Posts Tagged ‘Maria Sharapova’

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 French Open Champs Maria & Rafa Sent Packing: A Wimbledon Centre Court Edition of Shock or Not

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

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 (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Angelique Kerber (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

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 (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

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:

Serena Williams (AP)

Serena Williams (AP)

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.

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 Ten (Plus Ten) Final Thoughts on the Maria 2 – Rafa 9 French Open

2014 French Open Champions: Maria Sharapova and Rafa Nadal (© FFT)

2014 French Open Champions: Maria Sharapova and Rafa Nadal (© FFT)

Quickly, and off the top of my head. After all, grass court tennis begins in earnest, yes? 😉 Let’s start with the improbable victory of the ladies champion.

  1. Maria Sharapova won her second French Open title in her third straight year of reaching the finals. It’s a remarkable achievement for a player whom many only figured to be a force on hard court/grass, and who wasn’t supposed to make it past the quarterfinals. If only she could overcome her Serena issue
  2. She may not have any huge weapons, but Simona Halep is the real deal! Her “weapon” is a solid all-court game with clean technique, tremendous footwork and excellent court smarts. Honestly, it’s a pleasure to watch.
  3. Ditto that for Genie Bouchard! The girl’s got spunk, and a decent game to match. If she’s able to reach Slam semifinals at this stage of her career, one can only imagine the potential in a year or so. Plus, you gotta love anyone who’s willing to call out Maria “We’re Not Friends” Sharapova before a match.
  4. Ditto again for Garbine Muguruza, the Serena giant killer!
  5. What a pleasure it was to see Andrea Petkovic return to the latter stages of a big tournament after being sidelined, on and off, for the past few years due to injury. Not so sure if I’m glad to see the return of the Petko dance, but I guess it’s a package deal.
  6. Serena Williams is human, and that unfortunately happens more at Roland Garros than any other Slam. But for the love of God, PLEASE don’t photobomb anyone else’s wedding with a scanty leotard.
  7. Is it wrong of me to admit that I have a hard time taking Li Na seriously as a Slam champion when she performs as unevenly as she does, all the while saying, “I think it was a pretty good match”?
  8. Aga Radwanska is struggling to maintain her place atop the game this year. Will that change on grass?
  9. I’d love to get behind Sloane Stephens 100%, but she makes it pretty hard with post-match comments like, “”In the end you’ll see, I guess, whatever happens” or “Do you want me to say like I need to win a tournament? Is that what you’re saying?” Sloane is a great talent but hasn’t figured out that you don’t get all the benefits of tennis stardom without some kind of a cost; either by winning or at least being civil to the press when you don’t.
  10. Rafa Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player of all time! However, it’s still premature to anoint him GOAT. Feel free to discuss though…
  11. Novak Djokovic finally understands what Roger Federer had to endure before him as the second-best clay court player on the planet with absolutely no chance of winning the French Open.
  12. Is anyone else concerned about how brutal the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry has become? Watching great tennis is one thing, watching an MMA match masquerading as tennis is another.
  13. Andy Murray is back…kind of. He made the semifinals but played a horrible match against Rafa. We should expect more than 6 games from of a player of his stature. Then again, GOAT Federer only won 4 games in his 2008 final with Rafa. Also, Kudos to Andy for hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach for the grass court season. My only hope is that she’s not judged differently than current male players coaching female players.
  14. Ernests Gulbis kept it together long enough to reach his first Slam semifinal in Paris, defeating Federer along the way. It’s good to see him finally put his talent where his mouth is.
  15. Speaking of Roger Federer, I admire his want to remain active during the clay season after the birth of his twin sons, Leo and Lennart, but it showed in his focus and level of play. It’s going to be interesting to see how he manages his schedule for the rest of the season.
  16. We may have to accept that Stan Wawrinka will never be the champion we want him to be. It’s just not in his nature. But it would be nice to see a consistent level of performance befitting a Slam winner. Let’s call it the “Andy Murray Rule”.
  17. It’s a good thing that John Isner is a big guy, because the weight of the US tennis world on his shoulders must be daunting.
  18. Congratulations to Marinko Matosevic for winning his first main draw Slam match. It was a long time coming, but we knew you’d get there.
  19. Goodbye Micheal Llodra! Goodbye Nikolay Davydenko?
  20. I’m still shaking my head over the embarrassing Mahut “congratulations” after his loss. Note to all journos: come prepared, or don’t come at all! And my final note to TC on your “Outrage or Meh” segment. Come one!?!?!?! If you want it done right, hire me for a proper “Shock or Not”! That is all.

On that note, I’m out. Next stop: Wimbledon!

PostHeaderIcon Reflecting On Maria’s Improbable French Open Triumph

Maria Sharapova holds the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after her victory over Simona Halep. (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova holds the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after her victory over Simona Halep. (© FFT)

By defeating Simona Halep in a thrilling 3-set French Open final, Maria Sharapova won her second title at Roland Garros, and the fifth major title of her career. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on this achievement, and some odd facts which underlie this improbable win.

Notably, 2014 marked Maria’s third straight appearance in a French Open final. The last women to appear in three straight finals, no easy task, were 4-time champion Justine Henin, and 3-time champion Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario. Pretty good company, huh?

Not content to settle for merely an appearance, Maria succeeded in winning her second title in that three-year span. Compare that to her rival Serena Williams, who needed 11 years for her second French Open win (2002, 2013). Serena may have more total Slams, but she certainly can’t match Maria’s efficiency at collecting them in Paris.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Moreover, Maria’s win in Paris came in a year when she wasn’t even expected to make it past the quarterfinals, due in large part to the aforementioned Serena. Placed in Serena’s quarter of the draw, she was slated to play the defending champ in the quarterfinals. And since it’s been nearly a decade since Maria has beaten Serena, that expected meeting probably wasn’t going to do anything to change the pattern of this all-too-familiar narrative.

Therein lays the major, pardon the pun, reason why this victory was so improbable. Maria, by some twist of tennis nature after her shoulder surgery, has become a clay court tour de force. She’s capable of beating almost any opponent on this surface; that is, any opponent not named Serena.

Her clay record speaks for itself. Including this year’s win, Maria’s overall record at the French Open is 50-10: a phenomenal 20-1 in the past three years. She’s beaten several quality opponents along the way, but can’t seem to overcome the Serena conundrum. (By contrast, Serena is 8-2 in the same 3-year period.)

Just imagine what could have been if there’d been a “Garbine Muguruza” (or Virginie Razzano, for that matter) to knock out Serena in 2013. We could have potentially seen Maria pull off a hat trick at one of the toughest Slams on the calendar. I hate to repeat this tired quotable, but that’s pretty remarkable for a self-described “cow on ice”.

Like the rest of her matches in the second week, the final wasn’t pretty. Maria racked up 12 double faults, 52 unforced errors, 7 breaks of serve, and won only 39% of her second serves. These are fairly atrocious numbers for any match, let alone a Slam final.

But Maria did what she does best, steadying her nerves when it mattered most in the third set. She found a way to win, then willed herself to do so in spite of Halep. If only she could do that when Serena is on the other side of the net, who knows what might have been in addition to a French Open hat trick?

This win tied Maria with Martina Hingis for # of Slam titles in the Open era, though I’m fairly certain she could care less about the specific number right now. Maria’s too busy relishing the fruits of a hard-fought win, and rightly so. Maybe on a subconscious level, she’s even secretly thanking the Spanish woman who made this all possible.

Garbine should expect something VERY nice for Christmas.

PostHeaderIcon An Efficient Halep Win And Dramatic Bouchard Upset: A French Open Women’s Semis Preview

Genie Bouchard and Simona Halep (© FFT)

Genie Bouchard and Simona Halep (© FFT)

* – original pick for semifinal winner

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Genie Bouchard (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (RUS) [7] vs Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [18]
H2H: Sharapova leads 2-0

Head-to-head records are often a great tool to help see past patterns in a matchup and, perhaps, help predict future match outcomes. But there’s not much in Maria and Genie’s prior 2013 matches that can predict the outcome of this semifinal.

The Genie from those matches doesn’t exist anymore. In her place is a thoughtful, confident player who’s no longer cowed by the moment. Her appearance, and loss, in the Australian Open semifinals opposite Li Na was the perfect preparation for this match against Maria. She belongs on this big stage, and she knows it. Now it’s just a matter of execution.

Maria might have something to say about that though. The 2012 champion knows that she’s the favorite in Serena’s absence, and wants to take full advantage. In order to do so, however, she’s got to play a lot cleaner than her past couple of matches.

Maria’s served decently at 60%, but has been plagued by double-faults (4.4 on average per match). She’s also averaging about 25 unforced errors. These are typically not the best numbers to win a Slam title. Fortunately for Maria, Genie’s numbers aren’t much better with a serve percentage of 58.6 with 3.2 double-faults on average per match. Additionally she’s averaging 23.8 unforced errors per match. So there’s little to separate the two with these numbers.

The problem for Maria shows up with the defense of the second serve. Genie’s generally done a better job of that over five rounds (51.8% vs 48.6%), but clearly trumps Maria with her performance in the last two rounds (44% vs 51.5%). If Maria has one of her “off” service days and can’t defend her weaker serve, there’s no way she can take control of the points the way she needs in order to assert her ground game.

I love Maria’s steely nature, and realize that she can hold her own with almost anyone not named Serena on tour, but this match is going to be a dogfight! Genie is on the verge of a breakthrough, and is conceding absolutely nothing to her veteran opponent. She would love to have her first Slam title, French Open or otherwise, just as much as Maria would love a second French Open title.

Though Genie may not end up with the title on Saturday, my gut tells me to take a chance on the young gun for an upset in this match. I expect it to go the distance, and ultimately end in elation for Genie, and disappointment for Maria.

Original Picks: Serena Williams*, Aga Radwanska

Revised Pick: Genie Bouchard in three sets.

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Simona Halep (© FFT)

Simona Halep (ROU) [4] vs Andrea Petkovic (GER) [28]
H2H: Halep leads 2-1

Unlike the breakdown for the Bouchard-Sharapova semifinal, this one is a much more straightforward affair.

Their previous match statistics tell a story that is neither favorable nor unfavorable to either player. Andrea excels in her first serve percentage vs Simona (75.2 to 58.4) with less double faults (2.2 on average as compared to 3.2). Conversely, Simona makes fewer unforced errors per match (16 vs 22.6). She also defends her second serve significantly better than the German (50% vs 41.5%).

These stats mean less to me than the fact that Simona, a player who’s risen dramatically over the past couple of years, plays a clean and fairly nerve-free game that can quickly knock out her opponents before they know what hit them. Svetlana Kuznetsova was having a great tournament until her 2 and 2 loss to Simona in the quarters.

In fact, Simona hasn’t lost a set this entire tournament. No fanfare needed, just fairly ruthless play resulting in efficient wins.

Andrea, on the other hand, almost quit tennis altogether after losing in the qualifying rounds of last year’s French Open. Years of injuries had battered her psyche to the point that a career in tennis barely seemed plausible. However, she persevered and now finds herself in her first-ever Slam semifinal.

In many ways, this whole experience is all gravy for the German. But even she acknowledges that the ever-present threat of injury is never far from her thoughts. This is an unnecessary distraction when facing someone who has been as efficient as Simona in dispatching her opponents.

Also, there’s a big difference when faced with your first Slam chance at a Slam semifinal versus your second. Simona had a rough trial by Melbourne fire in Australia, and is probably eager to show that she can better handle this moment. Andrea will be reeling in her first, and won’t possibly be able to show her best tennis.

Look for Simona to continue her efficient run to the final with a straight set win over Andrea. And even though Petko’s run ends here, it’s good to see this delightful German back in the hunt.

Original Picks: Li Na*, Simona Halep

Revised Pick: Simona Halep in two sets.

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