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Posts Tagged ‘Stan Wawrinka’

PostHeaderIcon Legendary Serena, the Bryans Reach 100, and Marin Breaks Through: Final Thoughts on a Turbulent US Open

Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and Chris Evert (usopen.org/Philip Hall)

Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and Chris Evert (usopen.org/Philip Hall)

At the end of a hot, windy, and upset-filled fortnight, there’s much to digest from this year’s US Open. Serena Williams legitimately reached legendary status. The Bryan brothers reached a ridiculous milestone. Marin Cilic, a year back from his drug suspension, broke through for his first Slam title. And few can deny that the “Big Four” is officially on life support.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right into my (25) final thoughts on the year’s final Slam:

  1. By defeating Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday’s final, Serena Williams won her 6th US Open title, and her 18th Slam title overall. Additionally, by winning her third US Open title in as many years, Serena achieved a rare three-peat; a feat not seen since Chris Evert won four successive titles from 1975-78. With number 18 in hand, Serena joins an elite group alongside Evert and Martina Navratilova, one behind Helen Wills Moody’s 19, four behind Steffi Graf’s 22, and six behind Margaret Court’s 24. However, NONE of these numbers really matter much in the grand scheme of things. Reaching 18 gives Serena more than enough legitimacy for any G.O.A.T discussions. (For more Serena discussion, check out ‘Serena Williams – The Humanization of a Flawed Champion‘)
  2. For her part, Caroline capped her resurgent summer season with an extremely strong showing to reach her second US Open final. Her victory over Maria Sharapova was one of the best in memory, and she can leave New York knowing that she left everything on the court in pursuit of her first Slam. Will she be able to keep up the aggressive play in 2015? It’s unlikely. Though aggression was at the heart of her summer success, it’s just not in her comfort zone. Also, it was fueled by her off-court personal struggles, but that won’t always be the case. But even if she can keep the aggression in her game, that only gives her slightly better odds to go deep again at the big tourneys where, unfortunately, she’ll continue to be outhit.
  3. Marin Cilic, the newly-crowned US Open men’s champion, has long been considered a contender, but was never viewed as a threat…and with good reason. Prior to winning his maiden Slam title, the Croat had won several ATP 250-level events, but never a 500-level tournament or Masters Series 1000. This win could serve as a catalyst for Marin to “backfill” his tournament resume, as it did for Stan Wawrinka after he won the Australian; hopefully without the follow-up loss of focus.
  4. Kei Nishikori had an excellent tournament with huge wins over Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately, he fell short in the final when he needed to step up the most. The wear and tear of too much court time slowed him down, and prevented him from imposing his ground game as he had done so beautifully against Novak. Kei has a history of physical breakdowns in big events when his body is pushed to the limit, but not this time. He made it all the way through without a single thought of retirement in his earlier battles. I hope he can keep that up in 2015.
  5. 2014 Slam Results, Part 1: The 2014 Slam winners were Li Na/Stan Wawrinka (Australian Open), Maria Sharapova/Rafael Nadal (French Open), Petra Kvitova/Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon), and Serena Williams/Marin Cilic (US Open). Let’s break down what this possibly tells us about the future prospects for both tours, starting with the ladies…
  6. 2014 Slam Results, Part 2: For the women, the onslaught of WTA teen phenoms, formidable as they are, failed to make an impact at the highest level. Each of this year’s Slam winners is a tried-and-true veteran, and that’s no coincidence given the demands of the game. At this year’s US Open, Spaniard phenom Garbine Muguruza flamed out in the first round. Canadian Genie Bouchard, the most hyped of the younger generation, fell in the fourth round. Swiss teen Belinda Bencic fared the best of the bunch with a R16 upset of Jelena Jankovic. And that’s as good as it got. Just a thought: maybe the WTA should stop trying to push the younger players to stardom before they’re ready, marketing dollars be damned.
  7. 2014 Slam Results, Part 3: For the men, the significance of two champions outside of the “Big Four” cannot be overstated. Prior to 2014, the last guys outside of that group to win a Slam were Juan Martin Del Potro back in 2009 (US Open) and Marat Safin in 2005 (Australian Open). This year saw two outsiders win (Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne and Marin Cilic in New York). Will we see a further erosion of the old guard in 2015? I think so!
  8. The era of the “Big Four” is officially over. Let the debate begin.
  9. Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic ended his poor summer with a run to the semifinals where he was completely outplayed by Kei Nishikori. After his post-Wimbledon wedding and with the eminent birth of his first child, Novak is clearly distracted. He needs to have a serious sit-down with Roger on how to do the pro tennis thing with family in tow…
  10. Roger Federer had a great summer, and played well through most of his time in New York. He fell short against Cilic’s phenomenal onslaught, but shouldn’t be concerned about any lingering questions of age. Even though he still needs a little help from the draw and scheduling gods for his best chances at another Slam, he remains an unwavering fixture atop the men’s game. One need only look to Rafa Nadal’s absence to appreciate that fact.
  11. Though we all missed Rafa’s presence in New York, he seemed to be having a great time at home with his friends in Mallorca. I could be wrong, but it really didn’t look as if he missed this tennis thing all that much. We’ll find out soon enough when he plays his next event.
  12. If a quarterfinal showing qualifies as struggling, Andy Murray’s Slam “struggles” continued in New York. I guess that also means that Amelie Mauresmo’s struggles as his coach continued in New York. Why do I have a gut feeling that this partnership isn’t going to make it to the end of the year?
  13. Gael Monfils finally stepped up to the “big boy” table, put away his highlight reel mentality, and played the type of tennis that we all knew he was capable of in reaching his first US Open quarterfinals. I hope that trend will continue into the New Year.
  14. Disappointment, Part 1: Disappointing is the only word I can think of to describe performances by Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov at the Open. Both failed to back up their previous Slam showings in very uncharacteristic losses. I hope their teams were able to glean some positives from New York, because from where I sit, there were very few.
  15. Disappointment, Part 2: After semifinal showings in Melbourne and Paris, and the final in London, Genie Bouchard came into this summer as the hottest player on tour. It all quickly fell apart for her, however, with first-round losses in Montreal and Cincinnati, and a second-round loss in New Haven the week before the Open. Much has been made about Genie’s maturity, and her ability to handle the pressures that accompany elite-level tennis. Judging by her summer, as well as her subsequent withdrawal controversy from the Hong Kong tournament, she still has a ways to go.
  16. A few years ago, the “Super Coach” phenomena was merely an interesting novelty. After a strong showing in this year’s US Open men’s semifinals, it’s a novelty that’s likely here to stay. The semifinals saw Chang vs Becker and Edberg vs Ivanisevic. The victors, Chang and Ivanisevic, squared off in Monday’s final with Ivanisevic coming out on top. Anyone want to place bets on when we’ll see Sampras and Agassi sitting in player boxes?
  17. Broadcast Woes, Part 1: Cilic and Nishikori both played outstanding tennis to reach their first Grand Slam final. Unfortunately for CBS, the lack of a known quantity spelled doom for the oddly-placed Monday final ratings. As tweeted by Ben Rothenburg:


    This is not an indictment of Marin/Kei, but merely the reality of televised men’s tennis without Roger, Rafa, Novak, or even Andy.

  18. Broadcast Woes, Part 2: After a remarkable run that started in 1986, CBS aired its’ final US Open match on Monday with the men’s final. With no real allegiance to the CBS coverage, I hope the consolidated coverage on ESPN makes it easier to follow coverage in 2015 and beyond.
  19. Broadcast Woes, Part 3: The tennis powers-that-be surely can’t keep bemoaning the lack of support for tennis on TV when the coverage is so inconsistent and disjointed. I know that I’ve said this before, but how can anyone expect increased support from the casual tennis fan when even the diehard fans can’t easily find televised matches for the biggest US tournament of the year? Some matches were on DirecTV, some were on ESPN, some were on ESPN2, some were on Tennis Channel, and some were on CBS. Heck, some were even on ESPNNews. Even when ESPN and CBS partnered to air coverage of different events during simultaneous coverage, they would inevitably switch to the over courts and end up showing the same match for brief intervals.  Honestly, it was a shit show! I realize that this is strong language, but it’s the only language I can think of to adequately describe the ridiculous situation at the heart of languishing fan support for tennis in the US.
  20. Broadcast Woes, Part 4: The last thing I’ll say about the broadcast issues at the Open is on the bias shown by commentators who assigned to matches with American players. Honestly, it was disgusting. It’s not that hard to show support for the home team without disregarding the other player on the court.
  21. Here’s a “Broadcast Thumbs-Up”! After listing in detail the broadcast issues of this year’s tournament, I should also note the “good stuff”. This includes Martina Navratilova’s on-air wedding proposal (and acceptance) to her longtime partner, Julia Lemigova. When same sex wedding proposals start becoming the norm, it’s safe to say that “We’ve come a long way, baby”.
  22. Steve Johnson retired from his first-round match after debilitating cramps in the August heat of a New York summer. That’s the simple version of the story. The actual version was that Steve started to cramp, and fought it as long as he could without any MTO (medical timeout) help while also enduring the forfeiture of code violation points. All this as he lay on the court in tears, racked with pain and visible muscle spasms. Fast-forward to Peng Shuai’s semifinal against Wozniacki, and the same situation was turned dramatically on its’ head when Peng – suffering from cramps – was allowed to delay play before being taken off court by medical personnel for evaluation and treatment.
    My gut impulse is to call out the outrageous of penalizing one player while allowing the other player over ten minutes of tournament assistance to help them compete. I’ll temper that impulse by merely imploring the WTA, ATP, ITF, and Grand Slam committees to come up with clear and consistent rules regarding the distinction between and treatment of cramps versus heat illness.
  23. On a more positive note, the Bryan brothers won their only Slam title of the year at the US Open, but boy was it a doozy! By defeating the Spanish team of Granollers and Lopez in the men’s doubles final, Mike and Bob reached their mind-boggling 100th tournament title win as a team…and with no signs of stopping anytime soon. As Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!”
  24. BTW, can we stop with the “death of American tennis” stories already while we still have Serena Williams and the Bryans producing top-level results? (And NO, Patrick McEnroe’s departure from USTA Player Development isn’t going to help.)
  25. Michaela Gordon, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe, and Stefan Kozlov are NOT the saviors of American tennis. Can we all just let them develop in peace?

When I start kvetching like a curmudgeonly grandpa, it’s time to call it a day on my final thoughts. Even with a few bumps in the road, it was an ultimately satisfying tournament with a nice mix of the new, the old, and the historic. And to be honest, I’m hoping that I witness all of this on the other side next year if I get a chance to work as a tournament official. Fingers crossed. Lastly, I never got a chance to mention anything about my time at the Connecticut Open, so I’ll leave you with this: Run, don’t walk, to Orangeside Donuts for the best freakin’ donuts in New Haven.

PostHeaderIcon Novak, Stan, Tomas, and Roger: My US Open Men’s Quarterfinal “Quick Picks”

Novak Djokovic (Pete Staples/usopen.org)

Novak Djokovic (Pete Staples/usopen.org)

There wasn’t much extra time for writing today, but I still wanted to throw my hat into the men’s quarterfinal ring. So here are my quarterfinal quick picks for what look to be some pretty terrific quarterfinal match-ups.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Andy Murray (GBR) [8]

H2H: Djokovic leads 12-8

I can’t believe that this is a quarterfinal match! After all, these two have contested 4 previous Slam finals with two won by Novak (Australia ’12, ’13) and two won by Andy (US Open ’11, Wimbledon ’13). Unfortunately for Andy, these were contested before his season-ending back surgery after last year’s US Open. He’s come a long way in his recovery, but is still not quite at the level needed to derail Novak.

Pick: Djokovic

Stan Wawrinka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Stan Wawrinka (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [10]

H2H: Wawrinka leads 2-0

Kei played a great match to topple Milos Raonic in the R16, but was clearly running on fumes by the end. By contrast, Stan seems to be getting stronger and feistier with each round. With Kei on the verge of breaking down physically (again), I can’t see him beating Stan, or outlasting him in a protracted duel.

Pick: Wawrinka

Tomas Berdych (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Tomas Berdych (Corey Silvia/usopen.org)

Tomas Berdych (CZE) [6] vs Marin Cilic (CRO) [14]

H2H: Berdych leads 5-3

This won’t be the most exciting match of the four, but it will most definitely feature big hitting from both men. Cilic hasn’t beaten Berdych on a hard court since 2011, and was fairly well-throttled in their last hard court meeting in the Rotterdam final (6-4, 6-2). On top of that, Cilic was pushed hard in his R16 4-hour (plus) marathon against Gilles Simon, while Berdych breezed past Dominic Thiem in just over 1.5 hours with the loss of 7 games. Bottom line: it doesn’t look good for the Croat.

Pick: Berdych

Roger Federer (Andrew Ong/usopen.org)

Roger Federer (Andrew Ong/usopen.org)

Gael Monfils (FRA) [20] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [2]

H2H: Federer leads 7-2

Gael and Roger have the potential to be the most entertaining of the men’s quarterfinal matches. However, after a grueling win over Grigor Dimitrov, I can’t see Gael having the legs to withstand the oncoming Federer onslaught over the long haul. I’m sure there will be plenty of entertaining points, and a few jaw-dropping “Monfils Moments”. But Gael’s great run will end here.

Pick: Federer

PostHeaderIcon Genie & Sabine, Roger & Milos: My Wimbledon Quarterfinal Previews, Part 2

Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

LADIES

Genie Bouchard (CAN) [13] v Angelique Kerber (GER) [9]

Original Picks: Williams, Sharapova

H2H: Series is tied at 1-1

Far from disappointed at my failure to correctly pick this section’s quarterfinalists, it’s fantastic to see young Canadian Genie Bouchard set to battle against the crafty lefty, Angelique Kerber.

Genie is looking to make her third Slam semifinal of the season after strong showings in both Melbourne and Paris. (Compare that to Sloane Stephens who made the semifinals in Melbourne and pretty much hasn’t been heard from since.) She’s aggressive in her play, a gritty competitor, and wants to be at the top of the game.

I know I’ve said this before, but not many up-and-comers are truly “the real deal”. Genie is, indeed, the real deal! Even if Serena hadn’t lost to Cornet, I’m certain that Genie would have taken her out. Serena is the face of a veteran champion. Genie is the fresh face of the new guard that has little deference for the past.

She’ll need all of that moxie to get by Angelique, a solid player who seems to have found a new life this year on grass. At her best, Angie has tremendous defense, and a down-the-line backhand that she can hit from the most improbable of positions. Just ask Maria Sharapova.

Both Genie and Angie come into Wimbledon with winning momentum. Genie has the confidence from a semifinal run at the French, and Angie a finalist showing in Eastbourne. This could go either way on paper. Once again, however, my gut tells me to go with the plucky, opportunistic Canadian gal who’s starring in her own WTA version of ‘All About Eve’.

Genie Bouchard in three sets

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] v Sabine Lisicki (GER) [19]

Original Picks: Halep, Keys

H2H: Simona Halep leads 2-1

Simona leads the H2H, but Sabine’s history of winning Wimbledon results can’t be denied!

No matter how lackluster the rest of her season has been or will be, she hits the Wimbledon grass and becomes a different player, a much happier and more confident player.

Her forehand, always a potential weapon, is more lethal and penetrating. And her serve, another big weapon, can cause damage in much the same way as Serena’s. Add confidence to those two weapons, and you have a legitimate threat to go deep on the lawns.

This will be a big test for Simona, who hasn’t faced a heavy hitter like Sabine in her previous matches. Her all-court game and solid defense are generally good enough to help her on most court surfaces. Grass is different. The quick(er) courts/low bounces favor someone with weapons like Sabine. Simona, who lacks similar weaponry, will be at a distinct disadvantage.

More importantly, how can anyone go against Sabine and her history of improbable runs? Not me. Simona will fight hard but I’m looking at Sabine to take this one for a spot against Genie in the semifinals.

Sabine Lisicki in three sets

Roger Federer (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

Roger Federer (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

GENTLEMEN

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [5] v Roger Federer (SUI) [4]

Original Picks: Wawrinka, Federer

H2H: Roger Federer leads 13-2

In spite of their lopsided match history, Stan did get the better of Roger earlier this year in Monte Carlo. However, that match was on clay. This match will be played on grass, a surface they’ve never contested, at a venue where Roger has had his most prolific Slam success. Just that fact alone leads me to favor Roger in this match, but that’s not the only indicator.

Roger is serving very well this fortnight. While he may not be the tournament aces leader, he also hasn’t been broken, and hasn’t dropped a set. Stan’s serving well too, but has faced more break points overall, and was broken 4 times in his 4-set match against Yen-Hsun Lu.

Familiarity might also play a huge part in this match. Stan’s familiarity with Roger’s game might help win a set, but not more than Roger’s familiarity with Stan’s game, and especially on this familiar court.

Wimbledon history also comes into play when you look at each player’s history at the Championships. Stan has never progressed past the fourth round. And aside from the occasional upset, Roger has won this title 7 times, been the finalist on one occasion, and a quarterfinalist on 3 other occasions.

It’d be foolhardy to ignore the cumulative effect of their lopsided match history, their current level of play, and Roger’s overwhelmingly winning record at SW19. Sorry Stan.

Roger Federer in four sets

Milos Raonic (CAN) [8] v Nick Kyrgios (AUS)

Original Picks: Nishikori, Nadal

H2H: Milos Raonic leads 1-0

I love it when a player proves me wrong, and such is the case with Milos Raonic in his first appearance in a Wimbledon quarterfinal.  For too many years we suffered the hype of this “young gun” only to see him exit early. But with the help of his coaching team and a ton of hard work, Milos has considerably improved his movement; which was his Achilles heel on grass (and clay). With better movement and improved shot selection, he’s been able to make inroads that once seemed improbable.

The best part of all is that the improvement in his overall level of performance has allowed him to relax and focus on what he does best: serve opponents off the court. Finally, he’s become the threat everyone thought he could be on this surface.

He’ll be facing Nick Kyrgios, an even younger gun who played the match of his fledgling career in taking out World No. 1, Rafa Nadal. However, Nick’s win was no fluke. He came out with confidence, served well, and smacked backhand winners at will.

More impressively, he played a tactically brilliant match by making Rafa play at his quicker pace. It takes a special kind of young player to have that kind of higher level tennis wherewithal, and Nick’s got it.

Experience counts for something though, and Milos has the greater experience at this level. This might be his first Wimbledon quarter, but he’s about as prepared to step into the limelight as I’ve ever seen. He knows exactly what his tools are, and how to use them when the stakes are high.

Nick will have to regroup after a big win, and come out playing perhaps a better match than he did against Rafa because of Milos’ serve. Playing Milos will be tough enough without the emotional letdown that happens after a big win. And though Nick is an impressive talent, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Look for Milos to face off against Roger in the semifinals.

Milos Raonic in four sets

PostHeaderIcon Novak’s Time to Shine: My Wimbledon Men’s Preview

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Djokovic [1] – Tsonga [14] *

Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)

Gulbis [12] – Berdych [6] *

Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)

Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.

After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.

Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Murray [3] – Fognini [16] *

Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)

Dimitrov [11] – Ferrer [7] *

Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)

Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.

Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.

Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Wawrinka [5] – Isner [9] *

Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)

Janowicz [15] – Federer [4] *

Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)

This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.

Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.

Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.

But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Raonic [8] – Nishikori [10] *

Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)

Gasquet [13] – Nadal [2] *

Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)

Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.

Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.

And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.  Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.

How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.

My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.

Quarterfinal Picks

Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal

Notable First-Round Matches

Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [27]

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11] v Ryan Harrison (USA)

Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)

Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) [21]

Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]

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 Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Nicolas Mahut: La Première French Open “Shock or Not” (VIDEO)

Stan Wawrinka after losing to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (© FFT)

Stan Wawrinka after losing to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (© FFT)

Welcome to my première edition of “Shock or Not” for the French Open. Let’s start with the biggest of the three from Day Two. As Heidi Klum says on Project Runway, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out!” Stan “Please don’t call me Stanislaus” Wawrinka found that out today the hard way with his first-round loss to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.  Let’s start this “Shock or Not” with the ouster of the reigning Australian Open champion.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeats Stan Wawrinka: Shock or Not? Kind of Yes, Kind of Not

I kind of called this one when I wrote my preview piece about the men’s draw. Stan’s section looked good, but the accidental Australian Open champion has been one of the most enigmatic players on tour this season. He’s won three titles this year in Chennai, Melbourne, and Monte Carlo. Apart from those wins, he’s failed to win more than two matches in any other tournament that he entered.

Stan hasn’t lost in the first round of the French Open since 2006. But it’s pretty tough to overcome 62 unforced errors, and a generally listless performance, give or take a couple of spectacular shots.

stan-french-get

So am I shocked that he crashed out to a tough Spanish clay-courter? Yes, because he’s shown his championship mettle this year, and finally seemed ready to live up to his talent.

Asked in a different way, am I surprised that he crashed out in the first round? Not really. He’s the most uneasy champion that I’ve ever seen on tour, and has looked uncomfortable since winning in Melbourne. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” suits Stan perfectly these days. And honestly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

When you look at all of the great champions, there’s an air of ruthlessness about them on the court. Stan the man will never be ruthless. So we can probably expect more of this in 2014.

Martin Klizan defeats Kei Nishikori: Shock or Not? Not

Some wondered why I didn’t mention Kei as a legitimate contender for the quarterfinals after his Top 10 breakthrough AND win in Barcelona. But come on… just look at his record this year. If you don’t have the time I’ll break it down for you: brilliant play in fits and starts mixed with illness, injury, and withdrawals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a player is prone to breaking down during the part of the year that features ‘best of three’ format tournaments, overcoming in a ‘best of five’ Grand Slam is an almost laughable proposition.

I like Kei. He’s got a great game, and it’s great to see him challenge the top guys the way that he can when everything’s working. But his propensity for physically breaking down should be troubling to everyone in his camp (I’m looking at you Michael Chang). Hopefully he can get a handle on it for the sake of his career, as well as for our viewing pleasure.

A Journalist Congratulates Nicolas Mahut on his 4-set Loss: Shock or Not? Shock with a ‘SMH’

There’s an unspoken rule in the pressroom that it’s generally best that you don’t ask dumbass questions to the players after their matches. The ATP/WTA handlers do a good job of weeding out the good from the bad, but every now and then one slips through. Such was the case today when a journalist congratulated Nicolas Mahut on his victory even though he had just lost a tough 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to Mikhail Kukushkin. Mahut was not pleased, and showed it pretty quickly. Here’s the exchange:

Q. Congratulations.
NICOLAS MAHUT: Congratulations? I lost.
Q. You lost? Okay. So what happened out there?
NICOLAS MAHUT: Are you serious? Did you watch the match?
Q. No, I didn’t. I was told that you won. I’m sorry.
NICOLAS MAHUT: Questions in French, please.

Yep, I can attest to the fact that this journalist probably got some pretty nasty looks around the room…and well-deserved.

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