he the only one who does so? Are other players similarly as selective in the tournaments they do and do not enter?

Hmm.

But wait, there’s more. What seems at first clear cut, with 16 selected tournaments, is actually a little muddy: there are the four Grand Slams, sure, but only five of the nine Masters 1000 events. How can Federer do that? Well, he’s earned the right to do it.

Federer can skip one Masters 1000 event with no penalty for each of the following reasons: 1) having played 600 matches, 2) having accumulated 12 years of service on the ATP World Tour, 3) being over 31 years old and 4) all of the above.

A schedule like this one has the benefit of letting the player maximize his chances for a maximum of points every time he enters a tournament; it’s an underrated part of Federer’s longevity. It sure pays to be King, yes.

You’ll notice that among the events the Swiss has added to his schedule are the 2016 Rio Olympics. Surely, he’ll look to add that elusive gold olympic singles medal, one of the (very few) prizes that has eluded throughout his career.

But that’s not all he’ll play for.

Indeed, Federer will compete in mixed doubles in Brazil next year with fellow Swiss Martina Hingis.

It’s an interesting choice, if for no other reason than the contrast that exists between the two: King Roger remains perhaps more universally beloved than any other athlete in the world while Hingis is much more reviled.

Because, you see, after she became the youngest ever Grand Slam champion and the youngest ever World No. 1, after she spent 209 weeks atop the WTA Tour, after she retired in 2002 at the age of 22, came back and climbed as high as No. 6 in 2006, after all that, Hingis retired a second time after injuries and, mostly, a positive test for cocaine in 2007.

By then, long gone was the tennis prodigy, the one who predated the Serena Williams era, who relied on smarts, touch, feel, instincts and IQ perhaps more than anyone ever had. The Williams sisters had introduced power to the women’s game and Hingis couldn’t quite keep up, but it doesn’t take away from her genius when she first arrived.

By 2007, her reputation had been shattered and she went away for six long years, giving everyone long enough to forget about what she had done. She came back in 2013 and Hingis seems, well, better and more at peace now. Always an excellent doubles player, Hingis and Federer are probably favourites for the 2016 mixed doubles tournament in Rio.

Let’s finish with the very first of the three news items (in chronological order), the announcement that Federer would replace Stefan Edberg with Ivan Ljubicic on the Swiss’s coaching team for 2016. The Croatian and former World No. 3, last seen helping Canadian Milos Raonic become a regular in the ATP World Tour Top 10, will likely be judged strictly on whether Federer wins the Rio gold medal next season.

You know, no pressure.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Eugenie Bouchard vs. USTA

December 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 revisits the 2015 season of Eugenie Bouchard. Once more, yes.

Eugenie Bouchard, we’ve said often, had perhaps the perfect launch to her professional career.

By the time she started the 2014 season, she had already profiled as the likely greatest player in Canada’s history. Then, she made the semifinals at the Australian Open against Na Li, won her first (and still lone) WTA Tour title in Nürnberg, made the semifinals at the French Open against Maria Sharapova, and peaked with a Wimbledon final against Petra Kvitova.

Bouchard, at just 20 years old then, was the talk of the town and it didn’t even matter that she had only won the one title. You could forgive her for it as the sort of process of growing up; it was fine that she hadn’t won because SURELY all the wins would come so, so quickly, if you will.

Well, the wins haven’t come and, in fact, Bouchard has kept sliding and sliding. It all started in the Wimbledon final, which lasted all of 55 minutes in a 6-3 and 6-0 rout. Then Bouchard lost her opening match in her hometown Rogers Cup against qualifier Shelby Rogers and, well, it’s been hell ever since.

She had the perfect start to her career, so maybe it’s only right that what followed is the sophomore slump? She’s now No. 49 on the WTA Tour rankings—but you knew that already, right?

Instead, let’s discuss the US Open. Why this? Because if there was hope for a quick turnaround for the Canadian for the 2016 season, it was for what she managed in 2015 at Flushing Meadows: in a year where the young Canadian has seemingly fallen on her face at every turn since the Australian Open, Bouchard held her ground at the final Grand Slam of the season and equalled her performance from her 2014 breakout.

She held her ground until the ground gave way.

Prior to her fourth-round match against Roberta Vinci, Bouchard pulled out of the tournament after a fall in the players’ locker room. She had apparently been there after regular hours, because she needed an ice bath and it’s while walking in the pitch-black training room to the room with the ice-bath that she fell and suffered a concussion.

A lot has happened since. The Canadian filed a civil lawsuit in US District Court against the US Tennis Association, alleging negligence and asking for compensatory and statutory damages. Per Yahoo, the lawsuit claims that, “Ms. Bouchard was caused to slip and fall on a dangerous condition created by the Defendants in the physiotherapy room attendant to the women’s locker room after winning her mixed-doubles match at the 2015 U.S. Open Tennis Championships. … The Defendants’ negligence was a substantial contributing factor in causing Ms. Bouchard’s injuries.”

A month later, the USTA responded in kind and denied more or less every allegation contained in Bouchard’s lawsuit. “The USTA (referred to as the ‘Answering Defendants’), ‘deny knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations contained in Paragraph I of the Complaint, but … deny that they were negligent and that such alleged negligence was a substantial contributing factor in causing Plaintiff’s injuries.”

The USTA answer basically amounts to, “Yeah, not really.”

It’s a fight that is likely going to keep going over the next few months, with the USTA likely going to say that it’s preposterous for Bouchard to seek millions in compensatory damages when she had been struggling so mightily and that who’s to say her return to form at the US Open was not just a mirage considering she made the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2015? In turn, Bouchard will likely say we don’t know what could or couldn’t happen, just what did. Then, the USTA will say that Bouchard should have known that going to the training room after-hours was a risk and—wait, it already said that, Yahoo notes.

It’s just the beginning and, unless the two settle, the fight will continue and turn more and more ugly.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim notes that we shouldn’t forget where the stakes are highest in this fight: that Bouchard, just 21 years old, suffered a concussion and hasn’t completed one match in the three months since.

Knowing what we know about concussions and head trauma in sports, that bright future of Bouchard is now standing on more precarious ground than ever.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Let’s revisit those 15 wonky predictions

December 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 revisits the 15 predictions he made at the beginning of the 2015 season.

Welcome to the tennis offseason, which lasts oh about six weeks in the ATP World Tour and around two months in the WTA Tour.

Six weeks, eight weeks, in either case it’s short. But in the world of online tennis writers with a weekly column *WINK WINK* two months is a mighty long time: how do you write about “the week that was in the world of tennis” if the previous week had no tournaments?

Well, this given week you revisit the 15 predictions you made at the beginning of this 2015 season. Which predictions? These ones.

Just an FYI: these were meant to be wonky by design, so perhaps the results will reflect that.

Novak Djokovic has a season for the ages: YAY

If I’m being totally honest, making this prediction was a way to make myself look good. How so? Well, the Serb is my favourite player and I wanted great things for him; he had been the player of the 2014 season despite only one Grand Slam title to his name and still appeared dominant. But I wrote that, “It’s impossible for Novak Djokovic to ever repeat his 2011 season” and I was clearly wrong there. Whatever.

Novak Djokovic completes the career Slam: NAY

The 28-year-old was excellent and all-conquering in 2015, laying waste to more or less every poor soul who stepped on a tennis court with him, and every single time except for six defeats. Oddly enough, one of his six losses occurred against Ivo Karlovic, which is as random as it is irrelevant to this discussion. What certainly is relevant, though, is that Djokovic went 27-1 at the four Grand Slams and that, of course, his one defeat occurred in France after he eliminated the mighty Rafael Nadal. The French Open title continues to escape him.

Roger Federer calls it quits: NAY

That’s the problem with quirky predictions: they’re by nature far-fetched and relatively unlikely to occur. But to expect a then-33-year-old to fade and to fall back to the back before reassessing where he stood and maybe moving on? That seemed reasonable, no? Well no, said Roger Federer.

…Probably because he wins something else: NAY

Much to the dismay of Federer fans, the Swiss didn’t add to his haul of 17 career Grand Slam titles. It’s not for lack of trying however, nor of opportunities either: at Wimbledon and the US Open, King Roger made the finals, even managed to tie both matches at 1-1 after two sets before meeting his end. It’s appeared entirely obvious now that the days of Federer winning Grand Slam titles and three out of five sets are long gone; right now, Djokovic is just a more formidable foe, “Sneak attacks by Roger” or no SABR. Which, you know, is fine when you’re 34 years old.

Eugenie Bouchard wins a Grand Slam title: NAY

Oh boy. For Eugenie Bouchard, who had blazed through her initial full season on Tour in 2014 on her way to two Grand Slam semifinals and one Grand Slam final, the problems manifested themselves amid glory: the Canadian lost her Wimbledon final 6-3 and 6-0 in only 55 minutes. The hope, in making this prediction, was to double down on #GenieArmy and hope that the then-20-year-old could readjust her game and her expectations. It has yet to happen

…And the Rogers Cup: NAY

Eeech, that escalated quickly. For the second season in a row, Bouchard lost a three-setter first match in her home tournament. This time, it was against Belinda Bencic, which really isn’t so bad because the Swiss managed to win the 2015 Rogers Cup and was playing as well as anyone else at the time—certainly as well as Bouchard.

Serena Williams does not win a Grand Slam title: NAY

Certainly my dumbest prediction: not only did Serena Williams win one Grand Slam in 2015, she came this close of managing the calendar-year Grand Slam and snatching the four titles. In fact, she would have, if not for the biggest upset in modern women’s tennis history at the US Open. Because yep, that’s what it takes to beat her: you have to do something that’s literally never been done in your era. No pressure.

…But still finishes the year at No. 1: YAY

Wouhou, I guess—though really, this positive shouldn’t count because I was so wrong on the previous prediction.

Rafael Nadal has a 2013-lite season: NAY

Don’t look now, but Rafael Nadal has somehow made his way back to the Top 5 of the ATP. Really, there he is, lurking at No. 5. I wasn’t right in predicting that the Spaniard would lose a few gut-wrenching Grand Slam finals against Djokovic in 2015, but I was right in thinking that he would bounce back after a difficult 2014 season. He still can’t beat the Serb and may have lost his edge over Federer, but he won three times and made three other finals this season. That’s good.

Postmodern Andy Murray will be just fine: YAY

Andy Murray’s decision to leave adidas for Under Armour was postmodern in the sense that it was his acceptance that he wasn’t Federer or Nadal; maybe just like Djokovic signing with Uniqlo before, he could use that moment of clairvoyance propel him to new heights. Maybe that will happen, in 2016 or later on, but the Brit certainly rebounded from a tough 2014 season this past year: lest we forget, Murray was ranked as low as No. 12 on Sept. 15, 2014. He’s now back to No. 2.

…And adds to the hardware collection: NAY

That being said, Murray did not add to his Grand Slam titles—and while some predictions were imprecise by nature, this one isn’t. Either Murray won or he didn’t. He didn’t.

Nick Kyrgios makes a Grand Slam final: NAY

Oh boy. The only times the fiery Australian made headlines was for all the wrong reasons; it’s fine that he’s immature, or certainly tempestuous—but that’s not how you win a Grand Slam title, I guess. At least not now, in this era of the even-keeled and superhuman Djokovic. Maybe once the Serb retires?

Simona Halep wins Roland Garros: NAY

Simona Halep, No. 2-ranked player in the world, captured three titles in 2015 on her way to a 49-17 season and gained over $4.5 million in prize money. Unfortunately, for both her sake and the sake of my predictions, the French Open was not among her three titles. This has been par for the course: while the Romanian has excelled for the majority of the time since 2013, she hasn’t always done so on the biggest stages. That’s the next step in her evolution.

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

Well let’s see. Stanislas Wawrinka won 55 matches, lost 18; he amassed four titles, including the all-prestigious Roland Garros. Federer, meanwhile, won 63 matches against 11 losses, while adding six titles to his name—though none as prestigious as Wawrinka’s French Open. The tiebreaker? Federer is ranked No. 3 while Wawrinka, at No. 4, remains the “Other Swiss guy.”

Novak Djokovic finishes the year at No. 1 again: YAY

It’s Djokovic’s world and we’re all just wondering if he may solidify his case as the best player ever.

———-

So how well did I do? I finished 4/15, down from 6/14 from the year before. I am not good at this.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic is the player of the year

November 30, 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 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.

The month of November, much like the rest of the 2015 season mind you, but the month of November, yes, has belonged to Novak Djokovic.

We mean here, on this space. It’s true, just look at the archives of this column. This is the fifth column we’ve written this month: two were tournament previews where we predicted that Djokovic would emerge victorious, and two were tournament recaps that praised the Djoker after he had indeed emerged victorious. The fifth one, this one, is titled “Novak Djokovic is the player of the year” and if you expect anything different than what I’ve already explained a few times in the previous four columns, well don’t: the title isn’t misleading.

Because there’s more Djokovic praise this week again. (If you’re a fan of Andy Murray, Great Britain, David Goffin, Belgium, or the Davis Cup in general, then maybe try again next week I suppose.)

Now that the 2015 season has concluded, we can say what had been obvious for a long time already, which is that this season has belonged to Djokovic. It’s true: the Serb received the ATP World Tour No. 1 presented by Emirates award this season—and, well, before we move on, a quick word on these awards.

Don’t Djokovic and the Bryan brothers as the best doubles pairing in the world in 2015 deserve better? The ATP World has the “Star of Tomorrow,” the “Most Improved Player,” the “Comeback Player of the Year,” the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship and the Humanitarian of the Year; why couldn’t it also have the, I don’t know, Player of the Year award? The most impressive player? The “Super duper, here’s your brownie” player of the year?

Djokovic and the Bryans had the best doubles and singles season on Tour, yet all they get is the year-end No. 1—and it’s really all only by virtue of finishing with the most points?

Because saying that Djokovic finished the 2015 season with the most points on Tour doesn’t quite convey his level of dominance: with 16,585 points, the 28-year-old finished well, well ahead of Murray in second place. Put another way: only Murray and Roger Federer finished the 2015 season with more points than Djokovic’s margin of 7,915 points over the second place player.

Djokovic is utterly alone at the top, we’ve repeated a few times already, and it’s not a coincidence that my colleagues from the Tennis Connected podcast believe that this 2015 Djokovic season out stands as the best ever (and that one of the two—who? listen up—went on the record to predict that the Serb would complete the calendar-year Grand Slam in 2016, but this is a different debate).

Maybe Djokovic’s season is the very best in history, maybe not, but it’s certainly on the short list of the best ones, yes.  It’s also certainly better than his 2011 season: Djokovic won more matches (while losing six times, just like in 2011) and more tournaments for more money than he did four years ago.

As a result, Djokovic has turned the ATP World Tour into something we haven’t seen in about a decade: this era was always the big two (Federer and Rafael Nadal), the big three (add Djokovic) or the big four (add Murray). But it’s probably the first time since Federer’s 2005 and 2006 reign that there isn’t a true logjam at or near the top.

Who will step up?

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Novak Djokovic remains the King of the Barclays World Tour Finals

November 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 recaps the 2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Novak Djokovic has been so good this season that he has even won the WTA Finals. Look, it says so right here.

Alright, these types of mistakes happen to everyone and shame on me, perhaps, for pointing my big fat finger right at it. I know. Whatever.

For the fourth year in a row, Djokovic won the Finals of the ATP, not the WTA, of course—or the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals if you’d like to call it by its full and proper name. He beat Roger Federer in the final once more, this time by the score of 6-3 and 6-4 in 80 minutes. In winning this match, he avenged his loss against the Swiss in the round robin. (More on that one in a minute.)

With the win, the Serb finishes his finest season yet. “It’s been an incredible season,» Djokovic said after his win. «Obviously, sitting here with this trophy alongside me, I couldn’t ask for a better finish to the season. The last four years I managed to win the (Barclays ATP) World Tour Finals, where the best players in the world are playing. For some reason or another, I’ve been playing some of my best tennis after the US Open, in Asia and also indoors, both Paris and London.»

How great was he in 2015? He finishes the year with an 82-6 record, including 27-1 at the four Grand Slams, something like $19 million in prize money and 11 titles, three of which came at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. These World Tour Finals were the 15th straight final he had reached at the Tour Finals, Grand Slams or Masters 1000 he participated in. Of the 15, he’s won 12 times.

If it seems like Djokovic is utterly alone at the top right now, it’s because he truly is. (And also because we’ve mentioned it just two weeks ago after another Masters 1000 title, this one in Paris.)

We could continue on and on on that front for a long while, so let’s just go ahead and do it: this win in the Tour Finals against Federer was his 23rd in his rivalry in 45 matches against the greatest player of all time. He also has a 23-23 record against Rafael Nadal, supposedly the best ever on clay and one of the five or so best in history. For his career, Djokovic is up to 686 wins and only 146 losses (including 45 against just Federer and Nadal), and 59 titles.

He’s still just 28 years old and should continue to add to these totals for a few years, both because he continues to excel and because his main rivals keep getting worse.

And through it all, what I’ll remember most from these Tour Finals is the pseudo controversy Djokovic created after his round robin loss to Federer.  “I made a lot of, lot of unforced errors. I just handed him the win, especially in the second set,» he said after losing the match. “He tactically played well. Undoubtedly, he was the better player on the court. But I think I also allowed him to play and penetrate through the ball and dictate the tempo from the baseline.”

This being the gentlemanly sport of tennis, Federer didn’t take too kindly to Djokovic’s comments on the match. “He handed [me] the win? Well, he wasn’t as good as in the first set. But I feel, honestly, with the way he’s played this season, you still have to put him away,» he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like he played terrible. I know he can play better. Why did he play that way? I’d like to give myself credit for that, quite honestly, yeah.”

Welcome to tennis, where any comment that isn’t overly complimenting of your opponent will be perceived as a slight.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Next Page »