Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’
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.
- 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. Petra Kvitova –
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nenad Zimonjic and Sam Stosur – With her miserable record on grass, any title on the green stuff is a good thing for Sam!
- 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.
- 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! 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rafa 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!
- 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”.
- 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!
- Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing commentators saying “How bitterly disappointed Player X will be” after missing a shot!
- 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
For much of this year, I’ve been tempted to write a piece titled, “The Big Four No More”. To be clear, this isn’t that piece. But if there’s anything that we’ve learned from the past couple of days at Wimbledon, it’s that the Big Four is in a weakened state from which it might not recover.
Let’s start with Rafa Nadal’s loss to Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16. Actually, let’s go back even further to Paris, and Rafa’s 9th French Open title. It was a great victory over a man, Novak Djokovic, who’d bested him in the last 4 finals they’d contested.
It was also troubling given the continuing back issues that have plagued Rafa since Australia. It affected his serve throughout the tournament, but flared badly late in the fourth set of that final. If not for Novak’s own weakened condition, he might possibly have fought back, forced, then won a deciding set with Rafa powerless to stop him.
I have a strong feeling that this might have been the last time that Rafa bites that trophy. Between his troublesome knees, now-troublesome back, and the ever-present fatigued look of concern, the wear and tear of his grinding style can no longer be denied. Rafa’s body is giving out.
Fast-forward to London, and the workman-like manner in which Rafa was forced to eke out wins in his early round matches. Now that book is out, so to speak, on how to beat Rafa (for those who can successfully execute the game plan), he has to work harder than ever to make it to the later rounds.
By the time he got to Kyrgios, there was no higher gear left in his game. What was on display was all that he had to give. We were all left waiting for a gear shift that Rafa was unable to muster. But let’s be honest: he’s been missing that gear for most of the season. After all, how can you find another gear when you’re maxed out?
Body issues aside, the more troubling aspect of this loss was the stubborn manner in which he refused to change his tactics against Kyrgios. The majority of my tweets from that match were pleas for Rafa to stop hitting to the Kyrgios’ backhand. But they were pleas that fell on deaf ears. With Federer-like resistance, Rafa kept hoping to break down a shot that burned him time and again.
Maybe it’s his age, his body, the fatigue, or maybe the cumulative effect of all with the additional pressure of the top ranking, but I get a sense that it’s hard for him, physically and mentally, to keep tweaking his game for improvements. Unfortunately, if he can’t keep changing to stay ahead of talented young guys like Kyrgios, his time at the top will end; sooner rather than later.
Andy Murray’s descent from the Big Four began long before his sad exit from Wimbledon after a quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov. (Sad is actually an understatement for a match that was so spectacularly awful from a 2-time Slam winner, defending Gentlemen’s champion, and Olympic gold medalist.)
Andy’s AELTC triumph last year was one of the greatest things to happen to him, but also one of the worst. The great part was immediately obvious. The worst began to manifest almost as soon as he hit the US hard court swing with early losses in Montreal and Cincinnati. It peaked at the US Open with early round struggles leading to a straight sets quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka.
His play throughout was spotty at best, and lacking focus. Though there was an understandable period of transition after winning his Wimbledon dream title, his level of play afterward, and equally poor attitude, were disappointing.
Exploratory surgery and time off for healing in the fall may have helped with back issues, but certainly didn’t with his game and attitude. His game continued to flounder in the early part of the ’14 season, and losses in winnable matches started to mount.
Losses are one thing, but regression to his pre-Champion days was another. Andy behaved poorly whenever his then-coach Ivan Lendl wasn’t around. He’d swear, bark at his box and, once again, endlessly reach for phantom injuries on his leg or back when matches got tight.
Each of the Big Four has played matches without their coach, and none have regressed to earlier stages in their career while doing so.
After his split with Lendl and a disappointing clay season, Andy looked ready for a credible defense of his Wimbledon title with confident victories in his first four matches. Moreover, he finally looked like he remembered what it meant to be a champion. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.
He was simply awful in his quarterfinal against Grigor. His reliable groundstrokes, both forehand and backhand, often ended halfway up the net. His incredible defense was “hit or miss”, mostly “miss”. His overheads and volleys were terrible. His focus was lacking, and his overall demeanor was defeatist, at best.
These disappointing displays from Andy are unacceptable. Membership in the “Big Four” requires better than these types of efforts from a player who shouldn’t need to be reminded of his championship credentials. Even Rafa, stubborn as he was in his loss to Kyrgios, remembered to show his championship mettle in defeat. He always does. The same is true of Roger, and generally of Novak as well. Andy needs to do the same.
Some might want to blame Andy’s early-season woes on Lendl’s departure, or his Wimbledon loss on Amelie Mauresmo’s failings as his new coach. Both would be wrong. Ivan surely didn’t give Andy any special tips to win those Slams, nor did Amelie advise him to play as horribly as he did against Grigor. Good coaching is necessary to any player’s success, but a champion’s will to succeed must come from within.
Andy has lost that will, and in so doing has lost his late-entry membership in the Big Four. Can that change for him? Depends on how much he wants to step up and act the part.
For now, Novak and Roger are safe. In spite of recent match focus struggles, Novak is still well in his prime. And as long as Roger’s body cooperates, he’s mentally ready to step up and compete with anyone.
How about Rafa? I’m worried about his body. Then again, I was worried about his body last summer after Cincinnati and he went on to win the US Open. So you never know. As far as Andy is concerned, it’s hard to know. That depends upon Andy, and if he can ever act like the champion that he is. To be honest though, I’m not hopeful.
Genie Bouchard (CAN)  v Angelique Kerber (GER) 
Original Picks: Williams, Sharapova
H2H: Series is tied at 1-1
Far from disappointed at my failure to correctly pick this section’s quarterfinalists, it’s fantastic to see young Canadian Genie Bouchard set to battle against the crafty lefty, Angelique Kerber.
Genie is looking to make her third Slam semifinal of the season after strong showings in both Melbourne and Paris. (Compare that to Sloane Stephens who made the semifinals in Melbourne and pretty much hasn’t been heard from since.) She’s aggressive in her play, a gritty competitor, and wants to be at the top of the game.
I know I’ve said this before, but not many up-and-comers are truly “the real deal”. Genie is, indeed, the real deal! Even if Serena hadn’t lost to Cornet, I’m certain that Genie would have taken her out. Serena is the face of a veteran champion. Genie is the fresh face of the new guard that has little deference for the past.
She’ll need all of that moxie to get by Angelique, a solid player who seems to have found a new life this year on grass. At her best, Angie has tremendous defense, and a down-the-line backhand that she can hit from the most improbable of positions. Just ask Maria Sharapova.
Both Genie and Angie come into Wimbledon with winning momentum. Genie has the confidence from a semifinal run at the French, and Angie a finalist showing in Eastbourne. This could go either way on paper. Once again, however, my gut tells me to go with the plucky, opportunistic Canadian gal who’s starring in her own WTA version of ‘All About Eve’.
Genie Bouchard in three sets
Simona Halep (ROU)  v Sabine Lisicki (GER) 
Original Picks: Halep, Keys
H2H: Simona Halep leads 2-1
Simona leads the H2H, but Sabine’s history of winning Wimbledon results can’t be denied!
No matter how lackluster the rest of her season has been or will be, she hits the Wimbledon grass and becomes a different player, a much happier and more confident player.
Her forehand, always a potential weapon, is more lethal and penetrating. And her serve, another big weapon, can cause damage in much the same way as Serena’s. Add confidence to those two weapons, and you have a legitimate threat to go deep on the lawns.
This will be a big test for Simona, who hasn’t faced a heavy hitter like Sabine in her previous matches. Her all-court game and solid defense are generally good enough to help her on most court surfaces. Grass is different. The quick(er) courts/low bounces favor someone with weapons like Sabine. Simona, who lacks similar weaponry, will be at a distinct disadvantage.
More importantly, how can anyone go against Sabine and her history of improbable runs? Not me. Simona will fight hard but I’m looking at Sabine to take this one for a spot against Genie in the semifinals.
Sabine Lisicki in three sets
Stan Wawrinka (SUI)  v Roger Federer (SUI) 
Original Picks: Wawrinka, Federer
H2H: Roger Federer leads 13-2
In spite of their lopsided match history, Stan did get the better of Roger earlier this year in Monte Carlo. However, that match was on clay. This match will be played on grass, a surface they’ve never contested, at a venue where Roger has had his most prolific Slam success. Just that fact alone leads me to favor Roger in this match, but that’s not the only indicator.
Roger is serving very well this fortnight. While he may not be the tournament aces leader, he also hasn’t been broken, and hasn’t dropped a set. Stan’s serving well too, but has faced more break points overall, and was broken 4 times in his 4-set match against Yen-Hsun Lu.
Familiarity might also play a huge part in this match. Stan’s familiarity with Roger’s game might help win a set, but not more than Roger’s familiarity with Stan’s game, and especially on this familiar court.
Wimbledon history also comes into play when you look at each player’s history at the Championships. Stan has never progressed past the fourth round. And aside from the occasional upset, Roger has won this title 7 times, been the finalist on one occasion, and a quarterfinalist on 3 other occasions.
It’d be foolhardy to ignore the cumulative effect of their lopsided match history, their current level of play, and Roger’s overwhelmingly winning record at SW19. Sorry Stan.
Roger Federer in four sets
Milos Raonic (CAN)  v Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
Original Picks: Nishikori, Nadal
H2H: Milos Raonic leads 1-0
I love it when a player proves me wrong, and such is the case with Milos Raonic in his first appearance in a Wimbledon quarterfinal. For too many years we suffered the hype of this “young gun” only to see him exit early. But with the help of his coaching team and a ton of hard work, Milos has considerably improved his movement; which was his Achilles heel on grass (and clay). With better movement and improved shot selection, he’s been able to make inroads that once seemed improbable.
The best part of all is that the improvement in his overall level of performance has allowed him to relax and focus on what he does best: serve opponents off the court. Finally, he’s become the threat everyone thought he could be on this surface.
He’ll be facing Nick Kyrgios, an even younger gun who played the match of his fledgling career in taking out World No. 1, Rafa Nadal. However, Nick’s win was no fluke. He came out with confidence, served well, and smacked backhand winners at will.
More impressively, he played a tactically brilliant match by making Rafa play at his quicker pace. It takes a special kind of young player to have that kind of higher level tennis wherewithal, and Nick’s got it.
Experience counts for something though, and Milos has the greater experience at this level. This might be his first Wimbledon quarter, but he’s about as prepared to step into the limelight as I’ve ever seen. He knows exactly what his tools are, and how to use them when the stakes are high.
Nick will have to regroup after a big win, and come out playing perhaps a better match than he did against Rafa because of Milos’ serve. Playing Milos will be tough enough without the emotional letdown that happens after a big win. And though Nick is an impressive talent, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
Look for Milos to face off against Roger in the semifinals.
Milos Raonic in four sets
There were some shocking scenes on the courts today at Wimbledon…well, mainly on one court. SW19’s famed Centre Court became the graveyard of both reigning French Open champions today. Sharapova was knocked out by Kerber, and Nadal was sent packing by Kyrgios. Not content to play second fiddle, Serena was involved in her own drama on Court 1. Here’s a quick R16 “Check-In” Shock or Not before I throw myself into my second set of quarterfinal previews.
Angelique Kerber defeats Maria Sharapova: Shock or Not? Big Shock.
In spite of the fact that Maria won her first Slam at Wimbledon, grass hasn’t historically been a great surface for her. She reached the semifinals in the two years following that win, but didn’t make another deep run until her loss to Kvitova in the 2011 final. Still, she’s a multi-Slam winner and great competitor. Her chances looked very good to face Bouchard in the quarterfinals.
Conversely, Angelique Kerber came into this match with a losing record against Maria. On top of that, she’d also had limited success at Wimbledon; usually exiting well before R16 matches like today. She did, however, reach the semifinals in 2012. I guess that taste of success was that she needed to upend the script in this match, and knock Maria out of contention for the rare French-Wimbledon double.
Maria’s 49 unforced errors probably didn’t help either…
Nick Kyrgios defeats Rafa Nadal: Shock or Not? Even Bigger Shock.
I had a strong suspicion that Rafa wouldn’t make it out of this quarter after looking at the draw. However, there was nothing that indicated young Nick Kyrgios would be the one to knock him out of contention. Sure, Kyrgios is a talented up-and-comer, but beating the World No. 1, a 14-time Slam champion, on Centre Court? No way, right? Unfortunately for Rafa, yes!
Nick came out on court acting like he belonged, and that he had just as much of a chance for victory as Rafa. He then proceeded to serve huge, and smack backhand winners from everywhere on the court. His forehand wasn’t quite as lethal, but Rafa nullified that aspect of the Aussie’s game by continuing to play his backhand no matter how many times he got burned.
There is a distinct brashness to Nick that could be off-putting to some: like the manner in which he jumps around on the court (like a victory dance) after big points, or the loud manner in which he excoriates himself after bad misses. Moreover though, he’s a breath of fresh air in a sport that hasn’t really experienced one since the appearance of Novak on the Slam stage. And that’s definitely a good thing.
Rafa was fairly gracious in defeat, but one could sense a smidgen of sour grapes when asked about his young opponent.
“Everything is easier when you are arriving. Everything is new, nothing to lose, everything is good, everything is positive. You can do whatever and everybody see just the good things on you.”
“We’ll see if he’s able to improve and to play at very high levels for a long period of time.”
However, Rafa did end on a laugh by saying “For me… beach!”
Nick was hoping to crack the 25k level of Twitter followers during Wimbledon. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble now. I’ll help him out by ending with his first tweet after the big win:
Erm, ok then………..
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) July 1, 2014
Serena Williams makes dramatic exit from Wimbledon Doubles: Shock or Not? Not.
Serena came out for doubles with her sister Venus, and it was quickly obvious that something was wrong with her. After a lengthy visit from the trainer and doctor after warm-up, the sisters decided to forge on with the match. It unraveled quickly, however, with a retirement from the match while trailing 0-3.
The initial word is that Serena was suffering from a viral illness. Given her previous medical episodes, I hope that it’s nothing serious. But honestly, if she was feeling as poorly as it appeared earlier, why not just stop. Did we really need to suffer through such an odd and sad scene? No.
In this current iteration, Serena is (in most ways) an excellent example of a champion. This was not the case earlier in her career when she was, admittedly, much more prone to drama queen theatrics. I’m not questioning the legitimacy of her illness, just the lack of judgment from both her and Venus in such a late decision to throw in the towel.
When the doctor tells you, “If you can’t see the ball, you shouldn’t play”, maybe you should listen.
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)