Posts Tagged ‘Sloane Stephens’

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 Sloane, Paul, and Conflicts of Interest: A Wimbledon Day Three “Shock or Not”

Sloane Stephens (Chris Raphael/AELTC)

Sloane Stephens (Chris Raphael/AELTC)

Sloane Stephens, and her coach Paul Annacone, lead the way for my first tournament upset “Shock or Not” of the fortnight. Wondering why I included her coach? Let’s just call it a case of “Conflict of Interest” Shock. Read on for those bits, in addition to thoughts on losses by Stosur, Gulbis, Ferrer, and more.

Maria Kirilenko defeats Sloane Stephens: Shock or Not? Sadly, but predictably, NOT.

Kirilenko, someone who’s coming off of an injury-plagued year, played a very good match. However, that has nothing to do with the ever-growing body of disappointing efforts from Sloane.

I’d hate to say that I’ve kind of given up on Sloane, but I’ve kind of given up on Sloane; at least until she can stop playing the martyr. We (in the media) are not the enemy, and we don’t all want her to fail. We simply want her to stop acting like an entitled American player who enjoys the perks/money of sporting fame but doesn’t put in the effort that’s necessary to continue warranting those perks.

What was once a genuine freshness in the interview room has turned into (way too much) attitude for the on-court display of nonchalance. For what it’s worth, my advice is cut the snark, put your head down, get to work and prove us wrong!

Sloane coach Paul Annacone from her Twitter account.

Sloane coach Paul Annacone from her Twitter account.

Paul Annacone, Sloane Stephens’ coach, once again did NOT recuse himself from on-air analysis after her loss: Shock or Not? Label this a “Conflict of Interest” Shock.

Paul Annacone shouldn’t have said one word about Sloane’s match in the Tennis channel commentary afterward on Wimbledon Primetime. But he did. And what he said was stunning for its’ lack of objectivity in breaking down Sloane’s performance in that match. This may not bother others, but I’m going to have a difficult time taking him seriously after this one.

The conflicts of interest in tennis are numerous and sometimes almost legendary. For example, think back to all of the times Mary Jo Fernandez would commentate on Federer only to join her husband, Fed’s ex-agent, in his Roger’s player box at big matches.

Mary Jo’s actions always bothered me, but this one with Annacone bothered me more. Sloane pays him. So it only stands to reason that he’s not going to give as honest a critique of her efforts as other commentators will who aren’t on her payroll. That is the appearance that was suggested to me from his analysis, or lack thereof; particularly so because he offered little more than an agreement with her own assessment of the match.

Integrity matters, and the appearance that it could be lacking in the commentary booth matters more. I’m not saying that Annacone doesn’t have integrity, but I am saying that his comments on his employer appeared disingenuous because of their relationship.

Samantha Stosur (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Samantha Stosur (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Yanina Wickmayer defeats Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not.

Back after 2012 disappointments at Wimbledon and the Olympics, I asked Sam if she was glad to finally be off the grass for the season, she said: “Yeah. I’m not that sad that I’m off of it for another year or so.” Take a look at her record on the green stuff and you’ll quickly understand why this was no shock, no matter what her seed was coming into the tournament. Hopefully she regains some mojo back on the American hard courts.

Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Ernests Gulbis: Shock or Not? Shock.

Ernests has never done well at Wimbledon, but I’d hoped that  his maturity as a player over this past year would translate to a better performance at this year’s Championships. Perhaps I should have known otherwise after hearing that he made quips about not wanting to be a quote machine, then followed up by promptly talking about vampires in his next press conference.

Andrey Kuznetsov defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? Shock, but…

It’s never a good sign when a player’s camp is silent to the extent that Ferrer’s camp was prior to the start of Wimbledon. Stomach issues kept him from playing last week, and that surely had to play into his loss against the upstart Kuznetsov. Lack of play isn’t great preparation for a grinder like Ferrer. It also doesn’t help that Kuznetsov is a former junior champion at Wimbledon.

Lauren Davis defeats Flavia Pennetta: Shock or Not? Not.

This was a great win for Davis, who’s managed a few upset scares over the past couple of years. Apart from Davis, Flavia had her moment in the 2014 sun at Indian Wells. Unfortunately, it’s going to get any brighter than that for her the rest of the season.

Fabio Fognini

Fabio Fognini

Fabio Fognini reaches the third round: Shock or Not? Yep…Shock.

I expected an early exit for Fabio, but he proved me wrong. However, he did NOT fail to disappoint on the court; amassing $27,500 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now THAT’S the Fabio we’ve all come to know and love!

Bojana Jovanovski defeats Victoria Azarenka: Shock or Not? Not.

In my preview piece of the women’s draw, I said that Vika was going “to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon”. That was pretty much the case after a tough first-round win that was immediately followed by and even tougher second-round loss. I knew she wouldn’t go far, but I didn’t expect the screaming Bojana Jovanovski to send her packing.
(Yes, there was value judgement in that comment.)

Tereza Smitkova defeats Coco Vandeweghe: Shock or Not? Disappointing, but No Shock.

With a wonderful serve and power to rival Serena, many of us would love to see Coco consistently perform at the top level of her game. This is especially true after her first WTA title win at the Top Shelf Open. But it all came crashing back to earth in a second round loss. Still a great run for her…

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 Some Final Thoughts on Serena, Novak, and the End of the US Spring Swing at the Sony Open

Stadium court at Crandon Park after the men's final.

Stadium court at Crandon Park after the men’s final.

As with the BNP Paribas Open, I find myself with significantly more than my usual “Ten Final Thoughts” for this year’s Sony Open. It’s a very different experience when you’re on the ground at an event, with much more information around every corner.  So to that end, I hope this list of 25 musings from Miami satisfies; starting with last Friday’s shocking withdrawals.

DSCN8200

Novak Djokovic

  1. First, I’m still shell-shocked from last week’s double-withdrawals for the Sony Open men’s semifinals. It was an unprecedented event on an unprecedented day that, frankly, caught EVERYONE off-guard. People are mad at Adam Barrett for his response, or lack thereof, to the withdrawals but, really, what could he do? Make Kei Nishikori play injured? Scold him for not telling everyone that he couldn’t play sooner? Sue the restaurant that may have made Tomas Berdych sick? Send text messages to every ticketholder? Plead with Michael Chang (Kei’s coach) or Aranxta Sanchez Vicario (in attendance) to put on an exhibition? Though no potential solution was tenable, everyone sorely wished that something…anything… could have been done to salvage the wasted day.
  2. Speaking of Kei and Tomas, I wish them both speedy recoveries. Tomas should be better already, but Kei’s groin injury is problematic. He’s not a big guy, and he needs his movement to keep an edge over his opponents. He might be pressured into playing this weekend’s Davis Cup matches in Tokyo, and that could put his clay season in jeopardy if he aggravates the injury. Keep an eye on that one.
  3. Novak Djokovic is undeniably the Big Four’s “Top Dog” after Miami. Following an atypical start to his year with no Aussie trophy, he beat Roger Federer in three sets to win Indian Wells, and then comprehensively beat Rafa Nadal for a fourth Miami title. Tellingly, I saw relief in his eyes after the Indian Wells win. This time, I saw pleasure and an enormous amount of self-belief. Make no mistake: Novak is back! Depending on Monte Carlo, Rafa’s clay season might be a whole lot tougher this year.
  4. Speaking of Rafa, the Spaniard was merely a bystander in the final against Novak. He served poorly, couldn’t find the range on his backhand, never got a chance to impose his forehand, and couldn’t figure out a single solution to his “Novak problem”.  Afterwards, there was almost a sense of concession in his voice/manner that went well beyond the “Not my day” explanation that the top guys use to explain away a loss like this. Rafa knows that when both are playing their best on a hard court, Novak’s weapons can neutralize his weapons much more easily than the reverse. If this carries over to clay, Rafa’s ninth Roland Garros title might be in jeopardy.
  5. serena-presser

    Serena Williams

    Serena Williams beat Li Na for her seventh Miami title, adding yet one more line to an already-Hall of Fame CV. It was “vintage Serena”, or at least what seems to be the current definition of that term. There was once a time when Serena dominated her opponents from start to finish. Nowadays, she starts slows and sometimes comes perilously close to defeat before storming back with the brilliance that we’ve come to expect. Regardless of why, it’s impressive to watch and is also great drama. Serena doesn’t win all the time, but it speaks volumes that everyone, her competitors included, know that she can if she’s playing well. (And by well I mean 80% and above). Love her or hate her, I hope everyone can appreciate what she brings to the game.

  6. There’s no sugar-coating the fact that Li Na caved against Serena and, unforgivably, gave up a two-break lead before losing 11 of the final 12 games. Li Na has a great personality, a strong game, and a perfect husband to showcase her comedic skills. Moreover, she’s a wonderful asset to the women’s game. But one can’t deny the mental weakness that she sometimes displays in big matches. There’s simply no way that she should have lost the first set of that final. Carlos Rodriguez, has tremendously helped her game, but there’s not much he can do about that.
  7. I love Maria Sharapova’s competitive nature, but it’s now laughable just how absent that nature is when she faces Serena Williams.
  8. Vika Azarenka, one of the few who legitimately competes well against Serena, was absent in Miami with her ongoing foot injury. I’m hoping it’s not too serious, and that we’ll have her back on tour soon. Serena badly needs a foil. And like it or not, Vika is the only one right now.
  9. Aga Radwanska’s physio-taped body is becoming more tape and less body. I worry for her 2014 at this rate.
  10. DSCN4507

    Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki

    Petra Kvitova beat Ana Ivanovic 3-6 6-0 6-0. That’s all you need to know about Petra and why, Wimbledon title or not, she’ll continue to struggle for legitimacy at the top of the women’s game.

  11. Roger Federer lost a tough match Kei Nishikori in conditions that I knew would be tough… for his game! Roger’s game does best in quicker conditions. The conditions in Miami on that note were cold, windy, and heavy: an uphill battle for him. Still, it’s nice to finally talk about his game these days and not his racquet or his back. And always remember that conditions matter!
  12. Honestly, I just don’t know what to say about Andy Murray anymore. In spite of his quarterfinal showing in Miami, there are still a ton of questions about where his head and heart are these days in the post-Lendl era.
  13. Is it wrong of me to want Stan Wawrinka to carry himself like the Slam champion that he is?
  14. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s game is a mess. That is all.
  15. Martina Hingis won the doubles title (alongside Sabine Lisicki) with smart and gritty play, fighting off several match points en route to the final. I don’t buy into the narrative that her win is an indictment of the current state of women’s doubles. Rather, it speaks volumes to the smarts of a great player who still possesses great hands, sharp court sense, and can maintain a positive court presence for her sometimes overly-dramatic partner. However, one can’t deny the ridiculousness of a doubles match where all the players stay back from the net, or the improbability of winning a Premier event with serve speeds in the high-50s to upper-80s.
  16. DSCN7099

    The Bryan brothers

    The Bryan brothers completed their Indian Wells-Miami double with a strong performance over the impassioned duo of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah from Colombia. After watching the Colombian’s Davis Cup-like support in previous matches against Peya-Soares and Sock-Harrison, I figured they might be tough to beat for the bros. ATP stat-man, Greg Sharko, reminded me that the Bryans are one of the best at playing against a hostile crowd. And so it came to pass!

  17. Milos Raonic finally played up to the level of his hype in Miami, going the distance against Rafa and coming very close to an upset. I give him lots of credit for that result, but still need to see a big improvement in his awkward movement before I jump on the Raonic Slam bandwagon.
  18. John Isner left Miami after a tough loss to Berdych in the R16. Though it’s unclear how well his body will fare during the clay season, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my support and belief in Big John. Contrary to popular opinion, John is working hard to take his game beyond the “win by tiebreak” level. I think that’s admirable from a guy who could settle for relative comfort in his position as top American. It’s also necessary if he wants to have a Top Ten presence.
  19. On the lesser American male front, Ryan Harrison lost two winnable matches in Miami. The first was his 3-set second-round loss to Benjamin Becker, and the second was his doubles semifinal loss (with partner Jack Sock) against Cabal/Farah. A horrible tiebreak in his singles match and a horrible drop volley at 9-9 in the dubs match-tiebreak sealed his fate. Ryan is a hard worker with respect to his physical game. I hope the same can be done for his mental game.
  20. With his loss to Nico Almagro in Miami, Sam Querrey dropped from his position as the #2 American. The new #2 is Bradley Klahn. No disrespect to Klahn, but this doesn’t say much about our ongoing struggles at trying to regain American tennis glory.
  21. Though the situation isn’t as dire for the US women as it is for the men, it doesn’t say much about our post-Serena/Venus prospects when Sloane, the anointed successor, is bounced 6-1 6-0 by Caroline Woniacki. Her on-court attitude is suspect, and she often appears indifferent. She also does herself no favors by saying things like, “I have 10 years of tennis to play.” That’s not the case if you get injured. Just ask Alexandra Stevenson.
  22. DSCN6874

    Sir Richard Branson and friends

    Speaking of Wozniacki, this was a pretty good tournament for her! After a period of crashing out in several troubling first round matches, she competed well and earned consecutive breadstick-bagel match results over Sloane and Varvara Lepchenko. A 5-7 5-7 loss to reigning Australian Open champ Li Na should give her encouragement. That is, unless she gets distracted in planning for her wedding to Rory McIlroy.

  23. Can we please stop the Caroline Garcia hype machine and let the poor girl develop organically? Didn’t she suffer enough after Andy Murray’s “future Slam winner” tweets?
  24. It was great to see a balanced weekend of finals with women’s singles/men’s doubles combo on Saturday and women’s doubles/men’s singles on Sunday. (This is not the case for Indian Wells or Cincinnati.) The crowd likes it, and it gives a great perception of equal value for the two tours. Mr. Ellison, please take note!
  25. After covering Indian Wells this year, I finally understand why some players gripe about Miami and its’ failings in comparison. Larry Ellison’s money has created a tennis tournament oasis with which few other tournaments can adequately compete. It’s the same for the media, with ease, access, and benefits that few other tournaments provide. So it will be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming renovations starting in 2015. (I saw Sir Richard Branson there watching the Bryan brothers. Is he the Sony Open’s “Larry Ellison”?) Anyway, don’t let that deter from going. It’s a great event and has an awesome South American feel. Check it out!

With that last unpaid endorsement, I’m out! I’d like to thank Tennis Panorama for allowing me to cover the Sony Open for their website, and look forward to my next assignment at Stanford’s Bank of the West Classic. Until next time… 🙂
(P.S. I’m winning that media tourney next year!)

PostHeaderIcon Ten (and More) Final Thoughts on My First Indian Wells Experience

BNP Paribas Open champion, Novak Djokovic

BNP Paribas Open champion, Novak Djokovic

Usually I can only muster ten interesting final thoughts in the wake of most tournaments. But after my first trip to the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens, I’ve got quite a lot to say about this year’s event. So without further ado, here are my 25 Final Thoughts. (Hey, at least it’s not quite as hefty as Jon Wertheim’s 50! Right?!)

  1. Many people credit Novak Djokovic’s win in the men’s final more to his Roger Federer’s mistakes than to his own level of play. I disagree. He found a way to get his game back on after an admittedly “off” first set, and played a brand of high-quality tennis that frustrated/pressured his Swiss opponent into both brilliance and unforced errors. And how about his recovery after dropping serve for the match to take it to a third-set tiebreak, let alone his great play in the third-set tiebreak? It was a champion’s focus at its’ best.
  2. DSCN3520Speaking of Roger Federer, this year’s losing finalist came away the big winner from this year’s tournament. He didn’t win, but he played some pretty terrific tennis all week, and only lost by the slimmest of margins in Sunday’s final. More to the point, he’s healthy, happy, feisty, and enjoying his tennis tremendously these days. Just a quick gleaning of the demeanor between the title winner (pleased, but relieved and slightly guarded) with the loser (happy, relaxed, and joking) speaks volumes.
  3. Two more Federer notes. 1) I was surprised to see Mirka at the final on such a hot day. She is VERY pregnant… 2) Saw the Federer twins while getting some ice cream, and OMG they are so gosh darn cute! That is all.
  4. Flavia Pennetta didn’t have to work hard to win the biggest title of her career, but nobody can deny that she’s paid her dues many times over in a career marked by great potential, partnered with unfortunate injuries. She’s funny, she’s colorful, and a thoroughly likeable veteran of the WTA. Even if she can’t parlay this into greater 2014 success, it was still a great run.
  5. A few years back, I wrote a piece on Aga Radwanska  that highlighted the dichotomy of her exquisite play with an on-court demeanor and facial expressions that would make one think that she’d rather be anywhere else. Of course that’s not the case, but it’s still sometimes the perception. Hopefully that perception will be erased by her tearful speech after losing to Pennetta in the final. How could someone not feel the anguished pride of a champion who couldn’t compete due to their fullest ability? I hope this injury doesn’t have lasting ramifications into the season, because if anyone is due a big win at some point, her name is Agnieszka!
  6. Even though I gave Alize Cornet less than stellar remarks for sobbing during her final against Venus Williams in Dubai, I take no issue with Aga’s tears after her disappointing performance. In fact, I give her much higher regard for her tears than I do for Roger’s after his loss to Rafa in their infamous Australian Open final. All tears are not equal.
  7. DSCN2019Big John Isner lost to Djokovic in the semifinals, but that’s okay. Coming off an extended post-Aussie injury layoff, he continued his trajectory of pushing himself to be more aggressive in his ground game. It’s a great thing to see from a guy who appears to be rejecting a career filled with 7-6 sets in order to give himself the best chance at Slams.
  8. Stan Wawrinka: how heavy is the head that wears the Aussie crown? I’d say it’s pretty darn heavy! His career breakthrough moment in Melbourne appears to be heaping a level of expectation on Stan that he doesn’t want, nor for which he’s necessarily prepared. I think the same would be true of Richard Gasquet if he were to have a breakthrough Slam. Although it would be great, it could also cripple his remaining time on tour with the public burden for more success. Some players have the ego for success, some don’t…
  9. And speaking of ego for success, Ernests Gulbis made an unexpectedly quiet exit from the BNP Paribas Open after his loss to John Isner in the quarterfinals. Always one to speak his mind, as well as smash a racquet or two, did neither. Some in the crowd opined that maybe he would have done better with a good racquet toss, but we’ll never know…
  10. I have no idea what Victoria Azarenka gained by playing this event hurt. She’s out of Miami, and heads into the tough clay court season with a prolonged injury recovery, as opposed to fine-tuning her game for a run at the French Open title. If she’s going to use the extra time off for her rumored nuptials to Redfoo, there were probably better ways to do it.
  11. DSCN8151Sloane Stephens had a great tournament. She may have lost her “sandstorm” quarterfinal with Pennetta, but she mostly stopped a sad track record of getting strategically lost in matches when under pressure. Paul Annacone looks to be a good fit for her temperament. He also seems to be helping her relax and enjoy the game more. That’s a good thing, because it’s been hard watching Sloane become hardened under the pressure of expectations these past several months.
  12. BTW, that was one heckuva sandstorm at Indian Wells during the Sloane-Flavio quarterfinal. Potted trees were blowing over, and grounds staff quickly worked to secure large viewing screens. One can only imagine what it was like on court. Actually, I’d rather not.
  13. Alexandr Dolgopolov is finally showing his stuff on a consistent basis these days, and it’s great to see. There’ve been times in the past where he looked to be half-steppin’ during his matches, especially when pressured. At least now he holds on until the last game.
  14. This might not be popular with Canadian readers, but Milos Raonic was lucky to make it as far as he did in the desert. One veteran writer even went so far as to tweet, “I’ll be accused of bias but as Milos Raonic walks onto Stadium 1, I can’t help thinking someone else should be out there.” (In case you couldn’t tell, the combo is Harman/Murray.) There will come a time, hopefully sooner rather than later, when Milos will need to back up his talent, and potential, with sustained results. And in this year of the “super coach”, I’m not sure that Ivan Lubjcic is having the desired effect on Raonic’s game as with some of the others.
  15. No doubt about it… Andy Murray is in a regressive state. When Ivan Lendl is absent from the player box, Andy reverts back to his pre-Slam state of body-grabbing, barking at his box, swearing to the heavens, and generally comporting himself in a manner not befitting a two-time Slam champion. I asked Neil Harman, a man who’s followed Andy’s career closely, if Andy’s capable of his best play when Lendl isn’t around. His response was enlightening. Neil thinks that we shouldn’t even be having this type of discussion for someone of Andy’s status, and that there should be no question of regression from Andy. Agreed!
  16. portrait-maria-rafaBad art, Part 1: Maria Sharapova lost to the talented but inconsistent Italian, Camila Giorgi. It wasn’t a complete surprise to see Maria at her rusty best after time off the tour, but I’m sure it didn’t help her when she saw her “champion’s portrait” outside of Stadium 1.
  17. FYI: After beating Sharapova in a tough third-round 3-setter, Giorgi won only 3 games against Pennetta in R16. She then lost in the first round of Miami, also in 3 sets. Besides the number 3, I did say Inconsistent, yes? And what about the many unpaid investors of her tennis career?
  18. Bad art, Part 2: Rafa Nadal barely scraped by Radek Stepanek in the first round, but was not so lucky in his second-round match against eventual semifinalist Dolgopolov. It’s rare to see Rafa SO very uncomfortable on court. But again, how comfortable can one be when this is how you are portrayed from your victorious 2013 campaign?
  19. Bob and Mike Bryan defeated the fine doubles team of Bruno Soares and Alexander Peya for the men’s doubles title, and also deftly deflected the continuing dregs of McEnroe criticism of doubles players as failed singles players. I give them immense amounts of credit for both their tireless efforts to promote the game of doubles as well as their patience at dealing with what feels to be a media-driven narrative, started by a guy who can’t let go of the past.
  20. Speaking of doubles, it would be a fair assessment to say that women’s doubles got short shrift in the tournament’s scheduling. Even the eventual champions, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, had to deal with a certain amount of name-butchering after their finals triumph. But in one of the best and most subtle “putting someone in their place” scenes I’ve ever witnessed, Hsieh, when asked to speak during the trophy presentation, went up to the microphone and said, “Hello everyone. I’m shy, like my name.”
  21. Segueing into my thoughts on the tournament itself, I was surprised at the scheduling. At some of the other big combined tournaments (notably Miami), there’s a more equitable feel between both the singles/doubles scheduling and the men’s/women’s scheduling. At Indian Wells, it was difficult to adequately cover men’s doubles without a clone, let alone the women’s events. A great case in point for the explicit conflict: having to choose between the Flavia and Aga post-final press conferences, and the Roger/Novak final. Is that really necessary?
  22. indian wells stadium 1Scheduling conflicts aside, I enjoyed my first trip as media to the BNP Paribas Open. In spite of my tendency to push back on people telling me that something is great and expecting me to echo the sentiment, I did find lots to like about the tournament from both a fan and media perspective. As a fan, the venue is first class, the scenery is stunning, and the practice court layout (and online schedule) make it breeze to watch your favorites up close.
  23. Every volunteer and worker I encountered during my time at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens was helpful, friendly, and quick with a smile, proving that you don’t have to be mean and confrontational to do your job, even if it’s security. Other tournaments take note!
  24. Trophy talk: why have a trophy that’s too heavy for the champion to lift? I say, bring back the whale…
  25. On the media front, the easy access to the interview room and the dining area (shared with the players) from the Xerox Media Center is awesome. Unless you need to go on the grounds to get a feel for fan mood, there’s no need to ever leave the media center area. The proximity to the players also leads to interesting interactions: like my shared laughter with Novak’s non-Boris coach, Marián Vajda, when we both heard the stadium announcer warning fans to duck Dolgopolov’s thrown shoes.

When I start writing about thrown shoes and whales, it’s time to close the book on my first BNP Paribas Open. I left Palm Springs with a slight head cold, but great memories from my trip. I’m looking forward to my return.

PostHeaderIcon Deserving Champions & Disappointing Finals: My Ten Final Thoughts on the Australian Open

Li Na and Stan Wawrinka (Tennis Australia)

Li Na and Stan Wawrinka
(Tennis Australia)

The first Grand Slam of the season is over. Left in its wake are two very deserving champions who, unfortunately, played two very forgettable finals. There’s a lot to take away from this Slam. Though I wish I could say that most of it was positive, that would be wishful thinking. From heat-scorched courts to fallen favorites and wildly -uneven finals, here are my “Ten Final Thoughts” from this year’s Australian Open. Ladies first…

1. Li Na finally received her due with a first-ever Australian Open title after three attempts. She defeated Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 6-0 in a match that will hopefully be remembered more for decisive (and dominating) play in the second set rather than her nervy play in escaping the first set. Coaching warnings/fines notwithstanding, she and Carlos Rodriguez have worked hard on her mental game in order to get her through the seven matches needed to win a Slam title.

They were mostly successful, but you must admit that Lady Luck smiled on her more than once in this tournament. Conversely, she also shot a nasty side eye to Dominika (missed opportunities to close out the first set in the final) and Lucie Safarova, Li Na’s opponent in the round of 32. Lucie’s side eye came in the form of a slightly long backhand on match point against Na that missed the baseline by 5 centimeters. The rest, of course, is now AO history.

2. We always knew that Dominika Cibulkova had the game to trouble the top players but were never sure she could play at the red-line level needed over the long haul of an important tournament. That question has now been answered! She credits part of her improved performance to changes that she and her team have made with her game (new racquet) and fitness regimen to help reduce/prevent injuries. But the heart is all her!

She virtually destroyed Simona Halep and Aga Radwanska in the quarters and semis (6 games lost) after her three-set victory over Maria Sharapova, and lost only 9 games in 3 matches before it. One can only imagine how well 2014 will be for Dominika if these changes truly represent a “game change”.

3. Canadian Genie Bouchard proved showed that she’s no flash-in-the-pan teen newcomer. The 19 year-old solidified her status as one of the tour’s pre-eminent young guns with an amazing run to the semifinals, and quality wins over Casey Dellacqua and Ana Ivanovic. She might be young, but she carries herself like a tour veteran in her approach and the work needed to reach the top of the game. Kudos must also be given to her coach, Nick Saviano, who’s guided her since she was 12, and appears to be a positive and stabilizing force in her game and outlook. After all, her results over the past two years speak for themselves.

Though Milos Raonic has long been touted as Canada’s best chance for Slam success, it’s Genie who tasted Junior Slam success (2012 Wimbledon girls’ title) and has gone deeper in a main Slam draw. She ended 2013 ranked 32, and was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year. She’s ranked 19, and her future looks extremely bright. Now, if only we could do something about her frat boy “army”.

4. Aside from Li Na, the favorites in the women’s draw mostly fell by the wayside with shocking losses. Serena Williams was dumped by the same resurgent Ana Ivanovic who beat her sister Venus for the Brisbane title. Maria Sharapova, a player known for her fighting spirit, was out-battled by Dominika, a player who spots her nearly a foot in height and probably just as much in wingspan. Vika Azarenka, with Redfoo watching pensively from the stands, was ousted by a jaw-dropping performance from Aga Radwanska; complete with a third-set bagel. Aga was then dumped by Cibulkova the next day due to bad scheduling and tired legs.

Serena will be okay after this loss (see below). Vika, however, I’m not so sure about (see below). Maria did better with new coach Sven Groeneveld than Jimmy Connors, but this was still a disappointing tournament. Her chances at winning another Slam don’t look to be any better now than back before her Connors experiment. And poor Aga just can’t seem to catch a break at the Slams. This was her best chance to make a Slam final since 2012 Wimbledon. Bad luck in scheduling is admittedly part of the issue. But let’s be honest: her finesse game will always get stressed when she has to create magic in multiple matches. It’s simply just too tough in the high pressure atmosphere of a Slam.

5. The top two women in the WTA left Australia with very different outlooks on the upcoming season. Serena Williams, “blocked back” in tow, should be relatively fine with her loss…or as fine as she ever is with a loss. If Serena is less than her best and Ana plays to her potential, a loss is not out of the question. So now that the winning streak is over and the pressure for #18 is off (for the moment), she can plot her next steps en route to tennis immortality, presumably starting with an appearance at Indian Wells.

Vika Azarenka, on the other hand, lost a match to a player she should have beaten easily on her favorite surface. Even if you give her the benefit of the doubt given Aga’s inspired play, Vika looked out of sorts and not in the best physical condition for a three-peat. The question she needs to ask herself is whether she wants to be a very good player OR a great player. I’m hoping for the latter because Serena needs someone to test her own greatness, and Vika is the only one that can…besides Serena herself, that is.

6. On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka played some of the bravest tennis of his career to win a well-deserved first Slam title. His quarterfinal win over the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, was a standout performance. That was followed by tight four-set win over Tomas Berdych in the semifinals that highlighted his improved mental strength in tiebreaks.

Perhaps then it was the build-up after those two matches that compounded the disappointment I felt in his sub-par final against Rafa Nadal. Stan came out playing superbly calm and resolute tennis in his first Slam final. Rafa came out tight (and injured), and there you have it! What followed afterward was incredibly ugly tennis by Stan against an increasingly-hampered foe.

However as with Li Na, I will again express hope that Stan is remembered for his pre-Rafa MTO tennis rather than the nervy stuff that came after it. Oh yeah, congratulations to the new Swiss #1!

7. Rafa Nadal again leaves Melbourne with disappointment AND a bonus injury as his reward for attempting to reach Slam #14. For some reason, the Australian Open has always been a challenge for Rafa. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year, the surface, or something in the Aussie air. Regardless of the reason, this continues to be his most challenging Slam, and the only one that he’s been unable to win more than once.

The bigger worry for Rafa, at least with regards to the 2014 season, is the fact that this injury could signal the type of less-than-stellar year that traditionally follows seasons like his triumphant 2013 season, or Novak’s 2011 season. For all of the fight and physical prowess we’ve come to expect from Rafa, there’s still an unsettling propensity for physical breakdown. But I’ll give it a couple of months before I become concerned about the French Open.

(Note to tennis pundits: please refrain from all talk of Rafa reaching or surpassing Roger’s total of 17 Slams until he gets to 16! Also, I don’t want to say that Pete Sampras’ presence at the final was a mitigating bad luck factor, but a Rafa win would have tied him for 14 Slams with Pete. Just a thought.)

8. Novak Djokovic’s loss to Stan Wawrinka wasn’t what one would call a “bad loss” in the classical sense. All players have at least one other player who, for one reason or another, plays them tough. Stan is one of those players for Novak, head-to-head record be damned. So Novak can leave this year’s Open with his head held high, and start preparing to do battle with Rafa and Andy for the American hard court swing first, then the European clay swing en route to the French Open: the one title he desires most that’s still missing from his future Hall of Fame CV.

9. Roger Federer came into this year’s Australian summer season feeling physically healthy and good about his game with a new larger racquet. Moreover, the combination of these things had left him more confident than he’d been in a very long time. Unfortunately, all of that confidence fell by the wayside with losses to Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane, Rafa in the Aussie Open semifinals. The loss to Hewitt can easily be brushed aside. The loss to Rafa, however, cannot be so easily dismissed.

Much was made about the hiring of Stefan Edberg to beef up his serve-and-volley game: presumably, to help (re)gain a weapon that would allow him to pressure the top guys who were becoming increasingly more difficult to beat from the back court. This was a resounding failure against Rafa in the semifinals, because he lost confidence and panicked after early struggles. Then, as Rafa started to impose the familiar pattern of lefty forehand to Roger’s single-handed backhand, the confidence left the other parts of his game. He began to shank his forehand, his backhand became brittle, and his reliable serve was unable to save him from any further indignities!

It’s never easy to watch Roger lose a match. This one, however, felt like the true “beginning of the end” for this great player.

10. American men and women continued their struggles at the Slams. Out of the 24 notable participants in singles, none made it to the quarterfinal round. The top men were Donald Young and Sam Querrey, who both made it to the round of 32 before being ousted by Kei Nishikori and Fabio Fognini, respectively. On the women’s side, Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens were the last American women standing in the round of 16 before losing to Ana Ivanovic and Vika Azarenka.

Rather than keep beating the drum over the death of American tennis (in a post-Serena era), I think the better way of looking at this situation is through the lens of “the new normal”. The US will probably continue to have solid players, and also a fair amount of depth. But in all likelihood, we may be long past the point of being able to produce consistent Top 10 prospects.

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