French Open 2016: Tournament Predictions

May 21, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

With the 2016 French Open commencing tomorrow, it’s time to predict both the men’s and women’s singles champions.

On the men’s side, world number one Novak Djokovic is desperate to complete the career Grand Slam by capturing the one major title to have eluded him to date, whilst on the women’s side top seed Serena Williams is looking to defend her title and claim the twenty-second Grand Slam title of her illustrious career.

Will Djokovic finally find success in France? Can anyone stop Serena? Read on for my thoughts and predictions.

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Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Tennis fans worldwide will be disappointed with the withdrawals of Federer and Monfils from the tournament, but there are still a number of fascinating story-lines heading into the second major of the year.

Djokovic remains head and shoulders above everyone else on the ATP Tour, and once again returns to Roland Garros fixated on lifting the trophy. The Serb has had a couple of hiccups during this year’s clay-court season, losing to Vesely in Monte Carlo and Murray in Rome, but in some ways I think those losses will benefit him. Last year, Djokovic arrived in Paris on a 22 match winning streak, which he extended to 28 consecutive wins before being upset by a red-hot Wawrinka in the final.

This year, Djokovic doesn’t bear the burden of any winning streak, and I think we will see the Serb remaining very low-key in the early stages of the tournament, seeking to negotiate his way through to the second week of the tournament with a minimum of fuss.

There’s no doubt Djokovic wants the French Open title more than any other at this point in his career, but he and his coaching team understand the importance of staying in the moment and not letting desperation or the weight of expectation affect his performance. The Serb has a relatively easy path through to the quarter-finals, where he is likely to face former finalist Ferrer, who is always a tough opponent on the red dirt, or Berdych, who has struggled against the ATP Tour’s elite performers in recent times.

Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has had a very good clay-court season after a poor 2014, the Spaniard picking up titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Federer’s withdrawal allowed Nadal to become the tournament’s fourth seed, meaning he won’t face Djokovic until the semi-finals. However, the Spaniard has a tough path to the final four, with match-ups against bogeyman Fabio Fognini and the much-improved Dominic Thiem on the cards.

Nadal was very close to beating Djokovic in Rome, but couldn’t seal the deal in either of the sets the pair played. If the fourth seed can boost his confidence by performing well in the lead-up to the semi-finals, I think the Nadal-Djokovic clash, if it eventuates, will be far closer than last year’s encounter in Paris which Djokovic won easily.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Stan Wawrinka and the in-form Andy Murray are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals. A finalist in Madrid and the winner in Rome, Murray is enjoy a second consecutive season of success on clay and I think the Scot has his best ever chance of claiming the French Open title. He’s got a tricky first round match against the veteran Stepanek, but I fancy Murray to move through to the quarter-finals without too much trouble. There he will likely face Kei Nishikori, who has proved himself to be one of the ATP Tour’s best clay-courters in recent years. I favour Murray to come out on top given the best of five sets format, but he’ll need to be at his best if he faces Nishikori as predicted.

It will be interesting to see how Wawrinka backs up last year’s sensational victory at Roland Garros. The Swiss star has a relatively easy section of the draw, although French counterpuncher Gilles Simon is lurking as a tricky potential opponent. In the quarter-finals Wawrinka could face eighth seed Milos Raonic or former US Open champion Marin Cilic, but I think the third seed will be too strong should he face either Cilic or Raonic.

In many respects, Wawrinka enters this tournament with nothing to lose after his unexpected 2015 triumph, and that may allow him to play with the freedom and aggressive shotmaking that saw him stun Djokovic in last year’s final. A Murray-Wawrinka semi-final, should it eventuate, would pit Wawrinka’s hard-hitting against Murray’s counterpunching nous. Murray’s improved first and second serves have delivered results so far this year, and I think the Scot is in better form than Wawrinka right now.

After splitting the Madrid and Rome finals, it would be no surprise to see Murray and Djokovic square off in the French Open final. Murray won the last encounter, in Rome, but for a variety of reasons Djokovic was not at his best in that match. Djokovic has had the better of Murray in their recent Grand Slam finals and, assuming Djokovic is at full health, I think the Serb will be too strong for the Scot over five sets.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Nadal, Wawrinka

Outside Chance: Nishikori, Thiem

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

After her surprise loss to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, one can be sure that Serena Williams will be determined to reconfirm her status as the dominant player on the WTA Tour.

Williams has a few tricky players in her section of the draw, including former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, but I think the American will march her way into the quarter-finals in impressive fashion. Victoria Azarenka, Williams’ toughest opponent on tour, is her likely opponent in the final eight and whilst such match, if it eventuates, would no doubt be tightly contested, I favour Williams on the red dirt as Azarenka is a far better performer on faster surfaces.

Timea Bacsinszky was a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year and the Swiss player could well make another deep run this year. Other players in her very open section of the draw with a chance of making the semi-finals include Madison Keys, who reached the final in Rome, and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who will no doubt have much greater confidence following her triumph in Melbourne.

In the bottom half of the draw, two-time French Open quarter-finalist Garbine Muguruza is well-placed to make a deep run, with the Spaniard finding herself in a weaker quarter of the draw. By contrast, the bottom quarter of the draw is littered with talent, with second seed Agnieszka Radwanksa paired with former French Open finalists such as Errani, Safarova, Stosur and Halep.

After a difficult start to the year, Simona Halep enjoyed a much-needed confidence boost by claiming the title in Madrid and, under the guidance of the  very astute Darren Cahill, I think the Romanian can put together a run to the final four in Paris. If she and Muguruza square off in the semi-finals, as predicted, I favour Muguruza courtesy of her greater firepower.

A Muguruza-Williams final would be a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, where Muguruza had some chances but Williams was ultimately too composed and experienced. Muguruza has beaten Williams in Paris before, but if the pair meet in the final this year then I think Williams will handle the pressure of the situation better and eventually prevail.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Garbine Muguruza

Semi-finalists: Bacsinszky, Halep

Outside Chance: Azarenka, Radwanska, Kerber

That’s it for now. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Paris and be sure to follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Tennis Elbow: So who should be the Roland Garros favourites?

May 16, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 clay court season.

At long last, here we are.

At long last, all that separates us from the 2016 Roland Garros is one mere week of rest. After more or less two full months of clay court tournaments of relative importance, we’ve reached the big one.

And you know what’s the fun part?

On both the men’s and women’s sides, results from April and May have made this edition of the French Open, often the most fascinating event of the year, as unsettled as it’s been in recent memory.

This year when we ask, “Who should be the favourites?” we can make a legitimate case for plenty of players.

Men

The would-be favourite: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal going back to his winning ways in Paris for the tournament he has traditionally owned would make one hell of a storyline. Unfortunately, the Spaniard has become hopeless against Novak Djokovic, losing seven matches and 15 sets in a row. If he wants to win, he’ll likely have to avoid the Djoker—because even when he’s great, he’s not good enough.

The people’s choice: Roger Federer

Everyone loves Roger Federer and, at Roland Garros just like everywhere else, everyone wants to see him win. But while he’s an excellent clay court player, Federer has also been hampered by a myriad of little injuries since the Australian Open; if his body hasn’t completely broken down, it’s close. We forget that he’s turning 35 and that this shouldn’t be surprising.

The hot streak: Andy Murray

Andy Murray celebrated his 29th birthday with a first title in 2016, defeating Novak Djokovic a week after the Serb had overcome him to win the Madrid Open title. He’s concluded the pre-Roland Garros portion of the clay court with a 12-2 record and is as playing as good tennis as anyone else.

The boom or bust: Stanislas Wawrinka

One who isn’t playing especially well is Stanislas Wawrinka. Since winning in Dubai in February, the 31-year-old has won only five of his 10 matches. That simply won’t be good enough for the French Open, though maybe not all is lost? Before he lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2015, Wawrinka arrived in Paris on an 8-7 run. The Swiss can catch fire at any time.

The young blood: Dominic Thiem or David Goffin

The 25-year-old David Goffin and 22-year-old Dominic Thiem have been playing especially great tennis in 2016 and both possess the kind of games that translates well to clay courts. They’re now firmly entrenched in the Top 15 and will be as dangerous as anyone else in Paris.

The favourite: Novak Djokovic

He’ll be fine. Novak Djokovic suffered his third defeat of 2016 against Andy Murray, losing 6-3 and 6-3 in the Rome final. Some may see signs for worry but other than an inexplicable early defeat in Monte-Carlo, and an early retirement at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Djokovic hasn’t done worse than a final in 2016.

He’ll be fine, and anyway the weather probably played a role in his loss against Murray. (Alright alright, no excuses.)

Women

The would-be favourite: Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka was always going to come back down to earth. After the blistering start to the 2016 season she had, after winning 26 of 27 matches and three tournaments, she was always going to run into some trouble—that these unfolded at Madrid and Rome, two clay court events that don’t play to her strengths, shouldn’t be surprising. On a different surface, we would have been inclined to pick the Belarus but alas.

The absentee: Maria Sharapova

We have already discussed the Maria Sharapova (non)-doping case ad nauseam already. It’s really too bad for her that her suspension had to carry through the month of May, because the clay court season has typically been perhaps the best time of the year for the Russian. But there’s always next year! (Unless she’s suspended, of course.)

The boom or bust: Simona Halep

Up until she took advantage of a (very) favourable main draw in Madrid for her first title of the 2016 season, Simona Halep had been in the midst of a relatively okay season: not bad, but not particularly good either. She’ll hope to avoid the same fate as she suffered in Paris in 2015, as she lost in the second round just a year after making the finals.

The young blood: Garbine Muguruza

Lest we forget, and you’d be forgotten for overlooking her this season as she’s been only average, but Garbine Muguruza has reached the quarterfinals of the past two French Opens. We envision the Spaniard once again among the last eight standing, if not even better.

The favourite: Serena Williams

It’s silly to think so, but Serena Williams’s 2016 season had been disappointing up to this point. Sure, she had amassed $1.8 million in prize money while losing only three times in 16 matches, but she was on the verge of entering Roland Garros still without a title to her name. Mostly, that’s why this Internazionali BNL d’Italia was important for the American.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Tennis has a sexism problem

March 28, 2016

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

Tennis has a sexism problem.

It’s not exactly news because we’ve all known about it, but it’s dominated headlines over the past week when four of the sport’s key figures—or rather, three of them, plus an ex-tournament CEO—ventured into some thoughts about women in tennis.

Raymond Moore, still then the CEO of Indian Wells Tennis Garden where the BNP Paribas Open was hosted, first went down that well with some remarks that ended up costing him his cushy seat at the big table. Here, we’ll remind you.

What do you think; pretty wild, right? We’ll underline the point where Mr. Moore says women players should get on their knees and thank God, and where he calls the next generation of WTA players “physically attractive and competitively attractive.”

We knew you were an old white man, Raymond, but you didn’t need to spell it out so clearly for us!

That was at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open, a tournament which Novak Djokovic won. After the final, reporters asked the Serb to comment on Mr. Moore’s remarks and, well, just see for yourself.

“I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.”

There’s an opinion there—that men and women maybe shouldn’t get equal prize and should fight for what they deserve separately; it’s not a particularly good one, but still a relatively coherent one from Djokovic. Then, the Serb veers into weird territory.

“I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving. Their bodies are much different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details.”

“I have great admiration and respect for them to be able to fight on such a high level. Many of them have to sacrifice for certain periods of time, the family time or decisions that they make on their own bodies in order to play tennis and play professional sport.”

We’ll marvel at Djokovic’s brilliance and say that, yes by God men tennis players do incredible things on a tennis court. Just look at this brilliance.

That’s the good stuff and why you deserve the big bucks, Novak, right?

In all seriousness, Djokovic’s remarks weren’t especially surprising because the trope of men believing they are better, or deserve better, than their female counterparts isn’t new.

Here’s Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic’s old buddy, saying that “99 per cent of male tennis players can’t stand women’s tennis”—which, okay whatevs bro. Here’s dumb-dumb Justin Gimelstob calling female players “sexpots.” Here’s Gilles Simon, maybe the world’s most boring man, saying men’s tennis “is more interesting than women’s tennis.”

Have you seen enough? No, no there are more; read on. Here’s Sergiy Stakhovsky saying that, “almost every other player is a lesbian” and showing his homophobic side all at once. Here’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saying women “are more unstable emotionally than us.” Here’s Marinko Matosevic saying he could never hire a woman for head coach.

Let’s stop there. Here are they are, all of them current or ex-pro and, as such, all of them relatively important figures in the sport—most importantly, all of them with relatively damaging and backwards opinions.

Also? Also, this: all of them basically dumber than a sack of potatoes. (For more from this author, read this.)

Here’s where we mention that at this same Indian Wells event, Serena Williams was asked about Mr. Moore’s remarks and that she basically ether’d him.

But that was to be expected, right? Since Moore essentially called her out, Williams responded in kind, not to mention that she’s worked so hard on this issue of equal rights throughout her career (random exhibit here).

Also expected, though maybe not at first glance, was Andy Murray’s foray into the limelight on this issue. “Men’s tennis has been lucky over the last nine or 10 years with the players they’ve had, the rivalries which have come out of that. That’s great but the whole of tennis should capitalize on that – not just the men’s game,” he said. “I think there should be equal pay, 100 per cent, at all combined events…I think it will happen one day.”

Essentially, that’s what we believe in, too: equality between men and women in every regard for equal accomplishments. By winning the 2015 Miami Open, both Djokovic and Serena Williams pocketed $900,400; that’s good. By winning the 2016 BNP Paribas Open, the Serb added a nice $1,028,300 and Victoria Azarenka, $1,028,300; that too is good.

Both of those are good, yes, but they hide deeper problems. They hide the fact that overall and outside of joint events like the BNP Paribas Open, the Miami Open and the four Grand Slams; outside of these, players “on the WTA Tour earn 76 cents on the ATP’s dollar.”

And there’s no real reason for that. Two men and women who win the same tournament deserve the same prize—because it’s the same tournament.

Here’s where you’ll counter that well, nope the ATP and WTA do not have joint events every single week. Of course not, it wouldn’t be feasible. But maybe that’s something that the International Tennis Federation should look into: tournaments are already categorized in both men’s and women’s tennis according to their prestige and their strength. The ATP has Masters 1000’s while the WTA Premier Mandatory events, and so on.

If you feel like they need to play the same number of sets, or whatever, then sure change that. But give both men and women the same prize money for accomplishing the same things.

Then let players distinguish themselves through spokesperson gigs, sponsors, and the likes.

Otherwise, yep: equality in every regard.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2016 Miami Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 22, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines the latest with BNP Paribas Open CEO Raymond Moore and the Miami Open men’s and women’s draws.

Apparently, the tournaments follow one another in pretty similar fashion, right?

The last time we were set on writing an event preview, the news that Maria Sharapova had failed a drug test broke just at the Australian Open.

This, in fact, made for a richer and better preview—and I’m glad it’s happened again this week, just before the 2016 Miami Open, presented by Itau. In this case, it’s Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore who, maybe out of spite, jealousy, stupidity, or whatever else, decided to say something incredibly 1) sexist, 2) offensive and 3) idiotic.

But wait, there’s more.

See? Pretty moronic, right? Don’t give me that «everyone is entitled to their own opinion» stuff; the consequence of that is that I’m entitled to my opinion of thinking your opinion is fairly moronic. And if you don’t believe me, please understand that Moore has since resigned from his position.

In all likelihood, this will become a thing where any- and everyone will start debating the merits of gender equality in tennis, asking past, present and future champions what  they believe on the topic and taking mostly everyone unprepared as they stumble through a somewhat coherent opinion.

Come back next week to see us discuss this in earnest and more detail, as well as Novak Djokovic’s problematic thinking on the matter. For now, we’ll give you Serena Williams’s answer and move on to the draws of this 2016 Miami Open.

*******

Women’s draw

Pros

-Uncertainty at the top? Could it be that for the first time in a long while, Serena Williams isn’t quite as all-powerful as in years past? It would make sense given her age, sure, but we’re probably grabbing at straws here: while Williams has lost the two finals she reached in 2016, the fact of the matter is that she did reach the final of the two tournaments she competed in this year. Still, a two- or three-headed WTA Tour, rather than a Serena Williams monopoly, wouldn’t be bad.

-The return to form of Victoria Azarenka. Credibly, Victoria Azarenka could be one of the challengers to Williams’s dominance.

Cons

-The absence of Maria Sharapova. Face it, the Russian is perhaps the second biggest name in women’s tennis and her suspension and scandal hurt the sport. She wasn’t necessarily the best player, but she was a credible force at the top—at least until she faced Serena Williams, against whom Maria Sharapova is mostly hopeless.

-Upsets galore. Once again, we’ll mention that there is a fine line between an event where upsets create a good buzz and one where upsets reign supreme to the point where the average fan finds it overwhelming.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Elina Svitolina; Simona Halep over Agonisezka Radwanska; Victoria Azarenka over Johanna Konta; Belinda Bencic over Angelique Kerber

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Simona Halep; Belinda Bencic over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Belinda Bencic over Serena Williams

*******


Men’s draw

Pros

-The dominance of Novak Djokovic. Well whaddayaknow, it turns out that the end of the streak that means something… really doesn’t mean much other than it took the perfect storm to create a streak that ultimately doesn’t matter. He still hasn’t lost in 2016 in matches he hasn’t had to walk off the court and he still profiles as the favourite just about everywhere. Just, you know, don’t listen to him on prize money and gender equality.

-The return of Roger Federer. King Roger has been missing in action for over a month after injuring his knee, missing the BNP Paribas Open where he’s typically played and excelled. But he lit up the Twittersphere when he announced he was coming back this week.

Cons

-Milos Raonic’s injury. Before the season, Milos Raonic made changes to his coaching staff, naming Carlos Moya as his head coach and parting ways with Ivan Ljubicic; this prompted us asking whether we’d see a different Raonic in 2016 and, so far, we can probably say that yes, we have. While he was mostly non-competitive against Djokovic in the Indian Wells final, that he made it this far after returning from an abductor injury is a net positive. As of this writing, the Canadian still hasn’t announced that he would miss this Miami Open; even if he does compete, he may be diminished, which is too bad because this draw is within his grasp.

-But will Federer’s return be one to form? Still, it remains to be seen just how good and ready Federer will be in his first matches back from injury. We’re on the record as saying that we don’t believe the Swiss will manage to snatch a singles gold medal this year in Rio; if that’s the case, will he keep playing beyond this season? In other words, is 2016 the final curtain call for Federer?

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Benoit Paire; Roger Federer over David Ferrer; Stanislas Wawrinka over Jack Sock; Andy Murray over Alexandr Dolgopolov

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer; Andy Murray over Stanislas Wawrinka

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Djokovic and Azarenka win respective BNP Paribas Open titles

March 20, 2016

BNP Paribas Open—Indian Wells, California

Top seed Novak Djokovic and No. 13 ranked Vika Azarenka scored title victories at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. For Djokovic, his fifth title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden came in quick fashion as he dispatched Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 in one hour and 18 minutes. Allowing the Canadian to win only 10 percent of his second serve points, Djokovic broke serve on five occasions, while never providing his opponent with a break point opportunity. Winning his 27th career Masters 1000 title, Djokovic is now tied with Rafael Nadal at the top of that category.

On the women’s side, Azarenka was in peak form as she dismissed top seed and favourite Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4. Trailing in the pair’s head-to-head 17-3 prior to today’s encounter, Azarenka broke serve to begin each set and used that momentum to win in straight sets. Winning 86 percent of her first serve points, Azarenka used bold play from the baseline to upend the best player on the planet. Serena, who was looking to capture the 70th title of her career, fell to 0-2 in title matches in 2016 after losing in the Australian Open final earlier this year.

Tennis Elbow: Is chaos a good or bad thing on the WTA?

February 22, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the WTA’s 2016 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Sara Errani captured the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships WTA title this past weekend, beating Barbora Strycova in the final by the score of 6-0 and 6-2 in 68 minutes.

Three years after being on the receiving of a beatdown in the Dubai final—she lost 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 against Petra Kvitova in 2013—Errani was the dominant player this time. Evidently, she was thrilled. “It’s an unexpected title for me. It has been a tough moment, tough year so far,” the Italian said after her win. “To win here is amazing, it’s such a good tournament.”

We’ll focus on the first part of that quote, if you don’t mind.

If you believe the Italian, she apparently very nearly passed on the chance to compete in Dubai and to collect the winner’s cheque for $465,480. “I was thinking maybe not to come here,” she explained after her win. “I was thinking of taking two or three weeks to relax, to recharge my energy.”

These Tennis Championships will live on as not only the time Errani made a great decision to delay a week of rest, but as the time ultimate chaos reigned. In this 28-player draw, none of the eight seeds made it past the second round—and that’s only because the top 4 had a first-round bye. In short, none of the tournament’s eight seeds won a match.

Is that a good or bad thing? Namely, is this extreme string of upsets a sign that the top players are especially vulnerable or one that those in the lower tiers are especially strong?

Can it be both, that an upset means lower-ranked player are stronger than we think and that the top ranked players are more vulnerable too? Steve Tignor of tennis.com has examined the question, and let’s highlight some of his most relevant points.

It starts, first, with the perfect storm that made this carnage possible in Dubai.

Despite quite a large purse (i.e. $2 million), Dubai remains a 500-level event. Perhaps for that reason, the two best players on the WTA Tour, Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, had pulled out. Likewise for the relative heavyweights that are Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka.

Seeded No. 1 and No. 2, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza shouldn’t have had much problems with their first match but they have both had a terrible start to this 2016 season. They were vulnerable and, well, they lost. It happens.

Because the Dubai draw is so small but still a rather prestigious (read: lucrative) affair, scattered throughout were many dangerous players, like ex-No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, ex-No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Garcia and the two finalists. On paper, there were no real easy matches, and at least in this case this held up.

The Dubai draw had plenty of players who, at various times, have been ranked in or near the top; they made the most of their opportunities. This is proof that the pool of WTA players is very deep, which is ultimately a good thing.

But still, this doesn’t answer the real question: is too much chaos a bad thing for the sport? We may contrast it with the situation atop the ATP World Tour rankings, where the same three (or four, if you want to include Andy Murray) have reigned supreme for the past 11 or 12 years.

But we shouldn’t compare the two; lest we forget, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will likely go down as three of the five greatest players in history. There’s a reason why we call this the golden era of tennis: it’s because it will never be equalled.

Men’s tennis has thrived in the past decade, more so than women’s tennis, but it won’t last forever. During that time, the lone constant in women’s tennis has been Serena Williams, and perhaps that’s where the problem lies: women’s tennis needs an established group of rulers, not just one. If any given tournament turns into a random series of events, it’s tough for a casual fan to follow.

Upsets are a good thing, because they make the sport unpredictable—but that’s also why they’re sort of a bad thing.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams at the Australian Open

February 1, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 Australian Open women’s final.

What a time to be alive.

While we can’t pretend to know for sure whether Angelique Kerber listens to Drake and Future, we have a wild guess that #WATTBA is probably what’s going through her mind today.

Today, the German wakes up as a Grand Slam champion, having beaten the great Serena Williams by the final score of 6-4, 3-6 and 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes in the Australian Open final.

With the win, the 28-year-old becomes the second German in the Open era, after Steffi Graf, to win a Grand Slam tournament. «I got my second chance and this is my dream come true,» Kerber said after the win. «My whole life I am working really hard, and now I am here and call myself a Grand Slam champion.» That’s something most probably didn’t expect to see happen, not in 2016 after years of relatively pedestrian results at the majors. Indeed, Kerber hadn’t done better than a fourth round at a major since 2012—in fact, other than a four-Grand Slam stretch where she made two semifinals and one quarterfinal (and one third round) over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Kerber’s career had been relatively underwhelming at majors. That run very nearly continued in Australia. You may recall that in her first match against Misaki Doi, Kerber had «one leg in the plane for Germany,» as she called it after winning the tournament; that’s how she describes being down a set and to match point, before she finally righted the ship. Now after a few more matches and wins over Victoria Azarenka and Williams, Kerber is a Grand Slam champion. Meanwhile, the six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams will need to wait until at least Roland-Garros to match Graf’s career haul of 22 Grand Slams. She seemed fine with it afterward; just look at her.


It’s a rare reminder that the American is merely human and can’t, or won’t, win them all. “Every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life,” Williams said after her loss. “As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not. I try to. But, you know, I do the best that I can.»

All this means for the 2016 season is that we won’t get the same «will she or won’t she» narrative that pursued Serena Williams in 2015; no, Williams will not win all four Grand Slams this year. This loss against Kerber still may be her lone Grand Slam loss in 2016; it’ll have just happened (way) earlier than in 2015.

Why this loss is so surprising is that it’s so rare for Williams to 1) lose in the Grand Slams and 2) to lose in the Grand Slam finals. Because, yes, the latter is what’s quietly been underrated with her and what’s allowed her to be on Graf’s heels: sure, she has won 21 majors but she’s managed this in only 26 finals; of her 41 career losses at major events, only five have come in the finals.

Because when she reaches the ultimate game, she tends to win the ultimate prize. “I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it,» she said after her loss. «Maybe someone else can, but I wasn’t able to do it.”

This about sums it up.


Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Australian Open 2016 Men’s Final Preview: Djokovic vs. Murray

January 30, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Angelique Kerber is the 2016 Australian Open women’s champion, the German stunning world number one Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title on Day 13 at Melbourne Park.

Today, Novak Djokovic shoots for his sixth Australian Open final, as Andy Murray looks to claim his first title in what will be his fifth final. Read on to get my predictions for the men’s final.

Day 13 Recap

Playing in her first ever major final, the seventh seeded Kerber showed no signs of nerves, registering an early break of serve. Whilst Williams broke back soon after, it was apparent that the American was somewhat tense as she looked to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

With Kerber showing exemplary court coverage and with unforced errors flying off the Williams racquet, the German edged ahead, taking the first set, 6-4. Kerber enjoyed plenty of crowd support, with spectators perhaps sensing they were witnessing an upset of epic proportions. But there was no doubting that Williams would fight her way back into the match, and the top seed tightened up her game in the second set, cutting down her unforced errors and connecting with more of her first serves. Williams took the second set, 6-3, to send the match, and the championship, to a deciding set.

Williams was having trouble reading the Kerber serve, and wasn’t her usual precise self at the net. The German took full advantage, winning 8 of the first 9 points of the final set. Williams broke back before Kerber went on another run, stringing 7 points together as she opened up a 5-3 lead.

The seventh seed, who had looked calm all match, finally tightened up as she served for the title, with Williams breaking back and having a chance to level the set at 5-all. But, as had been the case for much of the match, Williams couldn’t dominate on serve in the way that she so often does. Kerber claimed the break, and with it the biggest win of her life, the German collecting the title and rocketing up to number 2 in the world rankings.

For Williams, it was an unusually subdued performance and one which I’m sure she will rue, although the American was extremely gracious and sporting in defeat (which is not always the case when things don’t go the top seed’s way). For Kerber, it was a dream come true and, along with a career-high ranking, the win will give the German the confidence to push for further Grand Slam titles in the years to come.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Kerber’s win has to give Andy Murray hope, as it shows that no one, not even Serena Williams, is invincible. The Scot has lost all 4 of his previous Australian Open finals, 3 of them to Djokovic, but there is no sentimentality when it comes to sports.

Murray has beaten Djokovic on the big stage before, most notably in the finals when he won his Wimbledon and US Open titles, but Djokovic has improved his tennis since then and is on a different level right now. To put it in focus, Murray has won just one of his last 11 matches against the world number one. That said, Murray did beat Djokovic on hard-courts in Montreal last year, and last year’s Australian Open final was very close for the first 3 sets before Murray lost concentration and Djokovic ran away with the match.

Djokovic has won 70 percent of his career matches against Murray, and owns 5 Australian Open crowns, so it is clear that Murray needs to play his very best tennis in order to prevail. Djokovic does everything so well that Murray needs to stay calm and seize his chances, and not castigate himself when things don’t go his way.

The biggest key to the match in my mind is Murray’s second serve, which can get very shaky at times. If Murray doesn’t execute well on serve, particularly on his second serve, then Djokovic will constantly attack the Murray service games and that will ultimately take its toll on the second seed.

A victory for Murray would represent an extremely well-earned Australian Open title, and break up the dominance of Djokovic but, as noted above, there is no sentimentality in sports, and so the head says to go with Djokovic, who is unquestionably the best player in the sport right now. Djokovic 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 all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Kerber stuns Serena to win Australian Open

January 30, 2016

Australian Open 2016—Melbourne, Australia

No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber pulled off a major upset on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, capturing her first-ever Grand Slam title after dismissing top seed Serena Willliams, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

In a match that took two hours and eight minutes to complete, Kerber used her attacking style of tennis to hit 25 winners to only 13 unforced errors. After winning the first set on the strength of two breaks of serve, the German found herself at one set all after the top ranked American fought back to force a deciding set. Needing all of her guile and court craft in the end, Kerber used extreme angles and few drop shots to increase her lead to 5-2 in the final set. Not to be outdone, Williams clawed back like only she knows how to 4-5, but the 10th game of the final set proved to be the last as the 21-time Grand Slam winner overhit a volley to end her tournament.

For Kerber, she becomes the first German woman to win a Major title since Steffi Graf in 1999. The 28-year-old from Bremen, Germany will also move up to No. 2 in the world after her performance Down Under.

Williams, who was attempting to win her 22nd career Major and tie Steffi Graf’s mark, will now have to wait until the French Open in May to equal the great German’s record.

Australian Open 2016 Day 13 Preview: Heartbreak for Milos and record-breaking for Serena

January 29, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Andy Murray will play Novak Djokovic in the men’s final on Sunday night, after the Scot came back from 2 sets to one down to defeat Milos Raonic in a titanic 4 hour semi-final on Day 12.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Serena Williams on Day 13 as the American looks to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slams in the women’s singles final against Angelique Kerber. See below for my preview of the final.

Day 12 Recap

Raonic made his intentions known from the very first game of the semi-final, breaking Murray to love and then saving 3 break points in his initial service game. Owning one of the biggest serves in the sport, Raonic maintained his advantage and claimed the first set, 6-4.

The second set saw games go with serve until the twelfth game of the set, with Murray seizing on a a couple of errors by the Canadian to level the match at a set apiece. The third set saw Raonic once again take the lead, the thirteenth seed playing a superb tiebreaker to get within a set of the final.

A late break in the fourth set gave Murray the set, 6-4, as the players proceeded to a deciding fifth set. A medical timeout by Raonic before the start of the set indicated that the Canadian was flagging, and it was soon apparent that a leg injury was affecting his play. Murray took full advantage, moving his opponent around the court and going up a double break before sealing the match, 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 13

Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber

Williams enters her twenty-sixth Grand Slam final chasing major number 22 and is up against a player making her first appearance in a major final. After getting through a testing first round encounter against Camila Giorgi, Williams has swept all before her since, dropping just 17 games in her last 5 matches.

After saving match point against Misaki Doi in the opening round, Kerber has been playing aggressive tennis without fear at Melbourne Park, with her quarter-final win over Azarenka underling her championship credentials. The leftie has beaten Williams just once in 6 career meetings and, whilst that win was back in 2012, the very fact that Kerber has beaten Williams will boost the German’s chances. Important, also, is the fact that the last match between this pair was a year and a half ago; Kerber has become a far more confident and consistent player in the last 12 months.

Kerber has the shotmaking ability to defeat Williams, if the German can handle the occasion, stay calm and is able to keep the points short and go for her shots. That said, Williams looks to be in imposing form and has to enter the match as the warm favourite. After her shock defeat to Roberta Vinci at Flushing Meadows last year, the American will be desperate to start 2016 by claiming the year’s first Grand Slam, and I will back Williams to pull away in the second set after a tight opening stanza. 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 all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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