Posts Tagged ‘Caroline Wozniacki’

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 Serena, Vika, Caro, and Shuai: My US Open Women’s Quarterfinals Picks

Serena Williams (Mike Lawrence/usopen.org)

Serena Williams (Mike Lawrence/usopen.org)

I wasn’t able to do any pre-tournament write-ups or picks for this year’s US Open because of my assignment in New Haven. But now that I’m back in San Francisco with a bit of free time on my hands, the quarterfinals seemed like as good a place as any to get back on the horse and make some picks for the last Slam of the year. Ladies first!

Peng Shuai  (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Peng Shuai (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs Shuai Peng (CHN)

H2H: No previous meetings

There’s no match history between these two players, so there’s not much to say on the prospects for this match other than generalities.

Bencic has played good tennis to reach the quarters; particularly in her match against the veteran Jelena Jankovic. I fully expected Jankovic to dig deep into her bag of tricks for a win against her 17 year-old opponent, but it didn’t happen. Bencic, young and prone to some impatience/volatility, kept it together on one of the game’s biggest stages; and in one of the biggest matches of her life.

Can she give a repeat performance in the quarters? That depends on her opponent, Peng Shuai. Peng steadily knocked off an impressive roster of players in reaching the quarters (Zheng, Radwanska, Vinci, and Safarova), and did so impressively without dropping a set. She’s not a flashy player, and doesn’t possess any huge weapons. But she will make you play solid and consistent tennis to beat her.

Bencic is certainly talented enough, but I’m not sure if she’s steady enough at this stage in her career to rise to the occasion in a Slam quarterfinal. For that reason alone, I’ll go with Peng. But I won’t be surprised if it goes either way given the volatility of this year’s tournament.

Pick: Peng Shuai

Caroline Wozniacki (Philip Hall/usopen.org)

Caroline Wozniacki (Philip Hall/usopen.org)

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [10] vs Sara Errani (ITA) [13]

H2H: Wozniacki leads 2-1

Underestimate Sara Errani at your own risk; especially after her revenge-fueled victory over Venus Williams the other day. It wasn’t pretty. And yes, Venus is not the “Venus” we remember from her pre-Sjogren days. But none of that mattered in the end. Sara came away with the hard-fought victory, and has a chance to redeem her disappointing year in singles.

The same could be said for Caroline. After spotty results earlier in the year, she’s played like Dane possessed during the summer hard court swing. She took Serena the distance in their two last tournaments (Montreal and Cincinnati), and knocked out Maria in a brilliant R16 match to reach the quarters. She’s serving harder, hitting her forehand harder, and is notably mixing up her shot patterns to keep opponents off-balance. Moreover, her backhand winner on match point against Maria, a pre-2014 rarity, tells you everything you need to know about where Caro is with her game. (Hint: aggressive.)

I don’t want to risk getting Sara riled up again, but I’m going with Caro in this one. Sara has picked up her game, but Caro’s the one most primed for a breakthrough.

Pick: Caroline Wozniacki

Serena Williams (USA) [1] vs Flavia Pennetta (ITA) [11]     

H2H: Williams leads 5-0

Serena is, of course, the prohibitive favorite in any match-up at any tournament. But this particular version of Serena is a bit more vulnerable and prone to meltdowns than the one we’ve come to know in recent years. With time winding down on her Hall of Fame career, she’s put tremendous pressure on herself to reach coveted milestones. That pressure has virtually crippled her in the Slams this year, with early exits in Melbourne, Paris, and London. It says a ton that this is her first Slam quarterfinal of 2014.

Flavia’s year has also been underwhelming after her early success in winning the title at Indian Wells. Her match results have been unpredictable at best, and haven’t come close to those reaching the earlier highs of the year. In spite of it all, she’s made it through to the second week, and is facing off against Serena for the second time at the Open.

Unfortunately for Flavia, she’s only won a grand total of six games in her last four hard court sets against Serena. Even in a tournament filled with upsets, this does NOT bode well. I’m picking Serena to reach her first Slam semifinal with a routine win over the Italian.

Pick: Serena Williams

Victoria Azarenka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Victoria Azarenka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [16] vs Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) [17]

H2H: Azarenka leads 3-2

Ekaterina won their last match on clay in three sets (2013), but has yet to beat Vika on a hard court. She’s a great player with big weapons who has managed some stunning Slam upsets over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, she’s never backed up those upsets in the later rounds when the pressure was at its’ highest.

Vika, on the other hand, lives for the big moments in the big matches. Sometimes she’s a bit too prickly on court for my taste, but you can’t deny her competitive fight. It’s taken her to the Open final the past two years, and could very well again for a hat trick of final appearances in successive years.  She came into New York with a ton of rust and lack of match play, but she’s found a way to make it through.

She may not be playing her best tennis right now, but I’ve got to go with Vika for the win on her chutzpah alone.

Pick: Victoria Azarenka

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 Aussie Champ Li Na Ousted In An Epic Day Three French Open “Shock or Not” (VIDEO)

Li Na (© FFT)

Li Na (© FFT)

A lot of notable names bit the dust on Day Three at the French Open: some due to upsets, some due to injury retirement, and one simply said “Goodbye”. So let’s dive right into an epic upset day at Roland Garros, starting with the ouster of the women’s Australian Open champion one day after the Australian men’s champion was sent packing.

Kristina Mladenovic defeats Na Li: Shock or Not? Epic Shock, But…

It’s reality check time for Li Na and her coach, Carlos Rodriguez. Upsets happen in almost every tournament, but there’s a level of ‘acceptable’ sloppiness that permeates Na’s game. And I say ‘acceptable’ because she appears to be perfectly okay with it.

When she lost to Serena in Miami after being up two breaks at 5-2, winning only 1 more game of the final 12, she said “I think it was a pretty good match” afterwards in press. When she lost to Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells with nine double faults and 52 unforced errors, she said, “I think it was pretty high level match”.

Grigor Dimitrov (© FFT)

Grigor Dimitrov (© FFT)

If your bar for a high-quality match includes 52 unforced errors, something is very wrong and very broken with your quality barometer! Mladenovic, a mixed doubles Slam winner, is a fine player. However, Li Na is a two-time Slam champion (including former French Open champion) who needs to play like one. I repeat, it’s not acceptable to play this poorly to later declare, “That was good, wasn’t it?”

Ivo Karlovic defeats Grigor Dimitrov: Shock or Not? Total Shock…Unless You Watched Match.

Dimitrov came into the French Open as a legitimate dark horse for the title. He’s improved his game and fitness, and even won his first clay title in Bucharest during the lead up to Roland Garros. On the other side of the net was Karlovic, a player who’s arguably past his prime but still manages a good win or two in smaller events. Easy winner pick, right? Wrong!

Karlovic’s serve was ‘on’, and his slice game was working effectively on the clay. Dimitrov was kept off-balance, and struggled to dig the low balls up without having them get put away by the big man at the net. On paper, this loss was a total shock. But Karlovic’s level of play against Dimitrov was reminiscent of the Ivo that, back in the day, few top players wanted to meet in the first round of a major. Still, it was a shocking loss for this young gun. Maybe some Sugarpova will help ease his pain.

Ana Ivanovic defeats Caroline Garcia: Shock or Not? Shock For Relative Ease, But….

The young Frenchwoman, with maiden title in hand from Bogota, cracked under the pressure of French Open expectations and won only 4 games against Ivanovic. What should have been a dangerous outing for Ivanovic ended in a routine first-round victory. But if we learned nothing else from Amelie Mauresmo, it’s that playing at home in France is often your biggest opponent at the French Open.

tomic-french-jacket

Bernard Tomic at his post-match press conference

Samantha Stosur defeats Monica Puig: Shock or Not? Actually, I’m Kinda Shocked!

Sam Stosur, one of the tour’s most disappointing Slam champs in the past couple of years, routed one of the tour’s better newcomers with the loss of only two games; with stitches in her leg. This might seem harsh, but given Sam’s struggles this year, I was pretty much expecting a first- or second-round loss. As I always say, I LOVE to be proven wrong.

Richard Gasquet defeats Bernard Tomic: Shock or Not? Completely Shocked at Tomic’s…

…bad taste in post-match attire. Otherwise, I have no other comments on Tomic’s ongoing issues of questionable commitment to training, proper attitude, and way-too-staunch defense of his coach/father. I’m “over it”.

Caroline Wozniacki (© FFT)

Caroline Wozniacki (© FFT)

Yanina Wickmayer defeats Caroline Wozniacki: Shock or Not? Sadly, Not Shocked.

Poor Caroline attempted to play this year’s French Open with a bum knee and a broken heart. Either one by itself would be a challenge, but the combination was too much. As Erik Gudris wrote in his piece Wozniacki Stands at Crossroads After French Open Loss, Wozniacki is in a tough place right now. People sometimes forget that players are just like us, and are affected just as much in their job performance as we are by similar events. A loss of confidence due to injury and a broken engagement would affect anyone, let alone a 23 year-old. I feel for her, and hope she gets it all sorted before the 2014 season is a washout.

Camila Giorgi defeats Bojana Jovanovski: Shock or Not? No Shock, Just Happiness

With a grunt/screech that puts Vika Azarenka to shame, I’m never sad to see a noisemaker on the receiving end of a loss. Sorry.

Marinko Matosevic defeats Dustin Brown: Shock or Not? Majorly Shocked At His Reaction!

Matosevic finally won his first Slam match in his thirteenth attempt, and this is how he reacted:

Also, I’m a little sad to see the colorful @DreddyTennis knocked out. (Especially since the avatar I’m using in my Sega virtual tennis game looks like him.)

Injury Retirement Shocks

Jack Sock defeats Nicolas Almagro via retirement (foot injury). Withdrew from match with Wawrinka in Monte Carlo due to similar injury. Not a good sign…

Jurgen Zopp defeats Tommy Haas via retirement (shoulder injury). I don’t know how much longer Tommy can keep this up. He probably doesn’t either.

Actual Retirement Shocks

Nikolay Davydenko will definitely NOT be playing Wimbledon, and is mulling retirement.

Et enfin, au revoir a Michael Llodra!

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.
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    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.
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    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!)

PostHeaderIcon It’s Complicated: The Bottom Line on Caroline and Andy’s Coaching Changes

Andy Murray working with former coach Ivan Lendl at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open.

Andy Murray working with former coach Ivan Lendl at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open.

The relationship between player and coach in tennis is an odd one. Players hire coaches to push them beyond their comfort zone in order to get to the next level. But the player is also the one who signs the paychecks. Since it’s rare that a player knows best how to take their career to the next level, this can lead to poor decision-making with respect to coaching changes.

Such is the case with two big changes that have been announced this past week. The first, while not wholly unexpected, is mind-numbingly comical nonetheless. Danish player Caroline Wozniacki split with her coach, Michael Mortensen, after only 3 months.

On the ATP front, Andy Murray split from Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl, the coach who helped propel him to both Olympic and Grand Slam success. Both of these changes are noteworthy, but for very different reasons. Let’s start first with Wozniacki.

Caroline Wozniacki at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open with her father, Piotr (in blue).

After an early loss at the Australian Open, Caro hired Mortensen after firing Sharapova’s old coach, Thomas Hogstedt. The explanation was “no chemistry”, which is valid. Sometimes the personalities don’t mesh and you need to course-correct. Enter Mortensen.

All statements after the hire were positive from both camps. At the time, Mortensen said, “She needs to get her joy in playing back – both in matches and on the practice court.” Caro echoed similar sentiments, saying, “He has a very positive attitude to both the game and the training, and he has a good way of saying things. He is passionate about the sport and I like that. It is very motivating.”

Fast forward to last week’s firing. Mortensen, who’s maintained an “I’m not afraid of being fired” attitude throughout, even given Caroline’s past coach revolving door, told the newspaper Esktra Bladet “I can’t do much more right now. It’s better if the two of them continue working alone.”

I’d like to feel sorry for Mortensen, but can’t after reading interviews like the one he gave to Sporten. (Note: Google Translate does a decent job with the Danish translation. Click here for pdf of translated article.) When you sign on to coach someone who has repeatedly fired coaches in lieu of working with her father, Piotr, then tell the press “I fear nothing”, you are asking to be knocked down a peg.

For Caroline, I can’t help but be perplexed if this is the best solution to her downward spiral; because if she could have gone further with her father, she would have. More to the point, you’re guaranteed to not progress with anyone if they’re not allowed more than 2-4 months to create a positive impact. Here’s hoping that she ends this coaching charade and doesn’t repeat the cycle with another new hire.

Murray’s coaching change, while not necessarily perplexing, elicits other larger questions on Andy’s championship character. Few would think it a realistic expectation that Ivan Lendl would, in the prime years of retirement, opt to return to the grueling travel schedule of life on tour, even as a coach. There was always going to be a shelf-life to this relationship.

The problem for Andy, however, is one that hits to the heart of his character as a champion. Though he’s won 2 Slams and Olympic gold under Lendl’s tutelage, he has often struggled to maintain a championship caliber of deportment without Lendl in his player’s box. With Lendl present, Andy’s overall level was elevated. Without Lendl, he regressed to pre-Lendl barking, swearing, body-part grabbing and equivalent match results.

So before the post-mortem begins on their dissolved partnership, one must question the larger issue of why Andy was unable to maintain a certain standard in Lendl’s absence. This was the point made by Neil Harman when I asked his thoughts on the matter, and it’s a fair one.

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafa Nadal all have played without their primary coaches present, and never “reverted”. Coach or no coach, shouldn’t Andy expect more from himself as a 2-time Slam champ and Olympic gold medalist? I would think so if you are playing to achieve even greater heights in your career. However, if you’ve accomplished everything you set out to accomplish as a player, maybe not.

Bottom line for both: Wozniacki needs to stop the madness and go it alone from here on out, and Murray needs someone but, more importantly, needs to ask himself what manner of champion he wants to be.

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