Tennis Elbow: Roberta Vinci loses in the final, wins US Open

September 14, 2015

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 a wild 2015 US Open.

You know what happens next.

You know it because you’ve seen it happen so often that it’s become ingrained in your brain and it’s turned into expectations for most of Serena Williams’s tennis matches. It’s been this way ever since she started her run at last year’s US Open, a run that surely will culminate in a fifth Grand Slam title in a row, and a calendar-year Grand Slam.

She’s done it so often in the past year, and that’s how you know what happens next. Williams has won the first set, or lost it, then lost the second, or won it, and that’s when she usually takes off. Against Roberta Vinci in this semifinal, Williams won the first 6-2 only to lose the second 6-4. Now watch her go.

This should be just about where Williams does it, after losing that set. Surely, she’ll break her opponent’s serve and she’ll take off and win the match because Vinci can’t match her level. From there, it’s the Hollywood ending, with a final over Flavia Pennetta.

Instead, this happened.

Yes, Serena Williams lost against Roberta Vinci in the US Open semifinals. Cancel the parade and the festivities, we had an all-Italian US Open final instead. It’s easy to ascribe meaning and importance to moments after the fact, but here we are and maybe the first sign of trouble for Williams was the fact that she had lost that second set to Vinci, an opponent against whom she had never lost a set in four previous meetings. If Williams were to win, she would have won in straight sets—or at the very least, she would have pulled away in the third set after breaking Vinci’s serve. After the fact, that’s what you say. Because that’s what she had done so often this past year, remember? Instead, she lost.

The result is a stunning, stunning upset—one that FiveThirtyEight has dubbed «the biggest in modern women’s tennis history». We’ll leave that debate for another time and another day, but we will concede that it certainly was highly unlikely yes.

We even said as much on Twitter, look.

The loss means that Williams will need to wait another year to catch Steffi Graf and win the 22nd Grand Slam title of her career; she’ll need to wait another year if she hopes to complete the calendar Grand Slam too, though the odds aren’t in her favour. (Because the odds of someone accomplishing this are never in your favour.)

That’s the most shocking thing about her loss, too: Serena had been playing so well all year and all summer that, surely, if she were to miss out on the calendar Grand Slam it wouldn’t happen so close to the goal. Right?

Well it did and for now, maybe we get to wait a little bit on proclaiming Williams the greatest of all time. Like so: «Is she the best ever? -Meh. Let’s she where she stands when she’s officially retired.»

All this talk, and we’ve barely mentioned the victorious Roberta Vinci. Though Vinci would go on to lose in straight sets against her countrywoman Pennetta in the final, the 2015 US Open will forever live on as the Grand Slam where the 32-year-old Vinci captured the hearts of everyone.
A Williams win would have been nice, but that is even better.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

US Open 2015 Day 13: Previewing the women’s final between Vinci and Pennetta

September 12, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Roberta Vinci produced the biggest shock of the 2015 tennis season on Day 12, upsetting world number one Serena Williams in 3 sets to move into today’s final and thwarting the American’s bid to complete the calendar Grand Slam.

Day 12 Recap

Williams entered the semi-final against Vinci as an overwhelming favourite, with the top seed having claimed the last four majors and the last three US Open titles. The first set went according to script, with Williams breaking the Italian three times and collecting the set after just 31 minutes. But Vinci used her slice backhand to great effect, moving a visibly tight Williams around the court. A break in the fifth game of the second set enabled Vinci to move ahead, and she maintained her advantage to force a deciding set.

When Williams went up a break at the beginning of the third set, it appeared as though the American superstar would stroll to victory. But the world number 43 refused to wilt and continued to attack the net, producing some stunning half-volleys as Williams began to self-destruct. Williams had her chances to get back into the set after Vinci claimed the decisive break in the seventh game of the set, but the 32 year old held her nerve and fittingly produced an exquisite half-volley to claim the most unlikely of wins.

Vinci will play countrywoman Flavia Pennetta in today’s final, after the twenty-sixth seed produced an impressive upset of her own, ousting second seed Simona Halep in a one-sided semi-final. After registering her best win of the tournament over Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals, Halep delivered a flat performance, unable to match the power of the 33 year old Pennetta. The Italian was in fine form, capturing the win in 59 minutes, 6-1 6-3.

In the men’s tournament, the world’s top two players, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, will meet in a blockbuster men’s final on Sunday after each player registered an emphatic straight sets win in Friday’s men’s semi-finals. Defending champion Marin Cilic had been struggling with an ankle injury in his previous match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and it was evident that the Croat was still bothered by the problem in the match against Djokovic. The top seed exploited Cilic’s ailment, moving the Croat all over the court and eventually sealing a 6-0 6-1 6-2 – the most lopsided men’s semi-final in US Open history.

Federer wasn’t quite as fast as Djokovic, but the second seed certainly delivered a performance for the ages, completely outclassing French Open champion and compatriot Stan Wawrinka. Federer gained revenge for his defeat by Wawrinka in Paris, as the fifth seed struggled on serve from the outset. After a competitive first set, which Federer claimed 6-4, Wawrinka was broken twice in the second set, before the 17-time major winner got on a complete roll, capturing 15 out of 16 points at the start of the third set to put the result beyond doubt. After 92 minutes, Federer was back in the US Open final for the first time since 2009, courtesy of a 6-4 6-3 6-1 victory.


Match of the Day – Day 13

Flavia Pennetta vs. Roberta Vinci

Just like the Nishikori-Cilic final last year, this is the final that absolutely nobody (not even Italian tennis fans) expected. Either way, the Italian tennis fans will have plenty to celebrate. Pennetta has always performed well at Flushing Meadows and, after making the semi-finals in 2013, the 33 year old has advanced further this year and now has a golden opportunity to claim a major title.

Vinci is probably the bigger surprise, with 32 year old sitting at 43 in the world rankings and given virtually no chance of beating Williams in the semi-finals. But Vinci showed her competitiveness and experience in upsetting the American, and she is now just one win away from a miraculous Grand Slam title.

Pennetta has a slight edge in the head-to-head standings, having beaten Vinci in five of the pair’s nine career meetings, including a straight sets win at the US Open in 2013. But of course these players have played and practiced together hundreds of times over the past decade and a half, and so know each other’s games inside out. Usually when two players are competing in their first major final, it is a case of which player handles the occasion the best. Both of these players are hugely experienced and, as former world number one doubles players, have played plenty of times in big stadiums at the business end of tournaments.

I favour Pennetta in today’s final, giving her stellar form all tournament – she’s defeated Stosur, Kvitova and Halep in her past three matches, all of whom are either Grand Slam winners or finalists – and she has a long history of performing well in New York. That said, Vinci showed against Williams that anything is possible and, as the higher ranked player, more pressure will be on Pennetta. Vinci needs to replicate her form against Williams, using her slice to vary the speed of the rallies and not being afraid to approach the net to finish points off.

Ultimately, Pennetta’s greater firepower means that the match is on her racquet. If she plays her best tennis, then she will be too strong. If the pressure gets to her, however, then Vinci has the experience and self-belief to capitalise. I think Pennetta will get there, but not without one hell of a fight. Pennetta in 3.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

US Open 2015 Day 12: Women’s Semifinal Preview

September 10, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Swiss seeds Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka will meet in a blockbuster men’s singles semi-final, after both players won their quarter-finals in convincing fashion on Day 10. Meanwhile, Day 11 is ladies’ semi-finals day at Flushing Meadows and, if the rain stays away, we are in for at least one match. Read on to receive my predictions for each semi-final.

Day 10 Recap

Italian Flavia Pennetta continued her love affair with New York on Day 10, the twenty-sixth seed upsetting fifth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to advance to the second US Open semi-final of her career. Pennetta joined compatriot Roberta Vinci in the final four with a fighting 3 set win over Kvitova, who appeared to struggle in conditions which were again hot and humid.

Pennetta will face Romanian Simona Halep for a place in Saturday’s final, after the second seed outlasted former world number one and dual Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in another 3-setter. Halep made the early running in the match and claimed the opening set, before Azarenka levelled the match at a set apiece and then went up a break in the deciding set. An 85 minute rain delay seemed to halt Azarenka’s momentum, with Halep capturing five of the final seven games to record a 6-3 4-6 6-4 victory.

Much was expected of Richard Gasquet going into his quarter-final clash against Roger Federer, after the Frenchman’s run to the Wimbledon semi-finals and his defeat of sixth seed Tomas Berdych in the round of 16 in New York. But in just 87 minutes, second seed Federer crushed Gasquet’s hopes, handing the Frenchman a 6-3 6-3 6-1 in front of an adoring and appreciative crowd.

Wawrinka had lost his last four matches against Kevin Anderson and, after the lanky South African’s upset of former champion Andy Murray in the fourth round, many pundits were predicting that this match would go the distance. However, French Open champion Wawrinka produced a stunning performance, hammering a visibly fatigued Anderson (who was playing his tenth match in just over a fortnight) in straight sets, 6-4 6-4 6-0, to set up the showdown against his countryman Federer.

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Serena Williams vs. Roberta Vinci

Can anybody stop Serena Williams from claiming the calendar Grand Slam? The list of potential candidates is getting shorter and shorter, and now the American is just a couple of wins away from achieving the feat. At the start of the tournament, I considered that there were only a handful of players capable of beating Williams in New York, including her sister Venus and Victoria Azarenka. Serena overcame Venus in the quarter-finals, and Azarenka’s loss to Halep on Day 10 is a big boost for Williams’ chances of winning the tournament.

Vinci has done remarkably well to progress through to her maiden US Open semi-final, but to be honest I don’t think the Italian stands a chance in this one. In four previous meetings with Williams, the 32 year old has been unable to win a set, and her classic all-court game involving spin, placement and touch is no match for the raw power and aggression of Williams. Furthermore, after some long tussles earlier in the tournament, Williams will be focused on getting through this match with a minimum of fuss and getting plenty of rest in preparation for Saturday’s final. Accordingly, despite Vinci’s best efforts, I think this will be a relatively quick and one-sided contest. Williams in 2.

2. Flavia Pennetta vs. Simona Halep

For the second time in three years, Flavia Pennetta is into the US Open semi-finals, and the 33 year old will probably never get a better opportunity to make it through to a Grand Slam final. A former world number one in doubles and previously ranked as high as 10 in singles, Pennetta mixes the all-court game of her compatriot Vinci with greater power and aggression. As a result, when she is playing with confidence and is at full health, the twenty-sixth seed is incredibly difficult to stop.

Halep, a finalist at Roland Garros last year, can make a strong claim to be the smartest player on the WTA Tour. The Romanian isn’t the biggest hitter on tour (far from it, in fact), but she combines brilliant anticipation and awareness skills with impressive speed and balance and an ultra-competitive attitude. This season hasn’t been quite as good as 2014, but the second seed now has a very good opportunity to make another major final.

Pennetta beat Halep at the 2013 US Open and has claimed three of the pair’s four previous meetings.  However, Halep did beat the Italian in their most recent encounter, on hard-courts in Miami earlier this year. To my mind, this match will come down to a question of which player can manage their emotions and the occasion the best, and which player is accordingly able to produce the better tennis. Pennetta has been around longer, but Halep’s run to the French Open final last year will hold for in good stead entering this match. Unlike the other semi-final, I think this match will be a tight and hard-fought affair. I’ll back the more consistent Halep to prevail, but only by a whisker. Halep in 3.

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 2015 Day 9 Preview: The Day belongs to Serena and Venus

September 8, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Andy Murray is out of the tournament, the former champion going down to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson in 4 sets on Day 8 at Flushing Meadows.

Day 8 Recap

Anderson, who was incredibly close to taking out eventual champion Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon earlier this year, is through to his first major quarter-final courtesy of a terrific serving display. Murray, who has been battling a cold in New York, suffered his earliest Grand Slam exit in five years and wasn’t happy about it, smashing a racquet and yelling a number of obscenities as he departed the tournament.

In other men’s matches on Day 8, second seed Roger Federer was forced to a couple of tiebreakers but ultimately accounted for John Isner in straight sets, as his Swiss countryman Stan Wawrinka ended Donald Young’s dream run in 4 sets. And Richard Gasquet continued his good run of form in New York, upsetting sixth seed Tomas Berdych in 4 sets.

In the women’s tournament, two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka was too good for Varvara Lepchencko, handing the American a 6-3 6-4 defeat, as Flavia Pennetta maintained her perfect record against Sam Stosur and booked her place in the quarter-finals. The winning streak of Johanna Konta finally came to an end, with the Brit unable to match the power of Petra Kvitova. Simons Halep is also through to the quarter-finals, the second seed forced to come from a set down to beat Germany’s Sabine Lisicki.

Matches of the Day – Day 9

1. Kristina Mladenovic vs. Roberta Vinci

Frenchwoman Kiki Mladenovic is a former world junior champion who, whilst capable of matching the very best players on occasion, has struggled to produce the consistency required to become an elite player on the WTA Tour. Mladenovic has produced a fine run here to make her first major quarter-final, but Vinci is a tricky opponent.

The Italian is a veteran of the WTA Tour and, although she was fortunate to benefit from Eugenie Bouchard’s withdrawal from their fourth round clash, Vinci will be desperate to make the most of her luck. I expect the Italian to handle the occasion better than her opponent today and to claim a narrow win accordingly. Vinci in 3.

2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Marin Cilic

Defending champion Marin Cilic was forced to fight hard to beat Mikhail Kukushkin and Jeremy Chardy in rounds 3 and 4, but the Croat will be increasingly difficult to beat as he gets closer towards defending his crown.

Tsonga enjoyed a good win in round 4 against in-form countryman Benoit Paire and the Frenchman is capable of anything, as he showed in making a spirited run to the French Open semi-finals earlier this year. This should be a close contest but the conditions suit Cilic slightly more. Cilic in 4.

3. Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

Together, these sisters have changed the face of women’s tennis and, whilst Serena is clearly the best player in women’s tennis right now, Venus is the player who has beaten Serena the most, and Serena is quick to list Venus as her toughest opponent.

Usually, matches between the sisters are fairly anticlimactic affairs, with neither player bringing their best form. Let’s hope that is not the case today. Venus has been playing well and should definitely claim a set, but ultimately I think Serena will be too strong. Serena in 3.

4. Novak Djokovic vs. Feliciano Lopez

Top seed Djokovic was forced to work hard against Roberto Bautista Agut in round 4, as the Spaniard got very hot for a period of the match. I think the Serb will be satisfied with his response and will have benefitted from the workout.

Lopez did well to see off the mercurial Fabio Fognini to advance to the quarter-finals, the Spaniard serving and volleying sharply. Unfortunately for Lopez, Djokovic loves a target and I think the Serb will relish any moves forward by Lopez today. I think one set will be close, with the world number one racing through the others. Djokovic in 3.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I will be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

US Open 2015 Day 8 Preview: Federer and Wawrinka aim for quarterfinal positions

September 6, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

The Williams sisters will meet in a blockbuster quarter-final on Tuesday, after both sisters recorded straight sets wins on Day 7 of the tournament.

Day 7 Recap

Top seed Serena Williams produced her best performance of the tournament to date, striking 18 winners against just six unforced errors as she saw off rising star Madison Keys, 6-3 6-3. Elder sister Venus was similarly impressive in making her way through to the US Open quarter-finals for the first time in five years, losing just three games for the match against the Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

There was disappointing news for Eugenie Bouchard and her legion of fans on Day 7, with the Canadian forced to withdraw from the women’s singles after suffering a fall and concussion on Saturday. Roberta Vinci was the immediate beneficiary of Bouchard’s bad luck, the Italian claiming a walkover to advance to the quarter-finals. Vinci will play the winner of the fourth round clash between Kristina Mladenovic and Ekaterina Makarova.

In the men’s tournament, defending champion Marin Cilic moved through to the quarter-finals on Day 7, the Croat claiming a pivotal third set tiebreaker over Jeremy Chardy before easily claiming the fourth set to collect the win. Cilic will face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a place in the semi-finals, after the nineteenth seed ended compatriot Benoit Paire’s giant-killing run at Flushing Meadows with a straight sets win.

Fabio Fognini, conqueror of Rafael Nadal on Friday night, was unable to replicate such form against Nadal’s countryman Feliciano Lopez, going down to the eighteenth seed in straight sets. Serving and volleying at every opportunity, Lopez refused to let Fognini dictate play from the baseline, the Spaniard wrapping up the match in one hour and 50 minutes. To earn a place in the semi-finals, Lopez will need to beat the winner of the Djokovic-Bautista Agut fourth round contest.

Matches of the Day – Day 8

1. Roger Federer vs. John Isner

Second seed Roger Federer has steamrolled everything in his path in his opening three matches, but John Isner’s incredible serve means that the American won’t be a pushover in this contest. The thirteenth seed was well on top of Vesely before the Czech retired in their third round contest, and with plenty of home crowd support on his side, I expect Isner to put up a good fight in this match.

Federer looks like he has never aged, the Swiss superstar serving flawlessly, volleying crisply and hitting his forehand with as much confidence as ever. The veteran will know that he needs to take his chances on Isner’s serve, so look for Federer to peak at the business end of each set as he squeezes out a tight straight sets win. Federer in 3.

2. Sabine Lisicki vs. Simona Halep

Former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki has struggled to replicate her impressive performances at the All England Club at the other majors, so it’s pleasing to see the injury prone German make it through to the round of 16 in New York this year. The twenty-fourth seed has a booming serve, which keeps her in plenty of matches, but she will need more than her serve if she is to beat second seed Simona Halep today.

Halep hasn’t had as good a year as last year, but the 2014 French Open finalist has started the tournament in New York in tremendous form and will fancy her chances of making the final in what is becoming a fairly weak bottom half of the draw. The Romanian is a terrific mover around the court and should be able to move Lisicki out of position time and time again. Look for Lisicki to fight hard but for Halep to have all the answers. Halep in 3.

3. Stan Wawrinka vs. Donald Young

Donald Young Jr. could be described as the comeback kid for multiple reasons. The former teen prodigy has spent many years in the wilderness struggling to live up to expectations, whilst his heroics in coming back from 2 sets to love down against both Gilles Simon and Viktor Troicki have made him a darling of the New York crowd.

Does Young have anything left in the tank to challenge fifth seed Stan Wawrinka today? It’s a good question, with the French Open champion being a very hard man to beat on the bouncy hard-courts of Flushing Meadows even when one is full of energy. I think Young will give it his all, but I expect Wawrinka to be too strong and too fit for the American in this clash. Wawrinka in 4.

4. Richard Gasquet vs. Tomas Berdych

Twelfth seed Richard Gasquet was in top form in defeating Bernard Tomic in round 3, but the Frenchman faces a stiff challenge in the form of Tomas Berdych today. Although the pair has split 12 career meetings, the Czech has claimed the last three matches between the pair, and I think Gasquet will find it hard to match Berdych’s power from the baseline.

Both of these players have made it to the US Open semi-finals before, so neither will be fazed by the occasion. For Gasquet to win, he needs to serve extremely well and go for broke off his backhand wing. If he is on song, he is well and truly capable of causing an upset. But if he isn’t firing on all cylinders, I think Berdych will be too strong for the Frenchman. Berdych in 4.

5. Sam Stosur vs. Flavia Pennetta

Having overcome the feisty former French Open finalist Sara Errani in the third round, former champion Sam Stosur must defeat another Italian in the form of twenty-sixth seed Flavia Pennetta if the Aussie is to return to the US Open quarter-finals. Stosur exorcised some demons in outlasting Errani in 3 sets, after the Italian upset Stosur in the French Open semi-finals in 2012, and now the 2011 US Open champion will be desperate to see how far she can progress in this year’s tournament.

Pennetta is a talented all-court player who has just as much experience as Stosur. I don’t think much separates the players, but Stosur is the heavier hitter and has the better serve. For these reasons, I’ll back the Aussie to make it through to the quarter-finals.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

US Open 2015 Day 7 Preview: Time to get serious for the Djoker

September 6, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

It was smooth sailing for virtually all of the big names on Day 6 of the tournament, with Federer, Murray, Wawrinka, Kvitova and Halep all booking their places in the second week at Flushing Meadows.

Day 6 Recap

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was largely untroubled by Slovak Anna Karolina Schmiedlova on Day 6, claiming a straight sets victory, whilst second seed Simona Halep breezed past American Shelby Rogers. Eighteenth seed Andrea Petkovic wasn’t so fortunate, going down to the streaking Johanna Konta.

Former champion Sam Stosur was forced to 3 sets to overcome Sara Errani, with the Aussie to next face another Italian in the form of Flavia Pennetta. Lepchenko and Lisicki were also forced to deciding sets to book their places in the fourth round, as was two-time Victoria Azarenka, who scored a fighting win over Germany’s Angelique Kerber.

In the men’s tournament, second seed Roger Federer recorded another straight sets win, this time over Philipp Kohlscreiber, with Richard Gasquet and Stan Wawrinka also notching 3 set wins. After surviving a scare against Mannarino, Andy Murray turned in a more polished performance to account for Thomaz Bellucci, whilst Tomas Berdych needed 4 sets to defeat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

John Isner and Donald Young gave the New York crowd plenty to cheer about on Day 6, with Isner winning the first couple of sets over Jiri Vesely before the Czech player retired due to a neck injury. Meanwhile, former prodigy Young launched his second heroic comeback of the tournament, overcoming a 2 sets to love deficit to oust the twenty-second seed, Viktor Troicki of Serbia. Young will now face Wawrinka for a place in the quarter-finals.

Matches of the Day – Day 7

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Roberto Bautista Agut

Novak Djokovic may have dismissed Andrea Seppi in straight sets in the third round, but it wasn’t as comfortable a match as the final score would indicate, with the top seed finding himself short of breath on multiple occasions and being forced to get out of jail on a few occasions.

Bautista Agut is into the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows for the second consecutive year, and the Spaniard’s heavy hitting baseline game makes him a threat on the courts in New York, where the ball bounces high enough to be consistently in his preferred hitting zone. Djokovic should have too much class and experience, having beaten Bautista Agut in both of their previous meetings, but I think the Spaniard will compete strongly in at least a couple of the sets today. Djokovic in 3.

2. Feliciano Lopez vs. Fabio Fognini

When he’s not arguing with chair umpires or infuriating spectators, Fabio Fognini is capable of some spectacular shot-making. In making an incredible comeback against 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the third round, Fognini not only showcased his abilities from the baseline, he also showed great heart and commitment to the cause – attributes not often associated with the feisty Italian.

Lopez defeated Milos Raonic in straight sets in round 3 and looks to be in good form. The big test for Fognini, therefore, is whether he can back up his terrific upset of Nadal with another quality performance, or whether he will turn in a poor performance to continue the inconsistency that has plagued his career to date. Fognini is capable of anything, but to my mind the smart money is on Lopez in this one. Lopez in 4.

3. Marin Cilic vs. Jeremy Chardy

2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic was given an almighty scare by the diminutive Kazakh Mikhail Kukushin in round 3, the Croat forced to go the distance to see off a gallant Kukushkin. Those sets were the first dropped by Cilic in New York since last year’s fourth round, so I don’t think too much should be made of it, especially given that Kukushkin is a tricky opponent at the best of times.

Cilic’s opponent today, Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, is another dangerous opponent. The twenty-seventh seeded Chardy took down seventh seed David Ferrer in the round of 32 and, if the Frenchman can get his serve and forehand combination working well, he’s capable of causing problems for Cilic. That said, I think Cilic has a slight edge over Chardy in most categories and so I expect him to squeeze through in a close 4-setter. Cilic in 4.

4. Benoit Paire vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The eccentric Benoit Paire has always been capable of making a terrific run at a Grand Slam, with the Frenchman possessing great shot-making flair alongside a solid technique. Paire has ousted seeds Nishikori and Robredo so far in the tournament and, whilst Paire has lost both previous matches against Tsonga, the flamboyant nineteenth seed has found it difficult playing compatriots in the past.

These two know each other’s game very well and Paire won’t be intimidated by the fact that Tsonga is the higher-ranked and better-known player. Former Australian Open finalist Tsonga has to start the match as the favourite, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paire spring another upset. Paire in 5.

5. Madison Keys vs. Serena Williams

The master against the heir apparent? No doubt that’s the way that the USTA will be viewing this match. Serena Williams has swept all before her in the past 12 months and, despite not exhibiting her best form in New York so far this year, now stands just four wins away from completing the calendar Grand Slam.

Madison Keys has enormous potential and, importantly, has taken some important steps this year towards realising that potential, knocking out Venus Williams before falling to Serena in the semi-finals of the Australian Open this year. Keys competed strongly in the first set of that match before falling away in the second set, and I think it will be a similar result here, with the youngster pushing Serena in one set but being unable to maintain her intensity for the entire match. Williams in 2.

Put your house on: Venus Williams. She was in vintage form against Belinda Bencic and I think she will be far too good for Estonian Anett Kontaveit today.

Upset alert: As previewed above, I think the enigmatic Benoit Paire could continue his giant-killing run against countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga today.

Likely to go the distance: If she can overcome the locker room fall and subsequent head injury that forced her to retire from the doubles and mixed doubles on Saturday, I think Eugenie Bouchard will  be too good for Italian veteran Roberta Vinci today. That said, I think the Canadian will have to earn the win in a long one.

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: North Americans at home in New York

August 31, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2015 US Open.

Can you hear the crescendo?

It’s here, and by here we mean in New York. The tennis world has descended upon the great metropolis (i.e. the US Open is in Flushing Meadows, but whatever) for what, this year again, profiles as the season’s biggest party.

In part because we live in North America, it feels like the final Grand Slam of the year annually serves as the end point of the current season—despite the fact that there is still much, much more tennis played after this turn in New York.

What is true, however, is that the final Grand Slam tends to be the biggest party and celebration of the sport. It’s the one where the fans are the loudest and the rowdiest and, well, let’s use this column to give these North Americans something to sink their teeth in. Let’s preview the North American players in the men’s and the women’s draw.


Men’s draw

John Isner

Is this the year that the tall American finally does it? Throughout his career, John Isner has typically not done so well at his home Slam, only once going beyond the third round—this happened in 2011 and, since, all Isner has done is bow down in the third round.

At now 30 years old, Isner is who he is but he does arrive in New York in form, notwithstanding an ugly loss against Sam Querry in the first round at the Western & Southern Open. We’ll go out on a limb and give Isner an extra round this year: the draw put him in Roger Federer’s section and, well, tough luck.

Milos Raonic

What will Milos Raonic do? The Canadian followed a poor showing at Wimbledon with two losses at the Rogers Cup and the Western & Southern Open.

He’s now 24 years old and the great, great promise he’s showed when he first broke through has given way to a sort of acceptance that Raonic may just be destined for the Top 10 player that he currently is. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in this country whose tennis tradition has been rather poor.

If Raonic manages to overcome in the third round the same Feliciano Lopez who beat him in the first round in Cincinnati, he’ll likely have to then overcome Novak Djokovic. Hey, there’s always next year.

Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Switching to doubles for this last spot, we’ll be eager to see if Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock pull another rabbit out of their hats and avenge a difficult 2014 US Open showing, where they lost in the third round.

The thing is, it does a disservice to the pair to mention that they managed a magic trick  in winning Wimbledon last season—because, you see, Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil are a great doubles team. They should be doing well, so it’s no surprise that they are.

Finally, let’s all remember to wish our guy Mardy Fish a happy retirement!


Women’s draw

Serena Williams

Yep. Because really, until she loses, no narrative on the women’s draw really matches the possibility of Serena Williams 1) completing the 2015 Grand Slam and 2) matching Steffi Graf’s 22 career Grand Slam titles.

Madison Keys

If Williams does lose before the quarterfinals, however? The smart money would be on the young Madison Keys upsetting the great champion. Keys has been one of the five best Grand Slam players on the WTA Tour this year after all, right?

The 20-year-old hasn’t played particularly well since making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, but I’m confident that Keys can bounce back on the surface that best suits her style of play.

Not Eugenie Bouchard

At this point, I would really love to do nothing more than to avoid discussing the fall from grace of Eugenie Bouchard—because it really doesn’t seem about to change.

Bouchard seemed destined to take over the sport just a year ago, but is now ranked No. 25 after a high of No. 5. The good news is that she finally enters a Grand Slam tournament where she doesn’t have a kazillion points to defend from last season. The bad news is that she has won only four times in her previous 20 matches, only nine times in 2015 and only 18 times since losing in the 2014 Wimbledon final.

But who else? Even when Bouchard plays terrible tennis, she still dominates the chatter.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

US Open 2015: Men’s and women’s draw preview and anaylsis

August 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

It’s summer in New York, which means it’s time for the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open from Flushing Meadows. Welcome to a fortnight of daily coverage of all the action. Today sees me set out my respective predictions for the men’s and women’s tournaments, along with my previews of the best matches taking place on Monday.

Tournament Predictions

Men’s Singles

World number one Novak Djokovic enters the year’s final major as the firm favourite, having already claimed two of the year’s first three Grand Slams. However, in recent weeks the Serb has shown he is human, going down to Andy Murray in the Montreal final and to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati final. To my mind, the Serb is trying to avoid peaking too early, unlike last year when an exhausted Djokovic was outhustled by Kei Nishikori in a warm and windy semi-final at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic is scheduled to face great rival Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals and Nishikori in the semi-finals. I think Nadal isn’t confident enough right now to challenge the top seed, and I expect Djokovic will relish turning the tables on Nishikori if they do end up squaring off in the semi-finals once again.

In the bottom half of the draw, I expect Roger Federer’s renaissance will continue. After Wimbledon, New York represents his best chance to win another major and, with all facets of his game working extremely well right now, I think he will be too good for likely opponent Berdych in the quarter-finals. Andy Murray should progress past Stan Wawrinka and into another US Open semi-final, but if the Swiss star serves as well as he did in Cincinnati, then I think Federer will be too strong for the Scot.

Champion: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Roger Federer

Semi-finalists: Murray, Nishikori


Women’s Singles

Serena Williams’ biggest opponents right now are the history books. The American superstar has won the last three US Opens and the last four Grand Slams, and is now just seven wins away from completing the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf achieved the feat in 1988.

There are some dangerous players lurking in Williams’ quarter of the draw, including Sloane Stephens, Williams’ sister Venus, rising star Madison Keys and young Swiss star Belinda Bencic. But I can’t see any of them beating Serena in New York unless the top seed totally loses her way or is troubled by the elbow ailment that has affected her at various points during the year. I expect former champion Maria Sharapova to make her way through to the semi-finals but, as so often is the case for the Russian, her quest for the championship will most likely be thwarted by Williams.

In the bottom half of the draw, former finalists Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka are among the biggest contenders, along with 2011 champion Sam Stosur and Germans Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber. Azarenka is still working her way back to top form, but she loves the fast-bouncing courts at Flushing Meadows and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the twentieth seed make a spirited run through to the women’s final.

Champion: Serena Williams

Finalist: Victoria Azarenka

Semi-finalists: Sharapova, Wozniacki


Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Ana Ivanovic

This should be a particularly good contest, pitting the former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic against the plucky Slovak, Dominika Cibulkova. Ivanovic is the better-known and more high-profile of the players but, as far as opening round contests go, this is a tough test for the Serbian star, with Cibulkova being a former Australian Open finalist and top 10 player.

Cibulkova has had an injury-interrupted season and now languishes at number 58 in the world rankings, but if she can stay injury-free then I don’t think it will be long before she reclaims a spot in the world’s top 20. I’ll back the seventh seeded Ivanovic to ultimately prevail, but not without having to work extremely hard. Ivanovic in 3.

2. Borna Coric vs. Rafael Nadal

He might be just 18 years of age, but Borna Coric has already beaten the likes of Murray and Nadal and has rocketed up the rankings in the last twelve months. The US Open boys’ singles champion in 2013, Coric has a formidable backcourt game that has drawn comparisons with Novak Djokovic’s brand of baseline tennis.

Coric upset Nadal in Basel last year, triggering a premature conclusion to Nadal’s 2014 season. The Spaniard won’t be taking Coric lightly as a result and, whilst Nadal will be desperate to avenge the loss in Basel, he knows that Coric has the requisite self-belief to claim victory. Nadal is still a decent way from his best tennis, but I think he will rise to the occasion and overpower Coric in this one. Nadal in 4.

3. Kei Nishikori vs. Benoit Paire

Nishikori had a breakout Grand Slam performance last year, making last year’s US Open final after defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Having now seen Djokovic conquer almost all before him since that loss to Nishikori, it makes one realise just what a fine performance it was from the Japanese star.

Nishikori couldn’t finish it off in the final in New York last year, going down to a red-hot Marin Cilic, but I think Nishikori is again among the top few contenders at Flushing Meadows this year. He will need to be switched-on against the dangerous Paire, a volatile Frenchman who is usually too erratic and temperamental for his own good, but who possesses an abundance of talent and a natural flair for the game. Look for Paire to show flashes of brilliance but for Nishikori to ultimately be too solid. Nishikori in 4.

4. Maria Sharapova vs. Daria Gavrilova

Naturalised Aussie Daria Gavrilova is playing in her first US Open, but don’t expect the youngster to be overawed by the occasion. Gavrilova upset her idol Sharapova in Miami earlier this year and, whilst the five-time major winner subsequently turned the tables with a straight sets win on clay in Rome later in the year, Gavrilova’s hard-courts victory will give her confidence going into this clash.

The fact that Sharapova hasn’t played a competitive match since going down to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals, in part due to a niggling leg complaint, also gives Gavrilova hope, as Sharapova will likely be rusty given her lack of match practice. That said, I think the Russian will be too composed on the big points for her younger opponent. Sharapova in 3.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jarkko Nieminen

Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen is retiring at the end of the year, and I’m sure the former top 20 player will want to finish on a high note in his last Grand Slam. The Finn showed that the competitive fire still burns within by outlasting fellow veteran Lleyton Hewitt in a long 5-setter at Wimbledon earlier this year, and I think the leftie will make life difficult for French seed Tsonga in this match.

The flamboyant Frenchman is always unpredictable and so far this year has mixed in some decidedly poor performances with a breath-taking run to the semi-finals in Paris. I think he will have enough firepower to see off a gallant Nieminen, but as far as the rest of the tournament is concerned, Tsonga’s chances are anyone’s guess. Tsonga in 4.

Put your house on: Serena Williams. If the American superstar fails in her quest to complete the calendar Grand Slam, it won’t be at the opening hurdle and it won’t happen against little-known Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Upset alert: Eugenie Bouchard now has former superstar Jimmy Connors assisting her in an informal capacity, but I don’t think that guarantees any immediate improvement in her form. It’s been a disastrous year to date for the Canadian, so watch for American Alison Riske to push Bouchard all the way in this one.

Likely to go the distance: Pencil in a long 3-setter in the all-American clash between twenty-ninth seed Sloane Stephens, who always seems to bring out her best tennis in the majors, and Coco Vandeweghe, who made it through to the quarter-finals at the All England Club earlier this year.

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: 2015 Western & Southern Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

August 17, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-previews the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

And so it is, only one day after Belinda Bencic’s and Andy Murray’s respective wins in the women’s and men’s Rogers Cup, that the world of tennis heads over to the next big tournament on the calendar—in this instance, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Alright alright, this is basically what happens from the start of the clay court season and onward in tennis, but whatever. It’s the stretch run of the season. There. I can say that.

This week, let’s have another tournament preview and analysis. And by all means, if you missed what happened last week at the men’s Rogers Cup, then please do read my recaps in their entirety here.

Women’s draw

The Rogers Cup reminded everyone that Serena Williams is indeed human, as she suffered only her second non-walkover loss of the 2015 season when young Belinda Bencic beat her in the semifinals. This week, in her native USofA, she will be back to her former self: other than Ana Ivanovic, there is no one to bother her before the semifinals in this section.

Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but she could be the future of the sport; yet, that’s an entirely different discussion than a preview of the Cincinnati tournament, so let’s have that debate another day. What we can say, however, is that she might be the one playing the best tennis currently on the WTA Tour. She’ll prove it in the quarterfinals against Petra Kvitova.

Victoria Azarenka arrived in Toronto having played no matches since reaching the quarterfinals in Wimbledon and promptly reached the third round, which is good. With a relatively open draw, let’s say that she can do one better in Cincinnati We’ll also give the benefit of the doubt to Simona Halep and say that she’ll have recovered in time (i.e. she pulled out of the Rogers Cup final) for a good showing this week.

Maria Sharapova hasn’t played since losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon against Serena Williams earlier in July, but don’t expect this to stop her from making the Western & Southern Open final… where she will lose against Serena Williams. Yep.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Ana Ivanovic; Belinda Bencic over Petra Kvitova; Victoria Azarenka over Simona Halep; Maria Sharapova over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Belinda Bencic; Maria Sharapova over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova


Men’s draw

As hard as it may be for some to consider, Novak Djokovic is enjoying an even better season this year than his famed 2011 season. He has won six of the nine finals he has made this year and, well, we’re not sure which nugget is the most impressive here: that he has won so many or that he has made so many. He won’t always be the absolute best player on any given day, but he is quite comfortably ahead of the pack overall. Put him through to the final.

The second section of this main draw is—what, interesting? Interesting might not be the word, but how about wide-open? Let’s see we have a bunch of guys who did nothing in Montreal in Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils and a bunch of Americans. Give me John Isner and Bernard Tomic, who both did relatively well at the Rogers Cup.

Ah yes, the third section is the reminder that Marin Cilic as a seeded player is a thing. Maybe we’re being too hard on the Croatian, since he did make the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, and the Citi Open semifinals, but it does seem out-of-whack to the daily reality of the ATP World Tour to see Cilic as the seventh favourite of a Masters 1000 event. All of which is to say that we do not have him emerging from his section, choosing instead Andy Murray and the resident “bad boy” Nick Kyrgios.

We’ll just go ahead and pencil in Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Joining him will not be Rafael Nadal, because we would then be confronted with the possibility of a Federer win over Nadal, thereby signaling that the Spaniard has forever lost it, and we do not believe the universe is quite this cruel, not yet. Instead we’ll settle for Jeremy Chardy in Nadal’s place.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Borna Coric; John Isner over Bernard Tomic; Andy Murray over Nick Kyrgios; Roger Federer over Jeremy Chardy

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over John Isner; Andy Murray over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Roger Cup 2015: Men’s and Women’s seeds

August 3, 2015

World No. 1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will be top seeds; Canadian Milos Raonic at No. 9

Toronto, August 3, 2015 – Tennis Canada announced on Monday the seedings for the 2015 Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Toronto and Montreal. World No. 1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, both three-time Rogers Cup champions, will sit at the top of their respective draws, with Djokovic in Montreal and Williams in Toronto. The seedings follow the official ATP World Tour and WTA rankings released on Monday, August 3, with the Top 16-ranked players at each tournament being seeded. All Top 8 seeds will receive a first-round bye.

Canadian Milos Raonic will also be seeded at Rogers Cup for the fourth straight year. He will be the No. 9 seed in his return to Montreal, the scene of his first Masters 1000 final two years ago.

“The city of Montreal is very happy to have the best men in the world back this year,” said Eugene Lapierre, Rogers Cup Montreal tournament director. “We are especially looking forward to seeing our Canadian stars Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil again after they took over the headlines here in 2013. Combined with players like Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal, we have an incredible line-up of players and it will be a fun week.”

“We are very excited to have the Top 16 seeds of our tournament be the Top 16-ranked players in the world,” said Karl Hale, Rogers Cup Toronto tournament director. “We have an absolutely amazing player field this year and that is going to make for some stiff competition. Our fans can look forward to some thrilling matches, and we can’t wait for the players to take the court next week.”

The No. 2 seeds will be two-time champion Andy Murray in Montreal and 2009 finalist Maria Sharapova in Toronto. Murray and Sharapova will be placed on opposite sides of the draw from Djokovic and Williams, with the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds also to be placed randomly on different halves of the draw. The official draw for Rogers Cup Montreal will take place at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth on Friday August 7 at 5:00 p.m. while Rogers Cup Toronto will conduct its draw shortly thereafter at 5:30 p.m. at Hilton Toronto.

Other top seeds to look for in Montreal include three-time winner Rafael Nadal at No. 8, defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at No. 11, recent French Open victor Stan Wawrinka at No. 3, and Japanese star Kei Nishikori at No. 4. In Toronto, defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska will be No. 7 and last year’s finalist Venus Williams is No. 15. Recent past winners will be seeded at No. 4 (Petra Kvitova), No. 5 (Caroline Wozniacki), and No. 6 (Ana Ivanovic).

Rogers Cup presented by National Bank will take place August 8-16 at Aviva Centre at York University in Toronto and from August 7-16 at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal. Tickets are available for as low as $15 and can be purchased at or by calling 1-877-283-6647 ext. 4333 (Toronto) and 1-855-836-6470 (Montreal).


1 Serena Williams (USA) 1
2 Maria Sharapova (RUS) 2
3 Simona Halep (ROU) 3
4 Petra Kvitova (CZE) 4
5 Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 5
6 Ana Ivanovic (SRB) 6
7 Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 7
8 Lucie Safarova (CZE) 8
9 Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) 9
10 Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) 10
11 Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 11
12 Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 12
13 Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) 13
14 Angelique Kerber (GER) 14
15 Venus Williams (USA) 15
16 Sara Errani (ITA) 16


1 Novak Djokovic (SRB) 1
2 Andy Murray (GBR) 3
3 Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 4
4 Kei Nishikori (JPN) 5
5 Tomas Berdych (CZE) 6
6 David Ferrer (ESP) 7
7 Marin Cilic (CRO) 8
8 Rafael Nadal (ESP) 9
9 Milos Raonic (CAN) 10
10 Gilles Simon (FRA) 11
11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 12
12 Richard Gasquet (FRA) 13
13 Kevin Anderson (RSA) 14
14 David Goffin (BEL) 15
15 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 16
16 Gael Monfils (FRA) 17

Next Page »