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PostHeaderIcon Legendary Serena, the Bryans Reach 100, and Marin Breaks Through: Final Thoughts on a Turbulent US Open

Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and Chris Evert (usopen.org/Philip Hall)

Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and Chris Evert (usopen.org/Philip Hall)

At the end of a hot, windy, and upset-filled fortnight, there’s much to digest from this year’s US Open. Serena Williams legitimately reached legendary status. The Bryan brothers reached a ridiculous milestone. Marin Cilic, a year back from his drug suspension, broke through for his first Slam title. And few can deny that the “Big Four” is officially on life support.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right into my (25) final thoughts on the year’s final Slam:

  1. By defeating Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday’s final, Serena Williams won her 6th US Open title, and her 18th Slam title overall. Additionally, by winning her third US Open title in as many years, Serena achieved a rare three-peat; a feat not seen since Chris Evert won four successive titles from 1975-78. With number 18 in hand, Serena joins an elite group alongside Evert and Martina Navratilova, one behind Helen Wills Moody’s 19, four behind Steffi Graf’s 22, and six behind Margaret Court’s 24. However, NONE of these numbers really matter much in the grand scheme of things. Reaching 18 gives Serena more than enough legitimacy for any G.O.A.T discussions. (For more Serena discussion, check out ‘Serena Williams – The Humanization of a Flawed Champion‘)
  2. For her part, Caroline capped her resurgent summer season with an extremely strong showing to reach her second US Open final. Her victory over Maria Sharapova was one of the best in memory, and she can leave New York knowing that she left everything on the court in pursuit of her first Slam. Will she be able to keep up the aggressive play in 2015? It’s unlikely. Though aggression was at the heart of her summer success, it’s just not in her comfort zone. Also, it was fueled by her off-court personal struggles, but that won’t always be the case. But even if she can keep the aggression in her game, that only gives her slightly better odds to go deep again at the big tourneys where, unfortunately, she’ll continue to be outhit.
  3. Marin Cilic, the newly-crowned US Open men’s champion, has long been considered a contender, but was never viewed as a threat…and with good reason. Prior to winning his maiden Slam title, the Croat had won several ATP 250-level events, but never a 500-level tournament or Masters Series 1000. This win could serve as a catalyst for Marin to “backfill” his tournament resume, as it did for Stan Wawrinka after he won the Australian; hopefully without the follow-up loss of focus.
  4. Kei Nishikori had an excellent tournament with huge wins over Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately, he fell short in the final when he needed to step up the most. The wear and tear of too much court time slowed him down, and prevented him from imposing his ground game as he had done so beautifully against Novak. Kei has a history of physical breakdowns in big events when his body is pushed to the limit, but not this time. He made it all the way through without a single thought of retirement in his earlier battles. I hope he can keep that up in 2015.
  5. 2014 Slam Results, Part 1: The 2014 Slam winners were Li Na/Stan Wawrinka (Australian Open), Maria Sharapova/Rafael Nadal (French Open), Petra Kvitova/Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon), and Serena Williams/Marin Cilic (US Open). Let’s break down what this possibly tells us about the future prospects for both tours, starting with the ladies…
  6. 2014 Slam Results, Part 2: For the women, the onslaught of WTA teen phenoms, formidable as they are, failed to make an impact at the highest level. Each of this year’s Slam winners is a tried-and-true veteran, and that’s no coincidence given the demands of the game. At this year’s US Open, Spaniard phenom Garbine Muguruza flamed out in the first round. Canadian Genie Bouchard, the most hyped of the younger generation, fell in the fourth round. Swiss teen Belinda Bencic fared the best of the bunch with a R16 upset of Jelena Jankovic. And that’s as good as it got. Just a thought: maybe the WTA should stop trying to push the younger players to stardom before they’re ready, marketing dollars be damned.
  7. 2014 Slam Results, Part 3: For the men, the significance of two champions outside of the “Big Four” cannot be overstated. Prior to 2014, the last guys outside of that group to win a Slam were Juan Martin Del Potro back in 2009 (US Open) and Marat Safin in 2005 (Australian Open). This year saw two outsiders win (Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne and Marin Cilic in New York). Will we see a further erosion of the old guard in 2015? I think so!
  8. The era of the “Big Four” is officially over. Let the debate begin.
  9. Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic ended his poor summer with a run to the semifinals where he was completely outplayed by Kei Nishikori. After his post-Wimbledon wedding and with the eminent birth of his first child, Novak is clearly distracted. He needs to have a serious sit-down with Roger on how to do the pro tennis thing with family in tow…
  10. Roger Federer had a great summer, and played well through most of his time in New York. He fell short against Cilic’s phenomenal onslaught, but shouldn’t be concerned about any lingering questions of age. Even though he still needs a little help from the draw and scheduling gods for his best chances at another Slam, he remains an unwavering fixture atop the men’s game. One need only look to Rafa Nadal’s absence to appreciate that fact.
  11. Though we all missed Rafa’s presence in New York, he seemed to be having a great time at home with his friends in Mallorca. I could be wrong, but it really didn’t look as if he missed this tennis thing all that much. We’ll find out soon enough when he plays his next event.
  12. If a quarterfinal showing qualifies as struggling, Andy Murray’s Slam “struggles” continued in New York. I guess that also means that Amelie Mauresmo’s struggles as his coach continued in New York. Why do I have a gut feeling that this partnership isn’t going to make it to the end of the year?
  13. Gael Monfils finally stepped up to the “big boy” table, put away his highlight reel mentality, and played the type of tennis that we all knew he was capable of in reaching his first US Open quarterfinals. I hope that trend will continue into the New Year.
  14. Disappointment, Part 1: Disappointing is the only word I can think of to describe performances by Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov at the Open. Both failed to back up their previous Slam showings in very uncharacteristic losses. I hope their teams were able to glean some positives from New York, because from where I sit, there were very few.
  15. Disappointment, Part 2: After semifinal showings in Melbourne and Paris, and the final in London, Genie Bouchard came into this summer as the hottest player on tour. It all quickly fell apart for her, however, with first-round losses in Montreal and Cincinnati, and a second-round loss in New Haven the week before the Open. Much has been made about Genie’s maturity, and her ability to handle the pressures that accompany elite-level tennis. Judging by her summer, as well as her subsequent withdrawal controversy from the Hong Kong tournament, she still has a ways to go.
  16. A few years ago, the “Super Coach” phenomena was merely an interesting novelty. After a strong showing in this year’s US Open men’s semifinals, it’s a novelty that’s likely here to stay. The semifinals saw Chang vs Becker and Edberg vs Ivanisevic. The victors, Chang and Ivanisevic, squared off in Monday’s final with Ivanisevic coming out on top. Anyone want to place bets on when we’ll see Sampras and Agassi sitting in player boxes?
  17. Broadcast Woes, Part 1: Cilic and Nishikori both played outstanding tennis to reach their first Grand Slam final. Unfortunately for CBS, the lack of a known quantity spelled doom for the oddly-placed Monday final ratings. As tweeted by Ben Rothenburg:


    This is not an indictment of Marin/Kei, but merely the reality of televised men’s tennis without Roger, Rafa, Novak, or even Andy.

  18. Broadcast Woes, Part 2: After a remarkable run that started in 1986, CBS aired its’ final US Open match on Monday with the men’s final. With no real allegiance to the CBS coverage, I hope the consolidated coverage on ESPN makes it easier to follow coverage in 2015 and beyond.
  19. Broadcast Woes, Part 3: The tennis powers-that-be surely can’t keep bemoaning the lack of support for tennis on TV when the coverage is so inconsistent and disjointed. I know that I’ve said this before, but how can anyone expect increased support from the casual tennis fan when even the diehard fans can’t easily find televised matches for the biggest US tournament of the year? Some matches were on DirecTV, some were on ESPN, some were on ESPN2, some were on Tennis Channel, and some were on CBS. Heck, some were even on ESPNNews. Even when ESPN and CBS partnered to air coverage of different events during simultaneous coverage, they would inevitably switch to the over courts and end up showing the same match for brief intervals.  Honestly, it was a shit show! I realize that this is strong language, but it’s the only language I can think of to adequately describe the ridiculous situation at the heart of languishing fan support for tennis in the US.
  20. Broadcast Woes, Part 4: The last thing I’ll say about the broadcast issues at the Open is on the bias shown by commentators who assigned to matches with American players. Honestly, it was disgusting. It’s not that hard to show support for the home team without disregarding the other player on the court.
  21. Here’s a “Broadcast Thumbs-Up”! After listing in detail the broadcast issues of this year’s tournament, I should also note the “good stuff”. This includes Martina Navratilova’s on-air wedding proposal (and acceptance) to her longtime partner, Julia Lemigova. When same sex wedding proposals start becoming the norm, it’s safe to say that “We’ve come a long way, baby”.
  22. Steve Johnson retired from his first-round match after debilitating cramps in the August heat of a New York summer. That’s the simple version of the story. The actual version was that Steve started to cramp, and fought it as long as he could without any MTO (medical timeout) help while also enduring the forfeiture of code violation points. All this as he lay on the court in tears, racked with pain and visible muscle spasms. Fast-forward to Peng Shuai’s semifinal against Wozniacki, and the same situation was turned dramatically on its’ head when Peng – suffering from cramps – was allowed to delay play before being taken off court by medical personnel for evaluation and treatment.
    My gut impulse is to call out the outrageous of penalizing one player while allowing the other player over ten minutes of tournament assistance to help them compete. I’ll temper that impulse by merely imploring the WTA, ATP, ITF, and Grand Slam committees to come up with clear and consistent rules regarding the distinction between and treatment of cramps versus heat illness.
  23. On a more positive note, the Bryan brothers won their only Slam title of the year at the US Open, but boy was it a doozy! By defeating the Spanish team of Granollers and Lopez in the men’s doubles final, Mike and Bob reached their mind-boggling 100th tournament title win as a team…and with no signs of stopping anytime soon. As Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!”
  24. BTW, can we stop with the “death of American tennis” stories already while we still have Serena Williams and the Bryans producing top-level results? (And NO, Patrick McEnroe’s departure from USTA Player Development isn’t going to help.)
  25. Michaela Gordon, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe, and Stefan Kozlov are NOT the saviors of American tennis. Can we all just let them develop in peace?

When I start kvetching like a curmudgeonly grandpa, it’s time to call it a day on my final thoughts. Even with a few bumps in the road, it was an ultimately satisfying tournament with a nice mix of the new, the old, and the historic. And to be honest, I’m hoping that I witness all of this on the other side next year if I get a chance to work as a tournament official. Fingers crossed. Lastly, I never got a chance to mention anything about my time at the Connecticut Open, so I’ll leave you with this: Run, don’t walk, to Orangeside Donuts for the best freakin’ donuts in New Haven.

PostHeaderIcon Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Nicolas Mahut: La Première French Open “Shock or Not” (VIDEO)

Stan Wawrinka after losing to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (© FFT)

Stan Wawrinka after losing to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (© FFT)

Welcome to my première edition of “Shock or Not” for the French Open. Let’s start with the biggest of the three from Day Two. As Heidi Klum says on Project Runway, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out!” Stan “Please don’t call me Stanislaus” Wawrinka found that out today the hard way with his first-round loss to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.  Let’s start this “Shock or Not” with the ouster of the reigning Australian Open champion.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeats Stan Wawrinka: Shock or Not? Kind of Yes, Kind of Not

I kind of called this one when I wrote my preview piece about the men’s draw. Stan’s section looked good, but the accidental Australian Open champion has been one of the most enigmatic players on tour this season. He’s won three titles this year in Chennai, Melbourne, and Monte Carlo. Apart from those wins, he’s failed to win more than two matches in any other tournament that he entered.

Stan hasn’t lost in the first round of the French Open since 2006. But it’s pretty tough to overcome 62 unforced errors, and a generally listless performance, give or take a couple of spectacular shots.

stan-french-get

So am I shocked that he crashed out to a tough Spanish clay-courter? Yes, because he’s shown his championship mettle this year, and finally seemed ready to live up to his talent.

Asked in a different way, am I surprised that he crashed out in the first round? Not really. He’s the most uneasy champion that I’ve ever seen on tour, and has looked uncomfortable since winning in Melbourne. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” suits Stan perfectly these days. And honestly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

When you look at all of the great champions, there’s an air of ruthlessness about them on the court. Stan the man will never be ruthless. So we can probably expect more of this in 2014.

Martin Klizan defeats Kei Nishikori: Shock or Not? Not

Some wondered why I didn’t mention Kei as a legitimate contender for the quarterfinals after his Top 10 breakthrough AND win in Barcelona. But come on… just look at his record this year. If you don’t have the time I’ll break it down for you: brilliant play in fits and starts mixed with illness, injury, and withdrawals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a player is prone to breaking down during the part of the year that features ‘best of three’ format tournaments, overcoming in a ‘best of five’ Grand Slam is an almost laughable proposition.

I like Kei. He’s got a great game, and it’s great to see him challenge the top guys the way that he can when everything’s working. But his propensity for physically breaking down should be troubling to everyone in his camp (I’m looking at you Michael Chang). Hopefully he can get a handle on it for the sake of his career, as well as for our viewing pleasure.

A Journalist Congratulates Nicolas Mahut on his 4-set Loss: Shock or Not? Shock with a ‘SMH’

There’s an unspoken rule in the pressroom that it’s generally best that you don’t ask dumbass questions to the players after their matches. The ATP/WTA handlers do a good job of weeding out the good from the bad, but every now and then one slips through. Such was the case today when a journalist congratulated Nicolas Mahut on his victory even though he had just lost a tough 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to Mikhail Kukushkin. Mahut was not pleased, and showed it pretty quickly. Here’s the exchange:

Q. Congratulations.
NICOLAS MAHUT: Congratulations? I lost.
Q. You lost? Okay. So what happened out there?
NICOLAS MAHUT: Are you serious? Did you watch the match?
Q. No, I didn’t. I was told that you won. I’m sorry.
NICOLAS MAHUT: Questions in French, please.

Yep, I can attest to the fact that this journalist probably got some pretty nasty looks around the room…and well-deserved.

PostHeaderIcon Men’s French Open Preview: Best of Five Helps Rafa Get Number Nine

Rafael Nadal (© FFT)

Rafael Nadal (© FFT)

The spring clay court season demonstrated to us all that Rafa is definitely beatable in a “best of three” format IF his opponent can execute their game plan from first ball to last. It’s a whole different matter, however, when you need to win three sets against the King of Clay.

If Rafa Nadal wins a record ninth French Open title, it will be with the help of the “best of five” format. But it won’t be easy. He’ll need to exact revenge on all of his major foes from 2014 to do so. The toughest of the group, Novak Djokovic, wants this title more than anything else, and has the game to do it.

On top of everything else, he’s riding high on confidence after besting Rafa in consecutive Masters Series finals: the last on clay in Rome. Can Rafa turn the tide in Paris? Let’s take a quick look at the draw, and its’ likely outcome starting with the quarterfinals.

Top Half – Top Quarter (Rafa Nadal [1])

This quarter starts with Rafa and this year’s sacrificial lamb, Robby Ginepri. From there he’s likely to face Nico Almagro in the R16, and then David Ferrer in the quarters. It’s not an ideal draw, but one that is still pretty manageable with the “best of five” format. Both Nico and David beat Rafa this spring, but in “best of three” matches. And I don’t give either player the benefit of the doubt in this format.

Stan Wawrinka (© FFT)

Stan Wawrinka (© FFT)

Even though Grigor Dimitrov, the Bucharest Open champion, is also in this quarter, I don’t expect him to get by David for the chance to take on Rafa. He’s improved his game, and fitness, by leaps and bounds since his 2012 Roland Garros cramp-fest. But “best of five” on clay against two of the games preeminent clay-courters is simply too much to expect.

Top Half – Bottom Quarter (Stan Wawrinka [3])

Stan is a question mark in this year’s French Open. Why? After winning the title in Melbourne, he went AWOL through the rest of the hard court spring. The clay swing starts and he’s back on top again in Monte Carlo, only to go AWOL again. Honestly, it could go either way. Luckily for Stan, his draw looks good to make it through to the quarterfinals where he’ll likely face Andy Murray.

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Andy has an 8-6 H2H with Stan, but has never beaten him on clay. When you add that to his lack of a coach (and subsequent return of his past “bad” Andy behavior), it doesn’t look good for the former member of the Big Four.

Bottom Half – Top Quarter (Roger Federer [4])

If I were to go strictly by rank, Tomas Berdych would be the choice to reach the quarterfinals from the top section of this quarter. But ranking doesn’t amount to much when facing a potentially dangerous opponent like Roberto Bautista Agut. Roberto, still riding a wave of great play that started early last year, reached the semifinals in Madrid. Conditions are different in Paris, but he’s still capable of an upset.

Novak Djokovic (© FFT)

Novak Djokovic (© FFT)

In the bottom section, Roger will need to get by the dangerous-yet-unpredictable Ernests Gulbis in the R16. And like with Rafa versus Nico and David, “best of five” will be the deciding factor. From there, Roger should be good to make it through this quarter.

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter (Novak Djokovic [2])

Always one to give credit where credit is due, I give all credit to Milos Raonic for putting in the work to get his movement where it needed to be in order to well on surfaces other than hard court. He’s moving better, playing smarter, and should have no issues in getting through the top section of this quarter.

Unfortunately for Milos, Novak will once again await him on the other side. And barring injury, there’s little that’s going to keep Novak from reaching the final!

Quarterfinal Picks

Rafa Nadal defeats David Ferrer

Stan Wawrinka defeats Andy Murray

Roger Federer defeats Roberto Bautista Agut

Novak Djokovic defeats Milos Raonic

Semifinal Picks

Rafa Nadal defeats Stan Wawrinka

Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer

Final Pick

Rafa defeats Novak for his ninth French Open title with help from the “best of five” format.

Notable First-Round Matches

Rafael Nadal v Robby Ginepri

Nicolas Almagro v Jack Sock

Grigor Dimitrov v Ivo Karlovic

Milos Raonic v Nick Kyrgios

PostHeaderIcon A Serena Cakewalk and Rafa Dethroned: Ten Final Thoughts on the Week in Rome

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

With work (and life in general) keeping me busy, it’s been awhile since my last pro tour post.  But now that I’ve had a chance to recharge, it’s time to dive back into the thick of things after a very telling week in Rome. Without further ado, here are some final thoughts on the gusty week that was in Rome.

  1. Question: Who can stop Serena? Answer: Nobody!
    Serena was soundly lambasted back when she first exclaimed, “When I’m playing at my best, it’s hard for people to beat me”. Years later, there isn’t a single player on tour who can refute that claim, and beat her with their best. She might lose a set or two, and maybe even an occasional match, but let’s be honest. The only two things stopping Serena from an unfettered Roland Garros title defense are her body and her mind: and both are looking pretty good after this past week in Rome.
  2. Though Victoria Azarenka has a grunt that grates on the nerve endings of every cell in my body, I’ll be the first to declare that the women’s tour desperately needs to return to action. The former No. 1 has been away from the game because of a foot injury sustained earlier this year, and withdrew from the French Open this past weekend because of ongoing issues with the same injury. I hope she comes back strong by the US Open. Serena needs a worthy adversary, and we need to see more competitive finals.
  3. Even if Sara Errani never stood a realistic chance against her formidable opponent, her tears after the loss to Serena in the Rome final were heartbreaking. Sara was 0-6 against Serena going into the final, so we knew this was not going to be a competitive match. But the leg injury that she sustained in the first set assured the loss while also casting doubt on her French Open prospects. The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind.
  4. Maria Sharapova lost in the early rounds, but should still be a factor at the French Open. It all depends upon her draw. The only problem with that scenario is that, because of her ranking, her draw is gonna suck! I’ll be very surprised if she makes it back to the final.
  5. Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic capped off a great week with a convincing win over Rafa Nadal in the men’s final. While it’s certainly true that Novak’s game is perfectly-suited to neutralize Nadal’s strengths, I’d even go so far as to say that the only thing that keeps him from beating Rafa on a consistent basis are his lapses in focus that come a little too frequently when playing the Spaniard, particularly in best of five matches. Take away those lapses and we could finally see the King of Clay dethroned on the final Sunday in Philippe Chartrier.

  6. Rafa Nadal’s rocky road to a ninth French Open title seemed to get a little less rocky with his showing in Rome. After losing to Ferrer in Monte Carlo and Almagro in Barcelona Rafa looked imminently beatable by anyone who could execute an attacking game plan. (Nishikori came close in the Madrid final until his back gave out.) In Rome, however, he pushed through early match struggles and successfully battled back to consecutive three-set victories. Unfortunately for Rafa, Novak – his likely opponent in the French Open final – is less a rock and more of a huge boulder.
  7. I appreciate Roger Federer’s “I play because I still love the game” attitude as much as the next guy. But can we all agree that it was silly for him to show up in Rome only 5 days after the birth of his twin boys? We get it Roger. You’re still viable at the top of the men’s tennis food chain. Now get back to Switzerland with your wife and twins where you belong.
  8. Andy Murray played his best tennis of the season in his three-set loss to Rafa in the Rome quarterfinals. Against anyone else, he most likely would have earned a place in the semifinals, and perhaps even the finals with a win over Grigor Dimitrov. Positive stuff to be sure! However, let’s hope he finds another no-nonsense coach soon. We would all do well if a return to Andy’s barking, griping, cursing, body part grabbing ways could be avoided.
  9. Stan Wawrinka continues to struggle under the burden of Grand Slam winner expectations. The Monte Carlo champion lost in the Madrid R32 to Dominic Thiem, and in the Roma R16 to veteran Tommy Haas. Rather than focus on Stan’s difficulties in embracing his newfound membership in the Grand Slam club, we should all be much more in awe of the ease with which Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic gladly accept, and live up to, the challenge.
  10. Speaking of Dimitrov, the young Bulgarian had a great week in Rome up until he went against the Nadal buzz saw in the semifinals. The same could be said of Milos Raonic in reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal on clay. It’s nice to see the “young guns” really start to make their mark at the top of the game against the best. Grigor’s increased strength/fitness and Milos’ improved movement/footwork were on full display. But can either sustain their improved games over two weeks in best of five matches? We’ll find out next week.

 

PostHeaderIcon My Complete 2014 Sony Open Archives

2014-03-26-14.36.05-2

With Nick Bolletieri, new member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, at the 2014 Sony Open.

From the start of the tournament (before I got off the plane) and through my 20-hour travel day afterward, here’s a list of all 2014 Sony Open-related postings.
I hope you enjoy them.

ARTICLE/VIDEO POSTS

  1. Some Final Thoughts on Serena, Novak, and the End of the US Spring Swing at the Sony Open
  2. Djokovic Handily Defeats Nadal at the Sony Open For His Second Indian Wells-Miami Double
  3. My 2014 Sony Open Men’s Finals Preview (VIDEO)
  4. Serena Williams Wins A Record Seventh Miami Title
  5. My Sony Open Women’s Finals Preview and Post-Shock Thoughts (VIDEO)
  6. Kei’s Groin and Tomas’ Gut: An Absolutely Shocking Day at the Sony Open
  7. The 2014 Sony Open Men’s Semifinals Preview (VIDEO)
  8. Williams Continues Her Dominance Of Sharapova To Reach 9th Miami Final
  9. Bryan Brothers to Face Colombians Farah/Cabal in Men’s Doubles Final
  10. The 2014 Sony Open Women’s Semifinals Preview (VIDEO)
  11. Djokovic Fends Off a Strong Murray Challenge to Reach Miami Semis
  12. The Myth of Sam Stosur’s Slide From Greatness
  13. Roger Federer’s Awesome Anticipation & Footwork (VIDEO)

IMAGE POSTS

PostHeaderIcon Some Final Thoughts on Serena, Novak, and the End of the US Spring Swing at the Sony Open

Stadium court at Crandon Park after the men's final.

Stadium court at Crandon Park after the men’s final.

As with the BNP Paribas Open, I find myself with significantly more than my usual “Ten Final Thoughts” for this year’s Sony Open. It’s a very different experience when you’re on the ground at an event, with much more information around every corner.  So to that end, I hope this list of 25 musings from Miami satisfies; starting with last Friday’s shocking withdrawals.

DSCN8200

Novak Djokovic

  1. First, I’m still shell-shocked from last week’s double-withdrawals for the Sony Open men’s semifinals. It was an unprecedented event on an unprecedented day that, frankly, caught EVERYONE off-guard. People are mad at Adam Barrett for his response, or lack thereof, to the withdrawals but, really, what could he do? Make Kei Nishikori play injured? Scold him for not telling everyone that he couldn’t play sooner? Sue the restaurant that may have made Tomas Berdych sick? Send text messages to every ticketholder? Plead with Michael Chang (Kei’s coach) or Aranxta Sanchez Vicario (in attendance) to put on an exhibition? Though no potential solution was tenable, everyone sorely wished that something…anything… could have been done to salvage the wasted day.
  2. Speaking of Kei and Tomas, I wish them both speedy recoveries. Tomas should be better already, but Kei’s groin injury is problematic. He’s not a big guy, and he needs his movement to keep an edge over his opponents. He might be pressured into playing this weekend’s Davis Cup matches in Tokyo, and that could put his clay season in jeopardy if he aggravates the injury. Keep an eye on that one.
  3. Novak Djokovic is undeniably the Big Four’s “Top Dog” after Miami. Following an atypical start to his year with no Aussie trophy, he beat Roger Federer in three sets to win Indian Wells, and then comprehensively beat Rafa Nadal for a fourth Miami title. Tellingly, I saw relief in his eyes after the Indian Wells win. This time, I saw pleasure and an enormous amount of self-belief. Make no mistake: Novak is back! Depending on Monte Carlo, Rafa’s clay season might be a whole lot tougher this year.
  4. Speaking of Rafa, the Spaniard was merely a bystander in the final against Novak. He served poorly, couldn’t find the range on his backhand, never got a chance to impose his forehand, and couldn’t figure out a single solution to his “Novak problem”.  Afterwards, there was almost a sense of concession in his voice/manner that went well beyond the “Not my day” explanation that the top guys use to explain away a loss like this. Rafa knows that when both are playing their best on a hard court, Novak’s weapons can neutralize his weapons much more easily than the reverse. If this carries over to clay, Rafa’s ninth Roland Garros title might be in jeopardy.
  5. serena-presser

    Serena Williams

    Serena Williams beat Li Na for her seventh Miami title, adding yet one more line to an already-Hall of Fame CV. It was “vintage Serena”, or at least what seems to be the current definition of that term. There was once a time when Serena dominated her opponents from start to finish. Nowadays, she starts slows and sometimes comes perilously close to defeat before storming back with the brilliance that we’ve come to expect. Regardless of why, it’s impressive to watch and is also great drama. Serena doesn’t win all the time, but it speaks volumes that everyone, her competitors included, know that she can if she’s playing well. (And by well I mean 80% and above). Love her or hate her, I hope everyone can appreciate what she brings to the game.

  6. There’s no sugar-coating the fact that Li Na caved against Serena and, unforgivably, gave up a two-break lead before losing 11 of the final 12 games. Li Na has a great personality, a strong game, and a perfect husband to showcase her comedic skills. Moreover, she’s a wonderful asset to the women’s game. But one can’t deny the mental weakness that she sometimes displays in big matches. There’s simply no way that she should have lost the first set of that final. Carlos Rodriguez, has tremendously helped her game, but there’s not much he can do about that.
  7. I love Maria Sharapova’s competitive nature, but it’s now laughable just how absent that nature is when she faces Serena Williams.
  8. Vika Azarenka, one of the few who legitimately competes well against Serena, was absent in Miami with her ongoing foot injury. I’m hoping it’s not too serious, and that we’ll have her back on tour soon. Serena badly needs a foil. And like it or not, Vika is the only one right now.
  9. Aga Radwanska’s physio-taped body is becoming more tape and less body. I worry for her 2014 at this rate.
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    Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki

    Petra Kvitova beat Ana Ivanovic 3-6 6-0 6-0. That’s all you need to know about Petra and why, Wimbledon title or not, she’ll continue to struggle for legitimacy at the top of the women’s game.

  11. Roger Federer lost a tough match Kei Nishikori in conditions that I knew would be tough… for his game! Roger’s game does best in quicker conditions. The conditions in Miami on that note were cold, windy, and heavy: an uphill battle for him. Still, it’s nice to finally talk about his game these days and not his racquet or his back. And always remember that conditions matter!
  12. Honestly, I just don’t know what to say about Andy Murray anymore. In spite of his quarterfinal showing in Miami, there are still a ton of questions about where his head and heart are these days in the post-Lendl era.
  13. Is it wrong of me to want Stan Wawrinka to carry himself like the Slam champion that he is?
  14. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s game is a mess. That is all.
  15. Martina Hingis won the doubles title (alongside Sabine Lisicki) with smart and gritty play, fighting off several match points en route to the final. I don’t buy into the narrative that her win is an indictment of the current state of women’s doubles. Rather, it speaks volumes to the smarts of a great player who still possesses great hands, sharp court sense, and can maintain a positive court presence for her sometimes overly-dramatic partner. However, one can’t deny the ridiculousness of a doubles match where all the players stay back from the net, or the improbability of winning a Premier event with serve speeds in the high-50s to upper-80s.
  16. DSCN7099

    The Bryan brothers

    The Bryan brothers completed their Indian Wells-Miami double with a strong performance over the impassioned duo of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah from Colombia. After watching the Colombian’s Davis Cup-like support in previous matches against Peya-Soares and Sock-Harrison, I figured they might be tough to beat for the bros. ATP stat-man, Greg Sharko, reminded me that the Bryans are one of the best at playing against a hostile crowd. And so it came to pass!

  17. Milos Raonic finally played up to the level of his hype in Miami, going the distance against Rafa and coming very close to an upset. I give him lots of credit for that result, but still need to see a big improvement in his awkward movement before I jump on the Raonic Slam bandwagon.
  18. John Isner left Miami after a tough loss to Berdych in the R16. Though it’s unclear how well his body will fare during the clay season, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my support and belief in Big John. Contrary to popular opinion, John is working hard to take his game beyond the “win by tiebreak” level. I think that’s admirable from a guy who could settle for relative comfort in his position as top American. It’s also necessary if he wants to have a Top Ten presence.
  19. On the lesser American male front, Ryan Harrison lost two winnable matches in Miami. The first was his 3-set second-round loss to Benjamin Becker, and the second was his doubles semifinal loss (with partner Jack Sock) against Cabal/Farah. A horrible tiebreak in his singles match and a horrible drop volley at 9-9 in the dubs match-tiebreak sealed his fate. Ryan is a hard worker with respect to his physical game. I hope the same can be done for his mental game.
  20. With his loss to Nico Almagro in Miami, Sam Querrey dropped from his position as the #2 American. The new #2 is Bradley Klahn. No disrespect to Klahn, but this doesn’t say much about our ongoing struggles at trying to regain American tennis glory.
  21. Though the situation isn’t as dire for the US women as it is for the men, it doesn’t say much about our post-Serena/Venus prospects when Sloane, the anointed successor, is bounced 6-1 6-0 by Caroline Woniacki. Her on-court attitude is suspect, and she often appears indifferent. She also does herself no favors by saying things like, “I have 10 years of tennis to play.” That’s not the case if you get injured. Just ask Alexandra Stevenson.
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    Sir Richard Branson and friends

    Speaking of Wozniacki, this was a pretty good tournament for her! After a period of crashing out in several troubling first round matches, she competed well and earned consecutive breadstick-bagel match results over Sloane and Varvara Lepchenko. A 5-7 5-7 loss to reigning Australian Open champ Li Na should give her encouragement. That is, unless she gets distracted in planning for her wedding to Rory McIlroy.

  23. Can we please stop the Caroline Garcia hype machine and let the poor girl develop organically? Didn’t she suffer enough after Andy Murray’s “future Slam winner” tweets?
  24. It was great to see a balanced weekend of finals with women’s singles/men’s doubles combo on Saturday and women’s doubles/men’s singles on Sunday. (This is not the case for Indian Wells or Cincinnati.) The crowd likes it, and it gives a great perception of equal value for the two tours. Mr. Ellison, please take note!
  25. After covering Indian Wells this year, I finally understand why some players gripe about Miami and its’ failings in comparison. Larry Ellison’s money has created a tennis tournament oasis with which few other tournaments can adequately compete. It’s the same for the media, with ease, access, and benefits that few other tournaments provide. So it will be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming renovations starting in 2015. (I saw Sir Richard Branson there watching the Bryan brothers. Is he the Sony Open’s “Larry Ellison”?) Anyway, don’t let that deter from going. It’s a great event and has an awesome South American feel. Check it out!

With that last unpaid endorsement, I’m out! I’d like to thank Tennis Panorama for allowing me to cover the Sony Open for their website, and look forward to my next assignment at Stanford’s Bank of the West Classic. Until next time… 🙂
(P.S. I’m winning that media tourney next year!)

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