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Posts Tagged ‘John Isner’

PostHeaderIcon Novak’s Time to Shine: My Wimbledon Men’s Preview

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Djokovic [1] – Tsonga [14] *

Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)

Gulbis [12] – Berdych [6] *

Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)

Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.

After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.

Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Murray [3] – Fognini [16] *

Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)

Dimitrov [11] – Ferrer [7] *

Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)

Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.

Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.

Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Wawrinka [5] – Isner [9] *

Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)

Janowicz [15] – Federer [4] *

Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)

This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.

Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.

Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.

But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Raonic [8] – Nishikori [10] *

Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)

Gasquet [13] – Nadal [2] *

Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)

Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.

Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.

And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.  Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.

How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.

My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.

Quarterfinal Picks

Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal

Notable First-Round Matches

Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [27]

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11] v Ryan Harrison (USA)

Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)

Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) [21]

Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]

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 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.

PostHeaderIcon Roger and Novak Set The Stage for a Mouthwatering Indian Wells Final

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

 [7] Roger Federer d [28] Alexandr Dolgopolov 63 61

Roger Federer completely overwhelmed Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first men’s semifinal to book his spot in Sunday’s final. Dolgopolov is one of the ATP’s brightest, and most exciting, young prospects: capable of incredible shot-making from anywhere on the court. Against Federer, Dolgopolov missed wildly, and was never able to sink his teeth into the match enough to put Federer under any credible pressure.

Federer was taken to deuce only once in the match, in the seventh game, but snuffed out any hopes for a break with an ace and a service winner. From that point on, it was an uphill battle for his Ukrainian opponent.

“I was ready physically, mentally.  I wasn’t nervous, but I wasn’t sharp enough.  My concentration was going away for maybe one, two points every game. You can’t afford to have that in these matches.”

One of the key problems in his match against Federer was his erratic serve. Against Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals, Dolgopolov struggled with his first serve (54%) but still managed to win 90% of those points. Against Federer, his first serve dropped to 39% with a winning percentage of only 67%. And his 12 winners were thoroughly offset by 25 unforced errors.

He struggled at serve, struggled with his ground game, and struggled in his net play. Dolgopolov put it succinctly when he said, “From the start of the match I was just not good enough to compete with him today.”

Federer, on the other hand, continues to play some of the most relaxed and free-swinging tennis he’s played in years; primarily due to the continued pain-free status of his back.

“Yeah, I think I’m just playing more freely overall and with more confidence because I can get to more balls without thinking.  I can wake up in the morning without feeling sore.  I can go to bed not feeling like, I hope I feel better tomorrow.”

Novak DJokovic

Novak DJokovic

[2] Novak Djokovic d [12] John Isner 75 67(2) 61

For Novak Djokovic, the road to the final was a much tougher affair. After taking a tight first set against Isner, he served for the match twice in the second set: once at 5-4, and again at 6-5. Both times he was broken by combination of nerves, loss of focus, and the aggressive Isner return game.

Once in the second set tiebreak, it was one-way traffic for Isner, who won the tiebreaker with big serving and an equally big ground game to take the match into a deciding set.

However, once Isner was broken in the fourth game of the deciding set – the fourth break of his serve in the match – one got the sense that it was one free gift too many for Djokovic. Unlike his miscues at the end of the second set, Djokovic kept his focus and fought through three deuces to consolidate the break.

To Isner’s credit, he continued to push Djokovic even as his knee bend began to get hampered by slight pain. By no means a “gimme”, Isner made Djokovic produce his best tennis to get through.

A second break of Isner’s serve in the sixth game put the final nail in the coffin for any hope of a comeback. Djokovic served out the match at love.

Isner was understandably disappointed after fighting so hard to get back into the match only to let it slip away in the third. “Yeah, you know, it’s always disappointing when you lose, no matter the situation.  You lose first round, it’s disappointing; end of the tournament, it’s still disappointing.”

In spite of the loss, he was heartened by his great week after a sustained post-Aussie injury layoff. “I didn’t hit a ball for a full month after Australia, so, you know, it’s encouraging in that I played well this week.  I certainly did.”

Novak was clearly relieved to get by an opponent with a serve that can take much of the game out of his hands.

“Yeah, it’s never easy to play John who is if not “the” best, but definitely the top three best servers in the game.  He’s the tallest guy next to Karlovic we have in sport.  He has a great technique.”

“Twice I had chance to finish it out (the second set) and I played two bad games and he played an incredible tiebreaker.  And, you know, when you get to the tiebreaker with John Isner, whoever you are, you’re not a favorite (smiling).”

In Federer, he faces a familiar foe for Sunday’s final, and realizes that it will be a tough match; especially after a February loss to Roger in the Dubai semifinals.

“Whenever we play each other it’s always a huge challenge for both of us, and very few points can decide the winner. I do not expect anything less tomorrow.  I just hope for myself that I will be able to perform on a high level, because I’m going to need to do that in order to get a chance to win against him.”

Men’s Final
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
H2H: Federer leads 17-15
Last match: Federer d Djokovic 36 63 62 (Dubai)

Women’s Final
Aga Radwanska v Flavia Pennetta
H2H: Radwanska leads 4-2
Last match: Pennetta d Radwanska 64 61 (Dubai)

PostHeaderIcon Roger & Novak: Men’s Semifinal Post-Match at the BNP Paribas Open (VIDEO)

youtube-blog-thI decided to do a video post-match after a great day of men’s semifinals with Roger Federer routing Alexandr Dolgopolov and Novak Djokovic besting John Isner in a hard-fought 3-setter.

Since tomorrow is the final day with both men’s and women’s finals, rest assured I’ll be doing one last video wrap. I mean,come on?!?! Aga versus Flavia and Roger versus Novak? If that doesn’t deserve a video wrap, I don’t know what does. 🙂

Stay tuned…

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