Tennis Elbow: The Angelique Kerber takeover is complete

September 12, 2016

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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 US Open on the women’s side.

Would she win it all?

That was the only question left, I guess, whether Angelique Kerber would crash the party through the front or the back door.

Before she even played her US Open semifinal match, Kerber was guaranteed to become the new WTA No. 1 player in the world, ending Serena Williams’s string of 186 consecutive weeks at the top when the American lost her semifinal against Karolina Pliskova.

You can’t win for losing, they tell you, but that’s always false and we would have had a prime example of that had Kerber then lost her own semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki.

Only, as she so often has done in 2016, the German did not lose, beating the former No. 1 and two-time US Open finalist by the score of 6-4 and 6-3.

From there, Kerber moved on to the final, her third major final of the 2016 season after having made only one Grand Slam semifinal in 32 events through the end of last year. She won that match too, beating Pliskova by the score of 6-3, 4-6 and 6-4, and is now the reigning US Open champion and overall best player in the world.

This week, she’s ranked No. 1 for the first time of her career and, at 28 years old, is the oldest player to get there. She’s the first lefty player at the top of the rankings since Monica Seles, and only the third in history (with Martina Navratilova). Kerber is also the first new No. 1 player in four years, having as we mentioned before cut Williams’s reign short. She also denies Williams a shot at history, leaving her stuck at 22 career Grand Slams and in a tie with Steffi Graf for most in history.

All of it wasn’t lost on Kerber after her semifinal win. “It’s just incredible,” she said. “Yeah, it’s a great day. […] To be in the final, to be No. 1 in the world, it sounds amazing.”

Because of how she got to No. 1, Kerber may not stay there long: the problem with making three Grand Slam finals in a year, and winning two, is that you then need to turn around the following season and win just as many matches. You’ve done it once, so do it again. That’s tennis.

(And that’s what makes Williams so exceptional, that she managed to remain so dominant and consistent over the years.)

One other thing we can confidently say is that Kerber will not be the third player in history to reign over the WTA for 186 consecutive weeks. Kerber is already 28, after all. And what does it take to stay on top for so long? Consider that over that span at No. 1, Williams won more titles than she lost matches (i.e. 24 versus 19).

We’re unlikely to see another such run, at least not for a little while, and parity will likely become the new normal on the WTA. Maybe that’s what will make women’s tennis fascinating over the years. “I think I’m ready to have this pressure [of being No. 1] on my shoulders,” Kerber said after her US Open win. “I think I get used to all of this, especially after my first Grand Slam in Australia. I had so much pressure after the title. Being No. 1, of course, now everybody will try to beat me and have nothing to lose.”

Yes, all the pressure’s on you from now on, Kerber.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

US Open 2016: Women’s Semifinal Preview

September 7, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

The final four on the women’s side has been set at the US Open, and Serena Williams’ quest for her 23rd Major is still alive. Gutting out a three set victory over Simona Halep on Wednesday night, the American will next face Karolina Pliskova for a spot in the finals. Elsewhere, Kei Nishikori turned in the upset of the men’s draw by defeating No. 2 seed Andy Murray in five thrilling sets, while Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro finished off the day in Ashe Stadium.

With the women’s semifinals set for Thursday evening, let’s take a look at each match and who should prevail.

Serena Williams vs. Karolina Pliskova

Winning their lone previous encounter back in 2014 at the Stanford event, Serena will be full steam ahead in this one as she aims for her 23rd Slam. Even though no one is giving Pliskova a reasonable chance at victory, it should be mentioned that she is on a serious winning streak after taking the title in Cincinnati. Possessing a big serve and a powerful forehand, the stoic demeanor of Pliskova should put up some resistance in the early stages of this contest. However, one wonders if the Czech player will already be satisfied with her result and pay day? If so, then this could be a two and two scoreline for Williams. If not, then I still believe that Serena will win, but the scoreline would be much closer. Whatever the case, it’s impossible to go against Serena at her home Slam against pretty much anyone. Serena in two.

Angelique Kerber vs. Caroline Wozniacki

In a head-to-head that has seen Kerber win seven of twelve matches against Wozniacki, this match up is not as clear-cut to call. Even though Kerber has played lights out this year, Wozniacki has had a great renaissance this fortnight by putting together a deep run. Finding her form by hitting through the ball as opposed to guiding her shots like she’s done the past two years, Wozniacki could surprise many in this contest with her result. That said, I just don’t see Caroline being able to produce a level that will ultimately take her to victory.

Kerber’s strengths are pretty much been set in stone: She’a a lefty, who opens up the court better than anybody, and her improved fitness allows her to track down almost every ball from every opponent. I do think that Wozniacki will have a decent shot in this match, but will eventually end up falling in three sets.

US Open 2016: Three to see on Day 10: Serena, Murray and Wawrinka

September 7, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

After a disappointing Tuesday in Queens, the tennis world will be hopeful that the three featured matches on Wednesday will bring forward the excitement that was missing on Day 9. Novak Djokovic has received two retirements and a walkover as he’s into yet another semifinal, while Angie Kerber continues to roll toward yet another Grand Slam final.

Wednesday will bring forward three popcorn matches of the highest order, and here’s hoping that they will all go the distance.

Let’s take a look at where you want to be on Day 10 at Flushing Meadows.

Andy Murray vs. Kei Nishikori (Ashe Stadium, Day Session)

In a head-to-head dominated by Murray, it will be interesting to see how Nishikori responds to the challenge of facing the hottest player in men’s tennis these days. Murray has been on fire since winning Wimbledon and has two wins over Kei this year. When I look at this match up as an overall, I would give the slight edge to Nishikori on the forehand side but every other category goes to the Brit. Murray is also serving better than he ever has and barely missing from the back of the court. His returns have also been spot on and his defensive skills are top drawer at the moment. For Nishikori to win his match, he’ll have to serve at a very high first serve percentage and go for a little more from the back of the court than he’s accustomed to. Murray took away Grigor Dimitrov’s belief in the first three games of their fourth round match and he could do the same to Kei in this quarterfinal. All in all, Murray is a tough out these days and he will move on. Look for this one to go three, maybe four sets.

Serena Williams vs. Simon Halep (Ashe Stadium, Night Session)

This should without a doubt be Serena’s toughest test thus far in the event. Halep plays a mature brand of tennis that has been molded by Darren Cahill’s coaching philosophy. Serena is beatable, but when playing in New York, it takes a special sort of effort to oust the American. Is Halep up for the challenge? Taking only one of their previous eight encounters, Halep’s lone victory came against Williams two years ago at the WTA Finals. Halep is capable of great things on court and her movement and forehand have been impressive this fortnight. However, Serena’s overall conviction from the back of the court should move her into the semifinals in straight sets. I do have a feeling that this one could go three, and I say that because Halep has only lost one set en route to the quarterfinals and hasn’t even been pushed to a single tiebreaker. Serena in three.

Stan Wawrinka vs. Juan Martin del Potro (Ashe Stadium, Night Session)

This could very well be the best match of the day as well as the tournament. It does have that kind of potential. Wawrinka is a former two-time Grand Slam winner and has historically played his best in the latter stages of Majors. On the flip side, Delpo has been exceeding everyone’s expectations (including his own) throughout the event and you really do feel that he’s playing his game with no pressure. The Argentine did defeat Wawrinka at Wimbledon this year and you have to think that the hard-courts are a better surface for him overall. His serve has untouchable, as well as his lethal forehand. That said, Stan has proven more than once during his career that he can be the man. If Wawrinka starts off by playing aggressive, he can build the momentum needed to power through his early service games. If he fails to bring a high first serve percentage early doors, then del Potro will feel more and more comfortable and potentially run away with a set or two. Nevertheless, this match is set up to a be a classic. Here’s hoping that both players bring their best and stay healthy throughout. The NYC fans deserve it. We all deserve it. Wawrinka in four sets.

US Open 2016: Three to see on Day 2 (Serena, Delpo & Stan)

August 30, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

After a late night finish on opening day at the US Open (thanks Phil Collins) and a slew of five setters on the men’s side, Day 2 could very well bring forth the same sort of drama to the fans in NYC.

Here are our top three matches for Tuesday:

1) Serena Williams vs. Ekaterina Makarova

In a head-to-head that is dominated by Serena 4-1, it will be interesting to see how the American bounces back from a recent shoulder injury and an early exit from Rio. Makarova can play and did defeat Serena at the 2012 Australian Open in comfortable fashion. That said, I find it hard to believe that Williams will be headed for an early exit here in front of her home fans. Although Makarova should put forth some resistance early days, look for Serena to march into round two in straight sets.

2) Stan Wawrinka vs. Fernando Verdasco

On paper this encounter looks like a block-buster. The No. 3 seed taking on a former top tenner, who can rip the cover off of every single shot. However, Verdasco is not the player that he once was and even though he’s played better this year, I don’t believe his game matches up well with Wawrinka’s on a hard-court. Fernando does lead the pair’s head-to-head 3-2, but they have never played on hard-courts. The true bounce coupled with the higher kicking, slower asphalt surface should favour Wawrinka’s chances. Look for the top ranked Swiss player to hug the baseline and use his potent three point offence (forehand, backhand and serve) to send the veteran Spaniard out of the tourney.

3) Juan Martin del Potro vs. Diego Schwartzman

This first time meeting between two Argentines will see one of the tallest players on the circuit take on one of the shortest. The fans love Delpo and based on his recent surge of success in Rio, I have a hard time seeing Schwartzman put forth any sort of resistance. That said, Delpo’s backhand is still not 100 percent and Schwartzman is as steady as a player can be out there. Ultimately, del Potro will have too much power for Diego (perhaps too much power for anyone in the event?) and should advance in three routine sets. The fans and everyone involved will be happy that the 2009 winner in NYC is back where he belongs.

Tennis Elbow: Can an American win in North America?

August 29, 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 US Open.

Here we are, at long last.

The Big One in the Big Apple, the 2016 US Open live from New York City. (It’s really more Flushing Meadows, but we’re willing to overlook the small difference here. New York is New York.)

Every year, the situation is the same, with the tennis season building and building to a crescendo, until the end of summer for the big show at ground zero of the United States Tennis Association and the US Open. The US Open.

The United States throw the tennis world’s biggest party and this much is evident, as we find in New York the biggest stadiums, the biggest crowds, the rowdiest atmosphere and just, generally, the most most everything.

In lieu of previewing the main draw for both men and women (something my colleague Tom Cochrane has already done), I’ll take a look at a few North American players who will be looking for a few statement wins over the next few days.

Men

Milos Raonic. The Canadian now sits at No. 6 on the ATP World Tour rankings, but he should overtake Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played really well, or been healthy, in a few years, at any point now. Milos Raonic has had himself quite a summer, making the Wimbledon final, the Rogers Cup quarterfinals and the Western & Southern Open semifinals. Raonic, now 25, could be next in line behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray if Roger Federer, Nadal and others are indeed as done as they’ve recently shown themselves to be. It’s not a coincidence Raonic’s name is third in the singles race this year.

Taylor Fritz. If American men’s tennis has a face, it’s that of the 18-year-old from California. Taylor Fritz has been seen as the next American men in line, after a long listless period, for about a year, and he’s shown quite a lot of promise. In his rookie season, Fritz has 12 wins in 28 matches and over $350,000 in prize money. He qualified for the Australian Open main draw, made the Memphis Open final and the BB&T Atlanta Open quarterfinals. He has spent quite some time on the Challenger circuit, but it doesn’t matter for now; at only 18, he’s already ranked at No. 54. Fritz will likely lose in the first round against 26th-seed Jack Sock, but that’s a match I wouldn’t want to miss.

*****

Women

Serena Williams. The American needs no introduction, but she might have received a little smudge of extra motivation as her No. 1 ranking was threatened in recent time due to Angelique Kerber’s excellent 2016 season. But on top of the rankings, Serena Williams has remained, inching closer and closer to Steffi Graf’s record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 with 186. With a win in Flushing Meadows, the American would move past Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in history. How’s that for motivation?

Eugenie Bouchard. You may not recall, but the Canadian had quite the 2015 US Open last year. Eugenie Bouchard made the fourth round, for one thing, which was about four extra rounds than most had expected; she was playing good, better than she had in about a year, but then she withdrew from her match against Roberta Vinci. The reason? A fall in the players’ dressing room that occurred under odd circumstances. Fast forward to a year later and Bouchard is back in New York. She has a lawsuit pending against the USTA, so expect quite a bit of awkwardness at every turn.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Serena Williams Autograph Wilson Racket

August 25, 2016

WILSON SPORTING GOODS CO HONORS LONG-TIME ADVISORY STAFF MEMBER
SERENA WILLIAMS WITH AUTOGRAPH RACKET

CHICAGO – Wilson Sporting Goods Co., announced today that it will honor WTA ranked #1 player and nearly 20-year veteran Advisory Staff Member Serena Williams with an Autograph racket. The Blade Serena Williams (SW) 104 Autograph racket marks only the 16th time in the brand’s 102-year history, and only second time in the last 38 years, that it has celebrated an athlete with an Autograph racket. Serena Williams will debut her new Autograph racket at the start of the 2017 season in Australia.

“We are excited to celebrate Serena Williams as an athlete, a tennis icon, a partner, and a friend,” said Hans-Martin Reh, General Manager of Wilson Racquet Sports. “She is a game-changer in the truest sense. And her ability to rewrite tennis history and inspire a new generation of tennis players is invaluable to a sport we all are incredibly passionate about. The Wilson Autograph racket is the highest honor we as a brand can give an athlete and we are tremendously proud to recognize Serena in this way.”

“I’ve played with Wilson rackets since I was a young girl, and to now hold an Autograph racket of my own is a great moment,” said Serena Williams. “I am just thrilled that players of all ages around the world will be able to play with a Wilson racket that bears my signature. This racket feels like me – it reflects my passion, perseverance and drive – and I hope it energizes and encourages those that play with it to always chase their dreams.”

ABOUT THE 2017 BLADE SERENA WILLIAMS (SW) 104 AUTOGRAPH RACKET

The 2017Blade SW 104 Autograph racket features the new design DNA for Wilson performance tennis rackets. This design includes a simple, bold, and clean aesthetic that features a specially engineered, high performance paint never used in the tennis industry before called Black Velvet. This matte paint provides a smooth, soft, light-absorbing finish Wilson created to significantly improve the “feel,” or tactile experience, a player has when the racket is in his/her hands. This new dimension of “feel” is a unique innovation in the performance tennis rackets space.

The racket also features strong electric green accents, a signature look from the Blade franchise, at the three and nine o’clock positions on the racket’s frame.
To customize her Autograph racket, Serena William chose to add special gold accents to the design, including her signature, initials and the Blade name in gold chrome letters. The racket features a red Wilson-branded butt cap.

The Blade SW 104 Autograph racket is constructed with the latest racket technology from Wilson LABS, the innovation hub at Wilson, including a revolutionary material called Countervail®. With Countervail in a tennis racket, players feel less fatigue, recover quicker and experience better control – without sacrificing stiffness, feedback, or feel.

Countervail, developed by Materials Sciences Corporation for NASA, utilizes a patented, state-of-the-art carbon fiber architecture. By integrating Countervail directly into a racket’s construction, players are provided the same performance and feel of a traditional racket, yet with less vibration energy from a shot absorbed into a player’s arm. Countervail is only available in tennis rackets manufactured by Wilson.

Additionally, the Blade SW 104 Autograph includes the brand’s Parallel Drilling technology, which ensures the racket’s grommet holes are parallel with the string bed. This expands the racket’s sweet spot size by up to 26 percent, resulting in more power and a forgiving feel.

Further, the racket features the patent-pending X2 Ergo Handle, which offers players a more optimal, personalized feel on the modern two-handed backhand. Wilson LABS developed this player-directed handle insert system to allow every athlete to customize an ergonomic handle shape to optimize their grip. The X2 Ergo Handle provides the ideal form for the top hand to dominate the two-handed backhand. This gives players more power, versatility, leverage, and feel.
The 2017 Blade SW 104 Autograph racket will be available for pre-sale via tennis specialty retailers (in-store and online) and on www.wilson.com on January 1, 2017. The racket will be available for purchase in-store and online worldwide on January 15, 2017. The MRP for the Blade SW 104 Autograph racket is $249.00 (US).

Wild Cards Announced for Western & Southern Open

August 12, 2016

CINCINNATI (August 12, 2016) – The full list of singles wild card recipients has been released in advance of the making of the draws Friday evening.
Joining Serena Williams in receiving main draw wild cards for the WTA event are Americans Louisa Chirico and Christina McHale.

In the ATP World Tour main draw, Jared Donaldson, Reilly Opelka and Fernando Verdasco will join Taylor Fritz in receiving wild cards.

Below is a brief bio for each recipient:

WTA MAIN DRAW

Louisa Chirico (USA) – A 20-year-old from New Jersey, she broke through at Madrid in May where she reached the semifinals as a qualifier. She is making her main draw debut here after playing in qualifying in 2015.

Christina McHale (USA) – A 24-year-old from New Jersey, she reached the semifinals in Acapulco earlier this season. As a wild card here in 2011, she upset World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.

Serena Williams (USA) – The World No. 1 won her 22nd career Grand Slam tournament title at Wimbledon earlier this summer. She has reached three straight Western & Southern Open finals, and is the two-time defending champion.

ATP MAIN DRAW

Jared Donaldson (USA) – A 19-year-old from Rhode Island who comes into this event having a 4-2 record during the Emirates Airline US Open Series. He earned his first career ATP Masters 1000 win here last year.

Taylor Fritz (USA) – An 18-year-old from California, he is the youngest player in the ATP Top 100. Earlier this season, he reached the Memphis final in just his third ATP event. He was the youngest American to reach an ATP final since 1989 when 17-year-old Michael Chang won at Wembley. A former junior No. 1, Fritz won the 2015 US Open boys title.

Reilly Opelka (USA) – An 18-year-old who stands 6-foot-11 who was born in Michigan, he improved his ranking by over 400 positions this week after reaching the semifinals at Atlanta. Last year he won the Wimbledon boys title.

Fernando Verdasco (Spain) – This veteran will be making his 11th appearance here. He owns seven titles in his career, including winning earlier this year Bucharest.

The singles draws for the Western & Southern Open will be made Friday evening. Play begins with the opening round of qualifying at 10 am on Saturday, August 13.

Serena Williams accepts wild card into Western & Southern Open

August 11, 2016

SERENA WILLIAMS ACCEPTS WILD CARD INTO WESTERN & SOUTHERN OPEN

Two-time defending champion set to defend titles as top seed

CINCINNATI (August 12, 2016) – Two-time defending champion Serena Williams has accepted a wild card into the 2016 Western & Southern Open. Williams, the WTA’s No. 1 player, will be the top seed for next week’s tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.

“We are thrilled Serena is returning to defend her titles,” said tournament director Andre Silva. “She is a fan favorite wherever she goes, especially here in Cincinnati as the reigning champion.”

Williams will enter this year’s tournament on a 10-match winning streak in Cincinnati, having dropped just two sets in winning consecutive titles. In 2015, Williams defeated Simona Halep in the final after downing Ana Ivanovic in the 2014 title match.

This year, Williams will be bidding to reach a fourth straight final at the Western & Southern Open. In 2013, she finished as runner-up to Victoria Azarenka. Overall, she has a 21-6 record in eight appearances in Cincinnati.

The singles draws for the Western & Southern Open will be made Friday evening. Play begins with the opening round of qualifying at 10 am on Saturday, August 13.

Tennis Elbow: What is a tennis olympic medal really worth?

August 8, 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 Rio Olympic tennis tournament.

The 2016 Rio Olympics are here.

Every four years, the Olympics are, we’re reminded, a triumph of sports and competition over more earthly (read: human) concerns. This vision, of course, is mostly a myth as it overlooks a myriad of corruption within the International Olympic Committee, doping and fair-play among athletes, and just the general notion of the Games used as propaganda and a tool to foster nationalism by just about every country participating.

But sure, let’s roll with the notion of the Olympics as all that’s good in sports for a minute. I mean, if nothing else the Opening Ceremony is always fun.

In tennis, you’ll recall, pro athletes have only started competing again in 1988 after a 64-year wait. This means that only a few of tennis players have ever won Olympic medals in the Open era. On the women’s side, the list of champions includes the names you may expect, with Steffi Graf, Justine Henin-Hardenne and the Williams sisters all winning a gold medal. On the men’s side, however, well, there’s Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray…as well as, like, Nicolas Massu and a bunch of dudes. Anyway, all this to say that winning the Olympic tournament may be as prestigious as anything for the athletes themselves, but it really hasn’t been something that analysts and fans alike have put as much thought into. We won’t, say, hold it against Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic when they retire despite no Olympic gold medal. But anyway, let’s move on to a draw preview. Keep in mind that the first round matches have already been completed as I write this.

The flag bearers

There were four of tennis athletes who acted as their country’s flag bearer in Rio this year, as you can see from the tweet above, and I believe that the four illustrate what we discussed earlier. Gilles Muller may have had a nice little career on the ATP World Tour but, and we’re trying to be nice here, history will ultimately forget one as “just one the dudes.” Only now, he’ll forever have one day where he was Andy Murray’s equal. Cool.

The favourites Both the men and women’s draws have been decimated ahead of the Rio Games for a variety of reasons, but Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have made the trip to Brazil. They’re here and they’re the favourites—or were, in the case of the Serb, who lost a ridiculously tough first match. The surprises If Djokovic and Williams are/were the favourites, it’s much more fun to discuss the possible surprise winners. On the women’s side, we’ll keep an eye on Carla Suarez Navarro, Lucie Safarova and Sara Errani, who are all into the second round and who all have a potentially favourable draw—and not just because they aren’t on Williams’s side. On the men’s side, we would love to see someone like Gael Monfils do well in Rio, as he’s certainly got the draw for that. Plus, our editor in chief here at Tennis Connected is on the record as envisioning great things for the Frenchman. (Not in Rio per so, but still.)

But alright, we can do better than picking the sixth-seed as a potential surprise performer. There’s Gilles Muller too, already in the second round, but we’ve already mentioned him.

Instead, let’s go with Juan Martin Del Potro, now ranked No. 141 in the world after so many years and so many injuries. The Argentine, after dominating the world’s best player in the first round, now has a draw with very few potential roadblocks before the quarterfinals. Let’s hope he can take advantage of it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Serena Williams withdraws from Rogers Cup

July 24, 2016

Montréal, July 24, 2016 – On Sunday, Tennis Canada announced that Serena Williams is withdrawing from Rogers Cup presented by National Bank.

The world no.1 holds three Rogers Cup titles and reached the semifinals at the last two editions of the event.

“Due to inflammation in my shoulder, I unfortunately must withdraw from the Rogers Cup. I was looking forward to competing in Montreal and I look forward to returning soon,” said Serena Williams.

“Of course, we are disappointed that Serena will not play in the tournament this year. The fans really enjoyed the time she spent in the city in 2014,” said Eugène Lapierre, tournament director of Rogers Cup presented by National Bank. “Because this is an Olympic year, the players have very full schedules. Sometimes your body needs rest. We hope that Serena will recover quickly and wish her much success for the rest of the season.”

Rogers Cup presented by National Bank will be held from July 22 to 31 at Uniprix Stadium in Montréal. Go to RogersCup.com for more information.

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