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Posts Tagged ‘ten final thoughts’

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 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 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 A Serena Cakewalk and Rafa Dethroned: Ten Final Thoughts on the Week in Rome

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

With work (and life in general) keeping me busy, it’s been awhile since my last pro tour post.  But now that I’ve had a chance to recharge, it’s time to dive back into the thick of things after a very telling week in Rome. Without further ado, here are some final thoughts on the gusty week that was in Rome.

  1. Question: Who can stop Serena? Answer: Nobody!
    Serena was soundly lambasted back when she first exclaimed, “When I’m playing at my best, it’s hard for people to beat me”. Years later, there isn’t a single player on tour who can refute that claim, and beat her with their best. She might lose a set or two, and maybe even an occasional match, but let’s be honest. The only two things stopping Serena from an unfettered Roland Garros title defense are her body and her mind: and both are looking pretty good after this past week in Rome.
  2. Though Victoria Azarenka has a grunt that grates on the nerve endings of every cell in my body, I’ll be the first to declare that the women’s tour desperately needs to return to action. The former No. 1 has been away from the game because of a foot injury sustained earlier this year, and withdrew from the French Open this past weekend because of ongoing issues with the same injury. I hope she comes back strong by the US Open. Serena needs a worthy adversary, and we need to see more competitive finals.
  3. Even if Sara Errani never stood a realistic chance against her formidable opponent, her tears after the loss to Serena in the Rome final were heartbreaking. Sara was 0-6 against Serena going into the final, so we knew this was not going to be a competitive match. But the leg injury that she sustained in the first set assured the loss while also casting doubt on her French Open prospects. The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind.
  4. Maria Sharapova lost in the early rounds, but should still be a factor at the French Open. It all depends upon her draw. The only problem with that scenario is that, because of her ranking, her draw is gonna suck! I’ll be very surprised if she makes it back to the final.
  5. Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic capped off a great week with a convincing win over Rafa Nadal in the men’s final. While it’s certainly true that Novak’s game is perfectly-suited to neutralize Nadal’s strengths, I’d even go so far as to say that the only thing that keeps him from beating Rafa on a consistent basis are his lapses in focus that come a little too frequently when playing the Spaniard, particularly in best of five matches. Take away those lapses and we could finally see the King of Clay dethroned on the final Sunday in Philippe Chartrier.

  6. Rafa Nadal’s rocky road to a ninth French Open title seemed to get a little less rocky with his showing in Rome. After losing to Ferrer in Monte Carlo and Almagro in Barcelona Rafa looked imminently beatable by anyone who could execute an attacking game plan. (Nishikori came close in the Madrid final until his back gave out.) In Rome, however, he pushed through early match struggles and successfully battled back to consecutive three-set victories. Unfortunately for Rafa, Novak – his likely opponent in the French Open final – is less a rock and more of a huge boulder.
  7. I appreciate Roger Federer’s “I play because I still love the game” attitude as much as the next guy. But can we all agree that it was silly for him to show up in Rome only 5 days after the birth of his twin boys? We get it Roger. You’re still viable at the top of the men’s tennis food chain. Now get back to Switzerland with your wife and twins where you belong.
  8. Andy Murray played his best tennis of the season in his three-set loss to Rafa in the Rome quarterfinals. Against anyone else, he most likely would have earned a place in the semifinals, and perhaps even the finals with a win over Grigor Dimitrov. Positive stuff to be sure! However, let’s hope he finds another no-nonsense coach soon. We would all do well if a return to Andy’s barking, griping, cursing, body part grabbing ways could be avoided.
  9. Stan Wawrinka continues to struggle under the burden of Grand Slam winner expectations. The Monte Carlo champion lost in the Madrid R32 to Dominic Thiem, and in the Roma R16 to veteran Tommy Haas. Rather than focus on Stan’s difficulties in embracing his newfound membership in the Grand Slam club, we should all be much more in awe of the ease with which Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic gladly accept, and live up to, the challenge.
  10. Speaking of Dimitrov, the young Bulgarian had a great week in Rome up until he went against the Nadal buzz saw in the semifinals. The same could be said of Milos Raonic in reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal on clay. It’s nice to see the “young guns” really start to make their mark at the top of the game against the best. Grigor’s increased strength/fitness and Milos’ improved movement/footwork were on full display. But can either sustain their improved games over two weeks in best of five matches? We’ll find out next week.

 

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.

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