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

Rogers Cup in La belle province: There is no crashing the Williams sisters’ party

August 8, 2014

The Williams sisters barely ever come to Montreal, and maybe that’s why the Montreal crowd seems to have cheered so loud for them at their matches.

Because they’re here. They’re here and they’re winning.

This year marks Serena Williams’s first visit in La Belle Province since 2000, and she’s certainly made the most of it. And if Venus Williams finally won a first match in Montreal in her career this week, it’s only because she finally played a match in our province.

Montrealers have also cheered this week, because the two players are legends of the sport, professionals for respectively 20 (i.e. Venus) and 19 (i.e. Serena) years and who will live on in history for much longer. (And in Serena’s case, the crowd also probably cheers because she speaks French. How well? Well enough for Radio-Canada’s Diane Sauvé to conduct her post-match conference entirely in Molière’s tongue. It was impressive.)

Maybe the crowd has cheered, too, because they know that the semifinal in the top half could always become a Williams sisters party. Indeed, the draw had put Venus and Serena in the same half, making yet another meeting between the two a possibility. “I definitely feel great when I see her playing so well,” Serena said. “Obviously not when it’s time for me to play her.”

It will be only the second time that the Williams sisters play each other since 2009 and, after her 6-1 and 6-2 win Charleston last year, and her 14-10 head-to-head record, the younger Serena can probably feel confident heading into this meeting.

Because on Friday, it all came to fruition. No. 1-ranked Serena Williams started the day with a 4-6, 7-5 and 7-5 win in 2:41:23 over 11th-seed and most impressive player thus far Caroline Wozniacki. She came very close of losing, down a set and a break only to finally pull away and end Wozniacki’s eight-match winning streak. “I just thought, ‘Just keep fighting. Hopefully I can just hold on and hold on, try to break’,” she said. “I just never wanted to stop and try to do the best that I could.”

She praised the play of her opponent after the match, who hadn’t lost a set entering the match. Williams said that, “She’s really fast, gets a lot of balls back. She makes you hit that extra shot.”

After her win, Serena looked ahead to playing against her older sister. “I definitely don’t like playing her,” she said. “She does everything well, so it’s not an ideal matchup for anyone.”

It was Venus’s turn on Centre Court afterward, and she lived up to her end of the bargain by defeating 14th-seed Carla Suarez Navarro by the score of 4-6, 6-2 and 6-3. “She just seemed really determined,” she said of her opponent. “She was playing so well, not missing a lot of balls.”

The match started slowly for Venus, who seemed to lack the energy and intensity that she had in her first few matches of the tournament. Much like it was for her sister, this quarterfinal was a grueling affair that lasted 2:11:31. “I tried to do my best to maybe control the point a little more, because she had me on a string running side to side,” she said. “It’s very difficult to win matches like that when you’re not in control.”

In part this was Suarez Navarro’s doing. The Spaniard used every bit of her five-foot-four frame to dictate play in the first set and, though she lost the second and the third, went shot for shot with the veteran.

After the match, reporters also asked Venus how she felt about playing against her sister. A little like her sister, she explained that she was looking forward to it, but not to the match itself. “There’s no secret or science to it. I think that anyone who has gotten any wins against her, they’ve pretty much played the match of their life.”

The good thing is, the Williams sisters won’t get to play this nice on the court this weekend in their semifinal. Montreal will cheer all the same.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Rogers Cup in La belle province: Caroline Wozniacki is the most dominant player thus far

August 7, 2014

They don’t hand out trophies for how impressive and dominant you are, but Caroline Wozniacki would deserve one if they did.

Through three matches at this year’s Rogers Cup, she has lost six games. Total. Your kid that’s in the third grade doesn’t need help knowing that this is an average of two games per match, or one per set, but what he may not understand is that this is really, extremely dominant.

Against qualifier Shelby Rogers, Wozniacki somehow bested that average and lost only one match on the way to a 6-1 and 6-0 victory. “I served really well, returned well,” she said. “(Rogers)’s a tough player. She has some big shots out there. I was able to just neutralize them and play my game.”

And her game, as it has since the beginning of her career, has always been about regularity. Yet this year, or at least these past eight matches if you count her win in Turkey, or at least these three matches in Montreal, Wozniacki has played aggressive tennis. And it’s paid off. “You kind of just get that feeling,” she said, “you get in the zone.”

You get in the zone to the extent that you miss only six first serves in a match, and that you only lose six points on that first serve.

After the win, Wozniacki told the press that she had practiced her serve and her return game a lot. “You know that you can pull it out when you need to. I think that’s really the key, just repetition, repetition all the time.”

It’s been a few years of highs and lows for the No. 13-ranked player. “Women’s tennis keeps improving as well, so you need to keep stepping up. It’s getting tougher,” she said. “The girls are hitting harder, making fewer mistakes.”

Count her among the group, though making mistakes was never Wozniacki’s problem. When she was the best player in the world, as she was for 67 weeks about three years ago, she looked like a player unworthy of the heights, like a player who forced you to beat yourself but could never stomach the pressure of winning the Grand Slam tournaments. Not all of it was deserved, of course, but it never is.

This week, Wozniacki is in Montreal after her first title of the season in Instanbul. “I think I always improve and I keep improving my game,” she said. “I make smarter decisions out there.”

Perhaps the Montreal public will rally around Wozniacki. After all, she did avenge the beatdown that Rogers gave their hometown hero Eugenie Bouchard. And she’s a past champion here, having won the title in 2010.

The 24-year-old will need all the help she can get, as her next opponent is Serena Williams. Wozniacki will likely settle on a spirited three-set affair even, if that’s what it takes to win.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Serena Williams & Novak Djokovic Top Seeds at Western & Southern Open

August 5, 2014

CINCINNATI (August 5, 2014) – The No. 1 tennis players in the World, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, will be the top seeds for the 2014 Western & Southern Open which begins this coming weekend at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati.

These two top seeds have combined to win 106 career titles (Williams 61, Djokovic 45), including 24 at Grand Slams (Williams 17, Djokovic 7), while holding the No. 1 ranking for a combined total of 306 weeks (Williams 200, Djokovic 106).

Williams, the runner-up at the Western & Southern Open in 2013, is the No. 1 seed in the women’s tournament for the second year in a row as she plays the event for the sixth time in her career. Williams is 11-4 in her career at the tournament.

The current No. 1 player in the World, Williams is one of seven players to have held the No. 1 ranking in the field, joined by No. 6 seed and 2011 champion Maria Sharapova, No. 8 and 2009 champion Jelena Jankovic, No. 9 Ana Ivanovic, No. 10 and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, who is unseeded.

Djokovic will be the men’s top seed for the third time. A four-time finalist at the Western & Southern Open, he would complete a Career Golden Masters with a championship here as it would give him at least one title at each of the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events. He is 21-9 lifetime at the Western & Southern Open.

Five-time Cincinnati champion Roger Federer, who owns a 32-8 record at the event, will be the second seed for the tournament. This marks the 13th time Federer has been seeded, which ties him with Andre Agassi for the most times being seeded in tournament history.

“To see these names on the seeding lists affirms just how strong the fields are,” said tournament director Vince Cicero. “It is incredibly challenging to play the Western & Southern Open because you are going to face top caliber talent in every single match throughout the week. That consistent level of competition during the entire tournament is a great asset for our fans who will see world class tennis no matter which day they attend the event.”

There are 16 seeds in each draw, with the top eight seeds receiving byes to advance directly into the second round.

Men’s Seeds
Women’s Seeds
1. Novak Djokovic 1. Serena Williams
2. Roger Federer 2. Simona Halep
3. Stan Wawrinka 3. Petra Kvitova
4. Tomas Berdych 4. Agnieszka Radwanska
5. Milos Raonic 5. Maria Sharapova
6. David Ferrer 6. Angelique Kerber
7. Grigor Dimitrov 7. Eugenie Bouchard
8. Andy Murray 8. Jelena Jankovic
9. Juan Martin del Potro 9. Ana Ivanovic
10. Ernests Gulbis 10. Victoria Azarenka
11. Richard Gasquet 11. Dominika Cibulkova
12. John Isner 12. Caroline Wozniacki
13. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 13. Flavia Pennetta
14. Roberto Bautista Agut 14. Sara Errani
15. Marin Cilic 15. Carla Suarez Navarro
16. Fabio Fognini 16. Lucie Safarova

The seeds are subject to change with any changes to the field before it is finalized at the making of the draw on Friday evening.

The Western & Southern Open is one of only five tennis events in the world, outside of the grand slams, where the best men and women play during the same week at the same venue. In 2013, the tournament drew a single-week event record of 187,183 fans while selling out 13 of 16 sessions. Already two sessions – the semifinal evening session on Aug. 16 and the finals on Aug. 17 – have sold out for the 2014 event. Several other sessions are close to selling out, and fans are encouraged to act now to secure their seats in advance via www.cincytennis.com, by calling 513.651.0303 or through TicketMaster.

Tennis Elbow: Serena Williams is still here, but for how long?

June 30, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of Wimbledon.

Is this the bookend to Serena Williams’ career? We could only be one Grand Slam tournament away.

In 1998, the first year she truly established herself on the WTA Tour and participated in the four major tournaments, the then-17-year-old compiled an 8-4 record. She made the second round once (i.e. in Melbourne), the fourth round once (i.e. in Paris) and the second round twice (i.e. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open).

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it should be—we’re a loss in the third round in Flushing Meadows away from seeing her repeat that 1998 season. Really. In 2014, she has made the fourth round in Australia, then the second round in France and now the third round in England. That’s for a player who very well could be the greatest in the history of the sport.

Sometimes in life, or in our case in tennis, you wake up one day and realize that you’ve come so far that you’re actually right back where you started.

Am I saying that this is the end for the great American? No. For one thing, I kept writing a year ago (e.g. here and here), as Roger Federer followed every shocking loss with a similarly bad loss, that there was no rush in proclaiming the end of his career—so why did it feel like everyone wanted to be the first saying that this was it for the Swiss?

So similarly, it’s not the end for Williams, but the end may be near. At the very least, it’s the end of her late-career renaissance, which saw her win four Grand Slams (and an Olympic gold medal) out of six between 2012 and 2013. She should have had all the momentum entering the 2014 season…except that that’s not what happened.

Instead, she looks, at almost 33, like a shell of her 31-year-old self. She’s losing matches that she had only rarely lost and against opponents that really shouldn’t beat her, as Alizé Cornet had been 0-13 prior to this match against top-20 opponents in Grand Slam tournaments.

(Well now Cornet is 1-13, and it’s a record she’ll bring into her fourth round match against Eugenie Bouchard. The young Canadian, though she’d never say so officially, has to be thrilled to see that the tennis Gods did her a solid—Cornet might have beat Williams, but she’s not quite as dangerous. And just like that, Bouchard’s bid for another semifinal has opened up…although Maria Sharapova could wait in the quarterfinals. But just as she would, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

For Williams, if a dip in form is one thing, what’s more perplexing is her reaction to this most recent loss. “I don’t really know what I did wrong,” she said after the match. “Usually I do. Usually I know I did this, and that.”

Quite the departure from her typical opinionated self! Whether Williams is actually out of sorts is something we’ll know for sure when the U.S. Open arrives in August. It’s a tournament she’s already won five times.

Winning her home Slam for the sixth time—the only one she would have captured this many times—would salvage her entire season. It would certainly show that after 16 seasons, she’s still here.

And that she’s not quite the young teenager she once was.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Chalkdust Chronicles: Serena Stunned by Cornet, as rain scuppers the schedule

June 28, 2014

by: TennisConnected Staff

Wimbledon—London, England

The big news of the day was not the rain, or the fact that Rafael Nadal dropped yet another first set on is way to the fourth round, or even that Roger Federer steamed through under the roof without dropping a set.

In fact given that the women’s World No. 1 had played just two games before the rain delay brought them off meant that when she came out, she was very much down to business, walloping Cornet off the court in less than half an hour.

Business as usual, you say? Well perhaps not. Cornet, as mentally fragile and magnificently emotional as she can be, can scrap with the best of them. Sure enough the Frenchwoman mounted a come-back where she was able to find her range and trim down the errors that cost her dear in the first set, building up a 5-0 led, before Williams pegged her back until she closed out the set 6-3.

Cornet took the initiative in the third set, edging out t a 5-2 lead and again was pulled down to 5-4 before serving out the match for a famous 1-6 6-3 6-4 win – her second over Williams this year.

The key was cutting down the errors – something that Williams gave her credit for after the match.

“She kept her unforced errors really low. I don’t know. I think I made a few errors too many,” Williams said after the match. “You know, she was going for her shots. She just played really well today.

A predictably giddy Cornet could not take in what she had done, saying:

“I’m just calming down now because I was very excited for an hour. I couldn’t believe it. I still cannot believe it, actually,” Cornet said. “If somebody would have told me a couple years ago that I would be in the second week here at Wimbledon, and beating Serena, I wouldn’t have believed it.
“It feels great. Of course, what a victory. It’s the best way to get to the second week.”

For most of the day prior to that it was a completely miserable affair for anyone in the grounds but play started on Centre Court and then was something new to be anxious about. For the third time Rafael Nadal dropped the first set, this time to Mikhail Kukushkin, who had previously never won more than three games in a set against the Spaniard. Here he was now edging him in the first set tiebreak.

But of course, while the rain continued to confound the schedules, normal service was resumed as Nadal proceeded to dismantle the man from Kazakhstan in the next three sets to round out a 6-7(4) 6-1 6-1 6-1 win.

In his post match interview he said: “I’ve finished all the matches [this week] playing better than when I started; that’s very positive. I’m very happy to be in the second week again after two years of losing in the first and second round. I had good tactics today; I was fighting for every ball and looking for solutions.”

There was no such issue for seven-time champion Roger Federer who coasted easily through his match with Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo who had no answer for Federer today as the roof stayed firmly on.

Federer took just 81 minutes to make the Colombian look pedestrian, winning 6-3 6-1 6-3 and well and truly shaking off the disappointment of last year’s exit.

“It’s great,” Federer told BBC television. “I’m very pleased. It’s always good to keep moving on. Last year I lost in the second round (against Sergiy Stakhovsky), so I’m aware of tough draws. I’m always worried about the first week, getting to the second one; then the grass plays quite differently. “

With a handful of matches to complete the third round, the All England Club will not quite have their fourth round Monday, and questions had to be asked why at least one more match was not played on Centre – of course there are valid reasons such as rotation of lines-staff who may have been released after the last match.

Either way, next week the weather should improve enough to whip through the remaining matches… then again, the Met Office can be wrong.

Wimbledon 2014 Day 6 Preview: Serena and Kyrgios look for a place in week two

June 27, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

Second seed Li Na crashed out of the tournament on Day 5, the Chinese superstar slumping to a straight sets defeat at the hands of Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Day 5 Recap

In a closely fought match, two-time major champion Li Na wasn’t able to capitalise on her chances, going down in a pair of tiebreakers to Zahlavova Strycova. There was better news for most of the other seeds, with Radwanska, Halep and Wozniacki all recording victories.

Petra Kvitova edged past Venus Williams in a battle of the former Wimbledon champions, whilst Lucie Safarova upset Dominika Cibulkova. Other notable winners on the women’s side on Day 5 included rising star Belinda Bencic and Russian seed Ekaterina Makarova.

In the men’s tournament, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray strolled to straight sets wins over Gilles Simon and Roberto Bautista Agut respectively, but it was a tough day at the office for most of their fellow seeds. Jerzy Janowicz survived a 5-setter against Lleyton Hewitt, Grigor Dimitrov was also forced to go the distance to beat Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Kevin Anderson overcame Fabio Fognini in another 5-setter.

Colombian Santiago Giraldo upset the Spaniard Granollers in yet another 5 set encounter, but there were easier wins for Feliciano Lopez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, each of whom recorded a straight sets win.

Matches of the Day – Day 6

1. Nick Kyrgios vs. Jiri Vesely

This will be a fascinating contest between the two youngest players in the draw and one with major ramifications. Both players are tipped as stars of the future, and the winner of this match will, in all likelihood, face Nadal in the round of 16 (assuming the Spaniard takes care of Kukushkin in their third round match).

Both players scored upset wins in round 2, with Vesely riding his big leftie serve to a 5 set win over Gael Monfils, and Kyrgios saving an amazing 9 match points to oust Richard Gasquet. Vesely has more experience at ATP Tour level, but Kyrgios has shown an impressive ability to absorb pressure in his short career to date. I think this one will be close, but I’ll back Kyrgios on the basis of his affinity with grass-courts. Kyrgios in 4.

2. Feliciano Lopez vs. John Isner

Feliciano Lopez is on something of a grass-court tear, the Spaniard having won 11 of his last 12 matches on the surface. Lopez is a 3-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist and his tricky left-handed serve can cause a lot of problems for his opponents at the All England Club.

For someone with such an enormous serve, John Isner’s record to date at Wimbledon is decidedly poor, with this year marking the first time the American has progressed beyond the second round. The ninth seed should be at his best on grass-courts, but it seems that he is yet to have worked out all of the subtleties of playing on the surface. I think this one will be close, but I’ll back Lopez on the back of his grass-court nous. Lopez in 5.

3. Serena Williams vs. Alize Cornet

The top-seeded Williams has been rather irritable in her press conferences at the All England Club to date, but the American’s form on court has been very encouraging.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion faces her first real test of the tournament in the shape of Alize Cornet, with the twenty-fifth seeded Frenchwoman enjoying a consistent year on the WTA Tour to date. Cornet has produced some impressive performances against some of the big names on the women’s circuit, but on grass Williams’ big serve and powerful groundstrokes are likely to prove too much for her opponent. Williams in 2.

4. Andrea Petkovic vs. Eugenie Bouchard

This should be an absorbing duel between the losing semi-finalists from this year’s French Open. Bouchard is the only player on the WTA Tour to have made the semi-finals at both Melbourne Park and Roland Garros, while Petkovic underlined her credentials as a top-flight player after various injury issues with her run to the final 4 in Paris.

On any other surface, I’d say this one was a line-ball contest, but Petkovic isn’t a huge fan of grass-courts, whilst Bouchard is a former junior champion at the All England Club. I think the Canadian is more comfortable than her opponent on the surface and that this will ultimately propel Bouchard to a narrow victory. Bouchard in 3.

5. Simona Halep vs. Belinda Bencic

French Open finalist Simona Halep looked decidedly shaky in closing out a 3 set win over the unheralded Lesia Tsurenko in round 2. However, the Romanian is through the round of 32 at Wimbledon for the first time in her career and will be eager to build on her solid start by progressing further in the tournament.

The third seed faces young Swiss up-and-comer Belinda Bencic for a place in the fourth round, with Bencic being heralded by many as one of the players of the future. Bencic has similar style of game to Halep, relying on placement and angles more than pace, and I think that will play into Halep’s hands, as the Romanian is more experienced and astute at this point in time. Halep in 2.

Put your house on: Maria Sharapova to defeat Alison Riske. The American is a handy player, but the Russian is in tremendous form at present and won’t be denied a spot in the round of 16.

Upset alert: Last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki loves the grass-courts in London and I think she can upset her higher-ranked opponent Ana Ivanovic in their third round clash.

Likely to go the distance: Last year’s semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens and German ninth seed Angelique Kerber look set for a gripping 3-set battle in the third round. I’ll take the leftie Kerber to grind out a hard-fought victory.

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: The North Americans at the Cathedral of tennis

June 23, 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 North American players competing at Roland Garros.

Every tennis season is the same way—you blink once, and you suddenly realize it’s already the start of the Wimbledon Championships.

I’ve badgered the Wimbledon folks more than once for I think that it is a ridiculously excessively pompous event. Wimbledon is the place where organizers think the uniforms of umpires and ballboys and ballgirls should be good for a runway show. It’s the place where players must adhere to a strict all-white clothing policy, as though this were high school. It’s the place where the event stops on the middle Sunday just so we can enjoy tea and cake. It’s the place where you’re not allowed to dance after you win it all, because, well, why exactly? Wimbledon is the cathedral of tennis, and that’s the thing with religion—you don’t need a reason, only faith.

But you know what? It’s also the best.

This week, we continue our series of tournament previews with a look at the North American players that are poised to do well on the holy grounds of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (For a look at the entire draw, please read my colleague Tom Cochrane.)

Gentlemen’s Singles draw

Milos Raonic

Many signs point to the fact that Milos Raonic has officially arrived. He’s a member of the top 10, still has fewer than 10 losses for the year and, most importantly, has reached at least the quarterfinals at six of the nine tournaments he’s played in 2014. He arrives at Wimbledon with only one match on grass under his belt, but I’m confident this will be the year he finally fulfills his potential on the surface.

The future is now for Raonic—at least until his quarterfinal against Nadal. At which point, the future will be 2015.

Frank Dancevic

Remember what I just wrote about Wimbledon being the best? Maybe it’s not quite true. “I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed at the player services at Wimbledon Qualifying this year,” Frank Dancevic wrote on his Facebook page. “Given that it is the biggest tournament in the world you would think that the players would feel welcome and comfortable on site.”

First, I recommend you to read the blog post in its entirety, because it’s quite enlightening. Now of course, one man’s experience does not make a trend, yada yada. But no one player should have to participate in as prestigious a tournament as this one under these conditions. Second, the more you have power in this world, the more you’ll be treated with respect—and tennis is no exception. And third, well yeah, this was just a way to discuss these things. At the absolute most, Dancevic will promptly fall to Rafael Nadal in the third round.

Sam Querrey

I mean, the cup is at least half empty. I don’t necessarily have a right reason, but I think that Sam Querrey could do well in London. For a while, he was the top ranked American on the ATP World Tour and unlike the other American giant John Isner, he’s at least shown a history of performing on the holy hollow grounds—he did make the fourth round and then the third round in 2010 and 2011. Querrey has solid ground strokes and a dependable service game—and it should be dependable enough for him to ride all the way to the fourth round.

Who else but Querrey on the American side? I mean, Jack Sock? Sure, he can lose in three sets by Raonic in the second round.

Ladies’ Singles draw

Serena Williams

Was the early Roland Garros loss just a blip on the radar? Since the middle of the 2012 season, also known as the era of the New Serena (I mean, winning four Grand Slam titles and counting will do that), it seemed like Serena Williams had managed to purge herself of the shockingly early losses that have marred her throughout her career. But so far in 2014, she is just 4-2 at Grand Slam tournaments.

Well, Wimbledon is a tournament she’s won five times in her career (exactly as many times as every other non-French Open Grand Slam event). She’s my pick this year to win in London.

Eugenie Bouchard

Just because you’re not supposed to be there, not yet, not so soon, doesn’t mean that you don’t belong. Somehow, against all odds (or at least the odds of this columnist, as I picked against her both times), the Montrealer has made two Grand Slam semifinals in two tries this year. Could she make it three for three? Well, Bouchard’s draw is quite manageable…until a battle against Serena Williams in the fourth round. Her game is great for grass, as a Junior Wimbledon title would attest just two years ago, but this is likely too much.

Sloane Stephens

Where Sloane Stephens had the lead in the race for the title of “future of women’s tennis” once upon a time, she was beat to the finish line by Bouchard. The young Canadian made up about a year in a few months in 2014, and now it’s up to Stephens to answer. She’s made it to the fourth round in Melbourne and Paris this year, only to fall to a bigger and better foe. Here in Wimbledon, she’s slated to play ex-champion Petra Kvitova. It’s a tough ask, but these are the matches she must win from time to time.

Though I don’t think she will this year.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Wimbledon 2014: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Analysis

June 22, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

Greetings and welcome to the 2014 Wimbledon championships and the beginning of 2 weeks of coverage of the year’s most prestigious tennis tournament, 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 the All England Club. As usual, the first issue showcases my overall tournament predictions as well as taking a look at the day’s feature matches.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

This year’s men’s tournament feels more wide open than previous years, with a host of players entering any conversation regarding the 2014 men’s champion. Andy Murray is the defending champion and will play under far less pressure than in previous years, however the Scot has struggled in 2014 to recover from back surgery that he underwent late last year.

Rafael Nadal is the world number one and enters the tournament having just claimed a record ninth French Open, yet the Spaniard hasn’t won back-to-back matches at the All England Club since 2011. With his knees still causing him concern, I’m not convinced about Nadal’s chances, especially in the first week of the tournament when the courts are spongy and low-bouncing, forcing the Spaniard to consistently bend down low and test his knees.

Roger Federer enjoyed a fairytale run to the title in 2012, but was ousted early in the first week of last year’s tournament. 2014 has already been a far better year for Federer than 2013 was, and I think the Swiss superstar will go deep in the tournament this year.

2011 Wimbledon winner Novak Djokovic is my pick for the men’s singles, the Serb eager to make amends for his loss to Nadal at the French Open and to open his Grand Slam account for 2014. Djokovic’s agility, returning prowess and all-court game make him the favourite, and I think Murray will still be lacking enough match practice to take down the Serb should the pair meet in the semi-finals as scheduled.

Federer has the best draw of the Big Four, and I would expect him to get through to the second week without a lot of fuss. Nadal, by contrast, has a very difficult quarter and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him exit the tournament early and allow someone such as Richard Gasquet to make a run through to the semi-finals.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Roger Federer

Semi-finalists: Murray, Gasquet

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

After suffering a shock second round exit in Paris, Serena Williams vowed that she would train harder so that she wouldn’t lose so easily or early on next time around. The American top seed has had plenty of time to get accustomed to the grass-courts and I think Williams will come out all guns blazing in this tournament.

Maria Sharapova, a recent winner in Paris, is a former Wimbledon champion, but the All England Club hasn’t been such a happy hunting ground for the Russian after her well-documented shoulder problems. The conditions in London are often damp, making for heavy balls and plenty of issues for the troublesome Sharapova shoulder.

I think Williams will make it through to the semi-finals without much of a challenge, but could face her Melbourne Park conqueror, Ana Ivanovic, in the semi-finals. Ivanovic is having a superb 2014 and I think she can make it through a quarter lacking in grass-court experts.

In the bottom half of the draw, former champion Petra Kvitova and former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska stand out as players with the games to shine at the All England Club this year. Kvitova’s swinging leftie serve is very difficult to get a handle on, and the Czech star has plenty of confidence on the courts in London. Radwanska’s crafty retriever game works well on grass, where she can frustrate opponents with her wide array of spins and slices. I think Kvitova and Radwanska will meet in the semi-finals, with Kvitova’s power game seeing her through to a final against Williams.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Petra Kvitova

Semi-finalists: Ivanovic, Radwanska

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Andrey Golubev

The top-seeded Serb kicks off his campaign against Kazakh Andrey Golubev, who is an underrated player on the ATP Tour. Golubev has had some good results, including a fighting win over Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup earlier this year.

Djokovic will still be disappointed after losing the final in Paris to Nadal, but as a consummate professional the world number 2 should bounce back in style at the All England Club. The seedings committee has given Djokovic the top seeding for this tournament, and rightfully so in my opinion, as I expect him to come out on top at the end of the fortnight. Djokovic in 3.

2. Andy Murray vs. David Goffin

As is the tradition at the All England Club, the defending champion will commence play at this year’s Wimbledon championships. For Andy Murray, it will be a huge honour after his drought-breaking win last year, and no doubt the Scot will be desperate to mount a strong defence of his title.

Belgian David Goffin burst onto the scene in 2012, making the Roland Garros round of 16 as a lucky loser and then making the round of 32 at Wimbledon that same year. However, Goffin hasn’t won a Grand Slam main draw match since 2012, and I can’t see that drought ending in London this year. Murray in 3.

3. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Ryan Harrison

Having been bundled out of the French Open in the first round by big Ivo Karlovic, Grigor Dimitrov responded in the best possible way, capturing his first grass-court title at the Queen’s Club event. Dimitrov has had a fantastic year to date and it was encouraging to see him shrug off his Roland Garros disappointment quickly and effectively.

Harrison has long been touted as one of the rising stars of American tennis but, to be frank, the American still has a long way to go if he is to deliver on his undoubted potential. Look for Harrison to compete strongly but for Dimitrov to ride his current bout of confidence to victory. Dimitrov in 4.

4. Jurgen Melzer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

It’s been a poor season to date for the popular Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but he’s back at the site of one of his favourite tournaments and will be looking to turn around his fortunes in 2014 with a strong showing at Wimbledon.

The leftie Melzer is a tough opponent on grass, equipped with a strong serve that he can slice well and also flatten out with plenty of pace. Tsonga has struggled to recover from last season’s knee problems, but I’ll back the Frenchman to prevail over his Austrian opponent. Tsonga in 4.

5. Tomas Berdych vs. Victor Hanescu

Former finalist Tomas Berdych plays very well on the grass-courts of the All England Club, especially given his lanky frame. The Czech player will be a dangerous opponent in the second week of the tournament, when the courts dry out and are more akin to hard-courts.

Of course, Berdych needs to get through his opening few matches in order to make the second week, and Hanescu won’t be a pushover. The Romanian veteran, a former top 30 player, is nearing the end of his career and possesses a classic all-court game. That said, Berdych should have too much power in this one. Berdych in 3.

Put your house on: Agnieszka Radwanska should be on and off the court in less than an hour. The former finalist should be far too good for Romania’s Andreea Mitu.

Upset alert: Aussie qualifier Sam Groth has a huge serve and could trouble Alexandr Dolgopolov, whilst Yanina Wickmayer might upset Sam Stosur, for whom Wimbledon has never been a happy hunting ground. I also think Maria Kirilenko is a dangerous floater and could get the better of Sloane Stephens.

Likely to go the distance: The clash between Dustin Brown, who upset Nadal in Halle, and former semi-finalist Marcos Baghdatis should be a long and enjoyable feast of shotmaking and all-court tennis.

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.

French Open 2014 Day 5 Preview: Rafa vs. Thiem & Murray vs. Matosevic

May 28, 2014

by: Tom Cochrane

The upsets kept on coming on Day 4 in Paris, with both Williams sisters being sensationally knocked out of the tournament.

Day 4 Recap

As was the case in 2008, Venus and Serena Williams exited the French Open within hours of each other. Elder sister Venus failed to capitalise on an early lead against Anna Schmiedlova, losing in 3 sets, whilst top seed Serena had a horror day, being thoroughly outplayed by rising star Garbine Muguruza.

The Williams sisters’ losses open up the draw for Dominika Cibulkova and Sam Stosur, who both won their second round matches and will face off for a spot in the round of 16. Other winners in the women’s tournament on Day 4 included Angelique Kerber, Carla Suarez Navarro and Daniela Hantuchova, whilst sixteenth seed Sabine Lisicki was forced to retire in her match against compatriot Mona Barthel.

On the men’s side, there was no trouble for the big names, with Federer and Djokovic recording straightforward straight sets victories. Local heroes Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga recorded similarly impressive wins, as fifteenth seed Mikhail Youzhny departed the tournament at the hands of Radek Stepanek.

Among the other seeds, there were wins for Ernests Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Tomas Berdych, while Roberto Bautista Agut silenced the crowd with a win over Frenchman Benoit Paire.

Matches of the Day – Day 5

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem

Forget the naysayers – Rafael Nadal was in scintillating form in the opening round, making American veteran and former US Open semi-finalist Robby Ginepri look like an amateur. They won’t say a lot publicly, but no doubt the members of the Nadal camp will be very happy with his performance in the opening round.

Dominic Thiem is an up-and-comer on the ATP Tour, and has a game that is rated highly by a number of astute tennis observers. I agree he has a bright future ahead of him, but I think he will feel overwhelmed on Centre Court against the one-man machine that is Rafael Nadal. Nadal in 3.

2. Richard Gasquet vs. Carlos Berlocq

Richard Gasquet and Carlos Berlocq each earned a place in the second round by beating an Aussie: Gasquet downed the youngster Bernard Tomic, and Berlocq overcame former world number one Lleyton Hewitt. Berlocq is on his preferred surface in Paris, whilst Gasquet is a proven performer on all surfaces.

Gasquet will still be motivated by his narrow loss to Stan Wawrinka in Paris last year in what was a gripping 5-setter. The twelfth seed produces his best tennis on the big stage and loves performing in front of his home crowd, and I think his shot-making flair will propel him to victory over Berlocq. Gasquet in 4.

3. Marinko Matosevic vs. Andy Murray

Going into his opening round match against Dustin Brown, Aussie Marinko Matosevic was 0-12 in career Grand Slam singles matches. Little wonder then that the Aussie celebrated wildly after finally breaking his duck and winning a main draw match at a major. Check out his celebratory roll on YouTube when you have a moment.

As Andy Murray noted in his press conference yesterday, Matosevic is a popular, if unusual, guy on the ATP Tour and his tennis is worthy of respect. Murray was steady in his opening round win and will look to ease into the tournament. Matosevic is unpredictable, but Murray should be too consistent in this one. Murray in 4.

4. Camila Giorgi vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova

2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova will be one of the players in the women’s draw most buoyed by the upsets of Serena Williams and Li Na in the early part of this week. Kuznetsova is a formidable clay-court player and her heavily spun shots are hard to tackle on the red dirt.

The Russian faces a dangerous opponent on Day 5 in the form of Italian Camila Giorgi, who beat Caroline Wozniacki en route to a fourth round appearance at the US Open last year. The Italian has nothing to lose, but Kuznetsova should prevail courtesy of her far greater experience at Roland Garros.

5. Elina Svitolina vs. Ana Ivanovic

Returning to the scene of her only Grand Slam triumph, Ana Ivanovic will be another of the players inspired by the upsets of Li Na and Serena Williams. Ivanovic showed when she upset Williams in Melbourne earlier this year that she is back to her best tennis, and she will be hoping to be one of the title contenders in Paris.

Ivanovic faces a stern test on Day 5 against the Ukrainian Svitolina, who is a former junior French Open champion and who reached the round of 32 in Melbourne this year. Svitolina is up to a career high 33 in the world rankings and it won’t be long before she enters the top 30. That said, I think Ivanovic will be too good in this clash, particularly if the Serbian can get her serve firing. Ivanovic in 3.

Put your house on: Mr. Consistency, the ever-reliable David Ferrer. The upsets continue to come with astonishing frequency, but I’ll back the fifth seed to dispose of Simone Bollelli in their second round showdown.

Upset alert: Former top 10 player Juan Monaco is at his best on clay-courts and I think he might spring a surprise against Italian seed Andreas Seppi.

Likely to go the distance: Plucky Kiwi Marina Erakovic might not get the win against Petra Kvitova, but I think Erakovic will definitely make the Czech seed earn her victory.

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.

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