Posts Tagged ‘Victoria Azarenka’
I wasn’t able to do any pre-tournament write-ups or picks for this year’s US Open because of my assignment in New Haven. But now that I’m back in San Francisco with a bit of free time on my hands, the quarterfinals seemed like as good a place as any to get back on the horse and make some picks for the last Slam of the year. Ladies first!
Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs Shuai Peng (CHN)
H2H: No previous meetings
There’s no match history between these two players, so there’s not much to say on the prospects for this match other than generalities.
Bencic has played good tennis to reach the quarters; particularly in her match against the veteran Jelena Jankovic. I fully expected Jankovic to dig deep into her bag of tricks for a win against her 17 year-old opponent, but it didn’t happen. Bencic, young and prone to some impatience/volatility, kept it together on one of the game’s biggest stages; and in one of the biggest matches of her life.
Can she give a repeat performance in the quarters? That depends on her opponent, Peng Shuai. Peng steadily knocked off an impressive roster of players in reaching the quarters (Zheng, Radwanska, Vinci, and Safarova), and did so impressively without dropping a set. She’s not a flashy player, and doesn’t possess any huge weapons. But she will make you play solid and consistent tennis to beat her.
Bencic is certainly talented enough, but I’m not sure if she’s steady enough at this stage in her career to rise to the occasion in a Slam quarterfinal. For that reason alone, I’ll go with Peng. But I won’t be surprised if it goes either way given the volatility of this year’s tournament.
Pick: Peng Shuai
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)  vs Sara Errani (ITA) 
H2H: Wozniacki leads 2-1
Underestimate Sara Errani at your own risk; especially after her revenge-fueled victory over Venus Williams the other day. It wasn’t pretty. And yes, Venus is not the “Venus” we remember from her pre-Sjogren days. But none of that mattered in the end. Sara came away with the hard-fought victory, and has a chance to redeem her disappointing year in singles.
The same could be said for Caroline. After spotty results earlier in the year, she’s played like Dane possessed during the summer hard court swing. She took Serena the distance in their two last tournaments (Montreal and Cincinnati), and knocked out Maria in a brilliant R16 match to reach the quarters. She’s serving harder, hitting her forehand harder, and is notably mixing up her shot patterns to keep opponents off-balance. Moreover, her backhand winner on match point against Maria, a pre-2014 rarity, tells you everything you need to know about where Caro is with her game. (Hint: aggressive.)
I don’t want to risk getting Sara riled up again, but I’m going with Caro in this one. Sara has picked up her game, but Caro’s the one most primed for a breakthrough.
Pick: Caroline Wozniacki
Serena Williams (USA)  vs Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 
H2H: Williams leads 5-0
Serena is, of course, the prohibitive favorite in any match-up at any tournament. But this particular version of Serena is a bit more vulnerable and prone to meltdowns than the one we’ve come to know in recent years. With time winding down on her Hall of Fame career, she’s put tremendous pressure on herself to reach coveted milestones. That pressure has virtually crippled her in the Slams this year, with early exits in Melbourne, Paris, and London. It says a ton that this is her first Slam quarterfinal of 2014.
Flavia’s year has also been underwhelming after her early success in winning the title at Indian Wells. Her match results have been unpredictable at best, and haven’t come close to those reaching the earlier highs of the year. In spite of it all, she’s made it through to the second week, and is facing off against Serena for the second time at the Open.
Unfortunately for Flavia, she’s only won a grand total of six games in her last four hard court sets against Serena. Even in a tournament filled with upsets, this does NOT bode well. I’m picking Serena to reach her first Slam semifinal with a routine win over the Italian.
Pick: Serena Williams
Victoria Azarenka (BLR)  vs Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 
H2H: Azarenka leads 3-2
Ekaterina won their last match on clay in three sets (2013), but has yet to beat Vika on a hard court. She’s a great player with big weapons who has managed some stunning Slam upsets over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, she’s never backed up those upsets in the later rounds when the pressure was at its’ highest.
Vika, on the other hand, lives for the big moments in the big matches. Sometimes she’s a bit too prickly on court for my taste, but you can’t deny her competitive fight. It’s taken her to the Open final the past two years, and could very well again for a hat trick of final appearances in successive years. She came into New York with a ton of rust and lack of match play, but she’s found a way to make it through.
She may not be playing her best tennis right now, but I’ve got to go with Vika for the win on her chutzpah alone.
Pick: Victoria Azarenka
Sloane Stephens, and her coach Paul Annacone, lead the way for my first tournament upset “Shock or Not” of the fortnight. Wondering why I included her coach? Let’s just call it a case of “Conflict of Interest” Shock. Read on for those bits, in addition to thoughts on losses by Stosur, Gulbis, Ferrer, and more.
Maria Kirilenko defeats Sloane Stephens: Shock or Not? Sadly, but predictably, NOT.
Kirilenko, someone who’s coming off of an injury-plagued year, played a very good match. However, that has nothing to do with the ever-growing body of disappointing efforts from Sloane.
I’d hate to say that I’ve kind of given up on Sloane, but I’ve kind of given up on Sloane; at least until she can stop playing the martyr. We (in the media) are not the enemy, and we don’t all want her to fail. We simply want her to stop acting like an entitled American player who enjoys the perks/money of sporting fame but doesn’t put in the effort that’s necessary to continue warranting those perks.
What was once a genuine freshness in the interview room has turned into (way too much) attitude for the on-court display of nonchalance. For what it’s worth, my advice is cut the snark, put your head down, get to work and prove us wrong!
Paul Annacone, Sloane Stephens’ coach, once again did NOT recuse himself from on-air analysis after her loss: Shock or Not? Label this a “Conflict of Interest” Shock.
Paul Annacone shouldn’t have said one word about Sloane’s match in the Tennis channel commentary afterward on Wimbledon Primetime. But he did. And what he said was stunning for its’ lack of objectivity in breaking down Sloane’s performance in that match. This may not bother others, but I’m going to have a difficult time taking him seriously after this one.
The conflicts of interest in tennis are numerous and sometimes almost legendary. For example, think back to all of the times Mary Jo Fernandez would commentate on Federer only to join her husband, Fed’s ex-agent, in his Roger’s player box at big matches.
Mary Jo’s actions always bothered me, but this one with Annacone bothered me more. Sloane pays him. So it only stands to reason that he’s not going to give as honest a critique of her efforts as other commentators will who aren’t on her payroll. That is the appearance that was suggested to me from his analysis, or lack thereof; particularly so because he offered little more than an agreement with her own assessment of the match.
Integrity matters, and the appearance that it could be lacking in the commentary booth matters more. I’m not saying that Annacone doesn’t have integrity, but I am saying that his comments on his employer appeared disingenuous because of their relationship.
Yanina Wickmayer defeats Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not.
Back after 2012 disappointments at Wimbledon and the Olympics, I asked Sam if she was glad to finally be off the grass for the season, she said: “Yeah. I’m not that sad that I’m off of it for another year or so.” Take a look at her record on the green stuff and you’ll quickly understand why this was no shock, no matter what her seed was coming into the tournament. Hopefully she regains some mojo back on the American hard courts.
Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Ernests Gulbis: Shock or Not? Shock.
Ernests has never done well at Wimbledon, but I’d hoped that his maturity as a player over this past year would translate to a better performance at this year’s Championships. Perhaps I should have known otherwise after hearing that he made quips about not wanting to be a quote machine, then followed up by promptly talking about vampires in his next press conference.
Andrey Kuznetsov defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? Shock, but…
It’s never a good sign when a player’s camp is silent to the extent that Ferrer’s camp was prior to the start of Wimbledon. Stomach issues kept him from playing last week, and that surely had to play into his loss against the upstart Kuznetsov. Lack of play isn’t great preparation for a grinder like Ferrer. It also doesn’t help that Kuznetsov is a former junior champion at Wimbledon.
Lauren Davis defeats Flavia Pennetta: Shock or Not? Not.
This was a great win for Davis, who’s managed a few upset scares over the past couple of years. Apart from Davis, Flavia had her moment in the 2014 sun at Indian Wells. Unfortunately, it’s going to get any brighter than that for her the rest of the season.
Fabio Fognini reaches the third round: Shock or Not? Yep…Shock.
I expected an early exit for Fabio, but he proved me wrong. However, he did NOT fail to disappoint on the court; amassing $27,500 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now THAT’S the Fabio we’ve all come to know and love!
Bojana Jovanovski defeats Victoria Azarenka: Shock or Not? Not.
In my preview piece of the women’s draw, I said that Vika was going “to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon”. That was pretty much the case after a tough first-round win that was immediately followed by and even tougher second-round loss. I knew she wouldn’t go far, but I didn’t expect the screaming Bojana Jovanovski to send her packing.
(Yes, there was value judgement in that comment.)
Tereza Smitkova defeats Coco Vandeweghe: Shock or Not? Disappointing, but No Shock.
With a wonderful serve and power to rival Serena, many of us would love to see Coco consistently perform at the top level of her game. This is especially true after her first WTA title win at the Top Shelf Open. But it all came crashing back to earth in a second round loss. Still a great run for her…
As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.
(* – Expected R16 matches)
Top Half, Top Quarter
Serena Williams  – Eugenie Bouchard  *
Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)
Angelique Kerber  – Maria Sharapova  *
Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)
The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.
The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.
Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.
(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)
Top Half, Bottom Quarter
Simona Halep  – Carla Suarez Navarro  *
Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)
Ana Ivanovic  – Jelena Jankovic  *
Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)
The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.
The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.
After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.
Bottom Half, Top Quarter
Victoria Azarenka  – Dominika Cibulkova  *
Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)
Sara Errani  – Agnieszka Radwanska  *
Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)
It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.
On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.
In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies. Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.
Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter
Petra Kvitova  – Flavia Pennetta  *
Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)
Caroline Wozniacki  – Na Li  *
Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)
I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.
The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.
I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.
Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li
Notable First-Round Matches
A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)  v Alison Riske (USA)
Klara Koukalova (CZE)  v Taylor Townsend (USA)
Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)
Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- I love Maria Sharapova’s competitive nature, but it’s now laughable just how absent that nature is when she faces Serena Williams.
- 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.
- Aga Radwanska’s physio-taped body is becoming more tape and less body. I worry for her 2014 at this rate.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Is it wrong of me to want Stan Wawrinka to carry himself like the Slam champion that he is?
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s game is a mess. That is all.
- 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.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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?
- 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!
- 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!)
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?!)
- 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.
- Speaking 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Big 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.
- 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…
- 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…
- 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.
- Sloane 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Bad 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?
- Scheduling 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.
- 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!
- Trophy talk: why have a trophy that’s too heavy for the champion to lift? I say, bring back the whale…
- 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.