Tennis Elbow: The boring life of sitting in an IKEA chair at Roland Garros

June 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 recaps the 2014 French Open.

Well, talk about boring. Right? Rafael Nadal won the 2014 French Open by defeating Novak Djokovic in four sets of 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 and 6-4 in three hours and 31 minutes.

There’s no way around it. Nadal is boring. Specifically, him winning Roland Garros is boring. Boring is boring, and nobody likes boring. And that’s why we do it. What, exactly?

In anticipation of the French Open every year, we assess the forces on the ATP World Tour and we fool ourselves. We reason that Novak Djokovic, the second best player on clay in the world (the privilege of which is to hold a now tidy 0-6 record against Nadal in Paris), may win the tournament this year. That he might complete the career Slam. We ground our reasoning on whatever, because that’s essentially as good a reason as any other one.

We say that Djokovic might complete the career Slam, but why exactly? Because it’s time. Because he’s donated the prize money that he won for capturing the BNL Internazionali d’Italia to the flood relief efforts in his native Serbia. Because he’ll soon be a newlywed too, and that he’s about to be a father.

You want other reasons? We even come up with some that are at least somewhat related to tennis. We posit that the weather may give the advantage to the Serb, if only it can be cool and rainy. We mention that Djokovic has turned a corner since the above-mentioned win in Rome, as if all roads to France went through Italy. Oh, but not everyone stands strong. Sometimes, we predict that Novak will win only to do an about-turn at the very last possible second and explain that actually, Nadal should be the favourite. (Greg Garber also writes that Ladbrokes had made the Spaniard a 4-to-5 favourite entering the final. That was our cue—the house never loses.)

But mostly, we do it, because it’d be so much fun. Most of us like boring in our daily lives—we don’t like, necessarily, to see the IKEA chair we’ve just assembled lose its leg just as we sit down on it. But goddamn is it not funny when that same thing happens to our best friend. Well, every year in Paris, we assemble our IKEA chair and ask our best friend to sit on it, and when he does and nothing happens, then we fume. Because we know that we’re the only other person that’s going to sit on it, and of course the leg will fall.

That IKEA chair is Djokovic and Nadal playing at the French Open. We like boring in our daily lives, sure, but we hate it in sports. Change is hard, but it’s so much fun in sports.

Well, we’re wrong. All of us. Year after year, Nadal winning the French Open is anything but boring. Legend has it that he’s actually lost once in his career in Paris, though nobody can confirm that it has happened. (It would help if Robin Soderling were to give us a sign that he still knows how to hit a crosscourt forehand. I mean, where are you, Soderling? Oh, really?? Don’t call it a comeback! This loss just adds to Nadal’s mystique. Sure, he lost, but a relative unknown.)

But that’s what’s fun. Excellence is fun. Being in awe is a great feeling. What do you say when you’ve run out of things to say? When a man has won one Grand Slam tournament two more times than any other man in history has won any other Grand Slam? When this man hasn’t lost on this court in 1,833 days? When this man has a 31-win streak in France that’s not the longest ever, because he’s currently riding a 35-match streak at this same event? When he’s a career 66-1 at the Porte d’Auteuil? When everyone already knows all those statistics? What do you say then?

You say it’s boring. But how can this be boring? Now sit on your IKEA chair.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The case for Novak

May 27, 2013

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon makes a bold prediction for the French Open.

I might look like a fool by the end of Roland Garros, because I predict that Novak Djokovic will win his very first French Open and complete the career Grand Slam.

Of course, that’s far from an outlandish prediction. The Serb is the current alpha male on the ATP World Tour, and by a mile, and has six Grand Slam tournaments to his name—but he will need a monumental effort if he wants to take the final leap.

That’s because the Court Philippe Chatrier also happens to be Rafael Nadal’s backyard. The Spaniard’s successes in Paris need no reminder. Let’s just mention his record eight titles and 52-1 playing record—his one blemish looking more and more like a fluke loss in the round of 16 in 2009. (A fluke, because Nadal withdrew from many tournaments, including Wimbledon, and rested for a few months afterward, and because Robin Soderling, who beat him that French Open, has essentially gone missing.)

Currently in 2013, no one is playing better than Nadal, in part because the calendar is in the thick of the clay court season.

I know all of that, and still I’m taking Djokovic.

On the French Open clay, he is the lone player capable of making life miserable for the Spaniard. Granted, there are probably more players capable of beating Djokovic on clay than there are with Nadal, but I’ll take the odds. (Plus, I predicted this just a month ago. I’d look even more foolish to change my tune right now. He’s my favourite player too, so of course I want him to win.)

A lot has been made about Djokovic’s recent loss against Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Internazionali BNL d’Italia event, just a round before a potential showdown against Nadal. In the match against Berdych, the Serb led 6-2 and 5-2 but lost in three sets. That’s a bad loss, and there’s no other way to look at it. He should have won, and he’ll be the first to admit it.

But I’ll point to the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, where Djokovic dominated Nadal and left little doubt as to who the better player was that day. His backhand, especially, was lethal that day and Nadal was never really in control of the match.

For the French Open, I’m also banking on Djokovic’s drive and determination. Every year, it seems like he sets lofty goals to reach. That’s how the 2012 season, where he started and ended at the top of the rankings, won one Grand Slam title, reached the finals of another two, and the semifinal of a fourth, can be looked at as a failure. That’s because in 2012, Djokovic had wanted 1) to win Roland Garros and 2) to win a gold medal at the London Olympics—and he failed at both.

This season, it looks like Djokovic had his sights set, first, on Monaco. The event is played in the country where he lives, yet he had never been able to defeat the King of Clay at Monte Carlo in his quest to overtake Rafa on clay…until this year.

His second goal for 2013, really, starts right now. It’s a Roland Garros title and a place in tennis lore.

The event gets underway this week. Novak will either make me look like a genius or like a fool. One sounds so much better than the other.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

Robin Soderling pulls out of Australian Open

December 8, 2011

Former world No. 4 Robin Soderling told his fans on Twitter today that he hopes for an ATP World Tour return in February. The hard-hitting Swede was struck with mononucleosis in July and has since to play a competitive match.

“Hello my friends,” Soderling said on Twitter. I am very sorry for being away for so long and for not giving many updates but my recovery has been longer than expected. I am feeling better with each day but it will still take some time before I can start practicing in full speed. My goal is to start with practice in January and I hope for tournament comeback in February but at this stage it is hard to know when and where. I hope my body will allow me to do that. I will try to give you more updates. I love reading your messages and appreciate your support and encouragement very much.”

Soderling began 2011 in strong form, recording an 18-1 record. The Tibro native is currently ranked No. 13 in the world.

Soderling confirms he has mono

September 8, 2011

World No. 6 Robin Soderling confirmed on his Facebook page earlier today that he has been battling mono for quite some time. The Swede, who was forced to pull out of the summer hard-court Masters events as well as the US Open, will look to return to the courts when he’s fully fit.

“It’s been a difficult period but I am getting better,” Soderling told his fans on Facebook. Doctors confirmed that I have had mono for quite some time and this truly explains my lack of energy but my health is improving and I hope to be back on the court as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your support and hope to see you soon.”

Soderling hasn’t played on Tour since winning his hometown event in Bastad.

Video: Soderling Plays for Peace

August 7, 2011

Robin Söderling and artist Ernst Billgren met up at the Swedish Open in Båstad, Sweden earlier this summer to create a sculpture for the Non-Violence Tour. The sculpture was later unveiled at the opening ceremonies at the tournament.

Soderling showcased his pin-point accuracy for this worthy cause.

Enjoy.

Roddick, Soderling out of Rogers Cup

August 4, 2011

Former winner Andy Roddick and current world No. 5 Robin Soderling have both withdrawn from next week’s Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada.

Roddick (oblique muscle injury), and Soderling (wrist) join the growing list of injured players to miss the year’s six Masters 1000 event. Jurgen Melzer (quad), Milos Raonic (hip), Xavier Malisse (personal), Sam Querrey (elbow injury) and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (appendicitis) have also withdrawn.

Soderling Rocks Ferrer for Second Swedish Title

July 17, 2011

World No. 5 Robin Soderling captured his fourth ATP World Tour title on Sunday by dismissing David Ferrer in the final of the SkiStar Swedish Open on Sunday.

Defeating Soderling 6-2, 6-2, Soderling didn’t drop a set all week, while losing all but 13 games through four matches. Improving to 10-4 against Ferrer in lifetime meetings, Soderling won his second title in the last three years.

Ferrer, who aided Spain in a victory over the United States in Davis Cup last weekend, fell to 2-3 in finals this year.

Soderling Launches Charity

July 15, 2011

World No. 5 Robin Soderling announced this week during his hometown event in Bastad, Sweden that he will be launching his own foundation; a talent award, and become the ambassador for a Non-Violence Project.

The breakdown of Soderling’s new endeavors can be found at the link below.

Link: ATP

Ferrero Reaches Stuttgart Semifinal; Soderling, Berdych Race into Sweden Final Four

July 15, 2011

MercedesCup—Stuttgart, Germany

Quarterfinal Results:

Juan Carlos Ferrero defeats Marcel Granollers 6-4, 6-3; Pablo Andujar defeats Cedrik-Marcel 6-2, 6-1; Federico Del Bonis defeats Pavol Cervenak 6-1, 6-2.

SkiStar Swedish Open—Båstad, Sweden

Quarterfinal Results:

No. 2 seed David Ferrer defeats Andreas Haider-Maurer 6-1, 6-1; No. 4 seed Nicolas Almagro defeats Michael Ryderstedt 6-4, 7-6(4); No. 1 seed Robin Soderling defeats No. 8 seed Potito Starace 6-3, 6-4; No. 3 seed Tomas Berdych defeats Blaz Kavcic 6-1, 6-4.

Second-Round Results:

Michael Ryderstedt defeats Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 6-4, 6-2; No. 4 seed Nicolas Almagro defeats Guillermo Olaso 6-2, 6-3.

Wimbledon 2011 Issue 4: 23 June

June 23, 2011

by: Tom Cochrane

Above the players’ entrance to Centre Court the following lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, are quoted:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”.

On Day 3, there was triumph for Venus Williams in an almighty battle against 40 year old Kimiko Date-Krumm, the American prevailing 8-6 in the decisive set. But disaster struck on Day 3 for rising star Milos Raonic, the young Canadian forced to retire injured in his opening match after falling awkwardly and injuring his leg. Let’s hope the 20 year old makes a speedy recovery and is back on the ATP Tour soon.

Day 3 Recap

A day after sister Serena grabbed the headlines with her emotional comeback victory, Venus stole the show with a gripping 3 set victory over a gallant Kimiko Date-Krumm. The Japanese veteran showcased her superb fitness and solid all-court game but Williams came up with some big serves and groundstrokes at the key moments to eke out a gutsy victory.

In other women’s action, Petra Kvitova continued her impressive start to the tournament with a clinical straight sets victory, while Zvonareva and Azarenka also advanced with 2 set wins. Andrea Petkovic was pushed to 3 sets but emerged victorious, while Jarmila Gajdosova and Sabine Lisicki also recorded good wins. The biggest upset (and fashion story) on Day 3 was Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The self-anointed Lady Gaga of tennis arrived on-court wearing a white jacket featuring 24 white tennis balls attached to it. Unfortunately for the American, her form couldn’t match the fashion hype, with Mattek-Sands going down to a Japanese qualifier in 3 sets.

In the men’s tournament, Rafael Nadal produced a methodical performance to beat Ryan Sweeting for the third time this year. No doubt Sweeting will be hoping for some better draws in the second half of the season. After a sluggish opening round performance, Andy Roddick played far better in his second round match, seeing off the dangerous Victor Hanescu in straight sets. Also advancing in 3 sets was Tomas Berdych, who crushed Julien Benneteau, and Andy Murray, who was in cruise control against Tobias Kamke.

There was success for a trio of seeded Frenchmen on Day 3, with Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon advancing for the loss of just one set between them. To my mind, each of them has a chance of doing some serious damage in this tournament. Stanislas Wawrinka was the highest seed to fall on Wednesday, the Swiss outplayed by the Italian Bolelli. Also departing the All England Club was Juan Ignacio Chela and Fernando Verdasco, the Spaniard struggling to recover from his epic 5 set win over Radek Stepanek on Tuesday.

Match of the Day – Day 4

1. Lleyton Hewitt vs. Robin Soderling

I consider this to be the first mouth-watering clash of the men’s tournament. The plucky Hewitt took painkillers to ease the effects of a lingering foot injury and defeat the talented Kei Nishikori in round 1, and the former Wimbledon champion is desperate to put in a good performance at his favourite tournament. Hewitt leads Soderling 3-1 in head to head meetings, although the Swede won the last encounter between the pair.

Soderling’s form was patchy against Petzschner in the opening round, but the Swede will be happy to have survived a tricky match-up. To my mind, this match will come down to 3 main factors: Hewitt’s serve, Hewitt’s court coverage and Soderling’s unforced error count.

The Aussie needs to serve well to have a chance, and that means a high percentage of first serves into play and very few double faults. Hewitt’s foot injury didn’t appear to hinder him against Nishikori, but there is always a risk it will flare up against Soderling. Although a touch slower than in his prime, Hewitt still covers the court exceptionally well, and his strategy will be to extend the rallies and force Soderling to hit extra shots. That requires excellent movement. If Soderling’s big groundstrokes are on song, Hewitt will be in trouble, but if the Swede has one of his more inconsistent days, the feisty Aussie warrior has a real chance of victory. Soderling in 4.

2. Li Na vs. Sabine Lisicki

Li Na is no doubt still basking in the afterglow of her tremendous French Open victory, and so she should. The world number 4 is a two-time quarter-finalist at the All England Club, but I sense she will find it hard to focus on tennis after her incredible success in Paris. In my view, this match is a major danger match for Li, as Lisicki is an accomplished grass-court player who made the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2009.

Lisicki is on the comeback trail from injury, but has been ranked as high as 22 in the world. The German is steadily climbing up the rankings again, having compiled an impressive 15-5 win-loss record for the year to date. On any other surface, I’d back Li to win this match, but I am predicting an upset on the grass-courts of Wimbledon. Lisicki in 3.

3. Kevin Anderson vs. Novak Djokovic

Currently ranked 36 in the world, Anderson narrowly missed out on a seeding for this year’s Wimbledon tournament. The big serving South African has been slowly but steadily improving both his game and his ranking. On grass, Anderson will need to produce a first-class serving performance and really go for his groundstrokes to have a hope of upsetting the second seed.

Any thoughts that Djokovic would experience a comedown after his incredible winning run was ended by Roger Federer in Paris were quickly dashed in round 1 at the All England Club, the Serb making short work of Jeremy Chardy. Djokovic’s superb all-court game and superior movement make him the clear favourite in this one. To my mind, Anderson would be doing well to steal a set. Djokovic in 3.

4. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Former world junior champion and Wimbledon boys’ champion Grigor Dimitrov has been earmarked as a player of the future. The Bulgarian has a game reminiscent of Roger Federer’s, and has worked in the past with Federer’s former coach, Peter Lundgren. Now working with Aussie Peter McNamara, Dimitrov has yet to make a major impact at ATP Tour level, but I suspect that’s not far away.

Tsonga hasn’t performed as well at Wimbledon as one might expect, with a solitary quarter-final appearance to his name. With a big serve, booming groundstrokes and exquisite touch at the net, Tsonga has the game to be a contender at the All England Club. In the past, the Frenchman hasn’t shown the composure or patience required to succeed on grass, but perhaps this year will be the time for him to make a deep run. I’ll back Tsonga on the basis of his greater big-match experience, but this match could go down to the wire. Tsonga in 5.

5. Laura Robson vs. Maria Sharapova

Like Dimitrov, Laura Robson is a former Wimbledon junior champion. The Brit has attempted to focus on senior events in recent years, and has had some commendable results, most notably at the Hopman Cup in Perth. Still just 17, Robson has got plenty of improvement left in her, especially in relation to her court movement and the power of her groundstrokes and serve.

I’m hoping that Robson will put on a good show against former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, but the Russian’s ruthlessness and competitive spirit mean that a straight sets thrashing is not out of the question. Like Bernard Tomic, Robson is one of those youngsters who performs best on the biggest stages, so I’m expecting her to be competitive with Sharapova in each set. That said, I’m still backing the 3-time Grand Slam champion to advance in straight sets. Sharapova in 2.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.

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