November 25, 2013
For the second year in a row, a year-end edition of this column will serve as a de facto awards ceremony. Just like for the 2012 season, these categories are absolutely arbitrary and reflect nothing but my own subjective experience of the 2013 tennis season as a fan and columnist.
The Alpha Male of the Year Elbow
…To Rafael Nadal. Just about any- and everything that could be said of Nadal’s prowess this year has already been said, but still let’s pile on. After seven months away from the ATP World Tour, he finally came back this year and warned us not to call this a comeback. No one knew, really, what to expect, and maybe that’s why we got exactly what no one could have foreseen—the best season of his career. The Spaniard concluded 2013 with 75 wins in 82 matches, over $ 14 million in prize money and no fewer than 10 titles. The 27-year-old added a Coupe des Mousquetaire and a U.S. Open trophy to his mantle, the 12th and 13th Grand Slam titles of his career. And suddenly, Federer’s haul doesn’t seem so out of reach.
The Who’s That Girl Elbow
…To Serena Williams. The younger of the two Williams sisters had herself quite the 2013 season and was equally as impressive on the WTA Tour as Nadal was on the men’s circuit—78 wins in 82 matches, 11 titles and over $ 12 million in prize money. What’s perhaps most remarkable is that this season came just on the heels of an equally great 2012 season. After two such great seasons at her age, Serena Williams is more than just the best player of her generation—she’s now in the same class as Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the best player ever.
The Kleenex Moment Elbow
…To Andy Murray after the 2013 Wimbledon final. Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, since Fred Perry did so if we’re to believe the record books—though I hear the jury remains out on these. The 26-year-old gave an entire country what poor lad Tim Henman could never give them, and nobody was unhappy to see him celebrate with the members of his team and, really, just about everyone else. Nobody, and that includes the mighty Novak Djokovic fan that I am, despite the fact that it’s Djokovic who Murray defeated in three little sets in the final.
The Phenom Elbow
…To Eugenie Bouchard. In a season where the young 19-year-old gained more than 100 spots on the WTA Tour rankings to end the season at No. 32, Bouchard was deservedly named the WTA’s newcomer of the year. She reached at least the quarterfinals of five events, and defeated top 10 mainstays Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur on her way to 39 wins in 63 matches. Her breakout season was not unlike Milos Raonic’s own, in 2011—and, oh by the way, Raonic himself was named the ATP newcomer of the year when he finished that year ranked No. 31. There are a lot of similarities between Bouchard and Raonic, including this one—let’s give the young Eugenie all the time that she needs to become a star. She’s not that, not yet.
The We Like Our Apples With Maple Syrup, Thanks For Asking Elbow
…To Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. The two Canadians dazzled the Montreal public this summer, as they served and aced their way—apologizing for every win, because they’re Canadians—to an all-Canadian Rogers Cup semifinal. If Raonic couldn’t eat his cake in the final against Nadal, losing 6-2 and 6-2, by then Montrealers didn’t mind because the 2013 Rogers Cup had been perfect, already. Not only that, but the two musketeers joined forces with the ageless wonder Daniel Nestor to bring their country to within one rubber of a spot in the 2013 Davis Cup final. So while many are gonzo over the potential of Eugenie Bouchard, they would be wise not to overlook the actual results of these two great players.
The Candy Cane Elbow
…To Maria Sharapova. The resident diva of the WTA Tour had a seemingly difficult 2013 season, though she still only lost 7 of 44 matches played. Sharapova is still a great champion, and this year she showed that she had business acumen too—though that was probably never really in doubt—when she released her first line of candy, the incredibly tacky-named Sugarpova. I’ve yet to try it, and I’ve made righting this wrong my No. 1 resolution for 2014.
The Andy Murray Elbow
…To Andy Murray himself. Incredibly, Murray gets a second Elbow for the 2013 season, this time taking home the one named after him. Meant in no way to diminish what a player accomplished in the previous 12 months, this award recognizes the person for whom it seems like 2013 was nothing but a year-long walk on the treadmill. Of course, Murray thrilled everyone with a major win at Wimbledon…and then, he pretty much packed it in the rest of the way. With the win, Murray was supposed to have turned a corner—and maybe he has, but he’s still looking up to Nadal and Djokovic. How very Andy Murray of him.
The Hello, Old Sport Elbow
…To Stanislas Wawrinka. At age 28, he enjoyed his finest year to date on the ATP World Tour and reached a career-high ranking of No. 8 in October—where he’s been entrenched since. Stan the Man even momentarily lived down his nickname of “the other Swiss,” as Roger Federer enjoyed one of his most frustrating seasons in recent memory (i.e. more on that later). But for all his excellence this season, he didn’t quite break through—twice he had Djokovic on the ropes and twice he lost in agonizing fashion. And Wawrinka remains “that other Swiss,” even on the Tour rankings.
The Foot In My Mouth Elbow
…To Serena Williams. Williams shined on the court in 2013, but not necessarily off of it. In a lengthy Rolling Stone feature—which wasn’t without its problems itself, as the lede compared the tennis player to the leader of North Korea—the great champion had a bit of a faux pas. When she decided to voice her opinion on the Steubenville rape case, what she said came across almost as victim blaming. It wasn’t that, and those who read the entire quote will understand—but a “I’m not blaming the girl, but…” doesn’t look good.
The Tonight We Die In Hell Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, for their epic battle in Wimbledon—a match that wins my choice as match of the year. Sure, that match probably cost Djokovic a much better shot at the title against Murray, but boy it was a thrill. Watching the Djoker and DelPo exchange haymaker after haymaker after haymaker after haymaker over five sets and four hours and 40 minutes—the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history—was unlike anything ever. Well, actually, that’s not true. It reminded me of watching that incredible Australian Open in 2012—and thankfully, it all unfolded a tad later during the day.
The My name is my name Elbow
…To myself. While covering the 2012 Rogers Cup in my native Montreal was an exercise in overcoming giddiness and maintaining professionalism, covering the tournament in Toronto this year also had its challenges—but mostly its perks. In the past two years, I’ve been lucky to have the freedom to file only once a day and write on the matches, and players, that I personally want to write about. Another perk was attending a great second round match between Sorana Cirstea and Caroline Wozniacki and afterward finding a Tennis TV link to it on YouTube. That’s how I saw myself on TV.
The 60-degree day Elbow
…To Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman was among the unlikeliest winners of the sport’s biggest prize at Wimbledon, riding a streak of good fortune where she didn’t face a single player ranked higher than her all the way to the top. Always a bit of a character, Bartoli won the prize of a career on the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club—and six weeks after her Wimbledon title, she decided to retire. Somehow, it all was the perfect ending.
The 1a Elbow
…To Novak Djokovic. In any other year, the Serb would have been the undisputed King on Tour—and despite Nadal’s signature season, Djokovic really was this close of finishing on top for a third straight year. With 74 wins in 83 matches, over $12 million in prize money and 7 titles, including his third Australian Open in a row, Djokovic did just about everything possible this season. Except that he lost a fifth-set lead against Nadal in the semifinal of Roland Garros. The 26-year-old will have another shot at completing the career Slam this season, and something tells me he may do just that. Until then, he and Jelena Ristic got engaged. #DjokovicWins.
The One Last Kiss Elbow
…To King Roger. By most accounts, 2013 wasn’t kind to Roger Federer, as he finished with as many as 17 losses (against 45 wins). That total was his highest in 10 years but unlike during his breakout 2003 season, this year the King only had one crown—that of the Gerry Weber Open, a Masters 250 event. Beyond the losses, it’s the quality of them that shocked: seeing the great champion lose to Gael Monfils, Tommy Robredo or, gulp, Federico Delbonis is not a pretty sight. He’s currently ranked No. 6 and he’s just about hopeless against Nadal these days. More and more, the 2014 season feels like a swan song for King Roger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
November 21, 2013
In my latest article for Tennis Canada I discuss why 2013 ended with three world number ranked players. Agree or disagree? You can checkout the article right here: Link.
November 18, 2013
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the special 2013 seasons of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
The 2013 season was good to us tennis fans.
It was good to us, because two players who will live on as no worse than, likely, the fifth best players of their respective sport; two players, yes, had their signature season.
At 32 years of age, Serena Williams had arguably the best season of her illustrious career—even though the same could probably be said of a few other seasons as well. The younger of the two Williams sisters won 78 of 82 matches played, captured 11 titles (including Roland Garros and the U.S. Open) as well as over $12 million in prize money.
Serena was the dominant force that she’s seemingly always been and was the odds-on favourite for just about every event she entered, with very few minor hiccups (i.e. losses against Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and Sloane Stephens in Australia). In the middle of the season, after she had won the French Open, I surprised myself telling a friend that I thought she could run the table and capture the in-season Slam—even though, you know, she had lost in Melbourne already. It was that kind of season for Serena Williams.
(Some may argue that it should ways be that kind of season for her, if she could only have focused strictly on the sport for her entire career. I disagree and think that’s looking at it backwards—it’s because she hasn’t made tennis her entire reason for being that she can still excel at this age.)
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal’s excellence this year, if we’re being completely honest, was completely unexpected. Oh, we knew that he would compete with and rival the best, because this is all he always does. But after seven months away from the sport, how could we foresee this? How could we anticipate this kind of season, one where he won 75 of 83 matches, 10 titles (including Roland Garros and the U.S. Open) and over $12 million in prize money?
We couldn’t, and if you say that you did then you’re lying.
We couldn’t anticipate this, not even when he kept winning those clay-court (read: minor) tournaments at the beginning of the season. It’s only when he captured the BNP Paribas Open title, I would say, that I realized that the 27-year-old was back. He was fine, healthy, and showed everyone that revenge is a dish best served dusty and under the Parisian sun when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the de factor Roland Garros final. That match, possibly the best of the season on the men’s side, was a return of the pendulum for Nadal after his gut-wrenching loss in 2012 in Melbourne at the hands of this same man.
(Speaking of Novak here, it’s a testament to the kind of season he’s enjoyed too that despite Nadal’s brilliance, Djokovic finished only 770 points behind him. While Nadal was the No. 1 player on the ATP World Tour this season, the Serb was really just a 1a. Their season series ended at 3-3, and let’s give the split decision to the Spaniard for his ending the year as the No. 1-ranked player. That all said, the race between him and Djokovic was closer than most realize.)
When their playing days are over and we write the career obituaries of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, two great champions, their excellence in 2013 will come no later than the second or third sentence. That’s how good they were this year. And that’s how lucky we were to see it all.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
September 9, 2013
Serena Williams is the 2013 US Open ladies’ singles champion, the American superstar capturing her fifth US Open crown and the seventeenth major of her illustrious career with a hard-fought 3 set win over second seed Victoria Azarenka.
Today, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic meet for the third time in the final of the US Open. Each man has claimed one title in New York – who will capture his second title today and lay claim to being the world’s best player at present? Read on for my predictions for the men’s final.
Day 14 Recap
Little separated the top two seeds in the first set of the women’s final, games going on serve after an early exchange of breaks as the players eased into the match and looked to get into their respective rhythms.
There was danger for Williams in the tenth game of the set, as Azarenka earned a pair of break points, but the world number one got herself out of trouble and then broke Azarenka in the eleventh game to take a 6-5 lead. Williams duly converted the break to take the first set, 7-5, after 58 minutes.
Williams continued her run in the second set, racing out to a 4-1 lead courtesy of some big serves by the American and some sloppy play from her opponent. But Azarenka wasn’t done with yet, breaking the 16-time Grand Slam champion twice to get back to 5-all as the crowd sensed that Williams was tensing up.
Having been unable to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second set, another break to Williams in the eleventh game gave the top seed a second chance to serve for the match. Again, Azarenka held firm, scoring the break back after Williams double-faulted on break point to send the second set to a tiebreaker. Azarenka capped off her tremendous second set comeback, edging past Williams in the tiebreaker, 8 points to 6, to send the match to a deciding third set.
Azarenka’s incredible comeback in the second set seemed to exhaust all of the Belarusian’s energy, with Williams composing herself and continuing to stay on the aggressive. Azarenka’s inability to convert 3 game points in the fourth game proved costly, Williams eventually breaking to open up a 3-1 lead. From there, Williams was never threatened, breaking again as she eventually claimed the championship with a 7-5 6-7(6) 6-1 win in 2 hours and 45 minutes – the longest US Open women’s final since 1980.
For Williams, it was a deserved victory after being the dominant player on the WTA Tour for the vast majority of the year. At 31, Williams still looks incredibly fit and strong, and looks certain to be at or near the top of the women’s game for several years to come.
For Azarenka, it was another gutsy performance. The Belarusian was unable to match Williams in the winners stakes, hitting just 17 to Williams’ 36, but most importantly needs to improve her serve if she is to gain the edge over Williams in future matches. At just 24, however, Azarenka can look forward to plenty of future opportunities to capture Grand Slams.
Match of the Day – Day 15
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
The final that everyone wanted to see, this match-up was close to a non-event when Djokovic trailed Wawrinka by 2 sets to 1 in their semi-final clash. It was a patchy performance by the world number one, but I think that had more to do with the particular match-up with Wawrinka, which seems to trouble Djokovic, than it does with the top seed’s form.
Djokovic’s semi-final was a gruelling affair, but the Serb’s legendary powers of recovery, combined with the fact that the players had a day off yesterday, mean that fitness shouldn’t really be a factor in this clash. Both players are incredibly fit and, as evidenced in their epic French Open semi-final earlier this year, are prepared to go the distance to claim the win.
Nadal leads Djokovic 21-15 in their career meetings, with the Spaniard having won 5 of their last 6 encounters. Nadal has been in sensational form this year, compiling a stellar 59-3 record and capturing 9 titles for the season to date. Djokovic can, however, take confidence from the fact that he leads Nadal 11-6 in terms of matches played on hard-courts and that he has beaten Nadal in their last two major finals on hard-courts, the 2011 US Open and the 2012 Australian Open.
Having endured a miserable run against Djokovic in 2011, Nadal looks to have made some minor tweaks to his game to give himself an edge against the world number one. In recent matches against the Serb, Nadal has varied his serve more than previously, has hit down the line more than usual, and has generally looked to be more aggressive. Now it’s time for Djokovic to readjust his game in response to Nadal’s changes.
I backed Djokovic for the title at the start of the tournament, but I’ve been mightily impressed by Nadal’s form in the last fortnight. The Spaniard is serving extremely well – something that was critical to his win in New York in 2010 – and has simply overwhelmed each of his opponents to date. Djokovic will have his chances to win this match, as he always does, but Nadal, in his current form, has to start the match as a slight favourite. Nadal in 5.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to review the men’s final. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
September 8, 2013
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka meet in today’s women’s singles final, with the American superstar going for her fifth US Open crown and the second-seeded Belarusian looking to capture her first ever title in New York.
Monday will see Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic square off for the men’s singles crown after Nadal eased past Richard Gasquet in straight sets and Djokovic scraped past a gallant Stanislas Wawrinka in a 5 set marathon.
Day 13 Recap
Djokovic looked out of sorts early on against Wawrinka, the top seed slow on his feet and uncharacteristically making a bundle of unforced errors. The ninth seeded Wawrinka showed no signs of nerves in his first major semi-final, breaking the Serb three times in the first set as he collected it, 6-2.
The world number one tightened up his game in the second set, cutting down on his unforced errors and serving better, but Wawrinka was still swinging freely and broke the 2011 US Open champion to open up a 4-2 lead. Djokovic forced the break back and pushed the set to a tiebreaker, where a couple of loose shots proved Wawrinka’s undoing, the Serb taking it 7 points to 4 and levelling the match at a set apiece.
Games went with serve in the third set until the eighth game, where Wawrinka capitalised on 3 unforced errors from the top seed and then managed to convert the break to claim the set 6-3 and regain the ascendency. Djokovic, however, was not done with yet, breaking at the start of the fourth set and maintaining his advantage to take it, 6-3, and send the match into a decider.
After 4 sets, the world’s best returner had finally got his eye in, and Wawrinka was under constant pressure to hold serve in the fifth set. After getting out of trouble in his first couple of service games, Wawrinka finally buckled in the fifth game of the fifth set, a backhand long given Djokovic the break. From there, the top seed stayed in front of his tiring opponent, keeping his advantage to claim the win, 2-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 6-4, in 4 hours and 9 minutes.
For Wawrinka, it was a gallant but ultimately disappointing performance, with the Swiss star unable to make the most of a golden opportunity to make his first Grand Slam final. Nonetheless, Wawrinka has to be considered a true contender for next year’s majors. For Djokovic, it will be a major relief to be through to the final after a decidedly patchy performance. The top seed will need to recover well and be significantly sharper on Monday if he is to match it with Rafael Nadal.
Whilst Nadal came through his semi-final against Frenchman Richard Gasquet in straight sets, it was a tougher match than the score-line indicated. A shaky Gasquet was broken at the start of the match, but otherwise stood toe-to-toe with Nadal, the Spaniard merely retaining his initial advantage to claim the first set, 6-4.
The second set saw Gasquet again get broken early, but the eighth seed broke back – the first break of the Nadal serve all tournament – and had opportunities in the ninth game to break Nadal once more. But Gasquet was unable to convert his chances and was forced to regret squandering his opportunities as Nadal dominated the second set tiebreaker for the loss of just one point.
The third set saw Gasquet again presented with chances to break the Nadal serve, but no one is better at holding firm on break points against his serve than the second seed, the man from Mallorca again denying Gasquet the break. That proved to be Gasquet’s last hurrah, as Nadal broke twice en route to victory in 2 hours and 21 minutes, 6-4 7-6(1) 6-2.
For Gasquet, it was a terrific tournament and he can walk away very proud of his performance. Ultimately, it was his poor conversion rate on break points (the Frenchman won just one of 6 break point opportunities) that proved the difference, as Nadal converted all 4 of his break point opportunities. For Nadal, it was another solid performance and the Spaniard must head into Monday’s final as a slight favourite.
Match of the Day – Day 14
Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka
Both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka can look forward to today’s final with plenty of confidence. The American has been in scintillating form all tournament, with no opponent to date being able to match it with Williams for more than a set. Williams has been the best player in the world this season, although the top seed only has one Grand Slam to show for it. She’ll be desperate to double the year’s haul of Grand Slam trophies with a win in this clash, but she faces a very tough opponent in Azarenka.
Azarenka may have won just 3 of 15 career matches against Williams, but all 3 of those wins have come on hard-courts and 2 of those wins were recorded earlier this year, including a 3 set win in Cincinnati in the lead-up to the US Open. Azarenka is at her best on hard-courts and the Belarusian has the power to match Williams from the back of the court.
Azarenka’s biggest problem in this tournament to date has been her inability to consistently hold serve – a problem masked by her tremendous abilities on the return of serve. With Williams serving strongly all tournament, Azarenka will need to turn in a particularly good serving performance if she is to capture her third Grand Slam title.
Not much separates this pair, but Serena’s form in the tournament to date, combined with the support of the home crowd and Azarenka’s vulnerability on serve, make me think that Serena will be hoisting Grand Slam trophy number 17 this evening. Williams 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.
September 6, 2013
Defending champion Andy Murray was stunned by Stanislas Wawrinka on Day 11, the third seeded Murray going down in straight sets to the Swiss underdog. Wawrinka will face top seed Novak Djokovic for a place in the final after the Serb saw off Mikhail Youzhny in 4 sets.
Today is ladies’ semi-finals day at Flushing Meadows, with Victoria Azarenka taking on Flavia Pennetta and Serena Williams going head to head with China’s Li Na. Read on for my predictions as to who will make it through to the final.
Day 11 Recap
It was a decidedly lacklustre performance from Murray in his quarter-final against Wawrinka, the Scot struggling to move as well as he normally does around the court and producing an unusually high number of unforced errors.
Games went with serve in the opening set until the tenth game on Murray’s serve, where Wawrinka eventually broke on his sixth set point to claim the opening set. That seemed to give the ninth seed plenty of confidence, with Wawrinka frequently attacking the net and thumping winners off both wings.
After Wawrinka won the second set, a deflated Murray was unable to summon the strength to make a comeback, succumbing easily in the third set to hand the Swiss star a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
For Murray, who hit just 15 winners compared to 30 unforced errors and 45 winners for his opponent, it was a disappointing way for his title defence to end. The Scot was unable to create any break point opportunities, as Wawrinka served strongly and dictated the majority of the baseline rallies. For Wawrinka, it was a superbly controlled and focused performance and an historic win, with the ninth seed through to his first ever Grand Slam semi-final.
Wawrinka will face Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, in what will be a rematch of their 5 set epic at Melbourne Park earlier this year. Despite a third set slip-up, the world number one was generally in control against Youzhny, a two-time semi-finalist in New York, in Thursday’s night session.
Djokovic, who is seeking a second career title at Flushing Meadows, eventually progressed to his fourteenth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final with a 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-0 win in 2 hours and 34 minutes.
Matches of the Day – Day 11
1. Victoria Azarenka vs. Flavia Pennetta
The only semi-finalist under the age of 30, two-time Australian Open champion and second seed Victoria Azarenka is looking to go one step further than last year at Flushing Meadows, where she lost to Serena Williams in an extremely close final.
The Belarusian loves playing on hard-courts and is in good form, having beaten Williams in the final at Cincinnati in the lead-up to the US Open. Pennetta’s run to her first ever major semi-final has been one of the stories of the tournament to date, the veteran Italian upsetting a host of seeds en route to the final four, including compatriots Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
These players have played each other twice before, with each player claiming one win. I don’t think those victories will count for too much, with the last of them coming 2 and a half years ago. Pennetta has nothing to lose in this encounter – ranked 83 in the world at the start of this tournament, the Italian has already exceeded all expectations and will simply be looking to continue her fairytale run.
Pennetta’s all-court game will test Azarenka, but the second seed has gained plenty of confidence and experience with her performances in the last couple of years and I think she will be too good in the decisive moments. Azarenka in 2.
2. Li Na vs. Serena Williams
I’m really looking forward to this clash between the two 31 years olds, which I think will be a lot closer than many people predict. After an intense mid-season training block with coach Carlos Rodriguez in Beijing, Li Na looks fitter and more focused than she did earlier in the season, and I think the Chinese star senses that she has just a couple more years to vie for Grand Slam trophies.
The former French Open champion has a poor record against Serena Williams, winning just one of their 9 career meetings, although most of those matches have been close affairs. Williams has swept all before her in the tournament to date, dropping just 13 games across 5 matches. The lack of competitive matches may count against the top seed, although Williams has plenty of experience to draw on in this regard.
I think Li Na will come out swinging in this match and put plenty of pressure on the defending champion. If Williams serves well, as she has done throughout the tournament, then it will be very hard for the Chinese star to stay with Williams. If Li Na can neutralise the Williams serve, then the fifth seed’s heavy groundstrokes should allow her to hold her own in baseline battles with the American. Expect Li Na to claim a set and compete hard as she pushes for the win, but I sense Williams will be too strong down the stretch. Williams 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.
September 3, 2013
For the first time since 2002, Roger Federer will not feature in any Grand Slam finals in a calendar year after the Swiss maestro was bundled out of the US Open by Spain’s Tommy Robredo.
Day 8 Recap
Robredo, who had never beaten Federer in 10 previous clashes, edged out the seventh seed in a first set tiebreaker, which seemed to boost the Spaniard’s confidence. A total of 43 unforced errors contributed to Federer’s downfall, as did his inability to convert break points opportunities (Federer converted only 2 of 16 chances). In the end, it was a 7-6(3) 6-3 6-4 victory for the Spaniard, who next faces Rafael Nadal after the second seed saw off a stern challenge from Philipp Kohlschreiber to prevail in 4 sets.
Yet another Spaniard is through to the quarter-finals, with fourth seed David Ferrer blasting 46 winners to scrape past the dangerous Janko Tipsarevic in a tight 4-setter. Ferrer will play Richard Gasquet for a spot in the semi-finals after the Frenchman outlasted Canada’s Milos Raonic in a thrilling 5-setter under lights.
In women’s fourth round action on Day 8, Flavia Pennetta continued her tremendous run, knocking out the red-hot Simona Halep. After Pennetta claimed the first set and went up a break in the second set, Halep finally got going, breaking back and then earning a set point in the second set. A rain delay halted Halep’s momentum however, and Pennetta eventually claimed the second set in a tiebreaker to prevail.
Pennetta will play compatriot Roberta Vinci for a place in the semi-finals after Vinci outclassed yet another Italian, qualifier Camila Giorgi, in straight sets. Also moving through to the quarter-finals on Day 9 was Daniela Hantuchova, who returned to the final 8 in New York for the first time in 11 years courtesy of a 3 set win over American Alison Riske.
Matches of the Day – Day 9
1. Li Na vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Ekaterina Makarova has attained something of a giant-killer status at Grand Slam level, having knocked Serena Williams out of the 2012 Australian Open and having defeated Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki and third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in this year’s US Open. The Russian is very consistent from the back of the court and is a good mover as well.
Li Na is an outside chance for this year’s US Open title in my opinion and, although the Chinese star can sometimes lose matches off her own racquet by committing a rash of unforced errors, Li Na has looked focused and composed on court in this tournament to date. Look for the fifth seed to overwhelm the Russian with her powerful groundstrokes en route to victory. Li Na in 2.
2. Novak Djokovic vs. Marcel Granollers
Former top 20 player Marcel Granollers is, like so many of the Spanish players, a very solid baseline player who is most comfortable on clay (although Granollers is also a good doubles player, and so is more at ease at the net than some of his countrymen). Granollers has survived a trio of 5 set matches to reach the round of 16, so it remains to be seen how much energy the Spaniard has got left for this match.
The world number one has strolled through his opening 3 matches of the tournament with few problems, and I can’t see Granollers, with his steady but unspectactular game, causing too many issues for Djokovic in this encounter. Djokovic in 3.
3. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Tomas Berdych
To my mind, this is the match of the day, pitting two of the most in-form players on the ATP Tour against one another. Fifth seed Tomas Berdych is yet to drop a set in New York this year, and will be looking to go one round deeper than he did last year, when he lost to eventual champion Andy Murray in the semi-finals.
Wawrinka has enjoyed a terrific season, capturing multiple titles and moving back inside the world’s top 10. The Swiss star leads Berdych 6-5 in head-to-head meetings and also won their most recent match, on clay in Madrid earlier this year. This one is practically a toss of the coin, in my opinion, and really depends on who executes their game plan best on the day. I’ll back Berdych by a whisker. Berdych in 5.
4. Mikhail Youzhny vs. Lleyton Hewitt
This battle of the veterans should be an intriguing clash. Former US Open champion and world number one Lleyton Hewitt showed he still had plenty to offer the sport with a thrilling win over Juan Martin Del Potro in round 2, and the Aussie will now be looking to go as deep as possible in this tournament.
Hewitt has performed well against Youzhny in the past, having won 6 of their 7 career meetings. The Russian, who beat Tommy Haas in the previous round, likes playing at Flushing Meadows, where he has twice made the semi-finals, but I favour Hewitt to advance in this one. Hewitt in 4.
5. Serena Williams vs. Carla Suarez Navarro
Having got through her high-profile grudge match with Sloane Stephens without too much trouble, world number one Serena Williams will now be focusing on moving through to Saturday’s final. Her opponent in today’s quarter-final, Carla Suarez Navarro, is a talented Spaniard with a swashbuckling backhand who has beaten Serena’s sister Venus in the past.
Serena has a good record against Suarez Navarro, having won both of their previous meetings, including an easy win in Rome earlier this year. Suarez Navarro will come out swinging, as she has nothing to lose, but Williams should have too much power, especially on serve, for the plucky Spaniard. Williams in 2.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
September 1, 2013
Two big names in the women’s tournament crashed out on Day 6, with former world number one Caroline Wozniacki ousted by Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi and former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova upset by American Alison Riske.
Day 6 Recap
When second seed Victoria Azarenka lost a first set tiebreaker to France’s Alize Cornet, it appeared as though the Belarusian may be joining Wozniacki and Kvitova in departing the tournament, but the two-time Australian Open champion lifted her game and progressed to the round of 16 with a 3 set win.
Joining Azarenka in the fourth round on Day 6 was Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, Italy’s Roberta Vinci and Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova. The in-form Simona Halep kept her winning streak intact with a demolition of fourteenth seed Maria Kirilenko, the Russian collecting just one game for the match. Halep will next face Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta, who downed fellow veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.
In the men’s tournament, second seed Rafael Nadal recorded a workmanlike straight sets victory over Ivan Dodig, the Spaniard avenging his 2011 loss to the Croatian. Nadal was joined in the round of 16 by compatriots Tommy Robredo and David Ferrer, each of whom recorded 4 set wins on Day 6.
Richard Gasquet progressed to the second week of the tournament when his opponent Dmitry Tursunov was forced to retire when trailing in the fourth set of their third round match, as Janko Tipsarevic reached the fourth round in New York for the third successive year after seeing off Jack Sock. Canadian tenth seed Milos Raonic is also through, coming back from a set down to defeat Feliciano Lopez in 4 sets.
Matches of the Day – Day 7
1. Andy Murray vs. Florian Mayer
Having defeated Leonardo Mayer in round 3, Andy Murray now faces Florian Mayer (no relation) in round 4 in New York. Murray has a perfect record against the German, having most recently topped Mayer in a tight 2 set match in Madrid earlier this year.
Mayer is a tricky opponent, who can vary his game a lot. The German will benefit from the swirly conditions that are almost always present in Arthur Ashe Stadium, but Mayer is probably better suited to playing heavy-hitting, one-dimensional players whom he can frustrate with his various spins and slices. Murray is a tough opponent for Mayer as the Scot’s game is, in effect, a better quality replica of Mayer’s. Murray in 3
2. Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens
This is the grudge match that tennis fans wanted to see when the women’s singles draw was announced last week. Having upset Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals, where Williams was visibly affected by back problems, and having then made some disparaging comments about the world number one in a magazine interview, Stephens must be braced for a fired-up Williams.
After surviving a scare in round 1, Stephens has improved her play with each successive match in this tournament, but Williams at her best is the best player on the WTA Tour by a noticeable difference. I suspect Williams will be friendly on the outside but fired-up on the inside as she looks to put Stephens in her place. Williams in 2.
3. Jelena Jankovic vs. Li Na
Former world number one and ninth seed Jelena Jankovic is still a good enough counter-puncher and mover around the court to progress to the second week of Grand Slam tournaments. But the Serbian doesn’t have the firepower to really threaten the world’s best players.
Li Na, on the other hand, has plenty of firepower off both wings, and that is what has enabled her to make 3 Grand Slam finals. The Chinese star looks fit and motivated after a mid-season training camp in Beijing and I think she can go deep in this tournament. Li Na in 2.
4. Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny
The evergreen Tommy Haas, still going strong at 35 years of age, is enjoying a fantastic season in 2013, highlighted by a win over world number one Novak Djokovic in Miami. Haas is at his best on hard-courts and he will fancy his chances against any of the big names on the surface.
Haas will not be taking his opponent today, Russian Mikhail Youzhny, lightly in their encounter, as the twenty-first seed also loves playing on the bouncy hard-courts of New York. Youzhny is a two-time semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows, but I think Haas will be too strong in this one. Haas in 4.
5. Julien Benneteau vs. Tomas Berdych
With Roger Federer seemingly on the wane, the door is opening for players such as Tomas Berdych to get a better look-in at the business end of the Grand Slams. The fifth-seeded Czech downed Federer in New York last year en route to the semi-finals, and the big-hitting Berdych has to be considered a legitimate contender for this year’s title.
Berdych took a while to get going in his previous match, against the talented Denis Kudla, but no doubt the Czech is looking to peak towards the end of the tournament. Julien Benneteau is a very capable all-court player, but he has never beaten Berdych and I can’t see that statistic changing today. Berdych in 4.
Put your house on: Caroline Wozniacki let me down yesterday, but expect Novak Djokovic to have no problems against Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the round of 32.
Upset alert: Eighth seed Angelique Kerber has been in erratic form so far this tournament, so look for Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro to cause the German plenty of problems in their clash today.
Likely to go the distance: Twentieth seed Andreas Seppi faces a tough match today against Uzbekh Denis Istomin. I expect this one to go the distance, with Seppi ultimately prevailing.
August 31, 2013
2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro is out of this year’s tournament, the Argentine ousted by 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt in a pulsating 4 hour duel on Friday night.
Day 5 Recap
Down 2 sets to one against the sixth-seeded Del Potro, the veteran Hewitt gritted his teeth and showcased his trademark tenacity and counter-punching abilities, edging past the Argentine in a fourth set tiebreaker and then breaking twice in the deciding set to take the fifth set for the loss of just one game.
Joining Hewitt in the third round on Day 5 was top seed Novak Djokovic, who overcame some strong initial resistance from German Benjamin Becker to record a straight sets win, defending champion Andy Murray, who beat Leonardo Mayer in 4 sets, and the evergreen Tommy Haas, who progressed with a straight sets win over Yen-Hsun Lu.
Exiting the tournament alongside Del Potro was seventeenth seed Kevin Anderson, who lost to former top 10 player Marcos Baghdatis. There was better news for seeds Mikhail Youzhny, Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, all of whom progressed courtesy of straight sets wins.
In the women’s tournament, the scheduled fourth round grudge match between Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams is now a reality, after Stephens overcame fellow American Jamie Hampton and Williams dismissed Yaroslava Shvedova. Also into the fourth round is fifth seed Li Na, who avenged her defeat to Laura Robson in New York last year with a straight sets win.
Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki was bundled out of the tournament by Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, but there were no problems for third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who edged past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a tight 2-setter, or former world number one Jelena Jankovic, who beat the Japanese qualifier Nara.
Jie Zheng was unable to replicate her form from round 2, where she beat Venus Williams, the Chinese player going down to the Spaniard Suarez Navarro. Meanwhile, Angelique Kerber gained revenge for her Wimbledon loss to Kaia Kanepi, dismissing the Estonian in straight sets.
Matches of the Day – Day 6
1. Ivan Dodig vs. Rafael Nadal
Having crushed his first two opponents at this year’s US Open, second seed Rafael Nadal faces a sterner test in round 3 in the shape of Croat Ivan Dodig. Dodig is a talented player, having beaten quality opponents in the first two rounds in Fernando Verdasco and Nikolay Davydenko.
Nadal knows all too well how good a player Dodig is, having lost to the Croat in Montreal in 2011. On a 17 match winning streak on hard-courts this season, it’s hard to see Nadal being upset again by his lower-ranked opponent but there is no doubt that the Spaniard will be taking this match very seriously. Nadal in 4.
2. Roger Federer vs. Adrian Mannarino
As with his great rival Nadal, Roger Federer has come through his opening couple of matches without too much trouble but now faces a more competitive opponent. Having made the round of 16 at Wimbledon last month, the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino is looking to make another run to the second week of a Grand Slam here in New York.
Mannarino took down big-serving American Sam Querrey in the second round, but playing in the night session under lights in front of a big crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and against a legend of the sport is sure to test Mannarino’s nerves. Federer has far more experience in such environments and should handle the occasion much better. Federer in 3.
3. Maria Kirilenko vs. Simona Halep
This should be a fantastic match between Russian seed Maria Kirilenko, who made her first Grand Slam quarter-final in Paris earlier this year, and the red-hot Romanian Simona Halep who, incredibly, has won 4 tournaments since June this year to barge her way into the world’s top 20.
Halep, whose last tournament victory, at New Haven, was her first hard-courts title, is one of the form players on the WTA Tour at present. The Romanian isn’t overawed by the big names, having beaten Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova en route to the New Haven title. Kirilenko plays her best on hard-courts, but it’s hard to go against Halep in her current form. Halep in 3.
4. John Isner vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
The great American hope, big-serving John Isner, looks to continue his charge to the second week of the tournament when he faces German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. In previous seasons, Isner has often arrived at Flushing Meadows physically and mentally exhausted, which has meant that the American hasn’t been able to produce his best tennis at the last major of the year. This year, Isner seems to have paced himself better over the course of the season, which American tennis fans will hope translates to a strong performance by Isner in New York.
Kohlscreiber is a crafty player, blessed with a striking one-handed backhand and a canny court sense. The German loves to compete and will seek to neutralise Isner’s big serve and control the rallies from the back of the court. Isner was impressive against Monfils in the second round, serving well and coming into the net at every possible opportunity. In such an aggressive frame of mind, I fancy Isner’s chances of progressing. Isner in 4.
5. Feliciano Lopez vs. Milos Raonic
If John Isner is America’s great hope among the current crop of players on the ATP Tour, then Milos Raonic is Canada’s great hope amongst the world’s best male players. Having made the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows last year, Raonic will be looking to go deeper this year, especially after having made the final in Montreal earlier this month.
Raonic’s opponent today, Feliciano Lopez, is hard to play against, most noticeably because of his swinging left-handed serve and his solid all-court game. Expect plenty of aces in this match, with the player who has more success on his opponent’s second serve points most likely to prevail. I’ll back Raonic, but this one will be close. Raonic in 4.
Put your house on: Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki should breeze past Italy’s Camila Giorgi with a minimum of fuss.
Upset alert: Can Brit Dan Evans, having knocked out Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic, cause another boilover against Spanish nineteenth seed Tommy Robredo? To my mind, he’s got to be in with a chance. I also think Jack Sock has an outside chance of upsetting Serbian seed Janko Tipsarevic.
Likely to go the distance: Veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta could push each other to the distance, whilst Richard Gasquet could well be in for a long day at the office against Dmitry Tursunov.
August 30, 2013
Perfect weather allowed for plenty of tennis on Day 4, with big guns Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal storming into the round of 32 with emphatic victories.
Day 4 Recap
Second seed Nadal was merciless against his Brazilian opponent Rogerio Dutra Silva, the Spaniard conceding just 3 games for the match. Seventh seed Federer was similarly impressive against Carlos Berlocq, the Argentine collecting only 6 games in the clash.
Other winners amongst the men’s seeds on Day 4 were David Ferrer, who had to work hard initially to beat compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut in 4 sets, Milos Raonic, Feliciano Lopez, Richard Gasquet, and Janko Tipsarevic, who is looking to turn around a disappointing year with a strong performance in New York. Seed Sam Querrey was ousted by the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, whilst Brit Dan Evans continued his good run, knocking out Aussie youngster Bernard Tomic.
In a late finishing men’s night match, American John Isner beat Gael Monfils in 4 sets, blasting 23 aces and 60 winners in total en route to claiming the win in 2 hours and 55 minutes.
On the women’s side, fourth seed Sara Errani was the biggest casualty on Day 4, humbled by compatriot Flavia Pennetta in straight sets. There were no such problems for the top two seeds in the women’s draw, with Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka both recording straight sets wins.
There were also easy wins for seeds Maria Kirilenko, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, whilst Angelique Kerber was forced to work hard to defeat rising star Eugenie Bouchard in 3 sets. Former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and former Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova are also safely through to round 3. However, Japanese qualifier Kurami Nara upset Romanian seed Sorana Cirstea, as fellow seeds Elena Vesnina and Mona Barthel were also bundled out of the tournament.
Matches of the Day – Day 5
1. Laura Robson vs. Li Na
This should be a fantastic rematch of last year’s third round clash at the US Open, in which rising star Laura Robson upset former French Open champion Li Na in an absorbing 3 set duel. A year on, and Robson has continued to improve her game, as exemplified by her run to the round of 16 at Wimbledon earlier this year.
I think Li Na is a dark horse for the women’s title this year, with the Chinese star having gained momentum over the past few weeks with good results in Toronto and Cincinnati and at her best on hard-courts. Look for Robson to come out swinging but for Li Na to avenge last year’s loss courtesy of some stinging groundstrokes. Li Na in 2.
2. Jamie Hampton vs. Sloane Stephens
This is an intriguing match-up between two of the rising stars on the WTA Tour, both of whom represent the host nation. Of the pair, Stephens has had the better results at Grand Slam level to date, highlighted by a run to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park earlier this year. But Hampton’s game has impressed many astute tennis observers, including Chris Evert, and Hampton has been earmarked for great things.
Stephens was impressive in round 2 against Urszula Radwanska after a scare against Mandy Minella in the opening round, and has won 2 of her 3 previous contests with Hampton. I’ll back Stephens on this basis, although this one should be very close. Stephens in 3.
3. Lleyton Hewitt vs. Juan Martin Del Potro
This mouth-watering clash pits two former US Open champions against one another. Del Potro won the title in Washington DC earlier this month and is a definite title contender in New York. However, the big Argentine will be wary of Hewitt, who has beaten the sixth seed in two of their 4 career meetings, including earlier this year at Queen’s Club.
Importantly, both of Hewitt’s wins over Del Potro took place on grass-courts, a surface on which the Aussie remains one of the world’s best players. On hard-courts, Del Potro’s big serve and dynamite forehand make him an incredibly tough opponent to beat and, whilst the feisty Hewitt will throw everything at the Argentine, I’ll back the sixth seed to eventually overwhelm the former world number one with his power game. Del Potro in 4.
4. Yaroslava Shvedova vs. Serena Williams
After coasting through her first two matches in New York, top seed Serena Williams faces her first real challenge of the tournament in the form of Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova. Shvedova is a former top 25 singles player, a two-time French Open quarter-finalist and a Grand Slam doubles champion.
Williams has won both previous meetings between the pair, although the clash at Wimbledon last year was a tight affair, with the American scraping through 7-5 in the third set. I’ll back Williams to come through a little more comfortably this time around, but Shvedova should still make it a competitive match. Williams in 2.
5. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Ivo Karlovic
Fresh from ending James Blake’s singles career with an epic win in a fifth set tiebreaker in the opening round, the big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic will look to extend his run at Flushing Meadows with an upset of Swiss seed Stanislas Wawrinka.
Wawrinka has had a stellar season so far, re-establishing himself in the world’s top 10, and will be too good for Karlovic from the back of the court. But if the veteran Croat gets his big serve firing, then break of serve opportunities will be limited for Wawrinka. The Swiss star needs to be focused in this one and take his chances when they arise. Wawrinka in 4.
Put your house on: Defending champion Andy Murray should keep his title defence going with a straightforward win over Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer.
Upset alert: It hasn’t been a good year for Alexandr Dolgopolov, but the talented Ukrainian is capable of springing a surprise against Russian seed Mikhail Youzhny.
Likely to go the distance: Seeds Angelique Kerber and Kaia Kanepi look set for a long and arduous battle in the third round today.