Tennis Elbow: Where will Serena Williams stop?

September 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 Serena Williams’s win at the 2014 US Open.

There’s nothing routine about winning a Grand Slam title, but Serena Williams sure made it seem that way on Sunday.

In the final against Caroline Wozniacki, she won in convincing fashion in two sets of 6-3—and it probably wasn’t that close. The match lasted all of 75 minutes, with the World No. 1 dominating on aces (i.e. 7 against 3), breaks (i.e. 5 against 2), winners (i.e. 29 against 4) and total points won (i.e. 65 against 49). About the only place where Wozniacki had an advantage was in unforced errors (i.e. 23 against 29), but that statistic also tells the entire tale. She could only react and most of the time could only put the ball back in play to live to see another day.

This win salvages Williams’s difficult 2014 season and gives her a three-peat at Flushing Meadows, a sixth US Open title and an 18th Grand Slam title, tying her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for second most in history. She’s almost 33 years old now and in her 19th season on the WTA Tour and, because we’ve already asked everything else, there’s really just one thing left to settle.

Is she the greatest of all time?

It’s not exactly fair, but that’s the heights she’s reached. In part, it’s due to the fact that she is so clearly the very best player of her era, having won those 18 titles against just four other defeats in the finals. (And two of those defeats came against her sister Venus.)

It’s not entirely fair, and neither is it new of course. This is a question we’ve even asked here in this column, not once but at least twice. And it’s one for which the answer might depend on how long Williams plans to keep playing.

If this latest US Open title is any indication, she probably has a few more years—Williams never lost more than three games in the 14 sets that she played in New York. And if she does plan on playing a few more seasons, the odds are high that she breaks the tie for second place. And right now, she needs four more major titles to get to Steffi Graf’s tally of 22.

Is that possible? Likely? She’s enjoyed a fine trio of seasons since 2012 with five Grand Slam titles, but these have come at age 31, 32 and 33. At some point, Williams will stop. And yet, it’s set up perfectly for her. The other top players on the WTA Tour are either young (e.g. Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard), what we think they are (e.g. Caroline Wozniacki), clay-court specialists (e.g. Maria Sharapova) or injured (e.g. Victoria Azarenka, Li Na). Williams is old, but she’s still the best of the group.

Of course, a Wozniacki win at Flushing Meadows would have made for a great story as well. This is the same woman who was chastised as an unworthy No. 1-ranked player in 2010 and 2011 because, of all things, she hadn’t won major tournaments. This despite the fact that she was quite clearly a worthy No. 1 since she lorded over the WTA rankings for a full 67 weeks.

If it takes so long to mention Williams’s opponent in this final, it’s because it seemed like this match was far beyond Wozniacki’s reach. It wasn’t, of course. She should have played better. And if she had, then the match might have been closer. It might have even reached a third set, as it did in their previous two meetings over the summer—but it didn’t because she didn’t.

It’s telling that Wozniacki’s best shot is her backhand. Traditionally, this is the weaker shot, the one that’s used on the defensive, the one which players run around of in order to attack from their stronger, forehand side. There are iconic backhand shots, Novak Djokovic’s shot down the line being the shot that propelled him to the top in 2011.

There are also notable exceptions, Wozniacki’s the prime example. We’ve seen the 24-year-old run around her forehand in order to attack with the backhand. Hers is a shot that’s reliable, strong and, at least if you listen to my tweets, it “belongs in a museum… because it’s everything that is right in this world.” (I tend to exaggerate, but ever so slightly.)

Of course, the symbolism isn’t lost on most readers. Against Williams in the US Open final, she was on the defensive and never dictated play. Wozniacki lost, but she’s fine—just look at her Instagram feed. “Out and about NYC with @serenawilliams !! #selfie

That’s the lesson here. If you lose a tennis match, take a selfie. And if you win too, do it. In fact, just take a selfie. It’s just tennis.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

US Open 2014 Day 15 Preview: Marin’s momentum vs. Kei’s courage

September 8, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

For the third year in a row, and for the sixth time in her career, Serena Williams in the US Open women’s singles champion, the American capturing her first Grand Slam of 2014 and the eighteenth major of her illustrious career with a straight sets win over Caroline Wozniacki.

Tonight, the tournament concludes with the men’s singles final, in which Croatia’s Marin Cilic will take on Japan’s Kei Nishikori, with each man looking to collect his first Grand Slam title.

Day 14 Recap

Coming into the tournament in strong form, which saw her collect tournament victories in Stanford and Cincinnati, Williams had breezed her way into the final without the loss of a set, and the American veteran started the final in ominous form, racing out to a 2-0 lead. From there, Wozniacki managed to settle herself but was unable to regularly hold her serve, trading breaks with Williams as both players struggled with their first serves in the windy conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. At one stage, there were 5 successive breaks of serve, but Williams was able to hold her serve when she needed to, producing 15 winners for the opening set to take it, 6-3.

Going into the second set, Wozniacki had produced just one winner and was finding it difficult to push Williams around the court. The American underlined her brilliant front-running abilities, which have seen her only lose once at Flushing Meadows after winning the first set, improving her first serve percentage and establishing a 5-3 lead in the second set. Serving to stay in the championship, Wozniacki was powerless to stop the Williams juggernaut, and an errant backhand handed the top seed the championship after 75 minutes, 6-3 6-3. Fifteen years after claiming her first major in New York as a teenager, Williams was again reunited with the championship trophy.

Fittingly, legendary rivals Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, each of whom won 18 singles majors during her career, were on hand to congratulate Williams on joining the 18 majors club. One wonders, however, just how long Williams will remain in that club. Judging by her performance over the past fortnight, which saw her annihilate the field, it won’t be long before she is knocking on the door of Grand Slam number 19.

Match of the Day – Day 14

Marin Cilic vs. Kei Nishikori

For the first time since the 2005 Australian Open final, men’s tennis will see a Grand Slam singles final that is not contested by Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. There have been various players during the past decade who have been able to put together a hot streak and make it to a Grand Slam final (including David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) but, apart from Andy Murray, no player has been able to regularly compete with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Wawrinka and Del Potro are the only players outside of the Big Four who have claimed majors during the past decade, but each of them has made just the one Grand Slam final.

All of which brings me to today’s intriguing showdown. So often a player surges from the pack to make a Grand Slam final, only to find a member of the Big Four waiting for him there. This time, however, it is different – both Federer and Djokovic suffered shock losses in the semi-finals and so we have Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic both into a Grand Slam final for the first time. So much of this match will depend on how the players handle their emotions throughout the course of the match. On one hand, it is completely new territory for each player; on the other hand, each player knows that he will most likely never get a better opportunity to be crowned US Open champion.

Cilic has been a revelation since returning from his 2013 suspension for taking a banned substance, the lanky Croat improving his serve enormously under the guidance of compatriot Goran Ivanisevic and drawing confidence and inspiration from the former Wimbledon champion. Cilic was ruthlessly efficient against Tomas Berdych and then played the match of his life to whip Roger Federer in straight sets in the semi-finals. Cilic’s serve will be crucial in this match, for Nishikori is a fabulous returner and will be favoured from the baseline in the longer points. My biggest concern for Cilic is his ability to back up mentally and emotionally from his win against Federer. It was a near-perfect match, but the reality is that he will find it hard to replicate such quality of execution in the final. Often athletes will suffer a let-down after such a sublime performance, and I suspect that this will be the case for Cilic.

Nishikori, on the other hand, has been performing at an extremely high level for multiple matches without ever playing the perfect match. The Japanese star was forced to endure gruelling 5-setters against Raonic and Wawrinka, but didn’t seem fatigued against Djokovic in the semi-finals, where he collected a 4 set win. Perhaps the inclusion of the freakishly fit former French Open champion Michael Chang in Nishikori’s coaching team has helped the tenth seed with his stamina and his belief in long matches.

The Japanese star holds a 5-2 advantage over Cilic in head-to-head meetings, although both of Cilic’s wins have come on hard-courts, including at the 2012 US Open. Both meetings this year have been won by Nishikori, and I think that the tenth seed has a very good chance of winning the championship if he can simply get a decent number of Cilic’s first serves back into play. Cilic has been virtually unplayable on his first service points in his last couple of matches, but Nishikori’s lightning quick reflexes and compact swings should give him a chance of getting more returns into play than Federer and Berdych did in their contests with Cilic.

It’s not the final that anyone expected, but I think that this will be a fascinating and close match all the same. I suspect Cilic will tighten up a little and not serve as well as he did in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. If so, I expect Nishikori to take full advantage and be too solid from the back of the court for the Croatian. Nishikori in 4.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to recap the men’s final. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

US Open 2014 Day 14 Preview: Serena vs. Caro (Bring it)

September 7, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

Monday will see Flushing Meadows play host to a men’s final that nobody expected, a match-up whose odds of eventuating were 5000-1 at the beginning of the tournament. Day 13 saw Kei Nishikori shock top seed Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic outclass second seed Roger Federer to set up a surprising and historic men’s singles final. Meanwhile, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki go head to head today in a battle for the ladies’ singles championship.

Day 13 Recap

After back-to-back 5-setters against Raonic and Wawrinka, Nishikori was given little chance of upsetting the world number one Djokovic in the opening men’s semi-final. The Japanese star had spent 3 and a half hours more on court than Djokovic in the lead-up to the semi-final, but Nishikori showed no signs of wilting in the hot and humid conditions, the weather clearly suiting the 24 year old, who has been based in muggy Florida for the majority of the past decade.

After the tenth seed edged Djokovic in the opening set, 6-4, the Serb immediately fired back, racing through the second set for the loss of just one game. The third set proved decisive, with Nishikori forced to save multiple break points before squandering a chance to serve out the set at 5-3. The set went to a tiebreaker and for once it was Djokovic who was unable to deliver under pressure, dropping the opening 4 points of the tiebreaker and eventually losing it 7 points to 4. An immediate break in the opening game of the fourth set by Nishikori, and a crucial hold in the next game, which saw him save 3 break points, put the Japanese star in sight of the finishing line and 7 games later he became the first Asian male to make a Grand Slam singles final, claiming a famous 6-4 1-6 7-6(4) 6-3 win.

Having seen Djokovic’s surprise exit, Roger Federer must have been pumped up for his semi-final against Marin Cilic, with the Swiss great no doubt sensing that the title was his for the taking. Cilic, however, had other ideas, delivering another sublime serving performance to completely outplay the 17-time major winner. The first set saw Cilic drop just 5 points on serve, with a solitary break enough to give him the lead after 28 minutes. A similar scenario unfolded in the second set, with  a sloppy service game from Federer handing Cilic the requisite break as the fourteenth seed claimed the set, 6-4, to the delight of coach Goran Ivanisevic. After a little more than an hour, Cilic was just one set away from competing in his first ever Grand Slam final.

At 2 sets to love down, the crowd willed Federer on, perhaps sensing that they were in for another fabulous fight-back along the lines of the recovery the second seed made against Gael Monfils in the quarter-finals. An early break to the 5-time US Open winner had the crowd roaring, as Federer went up 2-0. But this time the Federer recovery was short-lived, with Cilic claiming an immediate break back and then blasting another winner, one of 43 for the match, to claim the critical break in the seventh game of the set. Any threat of Cilic seizing up when serving for the match quickly evaporated, as the Croat sent down a trio of aces before securing the win with a sublime backhand winner.

Match of the Day – Day 14

Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki

Close friends Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki will contest the women’s singles final today, and you can be sure that both players will be putting their friendship to one side in this encounter. Both players have held the world number one ranking, with Williams currently at the top of the summit, but that’s about where the similarities between the players end. Williams is a 17-time major champion who is looking to capture her third consecutive US Open crown and sixth overall, whilst Wozniacki is into just her second major final and is still looking for a maiden Grand Slam title after being denied the title in New York in 2009 by Kim Clijsters.

The players are also very different in terms of their approach on court, with Williams a master of first strike tennis and Wozniacki far more of a retriever and counterpuncher. The American will seek to dominate on her service games, hoping to score plenty of cheap points on her first serve. Look for Williams to step inside the baseline on the Wozniacki second serve and attack up the line on the return of serve, hoping to get a short ball and to finish the points quickly thereafter. By contrast, Wozniacki will be looking to implement plenty of variety from the baseline, mixing up the pace and spin of her shots as she seeks to keep Williams off-balance and out of position. The Dane’s chances of winning a point increase significantly the longer it goes, so withstanding the initial onslaught from Williams at the beginning of each point is critical to Wozniacki’s chances.

Williams holds a commanding  8-1 advantage in career meetings with Wozniacki, although the tenth seed pushed the American to 3 sets in both of their recent meetings on hard-courts. I think Wozniacki will give a good account of herself and is in the sort of form to take advantage of any weakness from Williams. However, I can’t see Wozniacki having the ability to dictate much of this match. Win or lose, I think this match will be played on Williams’ terms, with the American going for her shots and her success being dependent on her ability to execute. Given her recent success during the North American hard-court swing, it’s hard to imagine Williams not being able to execute successfully. Williams in 3.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to recap the women’s final and preview the men’s decider. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

US Open 2014 Day 12 Preview: Serena & Caro inch closer to the finals

September 5, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

Roger Federer is back in the US Open semi-finals for the first time since 2011, the 5-time champion saving 2 match points to defeat Gael Monfils in an electrifying night session on Day 11. Meanwhile, Day 12 is ladies’ semi-finals day at Flushing Meadows, with Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki looking to book their spots in Sunday’s final.

Day 11 Recap

The day session saw Croat Marin Cilic hoping to advance to his second career Grand Slam semi-final. Standing in his way was sixth seed and former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych. Cilic raced out to an early lead against the Czech Davis Cup star, breaking Berdych in the opening game of the match and never surrendering his advantage.

Berdych, who had held 60 of his 64 service games heading in to the quarter-final, was all at sea on serve in the blustery conditions, dropping serve 4 times in the first set and a half alone. In contrast, Cilic was ruthlessly efficient on serve, dropping just one point on his first service points in the second set. A brief fightback by Berdych at the beginning of the third set, which saw the sixth seed go up a break, was halted when a double-bounce ruling by the umpire shattered the Czech’s focus. The set went to a tiebreaker, with Cilic proving too solid and claiming a straight sets win in a touch over 2 hours.

In order to advance to his first ever Grand Slam final, Cilic will need to overcome 17-time major winner Roger Federer, who was forced to pull out all the stops to halt the charge of Gael Monfils. The Frenchman dominated the early stages of the encounter, claiming the opening 2 sets of the match to put Federer on the verge of a surprise exit.

Monfils then had a pair of match points on Federer’s deep in the third set but the Swiss star showed his experience, saving both and going on to claim the set. From there, the match had a sense of inevitability about it, with Federer growing in confidence and Monfils starting to falter. By the time the match entered a deciding set, the 33 year old Federer was in full flight, racing to a 5-1 lead before closing out a memorable win in 200 minutes.

Matches of the Day – Day 12

1. Shuai Peng vs. Caroline Wozniacki

Shuai Peng has looked switched on from the very start of the tournament, which saw her upset fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round. Peng has added other seeds to her list of scalps, including Roberta Vinci and Lucie Safarova, and the Chinese player will not hold back against Wozniacki today. Double-handed off both sides, Peng is a very effective returner and is more powerful than Wozniacki from the baseline.

Wozniacki has enjoyed a resurgence in the last few months, winning the title in Istanbul and performing very solidly in the North American swing coming into New York. Training for the New York marathon seems to have improved Wozniacki’s stamina, as evidenced against Sharapova, and her confidence, which must have taken a beating after her drop down in the rankings and her split from Rory McIlroy. Wozniacki is in fine form and has more experience at this stage of big tournaments, and I sense she will be more composed on the big points. Wozniacki in 3.

2. Serena Williams vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Ekaterina Makarova has been very consistent in the majors in the last few years and has had a superb tournament to date, highlighted by a win over former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals. Makarova is into her first Grand Slam semi-final, but as a former French Open doubles winner the Russian should not be overawed by the big stage. Makarova has also beaten Serena Williams in a Grand Slam before, upsetting the American at Melbourne Park in 2012.

Williams has beaten Makarova in their other 3 clashes, and the top seed has been simply unstoppable at Flushing Meadows so far this year, dropping just 22 games across 5 matches. The two-time defending champion will look to obtain plenty of cheap points on serve and to keep the points short against Makarova. Look for Williams to step inside the baseline on the Makarova serve and to employ her preferred brand of first strike tennis. I think the Russian will battle valiantly, but I can’t see Williams losing this one. Williams in 2.

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.

US Open 2014 Day 10 Preview: Serious tennis between Djokovic and Murray ahead

September 3, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

China’s Shuai Peng is into the first Grand Slam semi-final of her career, becoming just the third Chinese player to reach the final 4 of a major by defeating teenage prodigy Belinda Bencic in straight sets on Day 9.

Day 9 Recap

The unseeded Peng, competing in the thirty-seventh Grand Slam of her career, was forced to save a pair of break point points in her opening service game, but from there the Chinese player was largely untroubled, dictating the rallies and not allowing Bencic to get into the match. Peng, who has yet to drop a set in New York this year, eventually wrapped up the match 6-2 6-1 in just over an hour.

Peng will play former finalist Caroline Wozniacki for a place in the final after the Dane thrashed Sara Errani under lights in Tuesday’s night session. Errani is a former French Open finalist and has beaten the likes of Venus Williams at Flushing Meadows this year, but the Italian was completely out of sorts against a switched-on Wozniacki, who allowed Errani just one game for the entire match.

In the men’s tournament, the quarter-finals line-up was completed on Day 9, with Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic setting up a rematch of their Wimbledon clash in contrasting fashion. Berdych was completely dominant against 20 year old Dominic Thiem, registering an emphatic straight sets win. Cilic, on the other hand, was forced to 5 sets to see off the challenge of Frenchman Gilles Simon.

Gael Monfils’ remarkable run in New York continued on Day 9, with the Frenchman still yet to drop a set for the tournament. Monfils upset seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov in a tight 3-setter, with the Frenchman converting 3 of his 4 break points for the match compared to Dimitrov claiming just one of his 7 break point opportunities.

Monfils will now play 5-time champion Roger Federer for a place in the semi-finals, after the Swiss superstar cruised past Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets. The win gave Federer an ATP Tour leading fifty-third victory of the season, and allowed the second seed to move into his tenth US Open quarter-final in 11 years.

Matches of the Day – Day 10

1. Victoria Azarenka vs. Ekaterina Makarova

The match-up sees the sixteenth seed play the seventeenth seed, but Azarenka is by far the more high-profile player, being a former world number one player and a two-time Grand Slam winner. That said, Makarova is an underrated player, having made the quarter-finals of multiple Grand Slams and having ousted Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard in the round of 16 in New York.

Makarova has won 2 of the 5 clashes between the pair, but Azarenka has won both of their meetings on hard-courts, the Belarusian’s preferred surface, and I think she has a clear advantage in raw power and shotmaking ability. That said, Azarenka is still getting back to full fitness after an injury-induced lay-off and may fade if this match goes deep into a deciding set. I’ll back Azarenka to get on top early as she seeks to get this match completed in straight sets. Azarenka in 2.

2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Kei Nishikori

Any doubts over Kei Nishikori’s fitness were dispelled by his fantastic 5-set win over Milos Raonic in the fourth round. But that match, which finished at 2:26am local time, must have taken a lot out of the Japanese star. Wawrinka had a tough match against Robredo in round 4, but the third seed played only 4 sets and has had slightly more time to recover for this clash than his opponent.

The Swiss star has won both previous matches against Nishikori, and I think the key to today’s match is Wawrinka’s ability to execute when in an attacking position, compared with Nishikori’s ability to defend and, in particular, push Wawrinka deep and wide in the court. Wawrinka struck 75 winners against Robredo and a similar tally is likely to see him win this one. But if his unforced error count is high then Nishikori could well be the one going through to the semi-finals. Wawrinka in 5.

3. Serena Williams vs. Flavia Pennetta

The match represents a clash of the oldest women left in the women’s draw and, no matter what she says in her press conferences, it’s clear that Serena Williams desperately wants to win this title and salvage something from a season that, in terms of majors at least, has been very disappointing.

Pennetta is a quality player who obviously enjoys playing in New York, having made the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows last year and having now returned to the second week of the tournament this year. I expect the Italian to come out swinging and give this match her all, but Williams’ advantage on serve is likely to be the key factor in this match. Williams in 2.

4. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Top seed Djokovic has won 12 of 20 career meetings with Murray, but it was the Scot who triumphed here in the 2012 final, downing the Serb in 5 sets to claim his maiden Grand Slam title. However, Murray has found it difficult to compete with the very top players this season after returning from back surgery, with his win over Tsonga on Monday representing his first win over a top 10 player since Wimbledon last year.

Djokovic beat Murray in straight sets in Miami earlier this season – the only time this year that the pair has played one another – and I think the world number one, who has made the last 4 US Open finals, will be too strong in this contest. Look for Djokovic to pace himself through the match, knowing he has the superior fitness at this point in time. Djokovic in 4.

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.

US Open 2014 Day 9 Preview: Dimitrov and Monfils will certainly steal the show

September 2, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

It was another humid and windy day in New York, but the muggy conditions didn’t bother Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray, who set up a quarter-final clash with straight sets victories on Day 8.

Day 8 Recap

Since losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round of the 2009 French Open, Novak Djokovic had made 21 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, and on Day 8 the Serb made it 22 major quarter-finals in a row, saving a set point in the second set en route to a 3 set victory over the German.

Andy Murray booked his place in the last 8 by recording his first win over a top 10 player since winning Wimbledon last year, the Scot overcoming Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a tight 3-setter. Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka blasted 75 winners on his way to a 4 set win over Tommy Robredo, overcoming a tumble into spectators in the third set, some cramps and some generally anxious moments against the veteran Spaniard to advance to the quarter-finals.

In the women’s tournament, Italian eleventh seed Flavia Pennetta overcame Casey Dellacqua, claiming a tight first set before pulling away in the second set. Top seed Serena Williams stopped the run of giant-killer Kaia Kanepi to set up a meeting with Pennetta, which will see the 2 oldest players in the women’s draw go head to head.

Two-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka was forced to fight all the way to see off the challenge of Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic, the former world number one forced to come from a set down to register a victory over the world number 145.

Azarenka will play Russian Ekaterina Makarova for a place in the semi-finals after Makarova ended Eugenie Bouchard’s 2014 streak of making the semi-finals or better at each Grand Slam. Bouchard was visibly distressed in the humid conditions, having her blood pressure checked and putting ice on her neck and shoulders in an attempt to cool down. It was to no avail however, as the seventeenth seeded Makarova recorded a 7-6(2) 6-4 win.

Matches of the Day – Day 9

1. Belinda Bencic vs. Shuai Peng

17 year old Belinda Bencic is undoubtedly a player of the future, but I’ve been amazed at how well the Swiss player has been able to transition to the WTA Tour this season. Bencic has shown maturity and composure beyond her years and has been tactically very sharp to boot.

The powerful Peng, who hits double-handed forehands and backhands, has had a brilliant tournament to date, upsetting the likes of Radwanska and Vinci en route to the quarter-finals. Peng has greater experience, but if Bencic can move Peng around the court and expose her lack of reach out wide, then I think the teenager can continue her fairytale run. Bencic in 3.

2. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Gael Monfils

If you are a fan of tennis, then it’s hard not to be excited about this match-up. Dimitrov has a textbook game, with a classical one-handed backhand and compact swings which have drawn comparisons with Roger Federer. Monfils, on the other hand, is flamboyant and electrifying, capable of utilising his incredible athleticism to hit a range of shots that are most definitely not from the textbook.

Monfils is usually very erratic, but the Frenchman has been impressively consistent to date in New York this year, not dropping a set so far and dismissing compatriot Richard Gasquet in style in round 3. Monfils beat Dimitrov at the 2011 US Open, but was forced to retire in Bucharest earlier this year when trailing the Bulgarian. Dimitrov has had the more consistent season, and I’ll back him for this reason, but you simply never know what Monfils will bring to the court. Dimitrov in 4.

3. Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Roger Federer

When you think of Spanish tennis players, names such as Nadal and Ferrer instantly come to mind, along with veterans such as Robredo and Lopez. However, Roberto Bautista Agut is an emerging player on the ATP Tour and another Spaniard who may continue the country’s proud tennis traditions in the years to come.

The lanky Spaniard has a powerful game and showed by knocking Del Potro out of the Australian Open in January that he can mix it with the best. This will be his first match against Roger Federer and I think he will put up a good fight against the 17-time major winner. That said, Federer looks in top shape right now and I can’t see him dropping this one. Federer in 4.

4. Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sara Errani

Since Wimbledon, Caroline Wozniacki has given various indications that she is getting back to somewhere near her best, which of course saw her sit atop the world rankings for 67 weeks. The Dane scored one of her best wins in the last few years by beating Maria Sharapova in the previous round and her training for the New York Marathon appears to have provided her with plenty of stamina.

Errani is a similar player to Wozniacki, covering the court well and counterpunching effectively, but I think the Italian’s weak serve is where Wozniacki will really attack today. Look for the Dane to jump all over the Errani second serve and race to a relatively comfortable straight sets victory. Wozniacki in 2.

5. Tomas Berdych vs. Dominic Thiem

Tomas Berdych has had success in New York before, having made it through to the semi-finals of the 2012 US Open, defeating Roger Federer before losing to eventual champion Andy Murray on a very windy day at Flushing Meadows. Berdych has fallen away a bit after a strong start to the 2014 season, but I think the courts in New York suit his game to a tee.

Thiem is a rising star on the ATP Tour and showed great composure and stamina to upset good friend Ernests Gulbis in round 2. However, at this stage I don’t think the young Austrian has the raw power to match Berdych in this clash. I’ll take the Czech in a close one. Berdych in 5.

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.

US Open 2014 Day 2 Preview: 26 The return of Darth Federer

August 26, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

Men’s stars Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka all progressed to the second round on a warm and sunny opening day of play in New York, with women’s seeds Sharapova, Radwanska and Kerber also making it through to round 2.

Day 1 Recap

Whilst Djokovic was clinical in recording a straight sets win over Diego Schwartzman, and Wawrinka impressed in a 3 set victory over Jiri Vesely, Murray was made to fight all the way in his win over Robin Haase. The Scot battled cramps, and was lucky to see Haase squander a chance to take the match to a deciding set, with Murray eventually scoring a scrappy 4 set win.

Among the other men’s seeds in action on Day 1, there were wins for Raonic, Robredo and Tsonga, whilst Julien Benneteau was upset by his countryman Benoit Paire. Meanwhile, Wimbledon star Nick Kyrgios claimed another scalp, beating two-time US Open semi-finalist Mikhail Youzhny in a tight and heated 4-setter which saw the young Aussie on the brink of being disqualified.

In the women’s tournament, Simona Halep and Venus Williams each battled back from a set down to book a place in the second round, as Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Wozniacki were also stretched to 3 sets before progressing. Agnieszka Radwanksa underlined her title credentials, losing just one game in her opening round match, whilst Maria Sharapova was impressive in defeating Maria Kirilenko in straight sets.

Matches of the Day – Day 2

1. Serena Williams vs. Taylor Townsend

Young American Taylor Townsend, along with other rising stars Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, is being groomed as one of the successors to Serena Williams in terms of the next generation of American women’s tennis, but Townsend’s game is very different to the one employed by the current world number one.

Whereas Williams’ game is all about power, with very little subtlety about it, Townsend is a crafty player who has enjoyed plenty of success at junior level by employing a diverse game incorporating deft touch and sublime angles. Townsend made it through to the third round of this year’s French Open, but it’s fair to say that she still has plenty of work to do before she establishes herself on the WTA Tour. This should be a great learning experience for Townsend, but I fear that Williams will show little mercy on her younger opponent. Williams in 2.

2. Petra Kvitova vs. Kristina Mladenovic

New York has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for Petra Kvitova. Whilst the two-time Wimbledon champion has reached the semi-finals or better of each other major, at the US Open the Czech star has never made it past the round of 16. However, Kvitova showed by dominating the field in New Haven last week that her Wimbledon hangover has well and truly evaporated.

Former world junior champion Mladenovic is a talented player, who knocked Li Na out of this year’s French Open en route to the round of 32. That said, I don’t think the Frenchwoman has the stroke-making artistry or the raw power of her opponent today, and if Kvitova is on song then the third seed should run out a comfortable winner. Kvitova in 2.

3. Roger Federer vs. Marinko Matosevic

Marinko Matosevic is becoming better known for his unusual antics (check out his victory roll after winning his first ever Grand Slam main draw match in Paris earlier this year, or his tirade of abuse at an umpire in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago), rather than for his tennis, but the Aussie is a former top 40 player and a natural born competitor.

But whilst Matosevic will literally throw everything at Federer, the unflappable Swiss star should have few worries in overcoming his opponent today. The 17-time major winner is in a rich vein of form, and Matosevic doesn’t have the kind of raw power that can hurt Federer. Matosevic is usually very solid on serve and from the back of the court, but that’s not enough against a player of Federer’s calibre. Federer in 3.

4. Madison Keys vs. Jarmila Gajdosova

To my mind, this is one of the most intriguing matches of the day, pitting up-and-coming American Madison Keys against the erratic but talented Jarmila Gajdosova. Keys has forced her way into the world’s top 30 as a result of a string of strong performances, including a third round appearance at the All England Club last month. In front of her home crowd, Keys will be desperate to do well at a venue where she has collected only one main draw win previously.

Gajdosova has had some injury troubles and various other off-court issues over the past couple of years, but the Aussie is a former top 30 player and has made the round of 16 at both the French Open and Wimbledon in the past. A brilliant ball-striker, Gajdosova has nothing to lose in this encounter and will go out all guns blazing. This should be a close one, but Keys’ recent good form should propel her to victory. Keys in 3.

5. Flavia Pennetta vs. Julia Goerges

The past 12 months or so have seen veteran Pennetta make a stunning return to tennis following a lengthy injury-induced lay-off. A semi-final appearance at New York last year, along with a trip to the quarter-finals of this year’s Australian Open, has Pennetta on the cusp of the world’s top 10 again, and the Italian will be eager to replicate her 2013 efforts at Flushing Meadows this year.

Goerges is a talented and hard-hitting player who has been ranked as high as 15 in the world. However, the past couple of years have not been kind to the German, who has won just a pair of Grand Slam matches since her run to the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open and seen her ranking slide outside the world’s top 50 as a result. With Goerges down on form and confidence, I’ll back Pennetta to come through this one without too much trouble. Pennetta in 2.

Put your house on: David Ferrer. The fourth seed should be too steady for Damir Dzumhur. The Bosnian made history by reaching the round of 32 at Melbourne Park earlier this year, but I can’t see him getting past the tenacious Spaniard.

Upset alert: Denis Istomin could cause twelfth seed Richard Gasquet some anxious moments in their opening round match, whilst young Aussie Ashleigh Barty could surprise Czech seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Likely to go the distance: The clash between Germany’s Dustin Brown and Aussie Bernard Tomic should not only be highly entertaining to watch, but should also be mightily close. I’ll back the Aussie to prevail in the decider.

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.

Tennis Elbow: 2014 US Open: This is America, man

August 25, 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 a few of the more compelling North American players competing at Flushing Meadows.

Everything is better, or at least bigger, in North America—and that includes the tennis.

The US Open is the final Grand Slam of the season, and every year it also seems as if it’s ending the season. (But that’s probably more due to the fact that I live in Canada and because as soon as the tournament has crowned a champion, most of Canada starts anticipating the NHL season.)

As depressing as the conclusion of the US Open feels every year, in 2014 it’s double the trouble. Already, Rafael Nadal has pulled out the tournament, leaving the men’s draw with one fewer worthy foe. It’s too bad too, because the Spaniard is the one who pushes the ATP World Tour to its maximum.

That all said, let’s take a look at a few of the Canadians and Americans who seem poised for a great showing in New York—or whose play of late make for a great narrative. Because it’s really the latter that I’m looking for.

Men’s singles championship

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic must be relieved. He’s seeded No. 5, and the draw put him at the 64th position, in the top half of Novak Djokovic rather than that of Roger Federer. The young Canadian has lost in this matchup against the Swiss all six times that they’ve played it—and if that unfortunate streak reaches the lucky 7, then at least it will mean that Raonic has reached the first Grand Slam final of his career.

By any measure, the 23-year-old has been a revelation this season, as he’s reached a career-high of No. 6 on the ATP World Tour. And yet, his problem now is to figure out how to keep progressing. It’s great to make the quarterfinals here, the quarterfinals there, but that’s not how you reach the top. You have to win major tournaments, otherwise you’re stuck being Tomas Berdych. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Raonic would disappoint all Canadians if he’s content with being Berdych.

Vasek Pospisil/Jack Sock

Can the tag team duo do it again? There wouldn’t be the mythical story this time, or the text messages. There would just be Canadian Vasek Pospisil and American Jack Sock taking New York by storm. (There’s your elevator pitch for the movie.) Flushing Meadows is sure to fall under the spell of the PopSock mania, at least to the extent that a doubles match ever does do it anymore in today’s tennis.

Can’t you see it already, the rowdy New York crowd at night on Arthur Ashe Stadium? Let’s hope they last until the second weekend, and beyond.

John Isner

This is it for John Isner. After seven years on Tour, this US Open is one of the remaining legitimate chances he has to make a splash. Though truth be told, at 29 years of age, it’s probably too late. Isner will forever be the tall American who couldn’t quite reach the height on the courts that his stature hinted at.

Yet, we tend to undervalue him a little bit. Since 2007, he has amassed a little under $7 million in prize money as well as nine titles. His career-best of No. 9 would also be the envy of many other players… but despite that, Isner’s legacy will forever be his five-set win at Wimbledon in 2010 against Nicolas Mahut. Now that I think about it, I mean, it could be worse.

Women’s singles championship

Serena Williams

Serena Williams took the week off, because what else might she have accomplished by playing tennis so close to the start of the US Open? In winning the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Williams showed that she was as ready as she could be for the US Open. She played five matches against players ranked No. 22 (i.e. Samantha Stosur) or better, and she only lost one set. Why play at another event when she could rest instead and gun for a sixth title in Flushing Meadows, and a third in a row?

Just write her name down on one side of the draw and wait to see who meets her in the ultimate match.

Eugenie Bouchard

Well, the good news is that Eugenie Bouchard has finally won a match again. After suffering three losses in a row dating back to her disappointing Wimbledon performance in the final against Petra Kvitova, the Canadian hadn’t won a match. This week in New Haven for the Connecticut Open, Bouchard won a match. (The bad news, of course, is that she lost the very next match she played, 6-2 and 6-2 against Stosur.)

I’ve tackled her very real struggles just last week in this column, and I have only one more question. Can Bouchard make her fourth Grand Slam semifinal (or better) in 2014? That would give her probably a better haul than anyone else on this season—and yet, unless she wins in New York, you’d almost have to look at her season as a disappointment. So close, yet so far—though since July, she’s mostly been so far.

Coco Vandeweghe

It’s not so much that I believe Coco Vandeweghe can reach the semifinals in New York, or anything like that, because I don’t. If she even manages to make it through Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, Vandeweghe would likely play Stosur, and then Serena Williams. What’s much more likely is that she wins one or two matches, but that’s all.

See this, rather, as overdue praise for the American’s great showing in Montreal, where she beat both Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on her way to the quarterfinals. Vandeweghe has been playing well of late, and has a career-high ranking of No. 38 to show for it. In a sport where we tend to celebrate only the superhuman, it’s good to remember that most are just like us—happy to be playing and trying their damn hardest to win a match or two.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

US Open 2014: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Analysis

August 23, 2014

Greetings and welcome to the 2014 US Open Championships and the beginning of 2 weeks of coverage of the year’s final Grand Slam, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.

Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all of the action from Flushing Meadows. In anticipation of the start of the tournament on Monday, today’s serve sets out my tournament predictions for the men’s and women’s singles.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

A niggling back problem proved disastrous for Roger Federer’s 2013 season, causing the Swiss star to miss tournaments and reduce his training schedule, which resulted in a drop in confidence and, by his own lofty standards, very mediocre results. But it has been a stunning resurgence in 2014 for the 17-time major champion, who leads the ATP Tour in wins this season and who came within a whisker of what would have been an eighth Wimbledon crown last month.

A finalist in Toronto and the champion in Cincinnati, Federer’s confidence is sky-high at present and I think he will bolster his existing collection of 5 US Open crowns in a fortnight’s time. With his great rival Rafael Nadal out of the tournament due to injury, and with top seed Novak Djokovic exhibiting patchy form following his Wimbledon win and high-profile wedding, Federer must sense that this year’s US Open is there for his taking.

There are some tricky players lurking in the bottom half of draw alongside Federer, including the much-improved Grigor Dimitrov and the always dangerous Gael Monfils, but I expect Federer to navigate his quarter with relative ease and progress to the semi-finals with a minimum of fuss. David Ferrer is scheduled to face Federer in the semi-finals, but I have a feeling the diminutive Spaniard might be overpowered by Tomas Berdych or Ernests Gulbis if either of those players really gets going in New York.

In the top half of the draw, Djokovic has a brutal quarter, with the big-serving Isner a potential round of 16 opponent and Toronto champion Tsonga or former US Open winner Murray likely to be waiting in the quarter-finals. I think Djokovic has been careful not to expend too much energy through the North American hard-court season to date, and I expect him to lift a gear in New York and see off the challengers in his quarter. To make the final, I think Djokovic will most probably have to defeat Milos Raonic, who has been hugely impressive this year, or Australian Open Stan Wawrinka, who is back at home on his preferred hard-courts.

Djokovic got the better of Federer at the All England Club last month, but the pair almost always seem to have close matches, and I expect that Federer’s superb form on hard-courts on the last few weeks will give him the confidence to be aggressive and to prevail by a narrow margin should the pair meet on the final day of the tournament. Federer in 4.

Winner: Roger Federer

Finalist: Novak Djokovic

Semi-finalists: Raonic, Berdych

Outside Chance: Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Murray

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

It’s been a baffling year for Serena Williams to date. The world number one and 17-time major champion has failed to make the quarter-finals of any of the year’s first 3 Grand Slams, yet remains the dominant player on the WTA Tour, having collected 5 titles to date in 2014.

Hyper-competitive by nature, Williams will be fixated on getting something out of the Grand Slams this year, and nothing other than the championship will satisfy the American. Former US Open champion Sam Stosur and eighth seed Ana Ivanovic, who knocked Williams out of the Australian Open this year, are both dangers in Williams’ quarter, whilst potential semi-final candidates include Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, rising star Eugenie Bouchard and last year’s finalist Victoria Azarenka, who is looking to get back on track after an injury-riddled year.

In the bottom half of the draw, it’s a tale of two quarters. Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams are all packed into one star-studded quarter, whilst the other quarter represents a prime opportunity for the likes of Kerber, Jankovic and Radwanska to make a run to the semi-finals.

I think that French Open champion Maria Sharapova is the most likely candidate to progress from the bottom half of the draw, although Radwanska showed in Montreal that she shouldn’t be written off as a spent force. If the predicted Sharapova-Williams final does eventuate, it’s likely that the Russian will feel the weight of the American’s dominate 16-2 head-to-head advantage. Sharapova’s heavy-hitting is a weapon against most players, but it plays straight into the hands of Williams, who loves to receive balls with plenty of pace on them and return them to her opponent with even more pace. Williams in 2.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Maria Sharapova

Semi-finalists: Kvitova, Kerber

Outside Chance: Radwanska, Bouchard

That’s it for today. I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to preview the first day of play on Monday.

Tennis Elbow: 2014 Western & Southern Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

August 11, 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 previews this year’s Western & Southern Open.

Where do we go once we’ve turned back the clock?

The 2014 Rogers Cup sure looked a whole lot like, oh I don’t know maybe the 2005 edition, with names like Roger Federer and Venus Williams playing up to their lofty standards of about a decade ago. Well alright, the older Williams sister never actually won, or even reached the final, of the Rogers Cup. But the year 2005 is when Federer won 11 titles and when Venus won Wimbledon. The point is they went to finals then, which is especially noteworthy.

The US Open series continues this week with the 2014 Western & Southern Open after what was an excellent Rogers Cup—or at the very least, I know that the Montreal portion of the tournament was, because that’s what I covered.

Let’s see what Cincinnati has in play. It’s the final step toward the final Grand Slam tournament of the year. The way that I see it, the big favourites will likely show up with a purpose.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams made the most of her first visit in Montreal since 2000, making me look foolish for not picking her to go farther than the quarterfinals. The good news is that she participated at this tournament in Ohio every year since 2010. Meeting her in the quarterfinals will be Jelena Jankovic, because that’s about all that she has been doing this year. The Serb seems to always manage a few wins per event before bowing out. I expect nothing else.

Agnieszka Radwanska aims to continue the great form she showcased in Montreal, where she won the first title of the 2014 season. In La Belle Province, the Polish was always calmer than her opponents, and she navigated her way through a fairly favourable draw. In the third round in Cincinnati, she could have a rematch against Sabine Lisicki, whom Radwanska beat in Montreal… in the third round. Waiting for the 25-year-old in the quarterfinals will be the player who impressed me most at the Rogers Cup, Caroline Wozniacki—though, yes, it’s the former and not the latter who took home the title.

Has the air gone out of the Eugenie Bouchard balloon? The Montreal native was coming home for the Rogers Cup and, though the event itself was a success, it couldn’t have been worse for her. The homecoming started with a 0-6 first set. That she managed a 6-2 win in the second set only made the second 0-6 in the decisive set all the more depressive. After such a successful 2014 season, Bouchard was home, finally…and she flamed out. Can Petra Kvitova regain her footing after a disappointing Rogers Cup? Cincinnati would be the time to do it.

The fourth section of the draw is about as wide open as these things get. Sure, there is Maria Sharapova, but she just about might have become a clay court specialist—as weird as that sounds, the Russian does have three titles this week, and they’re all on clay. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of players who had disappointing and short visits in Montreal. (Or Simona Halep, who hasn’t played in a month.)

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Jelena Jankovic; Caroline Wozniacki over Agnieszka Radwanska; Eugenie Bouchard over Petra Kvitova; Simona Halep over Dominika Cibulkova

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Caroline Wozniacki; Simona Halep over Eugenie Bouchard

Final: Serena Williams over Simona Halep

Men’s draw

Novak Djokovic was candid after his loss in the third round against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and I suspect he will avenge it this very week. The Frenchman is in fine form after defeating the all-world group of Djokovic, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and Roger Federer. Tsonga may very well save his 2014 season with a string of great results, but I believe Djokovic will right the ship before making his way to Flushing Meadows.

Next is the Spanish portion of the main draw, with four Spaniards not named “Rafael Nadal”. (I don’t exactly see them as a threat, just thought it should be noted…) Stanislas Wawrinka is the favourite here and, despite a disappointing Rogers Cup, he will look to use this event as a springboard for the US Open. Expect him to reach the quarterfinals, where he will lose to Dimitrov. The Bulgarian seems to have figured it out—by most accounts, he’s one of the top 8 players in the world and since Roland Garros his worst result has been a quarterfinal in Montreal last week.

The homecoming was a little kinder for Milos Raonic than it was for Bouchard, though the unexpected loss to Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals made it all the more difficult to accept because we had all started believing a little bit. The hard court is a good surface for the Canadian, and I expect him to book a ticket to the final in Cincinnati. First, however, he will defeat Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals.

Murray has decided to retain Amelie Mauresmo after a rather timid Wimbledon title defense, and he reached the final 8 of the Rogers Cup. A good way to salvage his 2014 season continues at the Western & Southern Open for the Scotsman, and I believe that he can do just that. A quarterfinal against Federer, who is playing as well as anyone on Tour with a streak of three finals at his last three events, is a tall order of course. Well, Murray stands six-foot-three.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; Grigor Dimitrov over Stanislas Wawrinka; Milos Raonic over Tomas Berdych; Andy Murray over Roger Federer

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Grigor Dimitrov; Milos Raonic over Andy Murray

Final: Novak Djokovic over Milos Raonic

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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