March 4, 2014
MIAMI, Fla. (www.sonyopentennis.com) – 17-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will begin defending her Sony Open singles title during the day session (Session 5) on Thursday, March 20. The opponent for the six-time Sony Open champion will be revealed on Sunday, March 16 when the rest of the women’s draw is announced. The most glamorous tournament on the Tours’ schedule runs March 17-30 at the Crandon Park Tennis Center.
Williams opening match will kick-off an exciting weekend of tennis which will include ATP World No. 2 Novak Djokovic taking the court on Friday, March 21 (Session 7) and World No. 1 Rafael Nadal making his return to Miami on Saturday, March 22 (Session 10). Tickets are available and can be purchased online at www.SonyOpenTennis.com or by phone at 305-442-3367.
In 2013, Williams claimed her sixth title in Miami, surpassing Steffi Graff for the most by any woman in Sony Open history and tying Andre Agassi for the most by any player all-time. To become the winningest player in Sony Open history Williams will have to navigate an impressive player field including Australian Open winner Li Na, four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, two-time Sony Open champion Victoria Azarenka and many more.
Not to be outdone, the men’s player field is even more impressive with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, defending Sony Open champion Andy Murray, Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka and former US Open champion Juan Martin del Porto all entered to play.
But the Sony Open is not just a tennis tournament, it is a lifestyle event. The Sony Open offers a range of activities for the entire family. From the die-hard tennis fan to the casual consumer, the Sony Open features food by world-class chefs, luxurious shopping options, live music, beautiful weather and a host of other activities.
Come out and see why the Sony Open is considered the place to be in March!
February 24, 2014
There wasn’t much that happened this past week in tennis, neither on the men’s side nor the women’s. I looked everywhere and, yeah, not a whole lot to talk about.
On the men’s side, there was Rafael Nadal winning the Rio Open, Marin Cilic winning the Delray Beach Open and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking the Open 13 crown in France. There was my guy too, Novak Djokovic, somehow going fake-skydiving in anticipation of the defense of his Dubai Duty Free championship title—so yeah, not much.
But even if there’s nothing necessarily relevant to discuss, it doesn’t mean that I won’t have anything to write about. As fun as last year’s Waiting for Godot column was, and it really, really was, it’s a cop-out to write a column about nothing just because I have nothing. (But I don’t totally cross out the possibility of revisiting that column about nothing later in the year. It was just that good.)
So I looked at the WTA Tour. I looked, first, at Kurumi Nara’s win at the Rio Open—and, well, as much as I appreciate what it takes to win a tournament in this sport, and that there are no minor titles—yeah, this doesn’t quite cut it. So I looked at the Dubai Duty Free Championship and saw that Venus Williams had won the title, and thought that this was—hey why not?
Williams’s third title in Dubai was her first on the tour in about 16 months, which seems like a mighty long time for a player of her stature.
That was my first reaction, but then I realized that it might be wrong. The older of the two Williams sisters is among the tour’s biggest stars, but she’s currently ranked No. 29. In 2014, and at age 33, she resides on tour much more as dean would than as class president.
When the Williams sisters broke through in 1994 (i.e. Venus) and 1995 (i.e. Serena), tennis didn’t know what to do with them. It was obvious early on that they would take over the sport, and that the sport had never seen anyone like them—it wasn’t exactly a malaise, but there was uneasiness. The two African-American teenagers were taking over the tour and destroying the Caucasian teenager that was Martina Hingis.
They were expected to take over the world together, and for a while they did. They were more powerful than anyone else, especially at their young age, and would only improve from there. They won tournaments and often played, or forfeited, finals against one another. So many finals had the two of them, because they were the two best players on Tour.
Venus became the first African-American player ever to be the top ranked WTA player almost 12 years ago to the day today, and sister Serena was right there as 1a. That same year, in 2002, it’s Serena, not Venus, who captured three Grand Slam titles. Right when Serena took off farther to another stratosphere, Venus crashed. Serena might have won a Grand Slam before her sister, but it’s Venus who had won four in a row afterward. She was still the big sister, but then she crashed.
Well alright, I realized that that’s not exactly right. Venus’s No. 1-ranking was followed by a French Open title that same year, and an Australian Open the following year. It’s only afterward that she couldn’t keep up with the rhythm of Serena.
I thought further and realized that Venus’s following years were marred by injuries and that we’d come very, very close to never see her ever again on a tennis court.
I continued thinking and found it telling that her other Grand Slam titles all came at Wimbledon (in 2005, 2007 and 2008). Because that shows the type of player that she is. The Williams sisters were grouped together when they first came on, but the latter part of their respective careers has proven that it wasn’t totally accurate to do so. While Serena was always going to be a great, great champion, Venus wasn’t that.
There are differences. Venus has been a great champion, but not to the extent of her sister. Venus was always just a girl along with the other ones. She had, still does actually, a great serve and a great forehand, and it made sense that the grass was and is where she was, and has been, most successful. She could beat a Lindsay Davenport, or a Jennifer Capriati, just as well as she could lose to either of them. That’s basically what she was, and it’s fine—one of the top girls.
She wasn’t marred by controversy either the same way that Serena was, and continues to be. There hasn’t been an outrage like this one, or that one, and Venus has never crip-walked all over the hollow grounds of the All-England Club (let me stress this: as ridiculous as this criticism was) the way that Serena did.
Likewise, a common reaction to the ascent of the Williams sisters was a malaise with the way they played, all physical and power, when the sport was always so graceful. But that was always more about Serena than Venus, who stands six-foot-one. Venus is a tall and graceful woman who isn’t built like her younger sister. She’s pretty too, but that has nothing to do with her tennis skills.
She currently has 45 career titles and an 80.3 career winning percentage. Is she underrated? Probably not, she’s among the biggest stars of the sport, in that second tier of players after the rarified air that her sister breathes along with Steffi Graf and the likes—and that’s precisely how Venus is viewed, I think.
But she’s definitely underappreciated. Given her health issues, it’s a wonder just to see her playing, let alone winning matches and tournaments.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
January 20, 2014
I have a confession—this column is the second one that I write this week. I had some time on Saturday and decided that I would write my column ahead of time.
I had a good idea for it, too. I was going to write about how the first week of the Australian Open had been relatively devoid of surprises both for the men and the women, and about how everything that was supposed to happen really did happen. And that this included the incredible heat wave, which lived up to the doomsday scenario that had all of us talking. (Speaking of, Courtney Walsh, an acquaintance and a colleague from Australia, foreshadowed it on Twitter a few days prior.)
I was done. I had mentioned the stunning upset of Juan Martin Del Potro, by Roberto Bautista Agut, but I was saying that the season’s first Grand Slam had been otherwise devoid of drama up to this point. I was insisting that no foe had proved greater than the weather in this first week. I had written it all, and it was an easy and good column.
And I will write that column about what to do in the face of extreme weather, and I will publish it at some point—but not this week when Ana Ivanovic has beaten Serena Williams in the fourth round.
Talk about throwing a wrench into everything—the tournament, blowing up one half of the women’s draw and, most importantly, my wonky prediction that Williams would complete the yearly slam this season. All of it, gone before it even started.
In all seriousness, my plight at having been proven wrong pales in comparison to the joy that I feel for Ivanovic. There was a time, not too long ago but still kind of a while back, when it seemed like Ivanovic was set to rule the WTA Tour the same way that she was ruling my heart and that of every other young, 20-year-old man. (Don’t front.)
The Serb first broke through in my hometown, in 2006 at the Rogers Cup for the first major title of her life. Then she was a runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open before winning the French Open a few months later, and was the no. 1 player on tour. It lasted all of 12 weeks and it’s been an uphill battle ever since, a battle to live up to that ranking and that potential. That 2008 French Open title remains her lone major title and there have been ups and downs, with a low of 65 (!!!) in the world.
Well in 2014, Ivanovic is now ranked No. 14 and has just beaten the best player in the world. Yes, maybe Williams was injured but a win is a win is a win. And after the match, the American didn’t want to take anything away from Ivanovic’s performance. “Again, I don’t want to blame anything. I feel like Ana deserves all the credit,” Williams said. “I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots. It’s not like I gave her the match.”
Could this be a career renaissance of sorts for Ivanovic? Maybe, who knows. But she has all the shots to be dominant, always has. It’s always been mentally that she’s had problems—well that, and an unquestionably weak serve. Maybe that’s all behind her now, as she faced only three break points against Williams. Mentally? Well let’s see, she just beat a player against whom she had never won a set, let alone a match, and she did it after losing the first set. “I had to remind myself all the time just to stay in the moment, because there were moments in the match where it could have gone either way,” Ivanovic said. “But I really just believed in my game and stepped up when I needed to.”
And now she is in the quarterfinal of the Australian Open for the first time since 2008. She’s playing Eugenie Bouchard, a precocious talent who is playing with confidence and who has taken advantage of a very kind draw.
This may be Ivanovic’s time to shine. Again.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
January 18, 2014
The big guns produced big performances on Day 6 of the Open, with Messrs. Federer, Murray, Nadal and Tsonga all progressing to the round of 16 with straight sets victories.
Day 6 Recap
Whilst Federer was always a certainty to breeze past the Russian Gabashvili, Murray and Tsonga will be pleased to have defeated Lopez and Simon in straight sets respectively. Similarly, top seed Rafael Nadal looked delighted to have swept past the dangerous Gael Monfils in the night session.
For the first time in his career, Grigor Dimitrov is through to the second week of a Grand Slam, the Bulgarian ousting Milos Raonic in 4 sets after holding his nerve in a 22 point fourth set tiebreaker. Joining him in the fourth round will be Kei Nishikori, who thrashed Donald Young, and Frenchman Stephane Robert, who become the first lucky loser to ever make it through to the round of 16.
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka was at her ruthless best on Day 6, the Belarusian conceding just one game against the hapless Yvonne Meusberger. Maria Sharapova overcame some second set wobbles to defeat Alize Cornet in straight sets, whilst there were also wins for Sloane Stephens, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika Cibulkova.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki crashed out of the tournament, the Dane overpowered by the in-form Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. Agnieszka Radwanska also seemed as though she was heading to the airport, but the Pole dug deep to beat the Russian Pavlyuchenkova in a tough 3-setter.
Matches of the Day – Day 7
1. Ana Ivanovic vs. Serena Williams
In recent years former world number one Ana Ivanovic has struggled to reach the heights of 2008, where she made the Australian Open final and won the French Open. The Serb looked at her dynamic best against Sam Stosur on Friday however, serving with precision and being ultra-aggressive with her forehand from the back of the court.
Ivanovic will need to continue to be aggressive in this match, otherwise the top seeded Williams will make her pay dearly. The 5-time Australian Open champion hasn’t been overextended in her matches in the tournament to date, but could have a battle on her hands if Ivanovic can maintain the form she exhibited against Stosur. That, however, is a big if. Williams in 2.
2. Casey Dellacqua vs. Eugenie Bouchard
West Aussie Casey Dellacqua became the darling of the Melbourne crowd in 2008 when she made a surprise run to the fourth round. Since then, the leftie has battled a series of injuries and seriously doubted whether she’d ever get back to the second week of a Grand Slam. But Dellacqua has built on her fine doubles form in the last 12 months (she made 3 Grand Slam finals in 2013) and has taken out a string of quality players to make it back to the round of 16 at Melbourne Park.
Eugenie Bouchard is a star in the making, the Canadian bursting on to the WTA Tour in the last 12 months or so, and showing that she has all the attributes to make her a future top 10 player. Bouchard is already hovering on the cusp of the world’s top 30, and will be eager to extend what is already her longest stay at a Grand Slam tournament. Bouchard in 3.
3. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Tommy Robredo
Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka had a standout season on the ATP Tour in 2013, and it all started for him in Melbourne, where he pushed eventual champion Novak Djokovic to the absolute brink in their pulsating fourth round clash, finally succumbing 16-14 in the final set.
Although he lost to Djokovic, the match seemed to give Wawrinka a healthy dose of self-belief and by season’s end the Swiss star was in the top 10 and a US Open semi-finalist. Veteran Robredo had a good win over ninth seed Richard Gasquet in the round of 32, but I think Wawrinka will be too fit and too strong in this one. Wawrinka in 4.
4. Novak Djokovic vs. Fabio Fognini
These two players know each other’s games very well, having grown up together in the junior ranks and both progressing to the ATP Tour from there. Djokovic has of course had the far more successful career to date, but Fognini has been something of a late bloomer and his career has started to blossom over the last couple of years.
Although more renowned as a clay-court expert, Fognini has made the top 20 as a result of good performances on all surfaces and took down the dangerous Sam Querrey in straight sets in the round of 32. Djokovic has yet to be tested in the tournament and, while the Italian could give him a couple of anxious moments, I think it should be smooth sailing for the most part. Djokovic in 3.
5. Li Na vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Two-time finalist Li Na was mere centimetres away from being bundled out of the tournament in the third round, down match point to Czech Lucie Safarova. Fortunately for the Chinese superstar, Safarova’s shot on match point was long and the fourth seed ultimately escaped with a 3 set victory.
Li should be more focused today following that scare, and she will need to be, as her opponent today is a very tricky player. Makarova knocked Serena Williams out of the 2012 Australian Open and took down Serena’s sister Venus in the opening round of this year’s tournament. Li should have too much firepower for her Russian opponent, but don’t count Makarova out. Li Na in 3.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 16, 2014
Day 4 of the tournament saw men’s fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro crash out of the tournament, and Maria Sharapova, the women’s third seed, was very close to following him, forced to the brink to overcome Karin Knapp in the second round.
Day 4 Recap
The Italian Knapp pushed Sharapova all the way in a pulsating clash played in sizzling heat. After the world number 44 evened the match at at a set apiece, Sharapova was forced to endure a third set lasting almost 2 hours before triumphing 10-8 in the decider of a match that spanned 3 hours and 28 minutes.
Having an easier time of it was defending champion Victoria Azarenka and former world number one Jelena Jankovic, both of whom progressed in straight sets. Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep both went to 3 sets but ultimately progressed, whilst France’s Alize Cornet scored a 3 set win over the Italian Camila Giorgi to set up a showdown with Sharapova.
Amongst the men, Del Potro was unable to capitalise on a 2 sets to one advantage against Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spaniard claiming one of the biggest wins of his career under lights at Melbourne Park. There was no such trouble for Nadal, Federer or Murray, all of whom recorded serviceable straight sets victories and limited their time in the heat.
Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were straight sets winners, and were joined in the round of 32 by compatriot Benoit Paire, who broke the heart of young Aussie Nick Kyrgios, coming back from 2 sets down to triumph. Another Frenchman winning in 5 sets was Gilles Simon who, against all odds, won another 5-setter, this time over Marin Cilic. Over seeds to progress included Dimitrov, Nishikori and Raonic, whilst there was bad news for Seppi and Verdasco, both of whom were bundled out of the tournament.
Matches of the Day – Day 5
1. Serena Williams vs. Daniela Hantuchova
In the lead up to the Australian Open Serena Williams was complaining about the Melbourne weather, lamenting how cold it was. The American must surely be regretting that comment, as the furnace-like environment makes the going tough for players, fans, ball kinds, umpires and linesmen alike.
Accordingly, Williams will want to get through this encounter as quickly as possible. Hantuchova is a former Australian Open semi-finalist and, although she remains a fine ball-striker, the Slovak is no longer at top 10 level. Look for Williams to take an early lead and never let her opponent into the match. Williams in 2.
2. David Ferrer vs. Jeremy Chardy
Ferrer is about as consistent a player as you will find, and the tenacious Spaniard had a good win over Rafael Nadal in Abu Dhabi as part of his preparations for Melbourne. I was also impressed with Chardy’s form in the lead-up tournament in Brisbane, where he made the semi-finals and narrowly lost to Roger Federer.
If Chardy can get his serve and forehand combination firing, he’s a hard man to stop, particularly on fast hard-courts. The Frenchman has claimed some big scalps in the past, including Murray and Del Potro, and I think he has an outside chance of claiming another today. But if it goes the distance, the super-fit Ferrer will be very hard to beat. Ferrer in 5.
3. Samantha Stosur vs. Ana Ivanovic
Out to exorcise her Australian Open demons of recent years, Sam Stosur has made a good start to her quest, downing a pair of talented and in-form players in Zakopalova and Pironkova, although the Bulgarian was clearly struggling physically in their second round match.
Ivanovic is a former finalist at Melbourne Park and goes into this match as the higher seed, however I think that this will be a good match-up for Stosur, who likes to play against the big hitters on tour. I’ll back Stosur to ride the home crowd to victory. Stosur in 3.
4. Li Na vs. Lucie Safarova
Chinese superstar Li Na holds one Grand Slam title, the 2011 French Open, but the fourth seed has produced her best Grand Slam results overall at the Australian Open, where she is a two-time runner-up.
With the courts at Melbourne Park getting ever quicker, Li Na will fancy her chances of making another run deep into the second week of the tournament. Safarova is a talented shot-maker, and the Czech leftie will have some chances in this match, but Li Na will be a warm favourite to progress. Li Na in 2.
5. Florian Mayer vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Crafty German Florian Mayer caused headlines a few weeks ago when he beat Andy Murray in Doha, and Mayer has continued his good run in Melbourne, disposing of Russian seed Mikhail Youzhny in the second round. This should be an engrossing battle against the cagey Mayer and the erratic but talented Janowicz.
After pulling out of the Hopman Cup due to injury and then looking like he was lacking fitness in Sydney, Janowicz has done well in Melbourne to date, fighting his way through his opening two matches. I suspect this match will go one of two ways – either Janowicz blows Mayer off the court, or the match is close and long, in which case I’d back Mayer. Mayer in 5.
Put your house on: Novak Djokovic to be all business as he attempts to minimize his time on-court against Uzbekh Denis Istomin.
Upset alert: Jeremy Chardy could trouble David Ferrer, as noted above, whilst American Alison Riske has to be given a chance against ninth seeded German Angelique Kerber. And as predicted above, Florian Mayer could well upset Jerzy Janowicz.
Likely to go the distance: Tommy Robredo and Richard Gasquet both seem to have a habit of featuring in epic 5-setters at the Grand Slams, so it will be no surprise to see the pair head to a deciding set in their clash today.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 13, 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 looks at the top contenders of the Australian Open and what they need to do.
The good thing with the beginning of a tournament is that technically, all 128 players have a fair chance at taking home the trophy. Everything is possible, except that it really isn’t—not all 128 spots of a main draw are created equally. That’s why there are 32 seeds for example.
With that in mind, I have selected four main contenders and here are the keys for each of them if they wish to be crowned champion in two weeks. I’m a man of the people so I’ve prepared a little dossier on both ATP and WTA players—with a little nickname for each.
Let’s make one thing clear—Stanislas Wawrinka is not actually crazy. But the shoe seems to fit, at least in my mind, hence “Crazy Stan.” The 28-year-old is playing the best tennis of his life, and the key for him to finally break through in a meaningful way might be to avoid Novak Djokovic. Twice last year, including once in Melbourne, Wawrinka did just about everything but win against the Serb. Stan is poised to overtake Roger Federer as the resident “the Swiss guy” (i.e. a prestigious title, if there ever was one) on tour. He has a strong serve and a stronger forehand to dictate points with.
The missile DelPo
If Crazy Stan has a crazy good forehand, Juan Martin Del Potro has a missile for one. It’s strong, it’s fast but most of all, it’s just so damn heavy. DelPo remains the only man other than Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray to win a Grand Slam tournament, at the 2009 U.S. Open, since 2005. If all goes well, the missile will be Nadal’s problem in the quarterfinals. And all of us will watch.
Some players don’t need nicknames—who am I to say that the great Rafael Nadal should go as the Spanish stallion, or as Torrero? The encore to Nadal’s best season yet starts this week in Melbourne, and we’ll see pretty quickly whether he is ready to set the ATP World Tour on fire as his quarter of the draw is littered with tough opponents. He’ll be fine. Nadal leaves it all on the tennis court and no one has a shot as effective as his lefty and topspin-heavy forehand to the opponent’s backhand—except maybe this next guy.
Novak Djokovic is seeded No. 2, but he’s the favourite in Melbourne. The Djoker has won the previous three Australian Open titles and is gunning for a fifth title there, which would be a first in the Open era. This tournament often goes to the man who is better conditioned, an irony for someone who earlier in his career was said to be precisely the opposite. According to his Instagram account, Djokovic appears to treat the off-season as the time to travel and generally enjoy life, and maybe that’s the recipe. His game has few weaknesses, especially on hard courts—and this year he’s been gifted a preeeetty preeeeetty good draw, one with a possible quarterfinal against Crazy Stan. His backhand down the line is the signature shot of the past three seasons, so it’s better to attack him on the forehand.
Bonus: Andy Murray
Believe it or not, Andy Murray is the nickname I give to Andy Murray. The mercurial one has won two Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon on his home soil this past season, and that was supposed to be enough for him to take over the universe afterward. Someone must have flipped the script, because it’s more of the same. He’s only getting back into playing form, too, so don’t expect much from him in Melbourne.
A week ago, I wrote that Serena Williams would capture the Grand Slam this season—Melbourne is the first step on that journey. Her quarter is very much within her grasp and she should have little problems navigating through possible matches against Daniela Hantuchova, Sam Stosur or Eugenie Bouchard. How do you beat the World No. 1? You hope she has a bad day—she’s got all the moves, otherwise.
A to Z
Victoria Azarenka looms in the last quarter and, while she’s not quite in the same stratosphere as Queen Serena, she’s a notch above most of the other players on the WTA tour. She uses a shriek, one unlike anything in this galaxy, to complicate every shot of her opponents—alright, alright, a bad joke, I know. A to Z has a solid serve, a solid forehand and a solid backhand. She’s not so great at the net, but no one really is on tour.
It’s not recommended to rally with Agniezska Radwanska as doing so is akin to hitting against with a wall—and a wall never misses. Radwanska can be overpowered, but she’s a clean player and will never beat herself. And despite a perceived lack of power, she came pretty close of beating Williams at the 2012 Wimbledon final. She’ll play A to Z in the quarterfinal, and it should be a doozy. Aga has reached that stage in the past three seasons in Australia, but the fourth time is always the charm.
You’d be ill advised to try to rally with Petra Kvitova too. The 23-year-old goes by Boom-Boom around these parts, because that’s the sound you keep on making as you’re running down her winners. Kvitova is perhaps the player with the heaviest groundstrokes on the women’s side, and it’s too bad there’s no mercy rule in tennis. She’ll beat you by beating you down, by crushing you.
Much like Murray on the men’s side, Maria Sharapova is only rounding into playing form. Most don’t expect much from her at this tournament, so maybe she’ll win.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
January 12, 2014
The 2014 Australian Open gets underway at Melbourne Park on Monday, with defending men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic and world number one Serena Williams, holders of 9 Australian Open titles between them, both featuring on the opening day of play.
Matches of the Day – Day 1
1. Serena Williams vs. Ashleigh Barty
Top seeded Williams faces an interesting opponent in the opening round in the form of local girl and rising star Ashleigh Barty. The diminutive Aussie is a former Wimbledon junior champion and, although she is yet to make a major impact on the WTA Tour in terms of singles performances, relying on a wildcard to enter the main draw of this tournament, Barty has already impressed on the doubles circuit. The Aussie, teaming up with compatriot Casey Dellacqua, made the final of 3 Grand Slams in 2013, thanks in no small part to her fabulous volleying ability.
I suspect that the enormity of the occasion might overwhelm the teenager, who is up against a superstar and ultra-competitor in Serena Williams, but it will be fascinating to see how Barty fares and an invaluable experience in terms of career development. Williams in 2.
2. Laura Robson vs. Kirsten Flipkens
This match pits a pair of Wimbledon 2013 darlings against one another. Young gun Robson made a storming run to the round of 16 at the All England Club last year, to the delight of the local fans and press, and showcased a shot-making ability that has convinced many astute observers that she is destined for greatness. Flipkens fared even better at Wimbledon, making the semi-finals as the crafty Belgian finally got a chance to shine after a horror run with injuries.
Robson has had concerns of late over a left wrist injury, which forced her to pull out of a warm-up event in Auckland last week. Flipkens, who knows all too well about such issues, is the higher ranked player and my favourite to progress. Robson has an abundance of talent, but at this point simply lacks sufficient match practice to trouble the Belgian. Flipkens in 3.
3. Tommy Haas vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Evergreen German Tommy Haas enters the 2014 season off the back of a fabulous 2013 season, which saw him make the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and re-establish himself inside the world’s top 20. The veteran has a good draw in Melbourne and I think the twelfth seed can make a good run into the second week of the tournament if things go his way.
Garcia-Lopez is a handy player, having been ranked as high as 23 in the world and having twice made it through to the round of 32 at Melbourne Park. However, the Spaniard doesn’t have any huge weapons to speak of, and I think Haas will progress to the second round rather comfortably. Haas in 3.
4. Samantha Stosur vs. Klara Zakopalova
Former US Open champion Sam Stosur always seems to succumb to the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd in Australia, with the seventeenth seed’s recent playing record Down Under very poor for a player of her calibre. After losing all of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Stosur seemed to be turning her form around with a run to the semi-finals in Hobart, only to be thoroughly outplayed at that stage of the tournament by Zakopalova.
A former top 20 player, Zakopalova is an underrated competitor on the WTA Tour and will head into the match full of confidence after her commanding win over Stosur in Hobart. But each match is a different contest, and I’ll take Stosur to gain revenge over the Czech, although I’m still not confident of the Aussie making a deep run in the tournament. Stosur in 3.
5. Ernests Gulbis vs. Juan Monaco
A year or two ago, this match would have seen Monaco as the seeded player and Gulbis as the unseeded one. But a poor 2013 season for the Argentine, which saw him lose in the first round of 3 of the 4 Grand Slams and resulted in his ranking plummeting outside the top 40, means he is the unlucky player to draw the twenty-third seeded Gulbis in the first round.
Although Monaco is a clay-court specialist, the former top 10 player is very competent on hard-courts as well, and will seize his opportunity if Gulbis is off his game. The enigmatic Latvian is capable of literally anything on a tennis court, both good and bad, but appears to have matured in recent months. Unsurprisingly, that has coincided with a rise up the rankings. Gulbis in 4.
Put your house on: Novak Djokovic to cruise past Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko without dropping a set. The second seed has had a low-key preparation and will look to ease into the tournament with a minimum of fuss.
Upset alert: Veteran Venus Williams should cause twenty-second seed Ekaterina Makarova plenty of problems, whilst Heather Watson will fancy her chances of upsetting Daniela Hantuchova.
Likely to go the distance: Big-hitting German Julia Goerges faces a very different type of player in seventh seed Sara Errani, who relies of adept court coverage and consistency from the back of the court. This should be an entertaining, and lengthy, encounter.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 11, 2014
Greetings and welcome to two weeks of coverage of the first Grand Slam of the new year. As always, plenty of storylines are emerging as we head into the tournament. Will Victoria Azarenka be able to claim a hat-trick of titles at Melbourne Park? Are Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray sufficiently prepared after their offseason treatments to challenge Novak Djokovic, the King of Down Under for the last 3 seasons? Does Roger Federer still have what it takes to win major titles? All these questions, plus plenty of others, are sure to keep tennis fans captivated over the coming fortnight.
The happiest man in Melbourne after the men’s singles draw was completed would have to have been world number two Novak Djokovic. The 3-time defending champion, who is looking to claim a fifth career Australian Open title, has been presented with a highly favourable draw. Whilst Djokovic is scheduled to clash with eighth seed Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, in what would be a rematch of their epic 5-setter in Melbourne last year, the second seed should have no trouble progressing to the final 8. Names such as Tursunov and Fognini won’t strike fear in the heart of the Serb, although the unpredictable but talented Ernests Gulbis is lurking in Djokovic’s quarter.
Top seed Rafael Nadal, in contrast to Djokovic, has been assigned a particularly difficult route to the final. The Spaniard faces a blockbuster clash against local young gun Bernard Tomic in the opening round, and could face players of the calibre of Monfils, Hewitt and/or Nishikori before even making it through to the quarter-finals. If Juan Martin Del Potro can navigate his way through a section of the draw featuring big-serving Milos Raonic and the rising star Grigor Dimitrov, the Argentine should square off against Nadal in what would be a mouth-watering quarterfinal.
The other two quarters of the draw look pretty open, to my mind. Andy Murray, by his own admission, is still working his way back to full fitness and lacks match practice, especially in terms of long matches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Federer or Tsonga make a run to the semi-finals from Murray’s quarter, whilst long John Isner, a recent tournament winner in Auckland, has to be considered a dark horse to make a deep run in the tournament.
Similarly, third seed David Ferrer faces a tough task to emerge from his quarter of the draw, with the diminutive Spaniard likely to face challenges from players including Chardy and Dolgopolov (both of whom have played well in Melbourne in the past) and twentieth seed Jerzy Janowicz. The scheduled fourth round clash between Tommy Haas and Tomas Berdych, if it eventuates, should be a beauty and the victor would fancy his chances of making it through to the semi-finals.
With the courts at Melbourne Park supposedly faster than in previous years, Djokovic, a recent exhibition event winner in Abu Dhabi, will be full of confidence heading into the tournament supported by his new head coach, Boris Becker. The Serb finished the 2013 season in scintillating form and, with Nadal opting to have treatment on his troublesome knee in the offseason and subsequently being in a race against time to get fully fit for Melbourne, Djokovic will be confident of beating his great rival if the pair meet in the final.
Nadal is the ultimate competitor and I think he will fight and scrap his way through to the final. In my opinion, such efforts will, however, take their toll on the Spanish warrior, leaving Djokovic to once again hold up the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on the final Sunday of the tournament.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Rafael Nadal
Semi-finalists: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych
To my mind, out of the 128 players in the main draw in the women’s singles, only 5 have a realistic chance of winning the title: top seed Serena Williams, two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka, two-time runner-up Li Na, former champion Maria Sharapova and fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
Of those 5 players, world number one Serena Williams looks to have the easiest path through to the semi-finals. There are some talented players in Williams’ bracket, but each is unlikely to challenge the American in this tournament. Sam Stosur always seems to struggle at home in Australia, Laura Robson has had recent injury concerns, rising star Eugenie Bouchard needs more big-match experience, and seventh seed Sara Errani is usually overwhelmed by the power game of the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Fourth seed Li Na has a tougher quarter, with high-quality players such as Kerber, Kvitova, Venus Williams and Lisicki lurking in the same quarter. But the Chinese superstar loves playing in Australia and finished the 2013 season strongly. The former French Open champion knows her window for winning Grand Slams is running out and she seems desperate to give the quest everything she has in the next couple of seasons, working hard on improving her fitness and agility with coach Carlos Rodriguez. I’ll back her to return to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
Similar to Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova enters the first Grand Slam of the year with a question mark against her name, with the Russian having only recently returned to the WTA Tour following time off to deal with shoulder problems. Sharapova’s performance in the Brisbane International, where she made it through to the final, was encouraging but I still think the third seed lacks enough recent match practice to be a true contender at Melbourne Park this year. Eleventh seed Simona Halep was a revelation on the WTA Tour last year, capturing an astonishing 6 titles and rocketing up the rankings. Halep is at her best on hard-courts and I think she could make a surprise run to the semi-finals in Melbourne.
Another player who loves playing on fast hard-courts and in Australia is defending champion Victoria Azarenka. To my mind, Williams and Azarenka (and perhaps Sharapova, when fully fit and firing) are a class above the rest of the other players on the WTA Tour and I think the Belarusian will make it through to another final Down Under. Radwanska, Wozniacki and last year’s surprise performer in Australia, Sloane Stephens, are all in Azarenka’s quarter of the draw, but I can’t see any of them besting the second seed.
Whilst Williams holds a commanding 14-3 head-to-head career advantage over Azarenka, the Belarusian has fared much better against the world number one in recent times, winning 2 of the last 5 matches between the pair. If the duo renews their rivalry in the final, I think it will be another very tight match. Williams seems better prepared for the tournament and seems to have a slight mental edge over Azarenka in the biggest matches, having defeated her younger opponent in the last couple of US Open finals by the narrowest of margins. Having not lifted the trophy at Melbourne Park since 2010, the ultra-competitive Williams will be desperate to regain the title. For these reasons, I’ll back Serena to capture her sixth Australian Open crown.
Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Victoria Azarenka
Semi-finalists: Li Na, Simona Halep
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to preview Monday’s action. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 6, 2014
On the usual week, this column looks back at the week that was in the tennis universe. But with apologies to Rafael Nadal, who won the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, and to Serena Williams who won the Brisbane International, not a whole lot happened last week. This means that it’s the perfect time to look ahead, to look at what the 2014 season may have in store for all of us.
This means that it’s the perfect time for 14 wonky predictions. Please keep in mind that not all 14 are likely to happen. (I’d be surprised if I get even half of them true.)
Novak Djokovic wins the 2014 Australian Open
Let’s start with the beginning and with me announcing that I believe Novak Djokovic will make it four wins in a row in Melbourne. Four of his six Grand Slam titles have already come in the land down under and another one this year would make it five. Five Australian Open titles is something that’s never been done before in the Open era, but Djokovic will write his name in the history books this season—not strictly for his win in Melbourne, either.
Novak Djokovic completes the career Slam
This might be my boldest prediction of the “unlikely, but there’s a chance!” group, but I do think the Serb does it. If he does win the first major of the year, Djokovic will be fully confident—and the Djoker’s self-belief hasn’t lacked since 2010 anyway. There’s a rub, too—not only will Djokovic win at Porte d’Auteuil, he’ll do it by defeating the King of Clay in the final. And beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros would be like dancing at the big boys dance and being named Prom King… or something.
Serena Williams wins the Grand Slam
There is absolutely no shot that this happens, but I’ll put it there just for the sake of it. Serena Williams has enjoyed perhaps the best two seasons of her career in 2012 and 2013, losing only 8 of a combined 144 matches and taking home a gold medal, two WTA Tour Championships and four Grand Slam tournaments. No player is as dominant as the younger of the two Williams sisters on the WTA Tour, and she can win everywhere. So why couldn’t she win everywhere in 2014?
Andy Murray is still Andy Murray
Andy Murray turned a corner in 2012, winning his first Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows, and then gave every Brit a present better than even the Royal Baby in winning Wimbledon this past July. He seemed poised to take over the world, or at least that of the ATP, but we’ve arrived to 2014 and it seems like not a whole lot has changed. Three years ago, he was the fourth wheel to the head triumvirate. Presently, it’s basically worse—Murray is the third wheel to the royal family of Nadal and Djokovic. So bittersweet. So, so Andy Murray.
Roger Federer has his swan song
There had been signs before, but the 2013 season was when it all settled in that the end was definitely nearing for Roger Federer. Losses piled up, but it’s the mediocrity of those losses that were telling—against Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, or against Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open. Federer will turn 33 next summer and his streaks of Grand Slam 23 semifinals and 36 quarterfinals in a row both came to an end last season. Let’s all enjoy him while we still can.
In fact, let’s double down on Federer…
Roger Federer doesn’t finish in the top 15
At No. 7, the Swiss is already ranked the lowest that he has been in a few years—and he’s only getting older, not younger. King Roger said numerous times that he’d stop playing once he wouldn’t be relevant at the top. If he meant the top 15, then I think we’re about at the end.
Eugenie Bouchard is not a superstar yet
Last season, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard took the WTA Tour by storm. She rose through the rankings, gaining over 100 spots and peaking at No. 32 (i.e. she’s now ranked No. 31) on her way to deservedly winning the 2013 WTA Newcomer of the year award. If the future is bright for Canadian tennis, it’s in part because of her. Bouchard has it all—the looks, the shots, and the potential. She’s a phenom. But she’s not a superstar—not yet, at least. The rise becomes harder the higher and higher you reach. That’s true for anything in life, even the WTA Tour rankings.
Let’s keep on with the canucks.
Canadians don’t eat their cake at the 2014 Rogers Cup
The 2013 Men’s Rogers Cup was the absolute perfect storm, with one semifinal pitting two Canadian wunderkinds and the other pitting the two best players on tour. Let’s go ahead and etch this one in stone: there is not a single chance that this happens again. Not only would the draw have to make it possible and put the four in four different sections of the main draw, I just don’t believe Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil will match their performances from that week in heaven in Montreal. They’d have to do so in Toronto and that city, while it does have its perks, is not Montreal.
Roger Federer realizes the racquet makes a bigger difference than the coach
I never understood why Federer, at age 31, decided to switch to a prototype Wilson racquet in 2013. Maybe it’s easy to say in hindsight, what with the frustrating season that King Roger enjoyed, but maybe switching to an unknown of a racquet wasn’t the right move. He’s a bit old to decide to experiment with new possibilities for his shot-making tool on a tennis court. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it? I play with the Wilson Pro Staff 90 BLX, like Federer used to. Believe me, that racquet is not broken.
Victoria Azarenka’s don has his moment under the sun
Victoria Azarenka is likely the second best player on the WTA Tour and possibly the third biggest name in the sport, which means that she can have anything she wants. And in 2012, she decided that who she wanted was party-rockin’ Stefan “Redfoo” Gordy, from the pop group LMFAO. The pair has reportedly been dating since then, and here’s to a great modern love story unfolding just the way we all wish ours will end—with lots of love, health, money and a great family. Redfoo reportedly also wants a shot at sporting glory. Before he partied and rocked our summers, he must have apparently been a good junior tennis player. And this past year, he halfheartedly made a push to qualify for the main draw of the U.S. Open. GTFO, seriously?!? It was a non-story, but I hope it isn’t this year when he tries again.
Sugarpova is a horrible name for a horrible candy
Maria Sharapova is among the biggest superstars and celebrated champions on the WTA Tour, and because of that she was able in 2013 to launch a line of candy called Sugarpova. Now, I’m as much a fan of the bad pun as the next guy, but this one doesn’t work. I was hoping to have a taste last summer when Sharapova was set to launch the candy in person at the Loblaws megastore in downtown Toronto—but she cancelled the event. I’m hoping/predicting that this year I will learn the taste behind the ugly name of this candy.
Rafael Nadal plays injury-free tennis in 2014
Here’s one that’s as much a wish as it is a prediction. If Nadal’s 2012 season showed just how fickle the life of a professional tennis player could be, the 2013 season showed that redemption is a dish you best cook yourself. He was an unknown twelve months ago, and the only thing unknown by the end of last season was where exactly Nadal’s season ranked in history. (Pretty high, it turns out, but trying to be any more specific is probably useless.) Nadal will not come close to matching his 2013 season—there’s absolutely no way he could—but this season will be far from a failure. It’ll only be a failure by comparison to his previous, because merely excellent is not timeless.
…But he doesn’t finish the season ranked No. 1
Nadal doesn’t finish the season as the top-ranked player. Djokovic does.
The reign of Djokovic continues
Hey, just because they’re wonky predictions doesn’t mean that they absolutely must be objective.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 25, 2013
For the second year in a row, a year-end edition of this column will serve as a de facto awards ceremony. Just like for the 2012 season, these categories are absolutely arbitrary and reflect nothing but my own subjective experience of the 2013 tennis season as a fan and columnist.
The Alpha Male of the Year Elbow
…To Rafael Nadal. Just about any- and everything that could be said of Nadal’s prowess this year has already been said, but still let’s pile on. After seven months away from the ATP World Tour, he finally came back this year and warned us not to call this a comeback. No one knew, really, what to expect, and maybe that’s why we got exactly what no one could have foreseen—the best season of his career. The Spaniard concluded 2013 with 75 wins in 82 matches, over $ 14 million in prize money and no fewer than 10 titles. The 27-year-old added a Coupe des Mousquetaire and a U.S. Open trophy to his mantle, the 12th and 13th Grand Slam titles of his career. And suddenly, Federer’s haul doesn’t seem so out of reach.
The Who’s That Girl Elbow
…To Serena Williams. The younger of the two Williams sisters had herself quite the 2013 season and was equally as impressive on the WTA Tour as Nadal was on the men’s circuit—78 wins in 82 matches, 11 titles and over $ 12 million in prize money. What’s perhaps most remarkable is that this season came just on the heels of an equally great 2012 season. After two such great seasons at her age, Serena Williams is more than just the best player of her generation—she’s now in the same class as Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the best player ever.
The Kleenex Moment Elbow
…To Andy Murray after the 2013 Wimbledon final. Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, since Fred Perry did so if we’re to believe the record books—though I hear the jury remains out on these. The 26-year-old gave an entire country what poor lad Tim Henman could never give them, and nobody was unhappy to see him celebrate with the members of his team and, really, just about everyone else. Nobody, and that includes the mighty Novak Djokovic fan that I am, despite the fact that it’s Djokovic who Murray defeated in three little sets in the final.
The Phenom Elbow
…To Eugenie Bouchard. In a season where the young 19-year-old gained more than 100 spots on the WTA Tour rankings to end the season at No. 32, Bouchard was deservedly named the WTA’s newcomer of the year. She reached at least the quarterfinals of five events, and defeated top 10 mainstays Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur on her way to 39 wins in 63 matches. Her breakout season was not unlike Milos Raonic’s own, in 2011—and, oh by the way, Raonic himself was named the ATP newcomer of the year when he finished that year ranked No. 31. There are a lot of similarities between Bouchard and Raonic, including this one—let’s give the young Eugenie all the time that she needs to become a star. She’s not that, not yet.
The We Like Our Apples With Maple Syrup, Thanks For Asking Elbow
…To Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. The two Canadians dazzled the Montreal public this summer, as they served and aced their way—apologizing for every win, because they’re Canadians—to an all-Canadian Rogers Cup semifinal. If Raonic couldn’t eat his cake in the final against Nadal, losing 6-2 and 6-2, by then Montrealers didn’t mind because the 2013 Rogers Cup had been perfect, already. Not only that, but the two musketeers joined forces with the ageless wonder Daniel Nestor to bring their country to within one rubber of a spot in the 2013 Davis Cup final. So while many are gonzo over the potential of Eugenie Bouchard, they would be wise not to overlook the actual results of these two great players.
The Candy Cane Elbow
…To Maria Sharapova. The resident diva of the WTA Tour had a seemingly difficult 2013 season, though she still only lost 7 of 44 matches played. Sharapova is still a great champion, and this year she showed that she had business acumen too—though that was probably never really in doubt—when she released her first line of candy, the incredibly tacky-named Sugarpova. I’ve yet to try it, and I’ve made righting this wrong my No. 1 resolution for 2014.
The Andy Murray Elbow
…To Andy Murray himself. Incredibly, Murray gets a second Elbow for the 2013 season, this time taking home the one named after him. Meant in no way to diminish what a player accomplished in the previous 12 months, this award recognizes the person for whom it seems like 2013 was nothing but a year-long walk on the treadmill. Of course, Murray thrilled everyone with a major win at Wimbledon…and then, he pretty much packed it in the rest of the way. With the win, Murray was supposed to have turned a corner—and maybe he has, but he’s still looking up to Nadal and Djokovic. How very Andy Murray of him.
The Hello, Old Sport Elbow
…To Stanislas Wawrinka. At age 28, he enjoyed his finest year to date on the ATP World Tour and reached a career-high ranking of No. 8 in October—where he’s been entrenched since. Stan the Man even momentarily lived down his nickname of “the other Swiss,” as Roger Federer enjoyed one of his most frustrating seasons in recent memory (i.e. more on that later). But for all his excellence this season, he didn’t quite break through—twice he had Djokovic on the ropes and twice he lost in agonizing fashion. And Wawrinka remains “that other Swiss,” even on the Tour rankings.
The Foot In My Mouth Elbow
…To Serena Williams. Williams shined on the court in 2013, but not necessarily off of it. In a lengthy Rolling Stone feature—which wasn’t without its problems itself, as the lede compared the tennis player to the leader of North Korea—the great champion had a bit of a faux pas. When she decided to voice her opinion on the Steubenville rape case, what she said came across almost as victim blaming. It wasn’t that, and those who read the entire quote will understand—but a “I’m not blaming the girl, but…” doesn’t look good.
The Tonight We Die In Hell Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, for their epic battle in Wimbledon—a match that wins my choice as match of the year. Sure, that match probably cost Djokovic a much better shot at the title against Murray, but boy it was a thrill. Watching the Djoker and DelPo exchange haymaker after haymaker after haymaker after haymaker over five sets and four hours and 40 minutes—the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history—was unlike anything ever. Well, actually, that’s not true. It reminded me of watching that incredible Australian Open in 2012—and thankfully, it all unfolded a tad later during the day.
The My name is my name Elbow
…To myself. While covering the 2012 Rogers Cup in my native Montreal was an exercise in overcoming giddiness and maintaining professionalism, covering the tournament in Toronto this year also had its challenges—but mostly its perks. In the past two years, I’ve been lucky to have the freedom to file only once a day and write on the matches, and players, that I personally want to write about. Another perk was attending a great second round match between Sorana Cirstea and Caroline Wozniacki and afterward finding a Tennis TV link to it on YouTube. That’s how I saw myself on TV.
The 60-degree day Elbow
…To Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman was among the unlikeliest winners of the sport’s biggest prize at Wimbledon, riding a streak of good fortune where she didn’t face a single player ranked higher than her all the way to the top. Always a bit of a character, Bartoli won the prize of a career on the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club—and six weeks after her Wimbledon title, she decided to retire. Somehow, it all was the perfect ending.
The 1a Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic. In any other year, the Serb would have been the undisputed King on Tour—and despite Nadal’s signature season, Djokovic really was this close of finishing on top for a third straight year. With 74 wins in 83 matches, over $12 million in prize money and 7 titles, including his third Australian Open in a row, Djokovic did just about everything possible this season. Except that he lost a fifth-set lead against Nadal in the semifinal of Roland Garros. The 26-year-old will have another shot at completing the career Slam this season, and something tells me he may do just that. Until then, he and Jelena Ristic got engaged. #DjokovicWins.
The One Last Kiss Elbow
…To King Roger. By most accounts, 2013 wasn’t kind to Roger Federer, as he finished with as many as 17 losses (against 45 wins). That total was his highest in 10 years but unlike during his breakout 2003 season, this year the King only had one crown—that of the Gerry Weber Open, a Masters 250 event. Beyond the losses, it’s the quality of them that shocked: seeing the great champion lose to Gael Monfils, Tommy Robredo or, gulp, Federico Delbonis is not a pretty sight. He’s currently ranked No. 6 and he’s just about hopeless against Nadal these days. More and more, the 2014 season feels like a swan song for King Roger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG