Posts Tagged ‘Agnieszka Radwanska’

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams’ Tough Road to Number 6 at SW19: My Wimbledon Women’s Preview

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Serena Williams [1] – Eugenie Bouchard [13] *

Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)

Angelique Kerber [9] – Maria Sharapova [5] *

Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)

The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.

The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.

Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.

(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Simona Halep [3] – Carla Suarez Navarro [15] *

Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)

Ana Ivanovic [11] – Jelena Jankovic [7] *

Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)

The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.

The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.

After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Victoria Azarenka [8] – Dominika Cibulkova [10] *

Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)

Sara Errani [14] – Agnieszka Radwanska [4] *

Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)

It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.

On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.

In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies.  Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Petra Kvitova [6] – Flavia Pennetta [12] *

Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)

Caroline Wozniacki [16] – Na Li [2] *

Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)

I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.

The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.

I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.

Quarterfinal Picks

Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li

Notable First-Round Matches

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) [26] v Alison Riske (USA)

Klara Koukalova (CZE) [31] v Taylor Townsend (USA)

Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [27]

PostHeaderIcon Ten (Plus Ten) Final Thoughts on the Maria 2 – Rafa 9 French Open

2014 French Open Champions: Maria Sharapova and Rafa Nadal (© FFT)

2014 French Open Champions: Maria Sharapova and Rafa Nadal (© FFT)

Quickly, and off the top of my head. After all, grass court tennis begins in earnest, yes? 😉 Let’s start with the improbable victory of the ladies champion.

  1. Maria Sharapova won her second French Open title in her third straight year of reaching the finals. It’s a remarkable achievement for a player whom many only figured to be a force on hard court/grass, and who wasn’t supposed to make it past the quarterfinals. If only she could overcome her Serena issue
  2. She may not have any huge weapons, but Simona Halep is the real deal! Her “weapon” is a solid all-court game with clean technique, tremendous footwork and excellent court smarts. Honestly, it’s a pleasure to watch.
  3. Ditto that for Genie Bouchard! The girl’s got spunk, and a decent game to match. If she’s able to reach Slam semifinals at this stage of her career, one can only imagine the potential in a year or so. Plus, you gotta love anyone who’s willing to call out Maria “We’re Not Friends” Sharapova before a match.
  4. Ditto again for Garbine Muguruza, the Serena giant killer!
  5. What a pleasure it was to see Andrea Petkovic return to the latter stages of a big tournament after being sidelined, on and off, for the past few years due to injury. Not so sure if I’m glad to see the return of the Petko dance, but I guess it’s a package deal.
  6. Serena Williams is human, and that unfortunately happens more at Roland Garros than any other Slam. But for the love of God, PLEASE don’t photobomb anyone else’s wedding with a scanty leotard.
  7. Is it wrong of me to admit that I have a hard time taking Li Na seriously as a Slam champion when she performs as unevenly as she does, all the while saying, “I think it was a pretty good match”?
  8. Aga Radwanska is struggling to maintain her place atop the game this year. Will that change on grass?
  9. I’d love to get behind Sloane Stephens 100%, but she makes it pretty hard with post-match comments like, “”In the end you’ll see, I guess, whatever happens” or “Do you want me to say like I need to win a tournament? Is that what you’re saying?” Sloane is a great talent but hasn’t figured out that you don’t get all the benefits of tennis stardom without some kind of a cost; either by winning or at least being civil to the press when you don’t.
  10. Rafa Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player of all time! However, it’s still premature to anoint him GOAT. Feel free to discuss though…
  11. Novak Djokovic finally understands what Roger Federer had to endure before him as the second-best clay court player on the planet with absolutely no chance of winning the French Open.
  12. Is anyone else concerned about how brutal the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry has become? Watching great tennis is one thing, watching an MMA match masquerading as tennis is another.
  13. Andy Murray is back…kind of. He made the semifinals but played a horrible match against Rafa. We should expect more than 6 games from of a player of his stature. Then again, GOAT Federer only won 4 games in his 2008 final with Rafa. Also, Kudos to Andy for hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach for the grass court season. My only hope is that she’s not judged differently than current male players coaching female players.
  14. Ernests Gulbis kept it together long enough to reach his first Slam semifinal in Paris, defeating Federer along the way. It’s good to see him finally put his talent where his mouth is.
  15. Speaking of Roger Federer, I admire his want to remain active during the clay season after the birth of his twin sons, Leo and Lennart, but it showed in his focus and level of play. It’s going to be interesting to see how he manages his schedule for the rest of the season.
  16. We may have to accept that Stan Wawrinka will never be the champion we want him to be. It’s just not in his nature. But it would be nice to see a consistent level of performance befitting a Slam winner. Let’s call it the “Andy Murray Rule”.
  17. It’s a good thing that John Isner is a big guy, because the weight of the US tennis world on his shoulders must be daunting.
  18. Congratulations to Marinko Matosevic for winning his first main draw Slam match. It was a long time coming, but we knew you’d get there.
  19. Goodbye Micheal Llodra! Goodbye Nikolay Davydenko?
  20. I’m still shaking my head over the embarrassing Mahut “congratulations” after his loss. Note to all journos: come prepared, or don’t come at all! And my final note to TC on your “Outrage or Meh” segment. Come one!?!?!?! If you want it done right, hire me for a proper “Shock or Not”! That is all.

On that note, I’m out. Next stop: Wimbledon!

PostHeaderIcon Ernest v Roger, Maria v Sam, and a Serena Photobomb: An R16 Weekend “Shock or Not”

Ernests Gulbis (© FFT)

Ernests Gulbis KO’d Roger Federer at the French Open (© FFT)

This weekend, while officiating in Napa, I was watching some spectacular play by the Napa Open juniors when I got a message from one of the site directors that Gulbis had beaten Federer. I instantly knew what had to be done, and began writing as soon as I got home last night. So without further ado, here’s my take on Roger’s KO, Maria’s escape, Serena’s photobomb, and a few other blips on my “Shock or Not” radar screen.

Ernests Gulbis defeats Roger Federer: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not!

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Roger Federer (© FFT)

On one level it’s easy to admit that seeing Roger leave Paris before the semifinals is indeed shocking, if not downright sacrilegious. But nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, should be shocked that Ernests Gulbis won this match. Though he’s easily one of the most enigmatic players on tour (in layman’s terms, flaky), Ernests is a modern-day Marat Safin: brilliant yet prone to long periods of having his head inserted firmly up his…well, you know where.

This year, after realizing that he’s often his own worst enemy, Ernests has worked hard to improve and show that he deserves a spot at the top of the men’s game. As a result, he’s enjoying a great year with title runs in Marseilles and Nice. He still runs his mouth too much for most people’s liking (“A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more”), but is now mostly able to back it up with results.

Turning to the other side of the court, Roger’s loss had little to do with his age, his racquet, or his back. He might be older a step slower than in his prime, but he’s still one of the best in the game. Simply put, he was beat by the better player on the day: much like Sampras by the aforementioned Safin at the US Open. Brilliance is never eternal.

Also, though Roger would be loath to admit it, it’s hard to imagine that he can realistically maintain 100% focus on court with four children in tow. That slight dip is all it takes to make a huge difference in match outcome. (But they sure are cute, aren’t they?)

“The clay-court season was fun, but we are moving on.” Hopefully the grass court season will prove more fruitful for Roger. Good luck in Halle!

Maria Sharapova defeats Sam Stosur: Shock or Not? Not.
Maria defeats Sam by winning final 9 games: Shock or Not? Absolutely, and Absolutely Not.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

The shock of this match comes with the fact that Maria won nine games in a row to come back from the brink. This is a feat usually performed by Serena as she adds to her Hall of Fame CV. In fact, Maria was the ignoble recipient of one such run back in the 2013 Sony Open final. Up a set and a break, she lost the final 10 games of the match in what surely must have been one of the most embarrassing defeats of her career.

I’m not shocked that Maria “Yes, I double-bageled Paula Ormaechea” won nine in a row. She’s one of the strongest competitors out there. I am, however, shocked that Sam buckled so badly and allowed her to do so. Admittedly, I didn’t see the match. So I’m at a disadvantage to comment on its’ specifics. But it pains me to see such a great player, a woman who beat Serena for one of the game’s biggest titles in “her house”, become so fragile.

Who knew that, in the absence of Serena Williams, Maria would “Serena” someone? Not I.

Apart from the manner in which it happened, there is absolutely no surprise that Maria beat Sam. She has an overwhelming 13-2 head-to-head against Stosur (now 14-2), and she’s beaten the Aussie on hard courts, clay courts, and grass. Given her own one-sided beatdowns that she’s received from Serena, it’s gotta feel good to be on the other side.

Serena Williams crashes wedding in leopard-print leotard and steals all focus: Shock or Not? Shock with a SMGDH!

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Speaking of Ms. Williams, I have one thing to say: Come on Serena! We get it. You’re “all that and a bag of chips”. However, this was HER special day, not yours. I’m sure that you thought it would be a great moment for them when you joined them for pictures with your lovely leotard, but it was a moment that was all about you and not them or, more importantly, the bride. If you really wanted to honor THEIR special day, you could have sent Esther over with a check or some other gift. Next time, maybe?

Second-Tier Shocks

Ajla Tomlijanovic defeats Aga Radwanska: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

The stats (30-10 vs 14-12, 13 career titles vs none) pointed to an easy win for Aga, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, a straight sets loss to the unheralded Croatian does bring up some pointed questions regarding Aga’s ability to maintain her top status while her body takes a huge battering. Tons of match play over the past few years seems to be taking a toll. Some suggest that she’s trying to make as much as she can, while she can. I hope not. Physio tape can only do so much to help her once she retires.

Eugenie Bouchard defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Not.

In spite of some earlier clay disappointments, Eugenie is generally riding high in 2014. Angelique? Not so much. I’m not expecting an appearance in the finals, or an upset title winner, but Miss Bouchard is one heckuva poised, intelligent, and talented young lady!

Novak Djokovic crushes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock.

Three words: Come on Jo?!?!?! Six games? Really?

Sara Errani defeats Jelena Jankovic: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

One would have thought that Jelena could finally turn the tables on a less-than-totally-fit Sara. Then again, one would have been wrong. Sara won in Rome, and now again in Paris. I guess Sara is immune to Jelena’s “tennis theater”.

 

PostHeaderIcon Women’s French Open Preview: Number 3 No Sure Thing For Serena

Serena Williams (© FFT)

Serena Williams (© FFT)

In spite of her tennis greatness, Serena Williams is not a sure bet for the French Open title. She’s never defended a French Open title, and has seen many previous French Open campaigns end in tears. Could this be the year of her first French Open defense? Quite possibly. And it’s no surprise that she’ll likely have to go through the woman nipping at the heels of her No. 1 ranking, Li Na, to do it. Let’s take a look at their paths to that final showdown.

Top Half – Top Quarter (Serena Williams [1])

This is a perfect quarter for Serena to work herself into the tournament. It starts routinely in the first round; she gets a little test with Muguruza, and then rounds into form with a win over Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. I’m not sure Venus will get past her first round match with Belinda Bencic, because the French is toughest on Vee with her health issues, and Bencic is tough. So there’s not much chance they’ll play one another in the third round.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

As for the bottom section of this quarter, all I can say is “Tough luck Maria!”

Top Half – Bottom Quarter (Aga Radwanska [3])

Either Aga Radwanska or Carla Suarez Navarro will be the likely quarterfinalist from this relatively weak quarter. That’s not to say that there aren’t some talented players here, because there are. But none of them have shown as much proficiency on clay as these two. They’ve never met on this surface, but Aga leads 2-0 in their H2H. So I’ll take the easy pic of Aga versus any of the likely contenders from the bottom section of this quarter.

Bottom Half – Top Quarter (Simona Halep [4])

This quarter promises a fine quarterfinal between Simona Halep and the resurgent Ana Ivanovic. In spite of the tuning that Simona gave Ana in Madrid, she’s been playing some pretty fine tennis this spring overall. And let’s not forget that she does have some good memories here that might help her down the stretch. I’m still picking Simona for the win, but will definitely make sure I DVR this match for later viewing.

Also lurking in this quarter are Petra Kvitova [5] and Caroline Garcia. In fact, Garcia is Ana’s first match, so the fun starts right out of the gate in this quarter. Still, any potential upset will happen in Ana’s section, and Simona will likely be undeterred from reaching her first French Open semifinal.

Li Na (© FFT)

Li Na (© FFT)

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter (Li Na [2])

After a tight semifinal in Rome, Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani look to renew their rivalry in Paris for a spot in the quarterfinals against Li Na, the likely player from the bottom section of this quarter. But given Sara’s injury in the Rome final against Serena Williams, I can’t imagine she’ll be fit enough to get past Madison Keys in the first round. So look for a Jankovic-Keys R16 with the winner taking on, and probably losing to, former champion Li Na.

Quarterfinal Picks

Serena Williams defeats Maria Sharapova

Aga Radwanska defeats Flavia Pennetta

Simona Halep defeats Ana Ivanovic

Li Na defeats Jelena Jankovic

Semifinal Picks

Serena Williams defeats Aga Radwanska

Li Na defeats Simona Halep

Final Pick

Serena Williams defeats Li Na for her third French Open title.

Notable First-Round Matches

Belinda Bencic v Venus Williams

Monica Puig v Samantha Stosur

Caroline Garcia v Ana Ivanovic

Madison Keys v Sara Errani

Caroline Wozniacki v Yanina Wickmayer

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.
  10. DSCN4507

    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.
  22. DSCN6874

    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!)

PostHeaderIcon Ten (and More) Final Thoughts on My First Indian Wells Experience

BNP Paribas Open champion, Novak Djokovic

BNP Paribas Open champion, Novak Djokovic

Usually I can only muster ten interesting final thoughts in the wake of most tournaments. But after my first trip to the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens, I’ve got quite a lot to say about this year’s event. So without further ado, here are my 25 Final Thoughts. (Hey, at least it’s not quite as hefty as Jon Wertheim’s 50! Right?!)

  1. Many people credit Novak Djokovic’s win in the men’s final more to his Roger Federer’s mistakes than to his own level of play. I disagree. He found a way to get his game back on after an admittedly “off” first set, and played a brand of high-quality tennis that frustrated/pressured his Swiss opponent into both brilliance and unforced errors. And how about his recovery after dropping serve for the match to take it to a third-set tiebreak, let alone his great play in the third-set tiebreak? It was a champion’s focus at its’ best.
  2. DSCN3520Speaking of Roger Federer, this year’s losing finalist came away the big winner from this year’s tournament. He didn’t win, but he played some pretty terrific tennis all week, and only lost by the slimmest of margins in Sunday’s final. More to the point, he’s healthy, happy, feisty, and enjoying his tennis tremendously these days. Just a quick gleaning of the demeanor between the title winner (pleased, but relieved and slightly guarded) with the loser (happy, relaxed, and joking) speaks volumes.
  3. Two more Federer notes. 1) I was surprised to see Mirka at the final on such a hot day. She is VERY pregnant… 2) Saw the Federer twins while getting some ice cream, and OMG they are so gosh darn cute! That is all.
  4. Flavia Pennetta didn’t have to work hard to win the biggest title of her career, but nobody can deny that she’s paid her dues many times over in a career marked by great potential, partnered with unfortunate injuries. She’s funny, she’s colorful, and a thoroughly likeable veteran of the WTA. Even if she can’t parlay this into greater 2014 success, it was still a great run.
  5. A few years back, I wrote a piece on Aga Radwanska  that highlighted the dichotomy of her exquisite play with an on-court demeanor and facial expressions that would make one think that she’d rather be anywhere else. Of course that’s not the case, but it’s still sometimes the perception. Hopefully that perception will be erased by her tearful speech after losing to Pennetta in the final. How could someone not feel the anguished pride of a champion who couldn’t compete due to their fullest ability? I hope this injury doesn’t have lasting ramifications into the season, because if anyone is due a big win at some point, her name is Agnieszka!
  6. Even though I gave Alize Cornet less than stellar remarks for sobbing during her final against Venus Williams in Dubai, I take no issue with Aga’s tears after her disappointing performance. In fact, I give her much higher regard for her tears than I do for Roger’s after his loss to Rafa in their infamous Australian Open final. All tears are not equal.
  7. DSCN2019Big John Isner lost to Djokovic in the semifinals, but that’s okay. Coming off an extended post-Aussie injury layoff, he continued his trajectory of pushing himself to be more aggressive in his ground game. It’s a great thing to see from a guy who appears to be rejecting a career filled with 7-6 sets in order to give himself the best chance at Slams.
  8. Stan Wawrinka: how heavy is the head that wears the Aussie crown? I’d say it’s pretty darn heavy! His career breakthrough moment in Melbourne appears to be heaping a level of expectation on Stan that he doesn’t want, nor for which he’s necessarily prepared. I think the same would be true of Richard Gasquet if he were to have a breakthrough Slam. Although it would be great, it could also cripple his remaining time on tour with the public burden for more success. Some players have the ego for success, some don’t…
  9. And speaking of ego for success, Ernests Gulbis made an unexpectedly quiet exit from the BNP Paribas Open after his loss to John Isner in the quarterfinals. Always one to speak his mind, as well as smash a racquet or two, did neither. Some in the crowd opined that maybe he would have done better with a good racquet toss, but we’ll never know…
  10. I have no idea what Victoria Azarenka gained by playing this event hurt. She’s out of Miami, and heads into the tough clay court season with a prolonged injury recovery, as opposed to fine-tuning her game for a run at the French Open title. If she’s going to use the extra time off for her rumored nuptials to Redfoo, there were probably better ways to do it.
  11. DSCN8151Sloane Stephens had a great tournament. She may have lost her “sandstorm” quarterfinal with Pennetta, but she mostly stopped a sad track record of getting strategically lost in matches when under pressure. Paul Annacone looks to be a good fit for her temperament. He also seems to be helping her relax and enjoy the game more. That’s a good thing, because it’s been hard watching Sloane become hardened under the pressure of expectations these past several months.
  12. BTW, that was one heckuva sandstorm at Indian Wells during the Sloane-Flavio quarterfinal. Potted trees were blowing over, and grounds staff quickly worked to secure large viewing screens. One can only imagine what it was like on court. Actually, I’d rather not.
  13. Alexandr Dolgopolov is finally showing his stuff on a consistent basis these days, and it’s great to see. There’ve been times in the past where he looked to be half-steppin’ during his matches, especially when pressured. At least now he holds on until the last game.
  14. This might not be popular with Canadian readers, but Milos Raonic was lucky to make it as far as he did in the desert. One veteran writer even went so far as to tweet, “I’ll be accused of bias but as Milos Raonic walks onto Stadium 1, I can’t help thinking someone else should be out there.” (In case you couldn’t tell, the combo is Harman/Murray.) There will come a time, hopefully sooner rather than later, when Milos will need to back up his talent, and potential, with sustained results. And in this year of the “super coach”, I’m not sure that Ivan Lubjcic is having the desired effect on Raonic’s game as with some of the others.
  15. No doubt about it… Andy Murray is in a regressive state. When Ivan Lendl is absent from the player box, Andy reverts back to his pre-Slam state of body-grabbing, barking at his box, swearing to the heavens, and generally comporting himself in a manner not befitting a two-time Slam champion. I asked Neil Harman, a man who’s followed Andy’s career closely, if Andy’s capable of his best play when Lendl isn’t around. His response was enlightening. Neil thinks that we shouldn’t even be having this type of discussion for someone of Andy’s status, and that there should be no question of regression from Andy. Agreed!
  16. portrait-maria-rafaBad art, Part 1: Maria Sharapova lost to the talented but inconsistent Italian, Camila Giorgi. It wasn’t a complete surprise to see Maria at her rusty best after time off the tour, but I’m sure it didn’t help her when she saw her “champion’s portrait” outside of Stadium 1.
  17. FYI: After beating Sharapova in a tough third-round 3-setter, Giorgi won only 3 games against Pennetta in R16. She then lost in the first round of Miami, also in 3 sets. Besides the number 3, I did say Inconsistent, yes? And what about the many unpaid investors of her tennis career?
  18. Bad art, Part 2: Rafa Nadal barely scraped by Radek Stepanek in the first round, but was not so lucky in his second-round match against eventual semifinalist Dolgopolov. It’s rare to see Rafa SO very uncomfortable on court. But again, how comfortable can one be when this is how you are portrayed from your victorious 2013 campaign?
  19. Bob and Mike Bryan defeated the fine doubles team of Bruno Soares and Alexander Peya for the men’s doubles title, and also deftly deflected the continuing dregs of McEnroe criticism of doubles players as failed singles players. I give them immense amounts of credit for both their tireless efforts to promote the game of doubles as well as their patience at dealing with what feels to be a media-driven narrative, started by a guy who can’t let go of the past.
  20. Speaking of doubles, it would be a fair assessment to say that women’s doubles got short shrift in the tournament’s scheduling. Even the eventual champions, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, had to deal with a certain amount of name-butchering after their finals triumph. But in one of the best and most subtle “putting someone in their place” scenes I’ve ever witnessed, Hsieh, when asked to speak during the trophy presentation, went up to the microphone and said, “Hello everyone. I’m shy, like my name.”
  21. Segueing into my thoughts on the tournament itself, I was surprised at the scheduling. At some of the other big combined tournaments (notably Miami), there’s a more equitable feel between both the singles/doubles scheduling and the men’s/women’s scheduling. At Indian Wells, it was difficult to adequately cover men’s doubles without a clone, let alone the women’s events. A great case in point for the explicit conflict: having to choose between the Flavia and Aga post-final press conferences, and the Roger/Novak final. Is that really necessary?
  22. indian wells stadium 1Scheduling conflicts aside, I enjoyed my first trip as media to the BNP Paribas Open. In spite of my tendency to push back on people telling me that something is great and expecting me to echo the sentiment, I did find lots to like about the tournament from both a fan and media perspective. As a fan, the venue is first class, the scenery is stunning, and the practice court layout (and online schedule) make it breeze to watch your favorites up close.
  23. Every volunteer and worker I encountered during my time at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens was helpful, friendly, and quick with a smile, proving that you don’t have to be mean and confrontational to do your job, even if it’s security. Other tournaments take note!
  24. Trophy talk: why have a trophy that’s too heavy for the champion to lift? I say, bring back the whale…
  25. On the media front, the easy access to the interview room and the dining area (shared with the players) from the Xerox Media Center is awesome. Unless you need to go on the grounds to get a feel for fan mood, there’s no need to ever leave the media center area. The proximity to the players also leads to interesting interactions: like my shared laughter with Novak’s non-Boris coach, Marián Vajda, when we both heard the stadium announcer warning fans to duck Dolgopolov’s thrown shoes.

When I start writing about thrown shoes and whales, it’s time to close the book on my first BNP Paribas Open. I left Palm Springs with a slight head cold, but great memories from my trip. I’m looking forward to my return.

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