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

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.

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