Posts Tagged ‘Marin Cilic’

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 Petra, Genie, Novak, and Old Man Federer: My Wimbledon Final Thoughts

Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon Facebook page)

Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon Facebook page)

Much was made about a possible changing of the guard with all of the talented youngsters making waves on both tours. Though it never really materialized, we got a few glimpses of the future, and it looks pretty terrific. (Hello Genie, Madison, and Nick!) But for now, let’s get back to the matter at hand with my 25 “Final Thoughts” from the lawns of the AELTC.

  1. Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Petra Kvitova – I’ve been waiting since early ’12 for Petra to step up and show the type of dominance that she showed this past fortnight in winning her second Wimbledon title. It was vintage Petra (strong serves, sharp angles, and blistering pace) without the also-vintage walkabouts that have accompanied her play the past couple of years. I’ll only mention her former boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, for the purpose of showing that, since their breakup, she’s regained focus, improved her fitness, and looks to be back on track for a well-deserved shot at the top of the WTA food chain.
  2. Novak Djokovic – Even though I’d picked Novak to win the title in my pre-tournament preview, I had no idea his journey would be so fraught with angst and peril. Usually one of the cleanest players in the game, Novak struggled badly at times in the later rounds. If not for a missed overhead and a few ill-timed double faults from Roger, this could have been one more dispiriting Slam final. To his credit, he hung in there after Roger saved Championship point in the fourth set, and eventually came away with the title in five. And if you couldn’t tell by his tears, this one meant a lot to him. I’m still not sure Boris Becker had that much to do with it, but it makes great grist for the commentator mill.
  3. Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

    Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

    Genie Bouchard – A semifinalist in Melbourne and Paris, and a finalist in London, Genie Bouchard continued her meteoric rise up the rankings after yet another astounding run at Wimbledon. Her confidence could easily border on arrogance if it weren’t so well backed-up by gutsy and aggressive play. She’s all business on and off the court, looking only for the “W” in her quest to be the best. This attitude makes her a legitimate future No. 1, but also could be problematic. It was troubling to hear Genie say, “I’m not sure I deserved all the love you gave me today” on court after the match. Hopefully her coach, Nick Saviano, can help her be mindful next time that you shouldn’t discount the love of fans that are proud of you no matter the result. Be gracious, keep your head down, and get ready for the next opportunity; because I have no doubt that it WILL come.
  4. Roger Federer – I hate to say that the old guy’s still got it, but the old guy’s still got it! With his back troubles from last year in the rear view mirror, Roger played, more or less, like the Roger of old against an opponent who was slightly better on the day (186 total points for Novak versus 180 points for Roger). Even in defeat, I’d say this was sweet revenge for a guy who everyone was pushing out the door at the end of 2013. When healthy and comfortable with his equipment, Roger can still play like the Roger we remember. A lot still need to go right for him at the Slams in order to have a legit shot at the title, but it feels like a lot less than last year.
  5. Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock – PopSock, as the newly-crowned Wimbledon doubles champions have become known, bested the great Bryan brothers in a hard-fought 5-set battle to win the Gentlemen’s doubles in their first tournament together. Given the rigors of the ATP tour, this probably won’t become a weekly occurrence. But after years of lamenting the lack of younger singles players in doubles, how great was it to witness their shotmaking, energy and enthusiasm? My only hope is that someone on either of their team’s has copyrighted that great name.
  6. Bob and Mike Bryan – In one of the few successful “passing of the torch” moments at this year’s Wimbledon, the Bryans battled hard but often looked their age against a pair of guys who could almost be their sons. The Bryans are one of the greatest doubles teams ever, if not ‘the’ greatest, and have done an immense amount to legitimize doubles at the top of the tennis food chain. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine it’s gonna be easy for them to keep working this hard to overcome Father Time, injuries, family demands, and younger, stronger opponents like PopSock.
  7. Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani – On the heels of a disappointing final loss at the French Open, Vinci and Errani won the Ladies doubles title over Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, giving them a career Grand Slam in doubles. It’s well-deserved, and hopefully makes up for a disappointing singles showing.
  8. Nenad Zimonjic and Sam Stosur – With her miserable record on grass, any title on the green stuff is a good thing for Sam!
  9. Simona Halep – Simona may have lost the Wimbledon semifinal battle of emergent WTA stars in straight sets to Genie Bouchard, but I’m sure there are great things for her on the US Open horizon.
  10. Serena Williams (AP)

    Serena Williams (AP)

    Serena Williams – I had a feeling this would be a tough Wimbledon for Serena, but I don’t think any of us knew just how tough it would be. It started with her loss to Alize Cornet. Two days later, Serena appeared on court for a brief but notable bit of drama on Court 1 with her sister Venus before their first-round doubles. (They ultimately retired down 0-3 in the first set after 4 Serena double faults.) I was critical of Serena at the time because I felt she should have foregone the drama and not played, especially when the tournament doctor says, “If you can’t see the ball then you shouldn’t play.  But I’ve had a hard time listening to all of the ridiculous theories on the incident. One person I know even went so far as to say that he’s convinced she has a pill addiction because of her past medical issues. Come on people: STOP THE NONSENSE!
  11. Venus Williams – Venus played a tough 3-set match against Petra Kvitova that was worthy of a final. It was a pleasure to see from a player we love who’s struggled mightily with fitness in the wake of her Sjogrens diagnosis. On a per match basis, she can still play phenomenal tennis. But that was only a third round match. Her ranking is such that she will likely have to play at least 3 or 4 of these types of matches if she ever hopes to reach a Slam final again.  Though that’s probably never going to happen, we can (and should) still appreciate her best level at those few and far between moments when she’s able to bring it.
  12. Li Na – I just don’t know where to begin with Li Na. There are many who dismiss her disappointing results at the French and Wimbledon by saying that she’s best on the hard courts. To those apologists, I’d like to point out her loss to Serena in Miami and remind them that those results were NOT an aberration.
  13. Maria Sharapova – She may have come up high and dry again at SW19, but that’s okay. She’s got Grigor AND a French Open title to keep her company.
  14. nadal2-wimbledonRafa Nadal – Rafa avoided another Lukas Rosol upset, but still lost in four sets to young Nick Kyrgios of Australia. I’m not necessarily surprised that Rafa was knocked out of the tournament. I am, however, surprised that Rafa lost in the middle rounds, not the early or later rounds. I hope he takes enough time off before the summer hard court season so that he can come back relatively fresh, physically and mentally.
  15. Andy Murray – Andy, please don’t blame your horrific play on Amelie Mauresmo’s coaching, or Ivan Lendl’s spring departure. This dispiriting loss to Grigor Dimitrov was all on you. It’s your duty as an elite player to surround figure out what you need to help propel yourself forward, not back.
  16. Milos Raonic – It’s been impressive to watch Milos work hard with his team to overcome his physical and technical deficits on court. It was also fairly sobering to watch how surgically he was cut down by Roger in a straight-sets semifinal loss. I hope that he was able to enjoy his first solid showing on a surface that’s so well-suited for his big serve game. Okay coach (Ivan) Ljubičić, help him figure out those next steps!
  17. Grigor Dimitrov – For years, Grigor has been burdened with expectations of greatness. From his Federer-esque single-handed backhand game (earning him the nickname “Baby Fed”) to his scampering defense, Dimitrov, along with Raonic, has been touted as one of the next wave of ‘Young Guns’. The big problem for Grigor was that his fitness, and shot selection, was never sufficient enough to withstand the grind of tough matches against the top guys… until now. Off-court conditioning has rendered his all-too-frequent bouts of cramping almost non-existent. On top of that, he’s a more mature player now and has a better handle on shot selection with all of his tools.  Next time (because there will be a next time), I hope the nerves of the moment won’t be quite so cruel to his serving arm (double-faultitis).
  18. Marin Cilic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova both lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions after some very fine play. I’ve always rooted for both but was disheartened to see people respond to positive tweets by bringing up their past drug suspensions. If someone has served their suspension, and fought their way back to a respectable ranking in order to have a chance at Slam success, give them their due. We all make mistakes, and all deserve to be forgiven if put in the work for redemption.
  19. Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

    Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

    Nick Kyrgios – This kid has a ton of talent and the physical stature/attitude to go with it. He came into Wimbledon with 3 Challenger titles under his belt and now a Slam quarterfinal for good measure. Though his mid-match exuberance can come across as brash he’s exciting and LOVES the competitive fight. I wonder if there’s a way that the USTA can lure him away from Australia without starting a war?
  20. Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov – Noah and Stefan, the all-American duo that contested the Wimbledon boy’s final, should help dispel rumors that all isn’t completely lost for American tennis…at least for a few more weeks.
  21. I have a few broadcast notes. The first is that the popularity of tennis, and potential ad revenues, will continue to be hurt if the average Joe can’t get adequate match coverage without special cable sports packages. And even if you have a few of those packages, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see all available matches. Take it from me, a Sonic.Net ISP user and DirecTV viewer: not everyone has access to ESPN3!
  22. My second broadcast note harkens back to this piece on Sloane and Paul Annacone. I don’t want to single them out, however, because the conflicts of interest abounding in the commentary booth are almost too numerous to count at this point. I can accept conflicts of interests, but you’ve got to be more upfront about it to your viewers. Who’s getting paid by who makes all the difference in the world when you’re listening to “expert commentary”.
  23. Raise your hand if you’d like to see if Andy Roddick in the Centre Court commentary booth is better than Andy Roddick on Twitter!
  24. Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing commentators saying “How bitterly disappointed Player X will be” after missing a shot!
  25. Wimbledon schedulers – Was it really necessary to leave several notable matches on court so late that fireflies started to come out?

That’s all for now. Until next year

PostHeaderIcon Petra & Ekaterina, Novak & Andy: My Wimbledon Quarterfinal Previews/Picks, Part 1

Petra Kvitova (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Petra Kvitova (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

LADIES

Petra Kvitova (CZE) [6] v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)

Original Picks: Stephens, Li

H2H: Petra Kvitova leads 3-1

Petra Kvitova proved me wrong in this quarter, playing like the former champion that she is in knocking out Venus Williams (in a tough 3-setter) before crushing Peng Shuai in the R16 to reach the quarterfinals. Her opponent, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, knocked out Li Na, and then Caroline Wozniacki in the R16 to book her first-ever spot in a Slam quarterfinal.

Barbora has played some smart tennis to make it this far, but doesn’t have nearly enough firepower to do battle with Kvitova. Petra is bigger, stronger, has a better serve, hits harder on both wings, and can finish points at the net. That pretty much says it all! And apart from her 3-set struggle against Venus, she’s crushed her opponents en route to this quarterfinal.

I expect another crushing performance from Petra that will see her reach her first Slam semifinal since 2012 at the French Open.

Petra Kvitova in two sets

 

Lucie Safarova (CZE) [23] v Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) [22]

Original Picks: Cibulkova, Radwanska

H2H: Series is tied at 1-1

The last line of my preview for this quarter was this: “For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.” Yet here we are with Lucie Safarova and Ekaterina Makarova. Both can be dangerous under certain circumstances, but I never imagined they’d make it this far.

For Lucie, this is only her second quarterfinal appearance at a Slam, and her first since 2007 in Melbourne. For Ekaterina, this will be her fourth Slam quarterfinal, adding to her previous quarterfinal appearances in Australia (2012, 2013) and the US Open (2013). Neither has made it as far as the semifinals, so this is a great opportunity for both.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t had a chance to watch either of their matches during the Championships. So one hand, I could almost flip a coin to decide the winner. On the other hand, my gut is leaning toward Ekaterina as the pick in this match, and there’s some supporting evidence in past Slams to back this up.

Lucie is a great player, but sometimes prone to nerves that lead her to “crack” at crucial stages. In Australia this year, she barely missed a backhand down-the-line on a match point against Li Na, and ended up losing the match. She’s not fragile, per se, but she’s not the best “big match” player. Also, her flat strokes don’t allow for much leeway when her range is off.

Ekaterina has had some of her best results in Slams, so she’s clearly comfortable on the big stage. Her strokes allow for more options, and she doesn’t tend to overplay the ball like Lucie. She’s also a solid doubles player and has great hands at the net. She’s smart with a well-measured game. And that should be the difference in this match-up if Lucie doesn’t hit her off the court.

Ekaterina Makarova in three sets

 

Andy Murray (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Andy Murray (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

GENTLEMEN

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] v Marin Cilic (CRO) [26]

Original Picks: Djokovic, Berdych

H2H: Novak Djokovic leads 9-0

This is a very bad match-up for Cilic, who’s won only 3 sets from Novak of the 24 that they’ve played in 9 matches. However, they’ve never played on grass, and Marin has been taking the racquet out of his opponent’s hands with a stellar display of serving.

Marin served 33 aces (to 3 double faults) against Jeremy Chardy, and 20 aces (to 3 double faults) against Tomas Berdych. He will need to do the same if he wants to have any chance against Novak, arguably the best returner in the game right now. Case in point: the blistering backhand service return that he hit to close out his match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Marin has a solid game, but his game is nowhere as complete as Novak’s in terms of serve, offense, and defense. Right now his serve is clicking, but that won’t be enough against a guy like Novak who can turn defense to offense with a single shot.

The only chance he has in this match, besides hitting Novak off the court with aces, is to hope that Novak’s tender shoulder continues to be problematic. The Serb has a tendency to lose focus in his matches, and worsening shoulder issues could add to that problem. But knowing how much of a warrior Novak is at the Slams, I wouldn’t count on it.

Even if he has another awesome serving day, it’s going to 10-0 for Novak at the end of this match.

Novak Djokovic in four sets

 

Andy Murray (GBR) [3] v Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11]

Original Picks: Murray, Dimitrov

H2H: Andy Murray leads 3-1

I’ll start this breakdown with a rare pat on the back for correctly picking both quarterfinalists. Moving on…

Between Grigor’s shot-making and Andy’s stellar defense, this should be a great quarterfinal. Andy is playing relaxed and confident tennis as the defending champion, and Grigor is finally showing the physical and mental maturity necessary to harness his talent.

Talent aside, I can’t see Andy losing this match. His defense (side to side AND front to back) is too strong, his confidence as defending champion is too high, and he has the fitness and legs to play as long as needed for the win.

Grigor’s shot-making and improved court sense are great, but not great enough. And his defense is still more a function of his willingness to throw his body around than thinking how best he can use his flexibility more like Novak to stay balanced while turning defense to offense.

Grigor is a great talent who’s finally turned the corner physically in order to be taken more seriously at the Slams, but not in this match against this opponent.

Andy Murray in four sets

PostHeaderIcon Serena Stumbles (Again): A Wimbledon Weekend Edition of “Shock or Not”

serena-shock-header

Serena came to Wimbledon looking for a 2014 Major reset, but it wasn’t meant to be. She fell in the fourth round at the Australian, the second round at the French and, after losing on Saturday to Alize Cornet, in the third round at Wimbledon. It’s not often that a prohibitive favorite falters this badly in the Majors, but it makes for a great weekend Shock or Not. Read on for my (slightly less glib than usual) breakdown of Serena’s loss, Berdych’s nighttime distress, Gasquet’s loss to the exciting Aussie youngster, Kyrgios, and Venus’ Alamo-like stand against Kvitova.

Alize Cornet defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? Shock AND Not!

Without taking too much away from Cornet in her victory over the 5-time champion, this match was as much about Serena’s inability to play consistently at her highest level as it was about Cornet’s ability to keep her inner drama queen at bay for the biggest Slam win of her career.

I had no expectation that Serena would rebound after a disappointing French Open to win her first Major of the year at Wimbledon. After some initial hedging, I updated my preview piece with the caveat that she had a good chance at the title only if she made it to the quarters. With Cornet and a surging Genie Bouchard in her path, that was going to be a tall order; and tall orders haven’t been Serena’s strong suit this season.

There are many reasons for Serena’s disappointing performances at the Slams. (I won’t use any of this space to discuss her horrific volleys.) And though I hate to say it, many of them can be attributed to her advanced age. Thirty-two isn’t “old” by any stretch of the imagination, but for an athlete who’s been playing at the top of the game for over fifteen years, it’s clearly taking a toll.

I’m not generally a big fan of ESPN’s crowded commentary booth, but there was some good discussion, especially by Chris Evert, on the challenges Serena faces in her thirties. Declining serve speeds, varying levels of daily motivation, and varying levels of physical output to name a few.

I’d also add the crushing burden of expectation. Previously loathe to discuss inner weaknesses, Serena has pointedly mentioned – in several interviews – the pressure she feels from the world to win every match and tournament she enters.

Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic in darkness (Ben Curtis/AP)

Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic in darkness (Ben Curtis/AP)

There’s also the pressure she puts on herself to reach Slam title #18, placing her in the lofty company of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. She wants it so badly that it so badly that it nearly cripples her ability to hit the most basic shots.

Outer expectations, inner struggles, a body that sometimes doesn’t perform as she needs… It’s been too much for her in 2014. The question now is not about whether she can regroup for the US Open, but whether she can find motivation to keep going against this new generation with that burdensome target on her back.

Marin Cilic defeats Tomas Berdych: Shock or Not? Let’s call it “Nighttime Shock”.

I picked Tomas to come through this match in my men’s preview. Then again, that was before Wimbledon decided to give them flashlights to finish their match. Cilic, a former Queen’s Club champion, is no slouch, and took it to Tomas in this match. Cilic was the aggressor throughout, and was rewarded for his efforts.

BUT, and this is a big one, there was absolutely no need for the tournament referee to keep these guys on court until after 9:30pm. With his back against the wall facing a tough opponent, Tomas felt like he got a raw deal from the tournament referee; and he did.  With as many matches as had been carried over in previous days (Tsonga-Querrey, for one), it wouldn’t have killed them to let this one slide as well.

Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

In a tense match where keeping focus and nerve means everything, it all goes to crap when a player feels they’re getting screwed. And when you can barely see the ball for your shots, know that the chair umpire and linespeople can’t see much better, and Hawkeye is turned off because of fading light, it stands to reason that you might feel like you’re getting screwed.

Sorry Tomas.

Nick Kyrgios defeats Richard Gasquet: Shock or Not? Shock, but I like it A LOT!

This kid is awesome! He’s interesting, likeable, talented, and fights on court like few in his age bracket. Gasquet may have come in as the favorite, but he hasn’t always responded well to big match pressure. We all know about his inner struggles with confidence, but it’s tough to take him too seriously anymore as a legitimate threat at the Slams.

Kyrgios, on the other hand, has no pressure, and always looks to be playing with house money. He’s got a big game, and is great to watch.  This year has proved a breakout year for him, with 3 Challenger titles firmly under his belt. The last one, in Nottingham on grass, gave him entry into the Wimbledon main draw. Three victories later, he’s in his first Wimbledon R16. The kid’s got game!

Though Kyrgios’ match against Rafa Nadal on Monday is going to prove too tough ‘an ask’ for the talented teen, there’s absolutely no doubt that we haven’t seen the last of him on the big stage.

Venus Williams (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Venus Williams (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Petra Kvitova defeats Venus Williams: Shock or Not? No Shock, and heckuva match!

For anyone who may have thought Venus couldn’t produce in a match of this caliber over three tough sets against another former champion, myself included, this should be enough to give us heart that she might still surprise us with another tour title if not a Slam title.

Great win, Petra! Now please stop shrieking.

PostHeaderIcon Does Week 1 of 2014 Tell Us Anything Heading Into Melbourne?

week1-rafa-serena-lleyton

Welcome to the 2014 season! In my first post of the New Year, and just a few hours away from the Australian Open draw ceremony, I thought it might be nice to work my way into the season by looking at the first tournament week of the New Year. I’m not including this week’s tournaments (so that I can get at least some sleep tonight), but that will probably only exclude a discussion of Juan Martin Del Potro. And there are  quite a few other players I don’t mention who played these tournaments as well. But like I said, I have to get some sleep. 😉 Expect much more when the draws come out…

ATP

Brisbane

Lleyton Hewitt beat Roger Federer in a thrilling throwback final that no one could ever have imagined at the start of the tournament. Afterwards, Lleyton said: “If I play like I did this week, then I have a chance of doing some damage against serious players.” I don’t want to throw cold water on his chances at the Australian Open, but he was in a similar situation after last year’s Kooyong exhibition and promptly lost to Janko Tipsarevic in the first round.

Roger Federer: He’s got a new racquet, a new coach, and a bit of rediscovered confidence heading into Melbourne. He’s not at his vintage levels, but come on: he’s still Roger.

Jeremy Chardy: One of the other notable surprises of this tournament was Chardy’s run to the semifinals. Always a dangerous (but temperamental) player, Chardy took Roger to three sets before bowing out. I’m sure he won’t recreate the effort in Melbourne, but it’s nice to see him string together a good run.

Kei Nishikori: While Chardy was working his way through the top half, Nishikori was working his way through the bottom half with a great run of his own. Kei is too talented for the lackluster results he chalked up in 2013, so here’s hoping this semifinal run sets him up to break out bigtime in 2014.

Grigor Dimitrov: The disappointment of the tournament was Dimitrov’s loss to Marin Cilic in the second round. Cilic is no slouch, but being one of the ATP’s highly-touted newcomers comes at a price.

Doha

Rafael Nadal defeated a resurgent Gael Monfils in three sets to take his first tournament of the year. The win, actually the whole tournament, was fairly typical of Rafa in this early part of the new season. He’s still not quite over his exhibition-curtailed off-season, and hasn’t found his best form yet. But his consistently solid execution of high-percentage tennis held up amazingly well against some quality opponents.

Does this title bode well for the Aussie title? Probably not. His form isn’t nearly close to the level needed in order to beat Novak Djokovic, his main obstacle for a second title. Then again, I thought he would lose in New York at the US Open and we all know what happened there.

Gael Monfils: Great run to the finals, but never a huge factor in Melbourne.

Andy Murray: Andy was a second round loser, which doesn’t bode well for a deep run in his first Slam since back surgery.

Chennai

Stan Wawrinka carried through on his good form from 2013 to lift the title in Chennai. BUT…he didn’t face any players of note along the way. The tournament was also plagued by multiple injury retirements. So even though it was a great result for him, there isn’t much from this victory that we can extrapolate to his performance in Melbourne. A win is a win, however, and any amount of confidence can make a difference.

WTA

Brisbane

Serena Williams took the women’s title in what can only be described as a “2013 Redux” performance, first taking out Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, then archrival Victoria Azarenka in the final. Once again, her two biggest “rivals”, and I use the term loosely, showed us all that the only rivalry is really with herself.

Victoria Azarenka: In spite of her big ground game, I’m sometimes quite amazed that Vika has done as well as she has with the deficiencies in her game. But it’s a testament to her on-court fight that she heads into Melbourne as the two-time defending champion. If Serena stays healthy and uninjured, that run of titles will stop this year.

Maria Sharapova: The only thing I can say about Maria is that her inability to beat Serena is becoming comical.

Jelena Jankovic: It’s nice to see her continuing the form that got her to the WTA Championships. The Australian will be her first big test to see if she can step it up again on the big stages.

Shenzhen

Li Na successfully defended her title from 2013, but it doesn’t say an awful lot about how this victory will translate to her run in Melbourne. Serena, Vika, and Jelena tested themselves against the best and are prepared for the work it will take to go deep at the Aussie Open. Li Na tested herself against Peng Shuai. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a fine player, but a good test of Grand Slam preparedness. A return to the finals might be a stretch for her.

Sara Errani: Sara lost in three sets to Vania King after winning a tough 3-setter against a tournament wildcard. I hate to say it, but I think Sara might have maxed-out what her body is capable of delivering, and has nowhere to go but down…at least in singles.

Auckland

Ana Ivanovic posted a solid 3-set win over Venus Williams to take the title in Auckland. While she might not be playing at the level that took her to the French Open title, Ana has come a long way from the struggles that brought her to tears on a match by match basis. She’s done well in Melbourne, and could do so again if she keeps a positive frame of mind, though I’m not sure how big the “if” might be.

Venus Williams: For one of the few times in recent memory, Venus and Serena competed for a title on the same weekend. Though Venus fell short in her bid, it was nice to be reminded of the player that Venus can be when her back is good and her body has the energy to compete at a high level over multiple days. Of course she promptly withdrew from her next tournament. I can’t say that this news is necessarily a bad thing for her Aussie Open chances, because there are many ways her chances at a deep run could be derailed (and probably will). Still, it was good to see her make the final, if only just to remind us all that there’s a reason she’s won 7 Grand Slam titles.

PostHeaderIcon The Wimbledon Men: Novak’s Open Path to a Second Title

Matthias Hangst/AELTC

Matthias Hangst/AELTC

Unlike this year’s French Open draw that (unfortunately for everyone) pitted him against Rafa Nadal in the semifinals, the tennis gods smiled on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. With Rafa, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray duking it out in the bottom half of the draw, Novak’s been handed a proverbial “gold ticket” to a second Wimbledon crown.

But this is tennis after all, and anything can happen. It’s not going to be a cakewalk by any means. There’s much to dissect in this year’s draw, so let’s skip the preliminary chatter and dive right in to the discussion of my picks for the quarters. We’ll save the discussion of my picks for the semifinals, and the final for a later date.

TOP HALF

Top Quarter – [1] Novak Djokovic will overcome [7] Tomas Berdych

Novak will be ripest for an upset in the first round against Florian Mayer IF Florian has a “Rosol-like” match and IF Novak comes out tight.  After that it’s a pretty clear path to the quarterfinals for the #1 seed.

Novak could meet up with potential nemesis Tommy Haas in R16, but that will depend on Haas’ body after he’s played a tremendous amount of tennis in 2013. Gilles Simon and Feliciano Lopez lurk in this section, but won’t be able to derail the inevitable.

Tomas Berdych has a slight tougher path to the quarters with Richard Gasquet/ Sam Querrey as a potential R16 opponents and Kevin Anderson directly in his field of vision. Richard is playing well, and beat Tomas on the hard courts of Miami, but you never know with him. Sam Querrey is up and down as well. He should get through both, but can’t take either man lightly.

Once Tomas gets to the quarterfinals against Novak, it’s all about the mental game. And sadly, we’ve seen what happens to Tomas when pressed on the big points. He beat Novak in Rome, but that was then (on clay) and this is now.

Bottom Quarter – Can [4] David Ferrer live up to his seed?

The short answer is an unqualified maybe. He’s worked hard to get his ranking, but has never had great success at Wimbledon. His quarterfinal in 2012 was his best showing in 10 appearances. If Philipp Kohlschreiber gets by Ivan Dodig in the first round, he could be a formidable R16 test.

David’s preparation for Wimbledon took a hit when he lost to Xavier Malisse in the first round of the TopShelf Open. But I never underestimate Ferrer when it comes to “best of 5” dogfights (unless his opponent is named Rafa).

I like Juan Martin Del Potro, but his potential as the other quarterfinalist in this section is, shall we say, optimistic. He has the shot-making and big-man movement skills to do well on this surface, but has never put it together at Wimbledon.

We’re more likely to see Kei Nishikori, Andreas Seppi, or Grigor Dimitrov emerge as David’s quarterfinal opponent. Of the three, Kei looks best poised to make it through. Andreas just doesn’t have enough game to go deep, and Grigor is still “not soup yet”. (Though I like his future Slam potential better than Raonic.)

Most likely, we’re looking at a Ferrer-Nishikori quarterfinal. If that’s the case, we could be looking at a big upset. David has beaten Kei twice this year on hard courts, but Kei beat David on these same courts last year at the Olympics. The deciding factor will probably be David’s experience and self-belief after his first Slam final, so I’ll give him the nod – but won’t be surprised if there’s an upset.

BOTTOM HALF

Top Quarter –A tough road to [5] Rafa Nadal v [3] Roger Federer

Rafa’s received one of the toughest draws I’ve seen in years. Paire, Isner, and Wawrinka are all potential hurdles for Rafa before he can even get to the quarterfinals for a probable meeting with his long-time “rival” Roger.  All three could cause him problems (Paire to a lesser extent), and Stan could easily derail his tournament in the R16. He should get through but it’ll be tough.

Roger’s road to the quarterfinals is the easiest of all the top guys. The highest seed in his section of the quarter is [15] Almagro, hardly a threat to Roger on grass. So he’ll have no issues getting through to meet Rafa.

Assuming that Rafa and Roger do meet in the quarterfinals, I give the edge to Rafa. The magic isn’t flowing quite so easily from Roger’s racquet these days. He was taken the distance by both Haas and Youzhny in Halle before lifting the title, and we know how much he hates playing against Rafa’s lefty game. Sorry Roger!

Bottom Quarter – [2] Andy Murray v [6] Jo-Wilfried Tsonga AGAIN? No!

It seems as though these guys always end up in battle on the grass courts of London. Sadly for Jo, Andy’s always come out on top…as he did a couple of weeks ago in the semifinals of the Aegon Championships.

In order for Jo to reach that quarterfinal loss, he has to first get by [10] Marin Cilic in the R16. Cilic was the losing finalist to Andy, and was last year’s Aegon champion. So his credentials on grass are just as good as Jo’s. Worse yet for Jo, Cilic has a slight lead in their H2H.

The only thing working in Jo’s favor is that Marin can lose it mentally in a match just as easily as he can, though I don’t know if it will be enough to get by. I think we’re looking at a Cilic “upset” over Jo.

On the bottom part of this quarter, Andy has little resistance to face in getting to the quarterfinals.  This doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t still be treated to his usual barking, muttering, back and leg-grabbing antics, because we will. I’m just hoping that there will be no unfortunate point penalties from balls falling out of his pockets.

QUARTERFINALS

Djokovic v Berdych, Ferrer v Nishikori, Nadal v Federer, Cilic v Murray

SEMIFINALS

Djokovic v Ferrer, Nadal v Murray

FINAL

Novak Djokovic defeats Andy Murray for his second Wimbledon title.

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