Posts Tagged ‘Gael Monfils’
Legendary Serena, the Bryans Reach 100, and Marin Breaks Through: Final Thoughts on a Turbulent US Open
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right into my (25) final thoughts on the year’s final Slam:
- 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‘)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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!
- The era of the “Big Four” is officially over. Let the debate begin.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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:
Women got a 4.0, more than double. RT @Ourand_SBJ: CBS’s US Open Men’s Championship drew a 1.9 overnight, down 32% from last year’s 2.8.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 9, 2014
This is not an indictment of Marin/Kei, but merely the reality of televised men’s tennis without Roger, Rafa, Novak, or even Andy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.)
- 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.
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  – Tsonga  *
Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)
Gulbis  – Berdych  *
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  – Fognini  *
Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)
Dimitrov  – Ferrer  *
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  – Isner  *
Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)
Janowicz  – Federer  *
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  – Nishikori  *
Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)
Gasquet  – Nadal  *
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.
Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal
Notable First-Round Matches
Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  v Ryan Harrison (USA)
Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)
Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) 
Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) 
Ernests Gulbis (LAT)  vs Novak Djokovic (SRB) 
H2H: Djokovic leads 4-1
Original Picks: Novak Djokovic*, Roger Federer
Gulbis did a couple of things really well the other day in his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. The first, and most important, was the excellent way that he managed himself. That’s no small task given his volatile on-court persona. The second was how well he managed his game against Berdych. Though Berdych was clearly “off” his game, Gulbis was very effective in keeping him off-balance with the same type of shot variety that kept Federer similarly off-balance in their R16.
The problem for Gulbis in this particular match is that Djokovic is a cut above Berdych. He possesses better movement, better defense, more varied offense, and is the “best on tour” in his ability to turn defense into offense at a moment’s notice. Gulbis’ dropshots won’t bother him, his pace won’t bother him, and Djokovic’s return game is the best around.
Simply put, there’s nothing Gulbis can do that will cause sufficient stress to Djokovic’s game. Conversely, there’s a ton that Djokovic can and will do to stress Gulbis’ game. For example, he’s probably going to stretch him wide to the forehand like Berdych tried, but will better be able to handle any ensuing squash shots or short balls.
I could go on but you get the gist of it. This match is Novak’s to win. BUT I do expect at least one broken Gulbis racquet.
Revised Pick: Novak Djokovic in four sets.
Rafael Nadal (ESP)  vs Andy Murray (GBR) 
H2H: Nadal leads 14-5
Original Picks: Rafael Nadal*, Stan Wawrinka
Andy has NEVER beaten Rafa on clay. Unfortunately, that trend will continue in their French Open semifinal match when Rafa beats Andy to reach his ninth final in ten attempts.
Andy might take a set off of Rafa because of his incredible defense, and I do mean incredible, but it won’t be more than that. And admittedly, I’m only giving him that set because Rafa isn’t at his imperious best these days. The outcome of this match, however, will never be in doubt.
The situation might be slightly different if Ivan Lendl were still in the picture. One of the things he pushed Andy to do was be more aggressive with his forehand when he plays Rafa, and to also not be afraid to rip that backhand down the line. Both of those strategies have been shown to be highly effective against Nadal, and would certainly enhance his chances in this match.
Sadly, in the absence of Lendl’s aggressive coaching, Murray has digressed to his earlier defense-oriented game. Defense isn’t enough to beat Nadal. The only way you can beat Nadal with defense is if you can turn defense into offense as effectively as Djokovic. Murray doesn’t have that ability, and will have a hard time attempting to do so.
Apart from the match-up difficulties, Murray also comes into this match with suspect discipline. He cruised early against Monfils but then struggled badly as the Frenchman found his game (to put it mildly). He completely reverted to “Pre-Slam Andy” in sets 3 and 4, and only got the win after Monfils imploded. Champions raise their game at crunch time. They don’t grab at body parts while complaining to anyone courtside who will listen.
That’s not to say that Nadal is at the top of his game, because he’s not. But as one would expect from the 8-time champion, he’s raised his level as the tournament has progressed. If you expect to beat him in these latter rounds, you’re going to have to play at a high level for a very long time.
Ferrer found this out the hard way. He came out swinging, and took the first set. Once Nadal got his teeth into the match after taking the second set, Ferrer’s game quickly unraveled. He couldn’t sustain his initial level of play over the long haul, and received a bagel and breadstick for his efforts in sets 3 and 4.
Nadal’s cleaned up the more troubling parts of his game from earlier in the clay season i.e. the mistimed forehands from the baseline, no penetration on his backhand, weak serving, and badly-missed short balls. His back still bothers him, and he’s not able to serve with quite as much pace as would be preferable, but he’s playing ‘well enough’.
That should be more than good enough for a 4-set win over the regressing Murray.
Revised Pick: Rafael Nadal in four sets.
Here’s a quick preview of the French Open quarterfinals, including my original picks AND my revised picks. Ladies first…
* – original pick for quarterfinal winner
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) v Maria Sharapova (RUS) 
H2H: Sharapova leads 1-0
On paper, Maria is the clear favorite in this match. But that means nothing in an upset-laden tournament such as this one. Nor does it matter to the woman who knocked out Serena Williams then backed it up with two more solid wins. My gut says Maria, but I won’t be surprised if Garbine comes out of this one with another high-profile scalp to add to her collection.
Original Picks: Serena Williams*, Maria Sharapova
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)  v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) 
H2H: Suarez Navarro leads 1-0
Carla’s playing great tennis and Eugenie has a ton of confidence. Since I haven’t seen either of their matches, I can’t really use their prior matches to predict this outcome. It’s a toss-up, but I’ll give the nod to Eugenie. My gut tells me that, all hype aside, she’s the real deal. Let’s hope she lives up to it.
Original Picks: Aga Radwanska*, Flavia Pennetta
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)  v Simona Halep (ROU) 
H2H: Head-to-head is tied at 2-all
Out with the old, in with the new! Sveta has done well to make it this far, but Simona is playing excellent tennis. She’s completely owned her ascension to the top of the women’s game, and doesn’t look likely to be derailed from a first-ever French Open semifinal. If Sveta has a good day, you never know what could happen. But it’s not likely…
Original Picks: Simona Halep*, Ana Ivanovic
Sara Errani (ITA)  v Andrea Petkovic (GER) 
H2H: Head-to-head is tied at 1-all
Add me to the ranks of people who are thrilled to see Andrea fit, and playing great tennis again after way too many injuries in her short career. That said, this is an interesting (and odd) match-up with not much history to help us figure out who will come out on top. Sara has gone much further than I thought she would after her injury in the Rome final, and looks poised to go further. Experience will make the difference in this match-up.
Original Picks: Li Na*, Jelena Jankovic
Revised Quarterfinal Picks: Sharapova, Bouchard, Halep, Errani
* – original pick for quarterfinal winner
Rafael Nadal (ESP)  v David Ferrer (ESP) 
H2H: Nadal leads 21-6
Before the tournament began, I gave the nod to Rafa in this quarter in spite of Rafa’s loss to David in Monte Carlo. All of a sudden, however, there’s a lot of background chatter about Rafa’s back. (And we all remember what happened in Australia when his back went out.) Still, if injury isn’t an issue, I can’t see David hanging with Rafa for “best of five”.
Original Picks: Rafa Nadal*, David Ferrer
Gael Monfils (FRA)  v Andy Murray (GBR) 
H2H: Murray leads 3-2
As I tweeted earlier today, this match pits “ridiculous defense against ridiculous defense”! But in the end, Andy’s experience will win out. His game is a notch or two more disciplined than Gael’s, and that will be enough for a trip to the semifinals. And don’t forget to bring your popcorn.
Original Picks: Stan Wawrinka*, Andy Murray
Tomas Berdych (CZE)  v Ernests Gulbis (LAT) 
H2H: Berdych leads 4-2
It’s anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this quarter. Tomas has had an excellent tournament, dropping only two sets along the way. He seems to be in a good headspace and is playing excellent tennis. Ernests, however, has a huge amount of confidence and momentum coming into this match after defeating Roger Federer in R16. Tomas leads the H2H, but Ernests is playing with such variety that I can see him unsettling his Czech opponent early, and often.
Original Picks: Roger Federer*, Roberto Bautista Agut
Milos Raonic (CAN)  v Novak Djokovic (SRB) 
H2H: Djokovic leads 2-0
Milos has worked hard to improve his suspect movement on clay, and the results speak for themselves. Unfortunately for him in this match, he’s playing the second best clay court player in the world. Novak moves better, and has shot variety, can return big serves, and easily turns defense to offense. Even if Milos plays the match of his life, it still won’t be enough to overcome Novak’s ruthless path to the final.
Original Picks: Novak Djokovic*, Milos Raonic
Revised quarters picks: Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, Djokovic
A Serena Williams-free BNP Paribas Open means a much more realistic chance at one of the year’s biggest titles for the other top women. Conservatively, I’d say that 6 out of the top 8 seeds have a realistic chance to win, along with a couple of other Top 20 outliers! If the chips fall the right way, it’s anyone’s title to win. Let’s take a look through the quarters to see which women have the best chances to make it through to the semifinals.
Top Half/Top Quarter
Li Na – Petra Kvitova
In spite of her Doha hiccup, Li Na has a great chance to take this quarter and go on to the final. She’s finally found a coach that she can hear, and a path that she can navigate to manage her emotions against her expectations. Besides Petra, there aren’t a lot of other women in this quarter, save Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, who have a reasonable chance to beat her.
As for Petra, one never knows what to expect from her these days. Sometimes her fitness is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she plays like a Top 10’er, other times not so much. That lack of consistency is why Li Na will move through to the semifinals.
Top Half/Bottom Quarter
Maria Sharapova – Angelique Kerber
With torch-bearing/commentary duties in Sochi, Maria’s had a whirlwind winter. Unfortunately, it’s led to a distinct lack of matches for a player who needs a lot of match play in order to reach her best form. A R16 loss in Australia and semifinal loss in Paris don’t bode well for her confidence. A healthy Flavia Pennetta could spell trouble: healthy being the operative word. There’s been no word on her recurring wrist issues, but you never know.
Angelique has a chance to make it from the bottom part of this quarter, but will likely be knocked out by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who leads their H2H 4-2. (Please note that I’m weary of referring to Ana as resurgent.) All things considered (Maria’s lack of matches, Flavia’s wrist, Angie’s losing record against her), Ana probably has the best chance to take this quarter.
Bottom Half/Top Quarter
Simona Halep – Victoria Azarenka
There are a couple of question marks in this quarter. The first is the status of Vika’s leg. She’s said that she still feels pain in it, but will attempt to play. But even if she does, I can’t imagine that she’ll have the sharpness necessary to make it out of this quarter.
The other is how will Simona react to the expectations of her new status? A first round loss in Brisbane was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne. But that was followed by another first-round loss, which was then followed by a title…and then another first-round loss. If the pattern holds true, she’s got as good a chance as anyone of reaching the semifinals. Then again, so does Genie Bouchard.
With Vika on the mend, look for the Simona/Genie winner to reach the semifinals. My gut tells me to go with the plucky Canadian, so I’ll go with Genie.
Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter
Jelena Jankovic – Aga Radwanska
Jelena and Aga, the two highest seeds in this quarter, look to be the odds-on favorites to reach the quarters. Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez Navarro, Alize Cornet, and Elena Vesnina are all solid, but definitely not true contenders without Doha-like misfires from Jelena and Aga.
Since Aga leads their H2H 4-1, look for Aga to reach her second Indian Wells semifinal.
Quarter Picks: Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Genie Bouchard, and Aga Radwanska
No disrespect meant to Andy Murray, but the Big Four is now temporarily back to being the Big Three (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer). Back surgery at the end of 2013 pushed back Andy’s preseason fitness timeline, rendering him less than optimal for this spring season. But he’s not the only one with performance issues coming into this tournament. Rafa got a title win in Rio. Roger got a title win in Dubai. Novak, however, has nothing to show for 2014.
When you add a guy like Grigor Dimitrov to the equation, you have some interesting title prospects in the desert. Let’s take a look at the men’s draw and see which guys have the most likely paths to the semifinals.
Top Half/ Top Quarter
Rafa Nadal – Andy Murray
There’s no way that Andy can get past Rafa at this point in the season. But Rafa’s place in the quarters isn’t assured either. He’s got a tough top section of this quarter with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini. He should make it by all three, but anything can happen in a best of three set tournament.
In the bottom section, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz have the best chance to make it through if Andy wobbles, which is possible given that his confidence isn’t at its highest. But he can take heart from some gutsy play to reach the semifinals in Acapulco before losing to eventual champion, Grigor Dimitrov. Moreover, Andy has better ‘tennis smarts’ than both and much better defense.
Look for him to reach the quarters before losing to Rafa.
Top Half/ Bottom Quarter
Stan Wawrinka – Roger Federer
Look for this quarterfinal to be a battle for Swiss bragging rights between the newly-crowned Australian Open champ and the Greatest of All Time.
Before that, however, Stan needs to get through a likely opening match against Ivo Karlovic. Even with 2 titles under his belt in 2014, Stan hasn’t played a tournament since his Aussie Open win. An upset isn’t likely, but it’s still a tricky match against an opponent who’s more than capable.
Roger, on the other hand, has probably the best path to the quarters of any top guy. Kei Nishikori is his only real challenger, and that’s not going to be much of a challenge for a guy who just notched some huge wins en route to a title in Dubai. Look for Roger to make it through to another meeting with Rafa in the semifinals.
Bottom Half/ Top Quarter
Richard Gasquet – Tomas Berdych
This is one heckuva tough quarter! At a glance, there are 5 guys with a legitimate shot at making it to the semifinals. In addition to Richard and Tomas, you can add Philipp Kohlschreiber, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. In terms of the draw, Richard and Philipp will battle for one quarterfinal spot while the Grigor/Ernests winner will battle Tomas for the other quarterfinal spot.
Richard lost to Philipp in Rotterdam, and has had an unspectacular year so far. So Phil looks good to get through on his side of the quarter. On the other, Grigor is on a roll now that the pieces of his game have finally come together. He should get by Ernests in a tough encounter. Tomas is at a higher level than Ernests, but will still be susceptible to Grigor’s newfound confidence, and superior defense.
In a battle between Grigor and Philipp, sign me up for the Bulgarian Express.
Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter
Juan Martin Del Potro – Novak Djokovic
Honestly, I don’t know why Juan Martin is playing here after retiring due to wrist pain in Dubai. Defending points at the expense of further injury isn’t necessary or smart. Look for Gilles Simon to step up and make a run for the quarters in his absence (when he retires again). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in this section as well, but he’s become as unpredictable as Petra Kvitova these days.
In the bottom section, Novak could receive a test from Marin Cilic, but that’s about it. He might be struggling in the latter stages of tournaments against Nadal and Federer, but he’s still a class above everyone else. And that includes all the guys in his quarter.
Quarter picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Novak Djokovic
With the ouster of Serena Williams, the women’s top seed and prohibitive favorite for the 2014 Australian Open title, I felt compelled to write a quick “Shock or Not” celebrating the defeat of the current #1 by a former #1…along with a couple of other nuggets from the past two days. As always, let me know what you think about these matches, or some of your own that you think qualify in the “Shock or Not” category.
Ana Ivanovic defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? ALL CAPS SHOCK
Ana pulled off the stunner of the tournament by coming back from the loss of the first set to beat Serena in three sets for a spot in the quarterfinals. As fragile as her tennis has been at times during the past few years is as solid as she was against Serena. Her serve was solid, her service return was impeccable, and her forehand hurt Serena from start to finish. I was bothered by Patrick Mouratoglou’s immediate dismissal of Serena’s loss due to injury via “blocked back”, because it took the focus off of Ana’s brilliant execution in beating Serena for the first time in her career. Serena was gracious in her interview, and did her best to downplay Patrick’s injury revelations. She’s been burned enough times in the past for not giving credit where credit was due that she took great pains to compliment Ana. No matter though. The Serena Haters, however, will still find a way to hate…
Flavia Pennetta defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Shock
Maybe it’s not so much the shock of this particular victory more than it’s the shock that Flavia has made it so far in this tournament. What looked to be a bad wrist injury at the Hopman Cup, the same wrist she’d had surgically repaired in 2012, turned out to be simple inflammation. With the inflammation gone, she’s quietly worked her way through to her first Aussie quarters; and maybe further.
Garbine Muguruza defeats Caroline Wozniacki: Shock or Not? Shock…kinda
Caroline started this year’s tournament on fire with the loss of only two games, but faltered badly in the last round; beating Christina McHale in three shaky sets. That’s not the kind of thing you want to do against a player who came into Melbourne on a roll after winning the title in Hobart. Garbine might not be a household name, but the World #38 has started the season strongly in 2014. Bye bye Caroline.
Grigor Dimitrov defeats Milos Raonic: Shock or Not? Not
I’m not shocked by this result because these are two of the brightest prospects on the ATP horizon. The perpetual hype of “Future Grand Slam winners” is annoying, but that’s not their fault. Nonetheless, both guys “got game” (Milos has 5 career titles, Grigor has 1). And it was a great match of power serving and ground strokes versus excellent defense and all-court prowess. What’s really shocking is the fact that this is Grigor’s first-ever R16 showing i.e. making it past the third round at a Grand Slam.
Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Benoit Paire: Shock or Not? Not
Hate to put it so bluntly, but Paire is French, prone to temperament issues, and lost to Bautista Agut in Auckland a couple of weeks ago. Not the best combo for him heading into this match.
Rafael Nadal defeats Gael Monfils: Shock or Not? Not
It’s not a shock that Rafa beat Gael, but it is a shock that he beat him in straight sets 1, 2, and 3 after such a tight encounter in Doha. Gael has tons of talent, tons of flash, and (unfortunately) no substantial Slam results to back it up.
Dominika Cibulkova defeats Carla Suarez Navarro: Shock or Not? Not, but…
It’s not a shock that Dominika won this match, because we all know how well she can play. It’s extremely shocking, however, that she only gave up one game in giving Carla a bagel and a breadstick. She did the same thing to her second round opponent too. Can she make it a carbohydrate “hat trick”?
No shocking matches in particular; just a general note that, besides the Bryan brothers, the men’s top seeds in doubles are dropping like flies.
Alize Cornet/Caroline Garcia defeats Svetlana Kuznetsova/Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Not
This one should be a shock, but sadly it’s not. <shaking my head at Sveta and Sam>
Women’s Legends’ Doubles
Nicole Bradtke/Rennae Stubbs defeats Martina Hingis/Martina Navratilova: Shock or Not? Shock
Can someone please tell me how these two legendary Martinas got beat??? My mind just can’t comprehend that scenario. 🙂