Posts Tagged ‘Sara Errani’

PostHeaderIcon Serena, Vika, Caro, and Shuai: My US Open Women’s Quarterfinals Picks

Serena Williams (Mike Lawrence/usopen.org)

Serena Williams (Mike Lawrence/usopen.org)

I wasn’t able to do any pre-tournament write-ups or picks for this year’s US Open because of my assignment in New Haven. But now that I’m back in San Francisco with a bit of free time on my hands, the quarterfinals seemed like as good a place as any to get back on the horse and make some picks for the last Slam of the year. Ladies first!

Peng Shuai  (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Peng Shuai (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs Shuai Peng (CHN)

H2H: No previous meetings

There’s no match history between these two players, so there’s not much to say on the prospects for this match other than generalities.

Bencic has played good tennis to reach the quarters; particularly in her match against the veteran Jelena Jankovic. I fully expected Jankovic to dig deep into her bag of tricks for a win against her 17 year-old opponent, but it didn’t happen. Bencic, young and prone to some impatience/volatility, kept it together on one of the game’s biggest stages; and in one of the biggest matches of her life.

Can she give a repeat performance in the quarters? That depends on her opponent, Peng Shuai. Peng steadily knocked off an impressive roster of players in reaching the quarters (Zheng, Radwanska, Vinci, and Safarova), and did so impressively without dropping a set. She’s not a flashy player, and doesn’t possess any huge weapons. But she will make you play solid and consistent tennis to beat her.

Bencic is certainly talented enough, but I’m not sure if she’s steady enough at this stage in her career to rise to the occasion in a Slam quarterfinal. For that reason alone, I’ll go with Peng. But I won’t be surprised if it goes either way given the volatility of this year’s tournament.

Pick: Peng Shuai

Caroline Wozniacki (Philip Hall/usopen.org)

Caroline Wozniacki (Philip Hall/usopen.org)

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [10] vs Sara Errani (ITA) [13]

H2H: Wozniacki leads 2-1

Underestimate Sara Errani at your own risk; especially after her revenge-fueled victory over Venus Williams the other day. It wasn’t pretty. And yes, Venus is not the “Venus” we remember from her pre-Sjogren days. But none of that mattered in the end. Sara came away with the hard-fought victory, and has a chance to redeem her disappointing year in singles.

The same could be said for Caroline. After spotty results earlier in the year, she’s played like Dane possessed during the summer hard court swing. She took Serena the distance in their two last tournaments (Montreal and Cincinnati), and knocked out Maria in a brilliant R16 match to reach the quarters. She’s serving harder, hitting her forehand harder, and is notably mixing up her shot patterns to keep opponents off-balance. Moreover, her backhand winner on match point against Maria, a pre-2014 rarity, tells you everything you need to know about where Caro is with her game. (Hint: aggressive.)

I don’t want to risk getting Sara riled up again, but I’m going with Caro in this one. Sara has picked up her game, but Caro’s the one most primed for a breakthrough.

Pick: Caroline Wozniacki

Serena Williams (USA) [1] vs Flavia Pennetta (ITA) [11]     

H2H: Williams leads 5-0

Serena is, of course, the prohibitive favorite in any match-up at any tournament. But this particular version of Serena is a bit more vulnerable and prone to meltdowns than the one we’ve come to know in recent years. With time winding down on her Hall of Fame career, she’s put tremendous pressure on herself to reach coveted milestones. That pressure has virtually crippled her in the Slams this year, with early exits in Melbourne, Paris, and London. It says a ton that this is her first Slam quarterfinal of 2014.

Flavia’s year has also been underwhelming after her early success in winning the title at Indian Wells. Her match results have been unpredictable at best, and haven’t come close to those reaching the earlier highs of the year. In spite of it all, she’s made it through to the second week, and is facing off against Serena for the second time at the Open.

Unfortunately for Flavia, she’s only won a grand total of six games in her last four hard court sets against Serena. Even in a tournament filled with upsets, this does NOT bode well. I’m picking Serena to reach her first Slam semifinal with a routine win over the Italian.

Pick: Serena Williams

Victoria Azarenka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Victoria Azarenka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [16] vs Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) [17]

H2H: Azarenka leads 3-2

Ekaterina won their last match on clay in three sets (2013), but has yet to beat Vika on a hard court. She’s a great player with big weapons who has managed some stunning Slam upsets over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, she’s never backed up those upsets in the later rounds when the pressure was at its’ highest.

Vika, on the other hand, lives for the big moments in the big matches. Sometimes she’s a bit too prickly on court for my taste, but you can’t deny her competitive fight. It’s taken her to the Open final the past two years, and could very well again for a hat trick of final appearances in successive years.  She came into New York with a ton of rust and lack of match play, but she’s found a way to make it through.

She may not be playing her best tennis right now, but I’ve got to go with Vika for the win on her chutzpah alone.

Pick: Victoria Azarenka

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 Serena Williams’ Tough Road to Number 6 at SW19: My Wimbledon Women’s Preview

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Serena Williams [1] – Eugenie Bouchard [13] *

Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)

Angelique Kerber [9] – Maria Sharapova [5] *

Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)

The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.

The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.

Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.

(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Simona Halep [3] – Carla Suarez Navarro [15] *

Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)

Ana Ivanovic [11] – Jelena Jankovic [7] *

Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)

The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.

The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.

After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Victoria Azarenka [8] – Dominika Cibulkova [10] *

Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)

Sara Errani [14] – Agnieszka Radwanska [4] *

Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)

It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.

On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.

In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies.  Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Petra Kvitova [6] – Flavia Pennetta [12] *

Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)

Caroline Wozniacki [16] – Na Li [2] *

Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)

I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.

The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.

I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.

Quarterfinal Picks

Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li

Notable First-Round Matches

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) [26] v Alison Riske (USA)

Klara Koukalova (CZE) [31] v Taylor Townsend (USA)

Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [27]

PostHeaderIcon Crunch Time For The Women and Men in Paris: A Quick French Open Quarterfinal Preview

Sharapova, Errani, Halep, and Bouchard

Sharapova, Errani, Halep, and Bouchard

Here’s a quick preview of the French Open quarterfinals, including my original picks AND my revised picks. Ladies first…

WOMEN

* – original pick for quarterfinal winner

Garbine Muguruza (ESP) v Maria Sharapova (RUS) [7]
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) [14] v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [18]
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) [27] v Simona Halep (ROU) [4]
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) [10] v Andrea Petkovic (GER) [28]
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

Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, and Djokovic.

Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, and Djokovic.

MEN

* – original pick for quarterfinal winner

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] v David Ferrer (ESP) [5]
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) [23] v Andy Murray (GBR) [7]
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) [6] v Ernests Gulbis (LAT) [18]
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) [8] v Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2]
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

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Ernest v Roger, Maria v Sam, and a Serena Photobomb: An R16 Weekend “Shock or Not”

Ernests Gulbis (© FFT)

Ernests Gulbis KO’d Roger Federer at the French Open (© FFT)

This weekend, while officiating in Napa, I was watching some spectacular play by the Napa Open juniors when I got a message from one of the site directors that Gulbis had beaten Federer. I instantly knew what had to be done, and began writing as soon as I got home last night. So without further ado, here’s my take on Roger’s KO, Maria’s escape, Serena’s photobomb, and a few other blips on my “Shock or Not” radar screen.

Ernests Gulbis defeats Roger Federer: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not!

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Roger Federer (© FFT)

On one level it’s easy to admit that seeing Roger leave Paris before the semifinals is indeed shocking, if not downright sacrilegious. But nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, should be shocked that Ernests Gulbis won this match. Though he’s easily one of the most enigmatic players on tour (in layman’s terms, flaky), Ernests is a modern-day Marat Safin: brilliant yet prone to long periods of having his head inserted firmly up his…well, you know where.

This year, after realizing that he’s often his own worst enemy, Ernests has worked hard to improve and show that he deserves a spot at the top of the men’s game. As a result, he’s enjoying a great year with title runs in Marseilles and Nice. He still runs his mouth too much for most people’s liking (“A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more”), but is now mostly able to back it up with results.

Turning to the other side of the court, Roger’s loss had little to do with his age, his racquet, or his back. He might be older a step slower than in his prime, but he’s still one of the best in the game. Simply put, he was beat by the better player on the day: much like Sampras by the aforementioned Safin at the US Open. Brilliance is never eternal.

Also, though Roger would be loath to admit it, it’s hard to imagine that he can realistically maintain 100% focus on court with four children in tow. That slight dip is all it takes to make a huge difference in match outcome. (But they sure are cute, aren’t they?)

“The clay-court season was fun, but we are moving on.” Hopefully the grass court season will prove more fruitful for Roger. Good luck in Halle!

Maria Sharapova defeats Sam Stosur: Shock or Not? Not.
Maria defeats Sam by winning final 9 games: Shock or Not? Absolutely, and Absolutely Not.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

The shock of this match comes with the fact that Maria won nine games in a row to come back from the brink. This is a feat usually performed by Serena as she adds to her Hall of Fame CV. In fact, Maria was the ignoble recipient of one such run back in the 2013 Sony Open final. Up a set and a break, she lost the final 10 games of the match in what surely must have been one of the most embarrassing defeats of her career.

I’m not shocked that Maria “Yes, I double-bageled Paula Ormaechea” won nine in a row. She’s one of the strongest competitors out there. I am, however, shocked that Sam buckled so badly and allowed her to do so. Admittedly, I didn’t see the match. So I’m at a disadvantage to comment on its’ specifics. But it pains me to see such a great player, a woman who beat Serena for one of the game’s biggest titles in “her house”, become so fragile.

Who knew that, in the absence of Serena Williams, Maria would “Serena” someone? Not I.

Apart from the manner in which it happened, there is absolutely no surprise that Maria beat Sam. She has an overwhelming 13-2 head-to-head against Stosur (now 14-2), and she’s beaten the Aussie on hard courts, clay courts, and grass. Given her own one-sided beatdowns that she’s received from Serena, it’s gotta feel good to be on the other side.

Serena Williams crashes wedding in leopard-print leotard and steals all focus: Shock or Not? Shock with a SMGDH!

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Speaking of Ms. Williams, I have one thing to say: Come on Serena! We get it. You’re “all that and a bag of chips”. However, this was HER special day, not yours. I’m sure that you thought it would be a great moment for them when you joined them for pictures with your lovely leotard, but it was a moment that was all about you and not them or, more importantly, the bride. If you really wanted to honor THEIR special day, you could have sent Esther over with a check or some other gift. Next time, maybe?

Second-Tier Shocks

Ajla Tomlijanovic defeats Aga Radwanska: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

The stats (30-10 vs 14-12, 13 career titles vs none) pointed to an easy win for Aga, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, a straight sets loss to the unheralded Croatian does bring up some pointed questions regarding Aga’s ability to maintain her top status while her body takes a huge battering. Tons of match play over the past few years seems to be taking a toll. Some suggest that she’s trying to make as much as she can, while she can. I hope not. Physio tape can only do so much to help her once she retires.

Eugenie Bouchard defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Not.

In spite of some earlier clay disappointments, Eugenie is generally riding high in 2014. Angelique? Not so much. I’m not expecting an appearance in the finals, or an upset title winner, but Miss Bouchard is one heckuva poised, intelligent, and talented young lady!

Novak Djokovic crushes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock.

Three words: Come on Jo?!?!?! Six games? Really?

Sara Errani defeats Jelena Jankovic: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

One would have thought that Jelena could finally turn the tables on a less-than-totally-fit Sara. Then again, one would have been wrong. Sara won in Rome, and now again in Paris. I guess Sara is immune to Jelena’s “tennis theater”.

 

PostHeaderIcon Women’s French Open Preview: Number 3 No Sure Thing For Serena

Serena Williams (© FFT)

Serena Williams (© FFT)

In spite of her tennis greatness, Serena Williams is not a sure bet for the French Open title. She’s never defended a French Open title, and has seen many previous French Open campaigns end in tears. Could this be the year of her first French Open defense? Quite possibly. And it’s no surprise that she’ll likely have to go through the woman nipping at the heels of her No. 1 ranking, Li Na, to do it. Let’s take a look at their paths to that final showdown.

Top Half – Top Quarter (Serena Williams [1])

This is a perfect quarter for Serena to work herself into the tournament. It starts routinely in the first round; she gets a little test with Muguruza, and then rounds into form with a win over Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. I’m not sure Venus will get past her first round match with Belinda Bencic, because the French is toughest on Vee with her health issues, and Bencic is tough. So there’s not much chance they’ll play one another in the third round.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

As for the bottom section of this quarter, all I can say is “Tough luck Maria!”

Top Half – Bottom Quarter (Aga Radwanska [3])

Either Aga Radwanska or Carla Suarez Navarro will be the likely quarterfinalist from this relatively weak quarter. That’s not to say that there aren’t some talented players here, because there are. But none of them have shown as much proficiency on clay as these two. They’ve never met on this surface, but Aga leads 2-0 in their H2H. So I’ll take the easy pic of Aga versus any of the likely contenders from the bottom section of this quarter.

Bottom Half – Top Quarter (Simona Halep [4])

This quarter promises a fine quarterfinal between Simona Halep and the resurgent Ana Ivanovic. In spite of the tuning that Simona gave Ana in Madrid, she’s been playing some pretty fine tennis this spring overall. And let’s not forget that she does have some good memories here that might help her down the stretch. I’m still picking Simona for the win, but will definitely make sure I DVR this match for later viewing.

Also lurking in this quarter are Petra Kvitova [5] and Caroline Garcia. In fact, Garcia is Ana’s first match, so the fun starts right out of the gate in this quarter. Still, any potential upset will happen in Ana’s section, and Simona will likely be undeterred from reaching her first French Open semifinal.

Li Na (© FFT)

Li Na (© FFT)

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter (Li Na [2])

After a tight semifinal in Rome, Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani look to renew their rivalry in Paris for a spot in the quarterfinals against Li Na, the likely player from the bottom section of this quarter. But given Sara’s injury in the Rome final against Serena Williams, I can’t imagine she’ll be fit enough to get past Madison Keys in the first round. So look for a Jankovic-Keys R16 with the winner taking on, and probably losing to, former champion Li Na.

Quarterfinal Picks

Serena Williams defeats Maria Sharapova

Aga Radwanska defeats Flavia Pennetta

Simona Halep defeats Ana Ivanovic

Li Na defeats Jelena Jankovic

Semifinal Picks

Serena Williams defeats Aga Radwanska

Li Na defeats Simona Halep

Final Pick

Serena Williams defeats Li Na for her third French Open title.

Notable First-Round Matches

Belinda Bencic v Venus Williams

Monica Puig v Samantha Stosur

Caroline Garcia v Ana Ivanovic

Madison Keys v Sara Errani

Caroline Wozniacki v Yanina Wickmayer

Follow SFTennisFreak on Twitter
Blog Search