Posts Tagged ‘Madison Keys’

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 Gurrl Down: Vika Claims The Top Spot On An Inaugural Indian Wells “Shock or Not”

vika-azarenka

Though some might disagree, there haven’t been any draw-shattering upsets/losses these past couple of days at the BNP Paribas Open. But there has been enough action that I’d be remiss if i didn’t highlight a handful of notable losses, as well as the stories behind them. Let’s start with Vika and work our way down the list to Sam, Donald, Jerzy, and Madison.

Lauren Davis defeats Vika Azarenka: Shock or Not? Surprisingly Not

As Kathy Griffin would say, “GURRL DOWN!”
I called this loss when I wrote my preview piece. However, let’s be honest. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to know that Vika probably wouldn’t get past the first couple of rounds after 1) hearing her say that she’d come play and “Give it a try”, 2) find out that she was still feeling pain in her foot, and 3) she hadn’t played since her loss in Australia. Lauren’s a solid player, but all she had to do was keep the ball in play long enough to get the win.

Vika told the press afterward that, owing to criticisms of her past retirements, she wanted to tough it out and push herself. I’m not sure what she, or anyone, can accomplish when playing on an injury that has been as debilitating as this. Miami isn’t looking too good in her cards right now. Then again, she’d have plenty of time off for those wedding rumors that have been making the rounds.

sam querrey

Andreas Seppi defeats Sam Querrey: Shock or Not? Not

When I interviewed Jim Courier at the PowerShares Champions Shootout, I asked about his ‘takeaway’ on the US squad’s losing Davis Cup effort in San Diego. After the strategic nuts and bolts on Sam’s two huge losses in singles, he ended by saying “You need to move forward.  So that’s what I’ll do from my perspective (as coach), and I’m hoping that’s what Sam’s doing too.”

That’s what Sam seemingly did for a set and a half in his match against Andreas Seppi. All of a sudden, the wheels fell off and he started playing passive tennis. Meanwhile on the other side of the net, Andreas finally settled in and found his groove. By the time Sam lost the second set tiebreak, the match was pretty much lost. Sam is at a real crossroads right now, and I’d hate to see him have a Donald Young-esque slide into confidence oblivion. Speaking of Donald Young…

donald-young

Michael Russell defeats Donald Young: Shock or Not? Not…

Donald Young’s flagging career continues to be both shocking and sad! Earlier in the year, he’d managed to gain momentum on the Challenger circuit, and was slowly building confidence as the results started to come. Then came a dispiriting loss to Kei Nishikori at the Australian Open, and a beating by Andy Murray in Davis Cup. After witnessing such epic losses in matches that could competitive, one has to wonder if Donald is simply too mentally fragile for the pro tour.

Michael Russell is by all measures, the definition of a diminutive journeyman. Yet he approaches his game with a level of professionalism that should be copied by any junior looking to succeed with the big guys. He’s a small guy with limited weapons in his arsenal. But that doesn’t stop him from plugging away, and continually working to be better.

Donald has more natural gifts at his disposal, but no idea how to maximize any of them. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about the fact that his mom and dad are his coaches. It’s about him and the size of his heart. I’ve heard Donald’s self-deprecating match dialogue while sitting courtside, and it’s hard to hear someone talk to himself in a manner that they would never accept from someone else.

At a certain point, he’s got to ask himself if this is what he really wants to do. If not, he should stop and find what does make him happy. If it is what he wants to do, then EVERYTHING about his approach to the game MUST change.

madison-keys

Alejandro Falla defeats Jerzy Janowicz: Shock or Not? Shock

Falla is a solid veteran who maximizes his game, knows what he’s about, and works incredibly hard on court to put himself into good ball-striking positions. I mean no disrespect to him.  Jerzy, on the other hand, is an extremely talented player who has a knack for making his life harder than it needs to be. His temperament issues are going to be the thing that keeps his enormous amount of talent from becoming great if he or his coach don’t get a handle on it … and soon.

Roberta Vinci defeats Madison Keys: Shock or Not? Not

I’m not shocked, but I’m becoming weary of constantly hearing how this or that up-and-comer is the next great thing only to see them regularly crash and burn in the early rounds. Can we agree to stop talking about players’ Grand Slam potential when they can’t consistently make it deep in smaller tournaments? (Wishful thinking, I know.)

PostHeaderIcon The 2014 AO Women’s Draw, or Can Serena Stop Vika’s AO Hat Trick?

Serena Williams (Darrian Traynor)

Serena Williams (Darrian Traynor)

That may sound like an odd question to ask about the greatest player of her generation. But such is the case with respect to Serena Williams and her primary rival, Victoria Azarenka. Serena, the World #1, has won five Australian Open titles; but none since 2010. Vika, on the other hand, has lifted the Aussie Open trophy the past two years; in spite of a perpetual runner-up status to Serena in the Slams. Go figure!

If Serena can make it through without injury, the stage looks set for her to win a sixth Aussie title after a dominating run in Brisbane. The draw looks favorable for Serena. Then again, it also looks favorable for Vika. Let’s take a deeper look and see if there’s anyone who can stop the Serena-Vika juggernaut.

ao14-vika

Victoria Azarenka (Ben Solomon)

Top Half – Top Quarter

Serena Williams – Ana Ivanovic R16

Roberta Vinci/Madison Keys/Kirsten Flipkens – Eugenie Bouchard R16

I was listening to some commentators on the Tennis Channel as they discussed Serena’s draw and heard them say that it actually looks harder than it may seem. I couldn’t disagree more! The only person who should have a shot at derailing Serena, Sam Stosur, has sadly been MIA for some time.

Tsvetana Pironkova did well to win Sydney, but there’s a huge difference between beating Angelique Kerber and “surviving Serena”! Ana Ivanovic? Not enough belief or firepower. And the level of opposition isn’t any better on the other side of the quarter though it would be great to see a “Young Guns” R16 match between Madison Keys and Eugenie Bouchard.

Throwing down the gauntlet, I’ll be shocked if Serena even drops a set on her way to the semifinals.

Top Half – Bottom Quarter

Li Na – Sabine Lisicki R16

Angelique Kerber – Petra Kvitova R16

Though it’s sometimes hard to know what to expect from Li Na on a match-by-match basis, the odds look good for her to make it to the quarterfinals. Coincidentally, the same can be said about Petra Kvitova, the other likely quarterfinalist in this section of the draw. Both women are Grand Slam champions with huge ground games that they can impose on their opponents. Both are also prone to prolonged patches of equally head-scratching tennis.

Luckily for them, their likely challengers in the R16 are Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber; so I expect both to make it through. Venus Williams is in the section of the quarter with Li Na, but I don’t expect her to make an impact… Still, it’s great to see her healthy enough to compete.

In a choice between Li and Kvitova, I’ll give Li Na the nod.

ao14-maria

Maria Sharapova (Fiona Hamilton)

Bottom Half – Top Quarter

Jelena Jankovic – Simona Halep R16

Carla Suarez Navarro/Dominika Cibulkova – Alize Cornet/Maria Sharapova R16

In terms of potential for interesting matches/outcomes, this quarter takes my top honors. Most would expect to see a Jelena Jankovic-Maria Sharapova quarterfinal, but I see at least 3 other players who could do some damage in this quarter.

Jankovic could face some real trouble with Simona Halep, the “Tier 2” Serena of 2013. Sharapova could also have her hands full: first with surprise Hopman Cup champion Alize Cornet, then with either Carla Suarez Navarro or Dominika Cibulkova. Cornet didn’t fare well in Sydney, but an upset is always possible.

All things being equal, I’ll go with Jelena over Simona (1-2 H2H but won only meeting on hard court), and Maria over Carla before besting Jelena to make the semifinals.

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter

Aga Radwanska – Caroline Wozniacki R16

Sloane Stephens/Yaroslava Shvedova/Svetlana Kuznetsova – Victoria Azarenka R16

As interesting as the “Maria” quarter is for potential match-ups, this quarter doesn’t seem to possess the same level of intrigue. At least on paper, Radwanska’s likely R16 looks to be Caroline Wozniacki. But Wozniacki, the future Mrs. McIlroy, could flame out in her opening match, or just as easily live up to her seeding. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for the latter, but no more than that.

Azarenka’s path to the quarterfinals will need to go through some pretty big hitters in Stephens, Shvedova, Kuznetsova, and Jamie Hampton (3rd round). But none of them have made an impact so far in the 2014 season. In fact, there has been talk that Stephens, last year’s surprise semifinalist, was injured coming into Melbourne and was iffy for her AO start. Odds are it’s Vika through to a quarterfinal meeting against Aga. And we know how that is likely to end. (Hint: Vika)

(UPDATE: Jamie Hampton has withdrawn from the Australian Open due to a hip injury.)

Notable First Round Matches

Casey Dellacqua v Vera Zvonareva (welcome back Vera!)

Ekaterina Makarova v Venus Williams

Bethanie Mattek-Sands v Maria Sharapova

Sloane Stephens v Yaroslava Shvedova

Tournament Picks

As always, take with several grains of salt…

Quarterfinals

Serena Williams v Eugenie Bouchard

Li Na v Petra Kvitova

Jelena Jankovic v Maria Sharapova

Aga Radwanska v Victoria Azarenka

Semifinals

Serena Williams v Li Na

Maria Sharapova v Victoria Azarenka

Final

Serena Williams v Victoria Azarenka

Champion: Serena Williams

PostHeaderIcon More Post-Sleep Pre-Australian Open Tune-up Thoughts

addendum-delp-aga

Due to sleep constraints last night (got to bed around 5AM) I didn’t get a chance to include discussions of WTA stars Sloane Stephens, who injured her wrist playing the Hopman Cup competition, or Aga Radwanska, who lost in the first round of Sydney. Sloane’s participation in this year’s Australian Open is in jeopardy because of the injury, and that’s not a good thing for her at the start of the year. Sloane has semifinal points to defend, and that’s a huge chunk of points that can make her life easier or harder as the year progresses. I’ve got my fingers crossed for her.

Aga I’m not as concerned about because she lost to a surging Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a dangerous player who can knock out many players on her good days. Then again, she might end up retiring due to injury like she did against Madison Keys.  And while it’s true that this is a disappointing result from a defending champion, I have no doubts about Aga’s ability to step up when needed for a deep run in Melbourne.

Madison Keys took a nice step forward in her development by reaching the Sydney semifinals, but still gets too lost in her match strategy to contend deep in a Slam. Angelique Kerber, one of the Sydney finalists, confirmed her top 10 credentials with this run, but still needs way more offense to take on the likes of Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka. Tsvetana Pironkova? I’ll be generous and be glad for this deep run in Sydney. But there’s no reason for us to expect a Melbourne run come next week.

Over at Hobart, Sam Stosur is the class of the field in the women’s singles draw. Then again, this is Australia, and Sam NEVER plays her best tennis in Australia. The fact that she should win this title is irrelevant to whether or not she will actually lift the trophy. And that will still have little bearing on Sam’s Aussie Open chances, which are pretty reminiscent of Amelie Mauresmo’s French Open chances back in the day.

On the ATP side, Juan Martin Del Potro is having a good tune-up in Sydney, and should take the title. And after a trip back up to the game’s second-tier elite in 2013, he must always be considered a threat at the Slams. But has he gotten over his laid back/nice guy status in order to get the title from the Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic remains to be seen.

Over in Auckland, what can I say about David Ferrer in the New Year? Not much that’s different from last year, which can either be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing. There’s certainly no crime in being a Top 5 player with the talent that he faces in Novak, Rafa, and to a lesser extent, Roger Federer.  But “more of the same” won’t take him across the finish line at the Slams…Aussie Open included.

John Isner is also having a good run in Auckland, but a bum ankle on the big guy doesn’t set him up for a good run in Melbourne (or anywhere else for that matter). He made great strides in 2013 by upping his aggressive ante and doing a better job of imposing his game on the top guys. However, he can only do this effectively if he’s healthy and has good mobility; Howitzer serve be damned! But if he managed a nice win over Phillip Kohlschreiber on said ankle, he might be capable of hanging in there long enough to do some damage.

Honorable mention goes to Steve Johnson and Jack Sock for making the Auckland quarterfinals. Johnson’s chances in Melbourne are, in my opinion, limited. Jack Sock, on the other hand, has more firepower at his disposal, plus a real desire to become the next top American. I’m hoping that this stated desire comes from a newfound more mature mentality and work ethic for the New Year. If that’s the case, we might see some decent results from him this year…but not in Melbourne.

PostHeaderIcon Ten Final Thoughts on My Insider Week at the Bank of the West

domi-press
I usually reserve these “Ten Final Thoughts” columns for the big events.  However, after spending a week on the ground at Stanford, eating and breathing the sights/sounds of tennis, I think I can muster up some decent observations from this year’s Bank of the West Classic. Let’s start with “buzz”, or lack thereof…

  1. This year’s tournament attendance suffered from a distinct lack of WTA star power. I love Aga Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova, but it’s not the same as having Serena, Maria, and Vika at an event. Even Marion Bartoli would have made a difference because she won Wimbledon. And let’s face facts: “Slamholders fill seats”.
  2. With a solid weekend of line calling under my belt, I have a much greater appreciation for what goes into being a good line umpire. It’s not easy, and those guys do a great job.  For all of you who think you could do better, ask your buddies if you can call lines for them sometime. You’ll change your tune pretty quickly.
  3. Cibulkova-Stanford-13-PB-MALT4580Dominika played a great match in the final to avenge an earlier double-bagel loss to Aga in Sydney. She put fate into her own hands and bravely went for her shots throughout the 2.5 hour match. Many sailed way past the lines.  But more often than not, they found their mark as untouchable winners. That’s saying a lot against a brilliant defensive player like Aga.  She hopes to carry this high level of consistency through to the US Open.  That makes two of us.
  4. agaEven with her loss in the final, Aga is one of the best and most unique players on tour. She isn’t tall or muscular, but manages to stay in rallies with taller and stronger opponents using excellent anticipation, defense, and a thinking game that you need to see to appreciate. Dominika rarely saw the same shot twice in the final because Aga used every trick in the book to keep her from teeing off on the ball. (Roger Federer often utilizes the same strategy.) It might not work against Serena, but it can against both Maria and Vika. And how about those mind-boggling deep knee bends on her backhand?
  5. Jamie Hampton had a great week at Stanford, but clearly wasn’t up to the task in the semifinals.  The gap between her and those at the top of the game was laid bare against Aga: consistency on her serve toss plus variety of serve, footwork, consistency on her shots to name a few. BUT… the upside is tremendous! She hits like she means it, goes for her shots, and isn’t afraid to come to the net.  The current buzz is with Madison and Sloane, but you can put my vote in the Jamie column. (Note: To be honest, I like them all for different reasons.)
    jamie
  6. I’m not quite sure what to say about Madison Keys. Her loss to Vera Dushevina was unsettling because she looked mentally lost on court. I realize that she’s young and has a ways to go in terms of growing into her game, but the hype machine is already working overtime in pushing her to a status she might not be able to live up to. There are, however, a lot of positives with her game. She’s got a great serve, and her big forehand is a huge weapon when it’s consistent. Her serve effectiveness will improve when she can better move it around the box, and her forehand will become more assured when her footwork improves.  Here’s hoping that the hype machine leaves her alone this summer.
  7. Daniela Hantuchova played doubles and singles at Stanford.  A tour veteran for many years, she’s well-known for her model-esque looks. By that, I mean she’s known to (and popular with) many heterosexual men who could usually care less about women’s tennis. Anyway, I was talking to a friend by the upper walkway stadium entrance When Daniela came in to see someone in the player’s lounge. The security guy, bless his heart, said: “Excuse me miss, so you have a credential?” My jaw hit the ground. What do you think: security faux pas or not? 😉
  8. The early part of the US Open Series is problematic!  Top players are reluctant to put effort into the early events (prior to Rogers Cup) because there’s no payoff… other than (maybe) appearance fees.  Others are reluctant to play the early events because it means a longer financial burden for them in terms of travel and coaching fees through the US Open. Additionally, other players opt out of the initial Series events because of the increasing amount of tournaments played closer to home (and on clay) in Europe and S. America. Without all of these players, most of whom are marquee, the tournaments can’t bring in the crowds. And we saw what happened with the SAP Open, right?
  9. Speaking of Hantuchova, she played doubles with Lisa Raymond. Talk about opposites! On another note, Coco Vandeweghe, last year’s finalist, made it through qualies into the main draw. This is noteworthy because it gave me a chance to see her coach, Jan- Michael Gambill, up close and (not) personal. I swear to God he looks no different now than when he was playing on the ATP tour. I wonder where he keeps his aging portrait?
  10. When I start using Dorian Gray references, it’s time to wrap things up. I had a great time at this year’s event, and would like to give particular thanks to Karen P. at Tennis Panorama; not just for the credential, but her support as well. I’d also like to thank the folks at the USTA who allowed me to do line umpire duties the first weekend, and for trusting that I know the separation of my duties as an official and as a member of the media. To be honest though, I certainly hope that my next visit to the Bank of the West will be as a linesman for the entire week.

Take care all!

PostHeaderIcon Our Unhealthy Obsession with the Next Serena

Madison Keys image

Madison Keys lost in straight sets in the second round at Stanford. Vera Dushevina, the Russian qualifier who beat her, is a solid but unheralded player who hadn’t won a main draw match in 2013 until this week. The 7-6(0) 6-2 score fails to adequately convey just how disappointing this loss was for this highly-touted American, who struggled in every aspect of her game.

“My timing was off, everything was off”, Madison said afterward. To be fair, she deserves a ton of credit for owning up to the obvious (which many players don’t). She dumped forehands into the net. She dumped backhands into the net. She didn’t serve particularly well, and more critically, she failed to move her serve around the box enough to keep Dushevina off balance.

Worst of all, she looked at a loss as to how she could remedy the situation or change the inevitable outcome. “It just wasn’t my night, and it was frustrating. But obviously, she played really well. All the credit to her.”

It was tough match to watch from a player who many have picked as a future Slam winner. But perhaps the problem with Madison’s loss lies more with our expectations than with her level of play.

Terms such as “highly-touted” and “future Slam winner” have unfairly become synonymous with young players who possess one or two big weapons, but not much else at this juncture in their development. The US has become so eager to find replacements for our aging stars that players like Madison are set up to fail before they can grow into their games for a realistic assessment of their potential.

I had the same feeling of at last year’s Bank of the West with regards to Sloane Stephens. She came into the tournament with virtually the same kind of buzz as Madison is currently experiencing. Comments of “She’s the next big star” and multiple comparisons to Serena were flying all around. Sadly, it all fell flat in her first and only match of the tournament.

Sloane was sent packing by Heather Watson in an inexplicable 3-set loss that saw her completely forget how to hit a backhand, or formulate a strategy to work her way back into a losing set. She was agitated, barking at her box, and even received a code violation. Buzz or no buzz, Sloane was (and is) a talented player; but she’s far from being the next Serena.

There’s an undeniable racial component to some of these expectations, particularly when comparisons are made based on ethnicity/skin color. While watching Madison practice a few days ago, a well-meaning older gentleman came up to me to ask about Madison and her prospects for success. He mentioned how much she reminded him of a young Althea Gibson.

I didn’t say it at the time out of my sense of politeness, but I wanted to tell him “No, she reminds me of Madison Keys.” I understood his point of reference, but was undeniably put off by a lack of appreciation for her unique skills apart from her bearing and her looks. Madison is Madison, not Althea. Similarly, Sloane is Sloane, not Serena.

For the record, this is NOT about race, and it’s not my intention to single out Madison and Sloane. There are many young players of all races who’ve suffered under the label of “The Next (fill in the blank)”, only to crash and burn when the limitations of their games became apparent. Melanie Oudin is perhaps the poster child of this unrealistic push to greatness, but Christina McHale also carried the burden for a brief period prior to Sloane’s arrival.

Sometimes the buzz around a talented youngster is warranted. The buzz surrounding Venus and Serena turned out to be correct in every way. (Remember when Richard told us that Serena would be better than her sister?) The buzz about the kid from Mallorca, Rafa Nadal, had turned into a roar long before his first match at Roland Garros.

Buzz isn’t always bad, but these cases represent exceptions to the rule in the cases of players with Hall of Fame careers. The fact of the matter is that reaching the top of any sport is a long way off from the initial buzz surrounding any young athlete. If it were otherwise, struggling players like Donald Young and Ryan Harrison would have big titles under their belts by now.

Other countries deal with this issue as well. Remember when the young Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia, hit the harsh glare of the expectation spotlight? In 2011 (and at the age of 17), Andy Murray touted her as a future #1 in an infamous tweet that hung like an anchor around her neck for the rest of the season. And one can only imagine what the pressure’s been like for young German women to become the next Steffi! With his win at Wimbledon, Andy Murray finally quieted the Fred Perry talk.  Laura Robson, on the other hand, has a much longer way to go for Virginia Wade status.

The road to #1 (or Slam success) is tricky…and fickle. The best we can do for these young players is to acknowledge their strengths, forgive them their initial weaknesses, and let them develop to the level that can be supported by their talent. After all, there is only one Serena.

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