Rafael Nadal Sues France’s Former Health & Sports Minister Over Doping Allegations
By Tia Ko
One day after Rafael Nadal claimed his record-tying 49th clay court title in Barcelona, news has come out that world no. 5 is suing former French government minister Roselyne Bachelot, who accused him of doping.
After Maria Sharapova’s high profile confession for testing positive meldonium, Bachelot was quoted saying on French television, “We know that Nadal’s famous seven-month injury was without a doubt due to a positive [drug test]. When you see a tennis player who stops playing for long months, it is because he has tested positive and because they are covering it up. It is not something that always happens, but, yes, it happens more than you think.”
Nadal was quick to respond to the allegation stating last month that, “This is going to be the last one, because I'm going to sue her. I am tired about these things. I let it go a few times in the past. Not any more.”
“Through this case, I intend not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career.” Nadal said in a statement this afternoon, “I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation and to go unpunished.”
If Nadal wins the case, any compensation that he’s rewarded will go to a nongovernmental organization or a foundation in France.
Rafael Nadal's full statement:
I hereby make public the defamation law suit against Mrs. Roselyne Bachelot, that I have filed today April 25th 2016 before the Paris law courts. This legal proceeding was instigated after Miss Bachelot made offensive remarks last March on Le Grand 8, program of French channel D8. The lawyer in charge of the case is Maître Patrick Maisonneuve, lawyer at the Paris bar.
Through this case, I intend not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career. I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation and to go unpunished.
Should the tribunal consider there has been a wrong-doing and the sentence recognises the right to damages, any compensation will be paid back in full to an NGO or foundation in France.
On the other hand, I ask for total respect regarding the legal procedure just started and would like to express my complete trust in the French justice system who will be judging the legal case. I will not be making any further statement about the case.
Can Andy Murray Win Wimbledon This Summer?
This summer, Andy Murray will look to join an elite group of tennis players as he hunts a second Wimbledon crown. The British number one has enjoyed plenty of success in recent times, none more so than during Great Britain’s Davis Cup triumph – which was their first victory for 79 years.
Murray will fancy his chances of Grand Slam success this summer, especially after pushing Novak Djokovic close in the Australian Open back in January. At the time of writing, Murray is 7/2 in Coral’s tennis betting markets and plenty of journalists and pundits will be providing their own Wimbledon tips on Murray’s chances nearer to the event.
After the birth of his first son shortly after the Australian Open, Murray took some time out to remain close with his family in the aftermath. But now, he’s back in business and on the hunt for a third Grand Slam crown. Murray is one of the best British players in recent memory and if there’s anyone who deserves another Grand Slam, it’s him.
He’s in good form too. Murray was part of the British side that beat Japan 3-1 in their opening round of the Davis Cup defence back in March and according to Coral’s tips, Andy Murray will be there or thereabouts in all three of the major tournaments in 2016. After all, he is one of the best players on the planet right now.
For Murray to achieve his ultimate goal of victory on home soil, he will have to get past arch enemy Novak Djokovic. On his day, the Serbian is more or less invincible and Murray will find it difficult to beat the world number one, particularly as Djokovic is attempting to surpass Roger Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles.
As of April 15th, Djokovic has 11 but that tally could be 12 by the time Wimbledon comes around. The French Open gets underway next month and the Serbian, who has never won the event, will be desperate to enhance his legacy further with a clay-based Grand Slam title. But to be fair, it could be Murray who emerges victorious in both competitions.
Murray was in superb form on the clay court in 2015 and the British number one will look to exploit Djokovic’s weakness on this surface. While Wimbledon remains his number one priority, a French Open title would certainly do Murray no harm ahead of what could be a defining summer for his legacy in the sport.
Two Grand Slam titles in 2016 and Murray would be well on the way to the summit of British tennis. In a difficult era, the Scot has moved with the times and is now potentially the only man to challenge Djokovic on paper. And if Murray can maintain his current form throughout the next few months, he could well claim at least one major title this summer.
Miami Rides in on the Coattails of Indian Wells
By Mike McIntyre
After a week of Masters level tennis and controversy in Indian Wells, the tennis world hopes that the focus returns to the court as the Miami Open begins first round play on Wednesday this week.
Seeded first is none other than Novak Djokovic. While Djokovic uncharacteristically made some careless comments about the prize money distribution between the men and the women his on-court performance was its usual flawless self. The only set that he lost was the opener against American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo and he only improved as the tournament went along. Beating Rafael Nadal 7-6(5), 6-2 in the semifinals and then destroying Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 in the finals was an emphatic way to capture his fifth title at the event. Djokovic will begin his Miami experience against the winner between Kyle Edmund of Great Britain and Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic. A fourth round match against up and comer Dominic Thiem could test him followed by a possible encounter with seventh seed Tomas Berdych.
Also in the top half of the draw is a returning Roger Federer, the third seed, who has not played since losing the Aussie Open semifinal to Novak back in January. Sidelines with surgery on his knee, it will be interesting to see how a rusty Federer performs. Roger probably wasn't thrilled to see that he will likely open his tournament against Juan Martin Del Potro who plays the little known Guido Pella in the first round. While Del Potro has missed a ton of tennis these past few years, he has looked formidable acquiring a 4-2 record thus far in his comeback attempt. I'd put this one at 50/50 for Fed but he can't be too frustrated if it takes a little time to get back up to speed.
Also in Federer's section of the draw is Belgium's David Goffin who just made his first career Masters semifinal in Indian Wells. It is pretty cool to see the future of men's tennis starting to take shape with the successes of players like Goffin. The "big four" are not going to be at the top for an indefinite period of time and it will soon be time for the next generation to seize the moment.
Another David, Ferrer in this case, is the eight seed and also lurks in this section. Gilles Simon, who has come the closest to toppling Djokovic in 2016, (in a full match without retirement) and Marin Cilic are also among this grouping of talented players.
The bottom half is led by Andy Murray the second seed. Murray remarkably was taken out in Indian Wells by Federico Delbonis who is more known for his clay court prowess. Chalk it up to adjusting to the lack of sleep that parenthood brings with it perhaps? Murray made the finals of the Aussie Open and then took a month off to spend with his newest family member. He went undefeated in a Davis Cup tie against Japan and is now playing his next tourney after IW. Murray has a tricky draw where he will first face either the crafty Denis Istomin or the rising Borna Coric. In the third round he could face a struggling Grigor Dimitrov who you know is just waiting to turn his season around, followed potentially by the entertaining Gael Monfils in the fourth round. This is going to be a tough event for Murray and he will have to raise his game to it's highest level to make it deep in the draw here in Miami. The sixth seeded Kei Nishikori could be his quarter-final opponent and would certainly be looking to avenge his recent five set Davis Cup defeat.
The final quarter to examine has Rafael Nadal as the fifth seed and facing either Leonardo Mayer or Damir Dzumhur in his first match. An enticing third round match here has Jack Sock and Milos Raonic lined up to face one another. That is if Raonic is healthy after sustaining a leg injury in this final loss at Indian Wells against Djokovic. Raonic has been having a fantastic season so far and has been hailed by Sports Illustrated's respected Jon Wertheim as playing the "second best tennis of anyone in the world." A Raonic/Nadal fourth round match would be a juicy one for sure. Fireworks could also occur in this section of the draw if Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka make it to the fourth round where they would play one another.
Tough to imagine anyone going against Djokovic in any event he enters this year. The folks at William Hill would no doubt put the odds in his favour. The world No. 1 sits at 22-1 so far this season with only a retirement against Feliciano Lopez causing a minute blemish on his record. Look for David Goffin to continue his recent ascension with a strong tournament in Miami as well or potentially the vet David Ferrer advancing to the semis against Novak in the top half of the draw. In the bottom I would lean towards Wawrinka to make a splash and Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga as well who is in the same section as Murray.
Sharapova Shocks Tennis World With Positive Drug Test Result
By Tia Ko
Maria Sharapova, former world number one, revealed at press conference on Monday in LA that she failed a drug test after her run during the Australian Open back in January. She tested positive for meldonium (also known as mildronate), a drug that was newly banned beginning January 1, 2016 and one that she had been taking for the past ten years. The drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list “…[B]ecause of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance."
The drug was designed to treat ischemia, a condition where there is a reduction in blood supply to body tissue. Patients with diabetes and heart-related diseases also use it as it increases the flow of oxygen to muscles and organs. Meldonium is mainly produced and used in Eastern Europe and according to Latvian manufacturers, when prescribed for medical use, it’s only used for four to six weeks; a much shorter period than Maria’s ten year treatment.
Maria said that she took the drug for a decade because of her magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes. She was unaware that meldonium was newly banned despite receiving numerous notifications from the WTA and ITF and accepts “full responsibility” for taking the substance. Some of the performance enhancing effects of meldonium include: decreased levels of lactate in blood, increased levels of glycogen in cells during long-lasting exercise, improved heart activity, increased physical work capabilities, and increased rate of recovery.
As a result of her announcement, Nike ended her eight-year sponsorship contract that was renewed in 2010 stating, “"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova. We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation." It was her biggest endorsement deal equaling $8.75 million per year.
Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer also ended ties on Tuesday saying, “Maria Sharapova was under contract with TAG Heuer until December 31, 2015. We had been in talks to extend our collaboration. In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations and has decided not to renew the contract.” The contract was worth approximately $2.8 million.
A third partner, Porsche, also stated that it would wait until further details are released so that it can analyze the situation; in the meantime, however, the luxury car company will not be pursuing future activities. Other sponsors including Head, Evian, Avon Products and American Express have yet to comment on their relationship with Maria.
On Wednesday, Maria said in a statement on Facebook, “In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession. I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face. I'd like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement.” Fans around the world expressed their support for the Russian player with the hashtags #IStandWithMaria and #LetMariaPlay.
Beginning March 12, 2016 Maria will be provisionally suspended from playing professional tennis. A two year suspension is the minimum ruling for unintentional drug use and four years is the maximum for intentional use.
Australian Open Women's Quarterfinal Preview
By Tia Ko
Serena Williams (1) vs. Maria Sharapova (5)
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will meet for the 21st time Tuesday afternoon in Melbourne where they will compete for a semi-final spot in the Australian Open. It will be the first time the two have met prior to the semifinals at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2010. Statistically speaking, Sharapova doesn’t have a very good chance of winning this match considering she hasn’t beaten Williams since the WTA Championships back in 2004. Since then, Williams has gone 17-0 with her last victory over Sharapova occurring during the semifinals of Wimbledon last year 6-2 6-4. Serena’s road to the quarterfinals has been pretty smooth sailing despite not having played competitive tennis since her devastating defeat at the US Open in September. In her last four matches combined, her opponents have only managed to win 17 games to Serena’s 49 with her toughest match coming in the first round against Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5. After that, she was victorious over Su-Wei Hsieh, Daria Kasatkina, and Margarita Gasparyan.
Maria Sharapova’s route to the quarterfinals has also been straightforward except for her third round where it went to a deciding set against the American Lauren Davis 6-1 6-7(5) 6-0. She also beat Nao Hibino, Aliaksandra, and Belina Bencic. When asked about her upcoming match, “It’s not like I think about what I can do worse,” Sharapova said. “Always trying to improve. I got myself into the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. There is no reason I shouldn’t be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any other previous round. It’s only going to be tougher, especially against Serena.”
Agnieszka Radwanksa (4) vs. Carla Suarez Navarro (10)
Agnieszka Radwanksa and Carla Suarez Navarro have only met three times but their past two encounters have gone the distance. The last time they met was last year at the Miami Masters where the Spaniard won 5-7 6-0 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Head-to-head, Radwanska leads 2-1. In Radwanska’s fourth round match, she was two points away from being defeated by Anna-Lena Friedsam 4-5 in the third set; however the German ended up getting leg cramps late in the match and failed to get into the rallies thereafter. Radwanska was able break and serve out her game winning 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-5. Radwanska also beat Christina McHale, Eugenie Bouchard, and Monica Puig on her way to the quarters.
Carla Suarez Navarro seeded no. 10 disappointed hopeful Australians when she beat the new hometown hero Daria Gavrilova in the fourth round. Gavrilova, who originally represented Russia but emigrated to Australia last year, took the first set easily 6-0 but was unable to stay focused and ended up losing to Suarez Navarro 0-6 6-3 6-2. The Spaniard defeated Viktorija Golubic, Maria Sakkari, and Elizaveta.
Angelique Kerber (7) vs. Victoria Azarenka (14)
Victoria Azarenka leads their head-to-head 6-0. Will the higher seeded Angelique Kerber be able to finally take a match from the Belarusian? These two met just a few weeks ago in the finals in Brisbane where Vika won easily 6-3 6-1. Azarenka is a two-time champion having won in both 2012 and 2013 and is currently a favorite to win a third title down under. The German Kerber is looking to reach her best result at a Grand Slam since her semifinal performance back at Wimbledon in 2012. Kerber beat Misaki Doi, Alexandra Dulgheru, Madison Bregle, and Annika Beck on her way to the quarters. Vika was victorious against Alison Van Uytvanck, Danka Kovinic, Naomi Osaka, and Barbora Strycova on her route to the last 8.
Johanna Konta vs. Shuai Zhang
We’re witnessing the success story of Zhang Shuai, the first women’s qualifier to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals in 26 years. This has been the first time the 133rd ranked 27 year old Chinese player has made it past the first round of a Grand Slam much less the fourth! She will be playing against 47th ranked Johanna Konta. The two met only twice: once in the 2012 US Open qualifiers with Konta coming out on top 6-4 3-6 7-5 and once in 2013 during the Guangzhou, China tournament with the Chinese countrywoman winning 7-5 6-3. Both players created huge upsets as they made their way to the quarters most notable Zhang beating no. 2 seed Simona Halep, Alize Cornet, Varvara Lepchenko, and Madison Keys. Konta upset no. 8 seed Venus Williams in the first round then Saisai Zheng, Denisa Allertova, and Ekaterina Makarova.
Australian Open Men's Quaterfinal Preview
By Mike McIntyre
We are down to the final eight players at the Australian Open and unlike on the women's side there are very few surprises up to this point. This should make for some very entertaining and hotly contested quarterfinal matches. Here is a quick breakdown of the four contests ahead of action on Tuesay and Wednesday in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs Kei Nishikori (7)
The undisputed favourite coming into the event and also the defending champion, Novak Djokovic suddenly seems like he may indeed be vulnerable after his five set win against Gilles Simon in the round of sixteen. Roger Federer was quick to defend Novak and his 100+ errors in that match saying that Simon has the tendency to make players go for broke on their shots, but none the less I don't think anyone quite expected it to get to a fifth set. Djokovic has defeated Chung, Halys, Seppi and Simon to get to the quarters and will face a stiff test from the 7th seeded Nishikori.
Nishikori has not yet gone the distance in any of his victories over Kohlschreiber, Krajicek, Garcia-Lopez or Tsonga and is perhaps a bit more rested than his adversary in this upcoming match. Beating a player of Tsonga's calibre by a score of 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 is quite impressive and bodes well for his confidence at this stage of the tournament. Djokovic leads the head to head by a margin of 5-2 including the last four in-a-row. Nishikori can draw strength from the fact that he has beaten Novak at a Grand Slam before, in the semifinals of the 2014 US Open.
I think anyone would be crazy to predict anything other than a victory for Djokovic in this one. That being said I also believe the possibility for an upset has increased somewhat due to the results in recent days. All in all I'm going with Novak in four.
Roger Federer (3) vs Tomas Berdych (6)
This will be the seventh career meeting at the Slams between Federer and Berdych with Roger holding a 4-2 advantage, although Berdych has won their last two battles which came at the U.S. Open in 2012 and at Wimbledon in 2010. Overall Federer leads their career head to head 15-6 and has taken the last four in-a-row between them. A rejuvenated Federer won all three meetings in 2015 with ease, not dropping a set in any of those matches.
Federer has started 2016 fairly strongly with a loss to Milos Raonic in the finals of Brisbane and with four relatively convincing wins so far here at the Aussie Open. He has wins against Basilashvili, Dolgopolov, Dimitrov and Goffin to get to this stage. Even Roger knows that his window for winning an 18th major gets smaller and smaller with each passing Slam so that undoubtedly is providing him with a little extra incentive. Despite the fact that he still looks like he could play for another ten years, even Fed fans know realistically that is not going to happen. As he approaches the four year mark without a Slam victory, Federer needs to make something happen while the body is still co-operating.
Berdych has been most comfortable here at the Aussie Open where he has now made the quarter-finals or better the past six years straight. The Czech has beaten Bhambri, Basic, Krygios and Bautista-Agut to reach this point. If he's able to play his best and not get caught up in the fact that Roger has had his number of late, Berdych could move into the semifinals for a third straight year. I certainly give him a better shot of upsetting Federer than I give Nishikori versus Djokovic.
That being said, I'll take Roger in three sets given how he looks lately to set-up a final-like SF against Novak.
Milos Raonic (13) vs Gael Monfils (23)
You don't want to miss this one folks! Five sets written all over it and between two enormously different styles of tennis players. This match will have canon-like serves and circus-like acrobatics. An excellent opportunity for two players who have struggled with injuries to get some satisfaction with a semifinal appearance at a Slam. The pair have faced each other but twice before in their careers with Monfils coming up victorious both times. You can throw those results out the window however as both came before Raonic solidified himself as a top-level threat on the ATP World Tour. With a tournament win already under his belt this year and a new coach in Carlos Moya to provide a different perspective on things, I would say that the Canadian is the slight favourite coming into this quarterfinal match.
This is the fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal for Raonic who will be aiming to attain just the second major semifinal of his career. For Monfils meanwhile it is the seventh Slam quarterfinal, although most of those came on the clay of Roland Garros. Regardless of the result, I think this will be the most entertaining of the four matches to watch and I wouldn't want to miss it.
I'm giving the edge to Milos who will prevail in five sets.
Andy Murray (2) vs David Ferrer (8)
Not surprised one bit at the two who will be facing each other in this quarterfinal match. Soon to be father Andy Murray has always performed well at the first Slam of the year and this edition has been no exception. He has beaten Zverev, Groth, Sousa and Tomic to get to this stage and has only dropped one set along the way. It does not seem as though impending fatherhood has distracted him from his goal of winning the third Slam of his career.
Ferrer for his part has been even more workmanlike than Murray en route to his sixth Aussie Open QF. He has taken out Gojowczyk, Hewitt, Johnson and Isner to get here. He'll work his butt off against Murray but at age 33 I don't know if he truly has enough to take the No. 2 seed down.
Murray holds a 12-6 career edge against Ferrer, including the past five straight times they have played one another and eight of the past nine in total. In fact if you take the clay matches out of the equation, Ferrer has only defeated Murray twice. Expect that trend to continue and witness Murray advancing in four sets.
Australian Open Men's Preview
By Mike McIntyre
Novak Djokovic comes in with perhaps the best chance of repeating as Australian Open champion of anyone I can ever remember. While we can't say he is an absolute lock to hoist the trophy in two week's, it would be shocking to see anyone dethrone him the way he has been playing. He started 2016 by winning the title in Doha where he demolished Rafa Nadal in the finals 6-1, 6-2. The world No. 1 faces Hyeon Chung of Korea in the opening round. It will be their first career meeting and the 19 year old Chung will be up against it in this pressure situation. Ranked 51st in the world already, Chung is clearly someone to watch down the road. In the opening round however he will be watching a clinic put on by the 5 time Aussie Open champion. Djokovic could see 14th seed Gilles Simon in the fourth round and then Kei Nishikori or Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. He is matched in the same half of the draw as Roger Federer which would make for the semi-final everyone is hoping for - well everyone except for the other 62 players in their section of the field.
Federer starts with Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round and then could see baby Fed - Grigor Dimitrov - in the third round. Federer defeated Dimitrov in his opening tournament of 2016 in Brisbane 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Fed could then meet the winner between a potential third round match between two up and coming players on the ATP World Tour in Dominic Thiem and David Goffin.
While 6th seed Tomas Berdych is also in Federer's quarter, I see Australian Nick Kyrgios who is seeded 29th as the real dark horse in this section of the draw. Having the home crowd behind him will be a huge boost and he also has a nice draw with his first two rounds. The two have never faced each other before but I'm going with the 20 year old to have a breakthrough here. He made the quarterfinals a year ago and therefore has the experience here in Melbourne of going deep in the draw. Berdych has done well here with two semi-final appearances in 2014 and 2015 and three quarter-final appearances before that, but at the age of 30 he is running out of time of actually winning a Grand Slam in his career. If he does get through the young Kyrgios, I don't see him beating Federer in the quarters.
In the bottom half of the draw 5th seeded Rafael Nadal will be looking to make the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2014. Last year was a difficult one for Nadal although he did still manage to finish top five in the rankings. Nadal has made the finals here three times, winning once in 2009. Nadal has a brutal draw having to face compatriot Fernando Verdasco right off the bat. Despite holding a 14-2 career H2H against Verdasco, Nadal has lost two of their last three meetings. Nadal could then face Jeremy Chardy in the 3rd round, Gael Monfils in the 4th and will have to likely see either Stan Wawrinka or Milos Raonic in the quarters. I'm sure Rafa will have more success at the majors this year if he can stay healthy, but I can't see him getting too deep in Melbourne early in the season.
A Raonic vs Wawrinka fourth round match is the one I'm most anticipating. While the Swiss world No. 4 leads their career meetings 4-0, Raonic when healthy is a player that nobody wants to face. Just ask Roger Federer who was beaten by the Canadian in the finals last week in Brisbane. Whoever wins this match is my pick to go to the semi-finals and I wouldn't even be surprised if they ended up meeting Djokovic at the end of it all.
In the final quarter of the draw one cannot overlook Andy Murray, the second seed. Murray did not add to his two Grand Slam titles in 2015 but he did manage to lead Great Britain to a Davis Cup championship. Murray will not be satisfied without winning a Slam in 2016, or will he be? I often fail to see the same hunger in Murray as we have all seen time and time again in Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Murray's family life will also be changing sometime towards the end of the Aussie Open as his wife is due to deliver their first child. Murray has already admitted he will fly back to the UK for the birth of their child regardless of how far he has progressed in the tournament. All things being equal however, we should see Murray get to the semi-finals without too much trouble. He opens against the young Alexander Zverev but then has smooth sailing until a potential fourth round match versus 16th seed Bernard Tomic and a quarter-final meeting that could be against 8th seed David Ferrer. A pretty darn good draw for a Grand Slam if you ask me. Also of note in this section of the draw is Lletyon Hewitt who is playing in his 20th and final Australian Open. Hewitt plays against a fellow Aussie, James Duckworth, in what could be a fitting way to end his playing career. More than likely I would see Hewitt with a final victory followed by a tough five set loss against Ferrer who he would likely face in the second round.
Check back with us throughout the tournament for updates and analysis. There is always plenty to talk about at the first Grand Slam of the year and Australia has been known to produce some unlikely finalists and even champions throughout it's remarkable history. While Djokovic is going to be a tough one to upset, you just never know how things will play out as everybody starts the season on relatively equal footing after the off season.
Bianca Andreescu Offers Canadian Tennis Fans a Glimpse of the Future
By Mike McIntyre
Photo Credit: Peter Figura
With an unprecedented level of Canadian talent currently on display on the professional tennis circuit it can be easy for fans in this country to focus on the present without giving much thought to what lies ahead. Milos Raonic has just defeated Roger Federer to start the year with a title in Brisbane, Vasek Pospisil seems poised to build on making the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last summer and Genie Bouchard is starting to show signs of regaining her form from 2014 where she rose to No. 5 in the world rankings. While Canadian tennis fans have much to be excited about right now, there is also plenty of reason for optimism with the next wave of emerging tennis players that are quickly making a name for themselves as they come up the ranks.
Leading the charge among our rising female tennis players is fifteen year old Bianca Andreescu. Despite her young age, Andreescu has already proven that she can hang with older competition and her success in 2015 propelled her all the way to number four in the ITF junior world rankings. Just how far can the youngster go? I sat down with Andreescu just before Christmas to get her views on her potential as a professional tennis player and the events that have led her to this point.
Photo Credit: Mike McIntyre
Born in Mississauga but beginning to develop her tennis skills as a child in Romania between the ages of six and eight, Andreescu was not raised as a total tennis fanatic. She does not recall having a favourite player growing up and revealed that tennis became more of a priority for her when she turned twelve. Since then the improvements in her game have come quickly and have attracted the attention of Tennis Canada who continue to help her progression as an elite young tennis player.
Andreescu now works heavily with retired pro Nathalie Tauziat, former Wimbledon finalist in 1998, who travels with her to all of her tournaments. Andreescu has seen her baseline game and attacking style flourish under the tutelage of Tauziat and fully realizes that she is lucky to have someone of that caliber coaching her at such a young age.
“I’m very fortunate to have her as my coach” Andreescu acknowledges, “she used to be top 3 in the world.”
The success that Andreescu has recently experienced goes a long way towards justifying the attention and emphasis that Tennis Canada has placed on her. Highlights in 2015 by Andreescu’s own admission include winning the Canadian Open Junior and reaching the finals of the $25,000 Pro event in Gatineau where she fell to American Alexa Glatch who was ranked 155th in the WTA rankings at the time and who is more than ten years Andreescu’s senior. She also enjoyed helping Canada to a third place finish in the Junior Fed Cup and made her debut in the qualifying draw at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August. Andreescu’s biggest moment though was the way she finished her season by winning the Metropolia under 18 Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship in December. Andreescu had won the Under 16 version of the tournament a year ago and joins some pretty elite company who have won the two back-to-back including Chris Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez on the women’s side and Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier among the men.
Photo Credit: Christopher Levy
“Winning this tournament gave me a lot of confidence especially against tough opponents but now I know that if I put my mind to it I can beat anyone. I actually dreamt of this moment, I visualized me holding that trophy and I believed it and it came true. I try to visualize every night basically how I want to play each match and what I want to accomplish.”
As I chatted with Andreescu I was struck by her incredible poise and maturity in articulating her grasp of where her game is at the moment and what remains for her to work on in order to attain her future goals. She feels that her serve and return of serve are areas that require increased focus as she begins to play more experienced and powerful opponents. There exists a big gap in ability between junior level players and the pros amongst whose ranks Andreescu aims to one day join.
“I feel like most junior player compared to the pros they don’t hit as hard and as deep and they don’t play with the passion that the pros play I guess,” Andreescu remarked.
The young Canadian did have the opportunity just prior to Christmas to hit a few balls with fellow Canadian Genie Bouchard while down south in Key Biscayne. She found the experience an enjoyable one and noted that, “I was holding my ground. But I thought she would hit harder though!”
While Canada is at present arguably enjoying its highest ever success levels on the international tennis scene, Tennis Canada is hard at work behind the scenes to ensure that the next wave of Canadian talent finds its way to the top of the sport in order to continue this newly established legacy. That being said, there is certainly no reason to rush youngsters like Andreescu into the professional ranks if they are not yet ready or could benefit from more time at the junior level. Gone it seems are the days of teenagers winning Grand Slams as they once did with Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova. Today’s female tennis players need a little more time to develop and find that added power that is required to hit with the likes of Serena Williams or Andreescu’s current idol, Romanian Simona Halep.
In between all the time spent on court and completing her high school degree online, Andreescu does try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in her life but finds it difficult to partake in regular teenage activities like going to the movies and seeing her friends back home in Vaughan.
Asked what she misses the most of maintaining a regular teenage schedule she stated , “Basically all the social stuff. I barely have time for that because I’m basically playing tennis all the time and doing homework. It’s really hard.”
Yet when I talked to her about specific goals for the coming season, Andreescu sounds like someone who is focused entirely on becoming the best tennis player she possibly can even if that means giving up a few things in her personal life. “My goal for next year is to reach the top two hundred in the WTA,” she said. “And for juniors, I mean, I’d like to win a Grand Slam and to finish number one next year.” Her ambitions are high but given what she has accomplished over the past twelve months, I don’t think anyone can argue that the potential is definitely there. The future of tennis in Canada looks promising with the likes of Bianca Andreescu leading the charge.
Is Serena Williams Ready for the Australian Open?
By Mike McIntyre
Thirteen years after she won it for the first time, Serena Williams remains the favourite to capture the Australian Open again this year. Going for her seventh title down under, it is hard to bet against the World No. 1 player and yet perhaps she is at her most vulnerable as the first Grand Slam of 2016 is about to begin.
Everything seemed to be going Serena's way at the final major of 2015 at the U.S. Open until she ran into the upstart Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals. There she remarkably could not close out a match that she led by a set and ultimately fell 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to the Italian veteran who had never previously beat her in four attempts. Williams was emotionally drained by the time she left New York and was unwilling to talk about the effect the pressure of going for the calendar year Grand Slam had on her in her post-match press conference. She subsequently withdrew from the remaining two tournaments on her schedule, the China Open and the WTA Tour finals. Williams has now had four months to digest what happened and yet we don't know for sure if she has come to terms with the lingering effects of that disappointment.
Physically there are also some question marks about Serena's preparedness for the Open. An inflamed knee took her out of the Hopman Cup to start January. Was this a precautionary withdrawal or the sign of something more serious? Earlier this week Williams also seemed to be in discomfort at one point during a practice session in Melbourne.The Australian Open is tough enough for competitors even when healthy. Most have not played a competitive match in at least two months and it is difficult to predict how one's body will react to match play after such a lengthy layoff. The extreme heat of the Australian summer can also deter the resolve of even the most fit player and is yet another obstacle towards success at the Open. Despite winning the tournament multiple times, there have also been early exits for Williams - see Ivanovic 2014, Stephens 2013 and Makarova 2012 as examples. In short, Serena has not been invincible in Australia and is capable of being beaten if she is not playing or feeling at her best.
Serena's draw is no walk in the park either. She opens against Camila Giorgi and will be hoping to reverse the trend against crafty Italian players in this difficult first round match. They have only played twice before, with Serena winning both, but those were on clay whereas the Aussie Open is on hardcourt. Down the road Williams could face good friend and 16th seed Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round and then perhaps Maria Sharapova or youngster Belinda Bencic (who beat her in Toronto in August) in the quarter-finals. The semis could bring bigger obstacles like Aga Radwanska, Sloane Stephens or Petra Kvitova and in the finals 14th seed but perhaps the biggest challenge to Serena in Victoria Azarenka or World No. 2 Simona Halep who seems destined to win a Slam at some point.
Serena loves it when people count her out and while that certainly isn't the case here we must acknowledge some questions that swirl as she prepares to take to the court this coming week. Check back with us regularly throughout the two week tournament as we keep you posted on all developments related to Serena Williams and other big names who try to steal the spotlight from the American legend and achieve Grand Slam glory.
Djokovic Tips the Scale in Rivalry With Nadal
By Tia Ko
After finishing watching Rafael Nadal get absolutely demolished by the world number one, Novak Djokovic, in straight sets 6-1 6-2 at the finals in Doha, Qatar I realized that it was one of the most dominant performances that I can remember ever watching by Djokovic. He was able to hit 30 winners and was winning more than 70% of his first and second serves compared to Nadal’s 9 winners and serving percentages in the 40’s. This win makes it the first time Djokovic has a higher number of wins in the rivalry’s head-to-head match-up with 24 versus 23.
This win also marks the 5th win in a row for Djokovic over Nadal with the Spaniard’s last victory occurring during the French Open final in 2014 where he dropped the first set but was able to win in four, 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4. The two met four times in 2015:
The ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte Carlo semi-final was their first meeting of 2015. Novak Djokovic won 6-3 6-3.
Djokovic was also finally able to get a bit of revenge at Roland Garros, beating the King of Clay 7-5 6-3 6-1 in the quarterfinals in France. That win broke numerous records: he had the most sets won against Nadal at the French Open, he became the only player to beat Nadal at all four Grand Slam events, he became the first man to beat Nadal in straight sets in a best of five format match on clay, and also the only player to beat Nadal on clay six times. Despite making it to the final and getting a chance to take home his first French Open title, the world No. 1 was defeated by underdog Stan Wawrinka.
Their next meeting was in the finals of the China Open in Beijing. After creating somewhat of a comeback into better form, Nadal made it to the finals only to be beaten once again in a quick match 6-2 6-2 by the 6-time title holder and defending champion. This wasn’t the first time the two had met at the finals in Beijing, back in 2013 Novak had also won the tournament with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Nadal.
During the last tournament of the season, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, Djokovic and Nadal met in the semi-finals. Djokovic won convincingly 6-3 6-3 and it was the first time he was able to level the head-to-head match up with Nadal at 23 wins a piece.
Can Nadal sink his teeth back into this gripping rivalry? Can anyone for that matter defeat Djokovic the way he is playing? It certainly looks like a demanding task for even the best of the rest on the ATP World Tour.
How To Keep Playing After an Injury
You know how it is. You've suffered an injury while playing tennis: you wince when you walk, it hurts when you swing your arm, or any sudden movement leaves you wishing you hadn't got out of bed. However, you still can't wait to get back in the game.
Of course, a period of rest is necessary after any injury, but eventually you feel ready to start playing again. It's true that exercise is as important a part of your recovery as the rest, but the crucial thing is to take it easy and not hurt yourself all over again. For many of us, tennis is an essential part of life, and maybe even our daily routine. Time out can see muscles get out of shape and skills and reaction times become dulled. As soon as you feel ready, therefore, you should start playing again, but with certain precautions.
The action you should take depends on the type and severity of your injury. A sprained or twisted ankle can be caused by sudden sideways movements during a match, and should be treated with rest and a combination of compression and elevation. Ice can also be applied, though not directly onto the skin.
A calf strain can occur when you pull a muscle in your lower leg. Wearing appropriate compression gear on the leg can aid recovery and help prevent a recurrence of the injury when you start playing again following a period of rest. A wide variety of compression wear is available at sports retailer Tommie Copper, and you can also donate to their Tommie Cares Foundation.
Elbows and shoulders
Tennis elbow is due to overuse of the muscles that bend and extend the wrist. Exercise and a good warm-up routine can help to prevent this condition, which manifests as a painful inflammation of the tendons. Wearing a tennis elbow support band can help to prevent this recurring.
Stress to the shoulder when making repeated strokes could cause a variety of injuries. The most common is shoulder bursitis. This is an inflammation of the fluid sac known as the bursa, which can be impinged between the rotator cuff muscles and the shoulder bone, leading to a painful sensation whenever the arm is lifted up. This can be treated by rest and anti-inflammatory drugs, followed by gradual exercise.
Take it steady
In all cases, when returning to tennis after an injury, the best advice is to take it steady and take it slow. Keep your first session back brief, and volley rather than serve, as this is less stressful for the body. Start at about 30% of your usual capacity and gradually increase the intensity. The important thing is to listen to your body and not overdo it.
Stick to practice sessions until you feel ready. Even if you're determined to take it easy in a match, your competitive instincts can easily take over. If you were previously playing three to five days a week, cut down to just one day a week at first.
After a long lay-off, your muscles will be out of shape, so pay plenty of attention to stretches and warm-up exercises. Again, appropriate compression wear should help prevent further injury.
Australian Open Just Around the Corner
By Mike McIntyre
Unlike most sports, tennis begins with one of its biggest moments of the year. A mere two weeks into the new tennis season in January and already fans are treated to a Grand Slam in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Why not cut right to the highest level of competition, right?
While some players have thrived under this early season pressure (see Andre Agassi and Novak Djokovic), other are simply not prepared that early into the new year to find the highest gear required to battle through best of five sets of pounding hard court action under the Australian sun.
Let's have a look at some of the favorites on the ATP World Tour to take home the first Slam of the season.
The conversation must start (and likely end) with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. With five titles at the Aussie Open including four of the past five, how can anyone else be considered the heavy favorite once again this year? After completing one of the greatest seasons ever on the ATP World Tour in 2015 with a 82-6 record, Djokovic is heading into the new year as the man to beat. While repeating a three Slam season will be a demanding task, even if he does experience a slight hiccup Djokovic is still going to be the toughest man to face.
Without a Slam victory since Wimbledon in 2013, world No. 2 Andy Murray needs to grab a Major title in 2016 to justify his inclusion at the top of the men's game. Sure he was largely responsible for Great Britain winning the Davis Cup a couple of months ago and he can add that to his two Grand Slams and Olympic Gold medal making him one of the greats of his generation, but Murray is seemingly wasting his talent and potential by failing to add to his Grand Slam count. How this man has not achieved more since his U.S. Open triumph in 2012 is beyond me. With his coach Amelie Mauresmo back working with him this year I look for Murray to win at least one of the Slams in Australia, Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows.
The all-time greatest with 17 Slam titles is Roger Federer and he had a fantastic season in 2015 with two Slam finals. Turning 35 this coming year would signal the end of the road for most players but with Federer he somehow seems to continue to find ways (SABR) to stay fresh and try new things in order to compete for another big one. Hard to believe he has not won a Slam in over three years and it is true that as good as he is, the window is certainly closing on his chances to add to his impressive haul. On hard courts and on grass Federer could definitely still do it but he really has to hope that someone else can take Djokovic out of the equation as he was unable to put a dent in his armor when it counted the most in 2015.
World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka has proven that he truly belongs in the upper echelon of the men's game. His first Slam win was in 2014 in Melbourne and then last year he followed that up with a surprising victory on the clay in Paris. While he lacks the consistency of some of his peers who have been at the top for longer, Wawrinka is capable of winning any tournament that he enters. A deep run in the first Slam of the year is no longer possible, it is expected.
Rafael Nadal had an average season by his standards last year and failed to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in his career. He couldn't even hold on to Roland Garros where he had won the previous 9 of 10 prior to 2015. Nadal appears to have lost his killer instinct and does not seem as physically imposing when he plays. While the French Open will still be within his grasp, I don't think he has the belief that he can win any of the other three Slams at this point in his career. Injuries have taken their toll and I would be quite surprised if we saw Rafa among the final four in Australia.
Aside from the regular favorites mentioned above, who happen to have claimed 41 of the past 44 Grand Slams, here are a few guys who want more than anything to break into the Grand Slam champions circle:
Tomas Berdych: A Slam finalist once at Wimbledon in 2010, the 6th ranked Berdych wins one and at most two ATP tournaments a year. This method has kept him in the top ten for many years but he never seems capable of beating the big guns. Now thirty years old it seems unlikely that Berdych will ever be able to put it together to win a Slam despite his immense talent.
Kei Nishikori: At 25 years old Nishikori certainly has time on his side and has made the finals of a hard court Slam before in 2014 in New York. His record at the Aussie Open is 16-6 and he has twice before advanced to the quarter-finals.
Milos Raonic: The Canadian Missile seemed to be the most likely to have a breakthrough at the Slam level but injuries are already starting to take their toll on the big man. He has had to withdraw from playing in the International Premiere Tennis League in December with back spasms which does not bode well for his chances to be ready to compete in best of five set matches in Melbourne. If he's healthy, this is a guy that could break through the big guns and make some noise.
John Isner: Similar to Raonic due to his immense height and booming serve, Isner is an older version who at the age of thirty needs to act now if he is going to taste Slam success. It is surprising to me that he has only once before made the quarterfinals of a major with the strength of his greatest weapon. He does have two Masters Series finals appearances under his belt which shows he can get hot and beat some top-level guys at times. Could it happen this year in Melbourne?
Nick Krygios: I put Kyrgios in here to stir things up a bit but also because he represents the next wave in men's tennis. Guys like Berdych, Ferrer, Tsonga and Gasquet for example are very unlikely to see the term "Grand Slam Champion" next to their names before they retire. Look to the up and coming generation who will not have to contend with Federer, Djokovic and Nadal for the bulk of their careers. Kyrgios has the swagger and confidence to will his way to a title. Others like David Goffin, Bernard Tomic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric are also of the right age to snag some Slams at some point in their career. One of them could be a surprise in Australia this year if they are ready to make their move at a major just as an 18 year old Rafael Nadal or a 21 year old Roger Federer once did.
IPTL Offers Fans a Unique Tennis Experience in December
By Mike McIntyre
Considering how tennis players often lament about the excruciatingly long tennis season on the ATP and WTA Tour's it may come as quite a surprise to see so many top level professionals opting to play tennis in December during their short off season. Yet here we are a mere two weeks until Christmas with superstar players like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing in the relatively new International Premier Tennis League in Asia. With a format that resembles a combination of Davis and Fed Cup with Billie Jean King's World Team Tennis there is much to excite both the casual and the hardcore tennis fan.
Only in its second season of actual play, the IPTL was lauched in Spring of 2013 but did not begin play until November of 2014. Now sponsored by Coca-Cola, the league has franchises based in India, the Philippines, Singapore, Japan and the United Arab Emirates which appeals to a fan base that is hungry for more professional tennis and does not necessarily get to see it live as often as their counterpart nations in Europe and North America. The IPTL accurately boasts that it, "brings together current champions, tennis legends and upcoming talent in a format that's never been seen before." Play consists of five sets that are broken down into one set each of men's singles, women's singles, mixed doubles, men's doubles and men's legends play. The order in which the five sets are played is determined by the host team and there are several twists that bring a unique element of strategy into play. Coaches can for example decide to substitute a player (only once) in the middle of a set. Legends players can only be substituted for another legends player to prevent having someone like Roger Federer come in and demolish an aging champion. Each set is a first to 6 games affair with a first to 7 point tiebreak (called a shootout) played if the score reaches 5-5 in games. A "super shootout" is played if tied at 5-5 in men's singles play only and the first to reach 10 points is crowned the victor. Another interesting facet of the IPTL (and one that Nadal must loathe) is the shot clock. Players have a max of 20 seconds between points, 45 seconds during changeovers and a 3 minute break between sets. Any team that goes over the time limit is docked a point. Other than that it's top level tennis wrapped up in a fun team format that appeals to players and fans alike. After a round robin format between the five teams, the top two squads advance to play each other in the finals.
So why would tennis players sign-up to play in the IPTL after a long and physically punishing season that only ends in November? There is clearly a financial incentive to getting back on the court early which entices the big names who no-doubt are compensated at a higher level and also to second tier players who could use the extra payout to help subsidize their upcoming season on the pro tour. Another drawing card for players is that with only three weeks of tournaments in January before the first Grand Slam of the season in Melbourne the IPTL offers a jump-start on match play and a chance to shake off the rust from their brief hiatus. With most pros only entering one, perhaps two events in 2016 before the Australian Open, there are not a whole lot of matches to get fully up to speed. The only potential downfall with the IPTL is the risk of injury but this is a reality that all pros face whether it be in an exhibition match or back at home in practice. Milos Raonic just withdrew from further IPTL competition with back spasms but perhaps it is better to deal with something like this now and rehab in time for January.
Kudos must go out to the very professional manner in which the IPTL is marketing itself. Aside from big name sponsors, the league has a very sleek website and keeps a comprehensive list of statistics for any tennis junkies out there who want to keep tabs on their favorite players. I would also imagine that the ATP and WTA Tour's appreciate the free promotion of their players throughout the month of December and in an area of the world that they are seeking to increase their visibility.
In 2014 the Indian Aces were crowned the inaugural IPTL champions. So far this season with stops already completed in Kobe (Japan), Manila (Philippines) and New Delhi (India), it is again the Aces who are on top of the league with a 6-1 record at the moment. The Aces boast a strong lineup that includes Rafa Nadal, Gael Monfils, Sam Stosur, Aga Radwanska, Sania Mirza, Ivan Dodig, Rohan Bopanna and legend/magician Fabrice Santoro.The IPTL will next move to Dubai (UAE) from December 14-16 and then wrap-up in Kallang (Singapore) from December 18-20.
While the format is competitive it also allows the players to enjoy the experience in a way that is quite different from the solitude that they normally find themselves surrounded in as they travel from city to city on the professional tour. The co-ed, team environment allows these talented athletes the chance to rediscover the fun that comes along with playing tennis and get to know their fellow peers on a more social level as well. As Federer remarked after his 6-5 loss to Nadal this past weekend in New Delhi, "...to me it is serious tennis with the fun aspect of playing for your team." For fans around the world it provides another month of checking-in on their favorite players and for those fortunate enough to live in or travel to these five remarkable cities, the ability to watch live tennis during a time that is normally devoid of such action. I can't find anything wrong with that and I'm confident most of the tennis world would say the same thing. Enjoying a sneak-peek of the upcoming ATP and WTA tennis season is a most welcome Christmas time treat.
What to Expect on the ATP Tour in 2016
By Mike McIntyre
The off season in tennis is notorious for being a short one. With the ATP World Tour finals wrapping up on November 22nd the pros don't really have much time to rest and recover before the New Year is upon them. Add to the fact that several players will be filling their down time with exhibition matches and you can see how professional tennis is really a 12 month commitment for these elite athletes.
On the men's Tour 2015 will be remembered as the year of Novak Djokovic. Although the world No. 1 has had plenty of success prior to this past season, he truly dominated his rivals with an 82-6 record that included three Grand Slam titles. The lone major that eluded him (yet again) was the French Open where he was actually the heavy favourite going up against Stan Wawrinka. The question in 2016 is whether or not Novak can sustain his incredible level and will he finally be able to follow in the footsteps of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and capture that missing Slam. Novak will turn 29 this coming May and that is two years older than Federer was when he won his first and only French Open. Federer had Nadal, the King of Clay, who prevented him from winning more at Roland Garros, but Djokovic has only his mental fortitude standing in his way towards capturing the title he wants so badly.
Aside from the greatness that Djokovic brings to the table it will be interesting to see how the other big names can fare in 2016. Federer seems oblivious to the fact that he will be turning 35 this coming year and is somehow continuing to find ways to stay near the pinnacle of the sport. While he hasn't won a Slam since July 2012, he is still the player (after Novak) that most would rather not have to face in any given event. Federer wants more than anything to get at least one more Slam before he even thinks about retiring and would also like to grab a Gold medal at the summer Olympics in Rio. Rafael Nadal meanwhile would like to have a much more consistent season in 2016 and although he finished 5th in the ATP rankings, he was hoping for much more than that. Failing to make it to the semi-finals of all four Grand Slams for the first time in his career is something he would rather not repeat. I would say in fact that if Rafa can't find a way to seriously challenge at a Slam this coming year that perhaps he would consider retiring as he nears the age of 30. With the immense physical toll the sport has taken on his body over the years, Nadal might be prudent to save some of his health for retirement and his life after tennis. Finally we have Andy Murray who seems to have stalled in his pursuit for more Grand Slams but he did add a Davis Cup title to his list of achievements in 2015 when the Brits defeated Belgium. Murray doesn't appear to have the pressure that others might have heading into the new season and for that reason I would say he could present himself as a very dangerous opponent. I would be surprised if Murray was not at least present in the finals of a couple of Slams in 2016. That being said, even with all of his talent he has only advanced to the finals of one out of the last nine majors which has to be considered quite the disappointment for the current No. 2 player in the world.
With the above four players all approaching (or already at) the age of 30, and only one player in the top ten being under the age of 28, we must also look to players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and others and wonder when they will make their move. There has to be a changing of the guard at some point and so far only Marin Cilic has managed to break through the big four recently at the Grand Slam level - and even he will be turning 28 in the coming year. Perhaps we are seeing another period of denial where once it was Federer and Nadal refusing to share the wealth and now it is Novak Djokovic who is doing his best job at replicating that selfish era of near solo domination. With so much excitement happening over the past twelve months, it should be interesting to see what 2016 has in store.
Federer and Edberg Part Ways Amicably After Two Years
By Mike McIntyre
It shouldn't really come as any surprise that after two years together Roger Federer and his childhood idol Stefan Edberg have decided to end their coaching arrangement. Edberg never struck me as someone who wanted to coach full-time and only initially intended for the partnership to last one season. The six time Grand Slam champ was so encouraged by their success together however that he stuck around for another 12 months. Edberg definitely had a positive impact on the 17 time Grand Slam champion despite the fact the duo did not add to his record setting totals at the majors. Edberg leaves with Federer as the third ranked player on the ATP World Tour and perhaps still the biggest threat to undisputed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Federer will retain Severin Luthi as his main coach for 2016 but has added good friend and former pro Ivan Ljubicic to his coaching staff to replace Edberg. Ljubicic coached Milos Raonic up until the end of this past season. While Ljubicic does not have any Grand Slams to his resume from his days on the Tour, he did still have quite the career that saw him reach a rankings high of No. 3 in the world and he also won ten titles including the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells in 2010.
Here are some of my favourite pictures of the Edberg and Federer partnership that I took back in August of 2014 at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as Federer closes another entertaining chapter of his successful career. Enjoy!
Federer looking very much like he still idolizes Edberg.
An intense shot of the two legends side by side during practice
Comforting to know that even a guy as great as Roger could still take advice at this stage of his illustrious career.
Federer and Nadal to faceoff in Basel Finals
By Tia Ko
1st Round: Nadal d. Rosol 1-6 7-5 7-6
2nd Round: Nadal d. Dimitrov 6-4 4-6 6-3
Quarterfinals: Nadal d. Cilic 4-6 6-3 6-3
Semifinals: Nadal d. Gasquet 6-4 7-6
When the going got tough in Basel, Rafael Nadal was able to find an extra gear. Every match was physically and mentally demanding for the 3rd seed who played three sets in 3 out of 4 of his matches this week. It’s a grind each time he plays but that’s just the Spaniard’s style. Early in the opening set, Nadal missed an easy overhead smash which led to a break for Gasquet to lead 2-0. Nadal was able to break back and his movement on the court was more fluid; he was moving forward every opportunity and putting pressure on Gasquet’s forehand. He went to the net 21 times. Nadal took the first set 6-4. The second set put Nadal in a bit of trouble as Gasquet was able to hit with him from the baseline and take short balls early. Gasquet broke and was serving for the second set but he ended up double faulting and giving Nadal the break back. In the tie-break, the Frenchman was also up 6-4 but Nadal came up with some amazing winners to win 9-7. With that loss, Gasquet is officially out of the run for the ATP World Tour Finals and the top eight have been determined with David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori taking the last two spots.
1st Round: Federer d. Kukushkin 6-1 6-2
2nd Round: Federer d. Kohlschreiber 6-4 4-6 6-4
Quarterfinals: Federer d. Goffin 6-3 3-6 6-1
Semifinals: Federer d. Sock 6-3 6-4
Federer was able to break and consolidate early in the first set 4-1. Federer had a chance to take the first set on Sock’s serve when the American was down 0-30 on his serve but after three errors and an ace, Sock was able to hold. Federer served out the first set to win 6-3. His first serve percentage was the best it was all week at 74% while winning 87% of the points on it. The Swiss also had 11 winners vs. 3 from Sock. Federer was up at the net a lot as well winning 9/9 attempts. Federer got another break in the second set to serve at 2-1. Roger used the SABR to go up 30-15 on Sock’s serve and went on to break him to go up 4-1. The unseeded Sock was able to get one of those breaks back to serve at 3-5 but still trailed 4-5. Roger would have another chance to serve out the match and this time he didn’t let it slip off his racquet; he won the second set 6-4.
This will be the first time that Nadal and Federer have played against each other since the Australian Open semifinals back in 2014. Nadal has won 9 of the last 11 meetings and form has undoubtedly improved over the past month, as he was able to reach the finals in Beijing during the China Open and the semifinals in Shanghai. Will Roger be able to get one of those back tomorrow? He’s in his hometown of Basel and will be eyeing his eighth title before heading to Paris for the BNP Masters next week.
Serena Williams Takes the Rest of the Year Off
By Tia Ko
I was pretty disappointed to hear that Serena Williams decided to take the rest of the year off after withdrawing from the China Open in Beijing this week and the WTA Finals in Singapore later this month. In a statement it says that she needs the time to recover from reoccurring injuries but I have to wonder if she's taking the time to emotionally recover from that devastating loss to Roberta Vinci last month.
"It’s no secret I’ve played injured most of the year — whether it was my elbow, my knee or, in the final moments after a certain match in Flushing, my heart."
Vinci beat Serena in the semi-finals of the US Open causing one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. Serena was on her way to achieving one of the biggest accomplishments in tennis, the calendar grand slam, but couldn't come up with the shots to take out the Italian veteran.
Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou said he wants her to play when she has the right motivation, "Any loss is very painful for her, but this one even more than usual. So it just takes time to recover from it, and when the motivation comes back, which I don't doubt it will, then it will be time to start tournaments again."
Serena doesn't have too much too lose from not playing in Beijing or the WTA Finals. She will still keep her number one ranking for the rest of the year because she only has 215 points to defend from the China Open and currently has a 4,000 point lead over the number two player, Simona Halep.
“This is a very difficult decision, but one ultimately made because of the love of the game. I plan to return to practicing and participating in exhibition matches later this year. And when I do, l will focus and focus and focus so I can continue my journey in this beautiful game."
I think it's a good idea for Serena to take the time off. If she needs to take a break and focus on what she needs to do next season then I'm all for it. Plus, next year is the Rio Summer Olympics... how about a golden calendar slam, Serena?
By Tia Ko
Tia’s Top Tweets
Maybe a massage on Stan's ankle would have be a better idea. The number one seed at the Moselle Open in Metz, France twisted his ankle in the third set when playing against Germany's Dustin Brown. The Swiss went on to win the match but ultimately had to pull out of his quarter-final match versus Philipp Kohlschreiber.
I'll admit, I was happy to see Dinara Safina today when Mariya K tweeted this photo of her, Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic in St. Petersburg. Despite being the number one seed, Berdych went out in the first round versus Simone Bolelli. Milos, the number two seed, blazed into the semi-final yesterday when he beat Tommy Robredo, 6-1, 6-2. He will play today for a spot in the final against Roberto Bautista Agut.
These lovebirds have been together for 10 years! Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic have been dating since they were only 19 years old. They got married in July 2014 and welcomed a baby boy named Stefan in October of the same year.
I think both Andy and Jamie get their ferocity from their mother, Judy. The Brits are into the Davis Cup final for the first time since 1978! Job well done, boys. Andy Murray sealed they deal when he beat Australia's Bernard Tomic 7-5 6-3 6-2 on Sunday night. Great Britain will face Belgium in November's final.
Who Celebrated a Birthday This Week?
September 26- Happy 34th birthday, Serena Williams!
September 24- Jack Sock turned 23 years old.
September 23- Juan Martín del Potro turned 27 years old.
September 22- Sabine Lisicki turned 26 years old.
September 20- Feliciano López turned 34 years old.
Strange Story of the Week
The strange story of the week was of a young man who woke up from an 11-year coma to find out that his favorite tennis star, Roger Federer, was still playing at the top of his game. In 2004, Jesus Aparicio was celebrating his 18th birthday when he got into a serious car crash that put him into a coma. Now, fast-forward to August 27 2015 and Jesus finally wakes up.
‘It came like a flash to my mind and I asked about Roger. I thought he had retired. When I heard that he reached 17 slam titles, I put my hands on my face.’
Before Jesus’ car crash in late 2004, Roger had won only 4 of his 17 grand slam titles. Jesus even also got to watch his favorite player duel it out with Novak Djokovic during the US Open final.
‘I want to see his match before he reties, perhaps his 18th slam.’
Looking Ahead: ATP Previews of Metz and St. Petersburg
By Mike McIntyre
With the US Open and the Davis Cup semi-finals now behind us it will be up to the men's tournaments in Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia to help avoid the equivalent of a tennis hangover. Both events are level 250 tournaments which do not usually provide the Djokovic's and Federer's of the tennis world, but both of these draws show plenty of promise that should maintain the interest of true tennis fans.
Stan "The Man" Wawrinka is the top seed in Metz and brings an impressive 41-13 record into the tournament and a recent semi-final appearance at the US Open. Wawrinka is one of four players to receive a first round bye and will face either Dustin Brown or Rajeev Ram in his first match.
German Philipp Kohlschreiber is the toughest opponent for Warinka in his quarter of the draw. Stan has won both career meetings between the two players with both coming back in 2008.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the 3rd seed and one of six French men (excluding qualifiers) in the draw. He has won the event twice, in 2011 and 2012, and I would not be the least bit surprised if he added to that total here this year. Tsonga has a favourable draw prior to potentially seeing Wawrinka in the semifinals and historically has had success as well this time of year.
In the bottom half of the draw Gilles Simon is the second seed. Hopefully by now he has forgotten about how he let Donald Young come back from a two sets deficit at the US Open in their opening round encounter and is ready to produce in front of the French fans. Simon has some tricky names floating in his section of the draw such as veteran Fernando Verdasco, 18 year old young-gun Alex Zverev and the big serving and mojo stealing Gilles Muller as well. Simon won here in 2010 and 2013 which should bode well for the world No. 10.
Finally, 4th seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is perhaps the least known quantity among the top ranked players in the draw. Ranked 31st in the world (career best 23rd back in 2011), Garcia Lopez has a 25-18 record so far this season. He will likely face a tricky Sergiy Stakhovsky after his opening round bye and then could deal with Canadian No. 2 Vasek Pospisil. This quarter is clearly the one where an upset is most likely.
One thing we know for sure in Metz is that the tournament will have a new champion this year as David Goffin (just off a Davis Cup win vs Argentina) is not entered in the draw.
Tomas Berdych provides the star-power as the number one seed at this event. First round bye's have also been awarded to the top-four players here and the Czech could face either Andrey Rublev or Simone Bolelli in his first match. Young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis is present in the top quarter along with the seventh seeded Joao Sousa.
Dominic Thiem is the 3rd seed and also in the top-half of the draw in St. Petersburg. He will face either Daniel Gimeno-Traver or the recently married Andreas Haider-Maurer who, like Thiem, is also Austrian. Thiem could see 8th seeded Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarters.
In the bottom half of the draw, Canadian missile Milos Raonic will see if he can salvage something of an injury-induced season to forget. Raonic will see wildcard Evgeny Donskoy or a qualifier in the second round. His quarter of the draw is stacked with names that would have carried some fear about ten years ago such as Tommy Robredo, Mikhail Youzhny and Marcos Bagdatis as well as the always enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. Youzhny won this event in 2004 and is here thanks to a wildcard while Gulbis was crowned champion the last year the tourney was held in 2013.
In the other bottom-half quarter of the draw you can find 4th seeded Roberto Bautista Agut and tricky 6th seed Benoit Paire.
This draw has a fun mix of characters and if I was traveling to either event this week I think I'd probably make the trip to Russia over France. If I were a betting man I would also check out some fantastic tennis odds updates 24/7.
Enjoy the smaller venue tennis as we start the final portion of the ATP calendar and gear-up for the Shanghai and Paris Masters which are held in October.
Great Britain and Belgium to Meet in Davis Cup Finals
By Mike McIntyre
While it's not quite at the "Robert Vinci in the US Open finals" level of shocking, the fact that Great Britain and Belgium have moved on to the Davis Cup Finals is quite a surprise. When Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka decided not to play for Switzerland in the opening round of 2015 we knew that there would be a different champion at the end of this season. Banking on either Great Britain or Belgium to be that country was a long shot for any knowledgeable tennis fan however.
The Brits can thank Andy Murray once again for playing the role of hero to their nation. After winning Olympic Gold and the US Open in 2012 and then Wimbledon in 2013, Murray has been relatively quiet on the ATP Tour but now has a unique opportunity to add Davis Cup champion to his resume.
Playing in Scotland against Australia in the semi-finals, Murray had to win twice in singles and once in a marathon five-set doubles match in order to secure the victory. The Aussies had more depth than the Brits with capable youngsters in Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinasis as well as veteran Sam Groth and the ultimate warrior in Lleyton Hewitt at their disposal. It was certainly the doubles match that Andy and his brother Jamie won 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-4 against Groth and Hewitt that made the difference. Poor Dan Evans, ranked 300th in the world, could not get a victory in either of his two matches (the last one being a dead rubber) but must still feel great to be a part of the advancing British squad.
In the other semi-finals, the surprising nation of Belgium squared-off against the 4th ranked Argentina. Having home-court advantage in Brussels helped the 8th seeded hosts come back from a two to one deficit against the Argentinians. Kudos to David Goffin and then Steve Darvis who won the final two singles matches to defeat their opponents with their backs up against the wall. Goffin knocked-off Diego Schwartzman in straight sets while Darcis needed four to defeat Federico Delbonis.
The Davis Cup Finals will now take place from November 27th to the 29th in Belgium. While the Brits have the star power in Murray, Belgium has proved that their young depth is capable and content to play the role of spoiler. Neither nation is accustomed to Davis Cup glory, as the Brits have not won since 1936 and the best result for Belgium was as runner-up in 1904.
For those living in nations other than Belgium and Great Britain and looking for some Davis Cup news for their home country, the 2016 Davis Cup draw ceremony will be Wednesday September 23rd at 10pm GMT.
Donald “The Comeback Kid” Young
By Tia Ko
Comeback #1: The nickname began when Young, a 26-year-old American, was down two sets to love to the 11th seeded Gilles Simon in the first round of this US Open. No one could have imagined that the 68th ranked player would turn the match on its head by winning the next three sets 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-4 6-4. It was one of the first major upsets of the tournament and the beginning of a fantastic week for Young.
Comeback #2: Young’s second round match had him against Aljaz Bedene of Great Britain who is ranked slightly higher coming in at 57. Again, Young had a slow start winning only 58% of his first serves and 29% of his second serves along with a high ratio of unforced errors to winners resulting in a loss of the first set 3-6. The American wasn’t giving up anytime soon and gradually improved his serving stats to came back and win the last three sets with a final score of 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-2.
Comeback #3: The Chicago native who was trying to reach his best ever slam result was down two sets to start off his match against the 22nd seed Viktor Troicki of Serbia. The second set was a bagel set and I wasn’t expecting the third to be much different. Troicki looked fantastic out there; he was dominating Young’s serves and managed to convert 5/7 break points in the first two sets. Oh how I was wrong! The third set saw Young improve his serve dramatically and it gave him the ability to make plays up at the net where he was 16/20. He won the third in a tiebreak.
“Honestly, those two sets were over. I just kind of had to keep feeling. I felt like I was in the first set. Even though I lost 6-0, I had game points in the games. I felt like I still had more to give.”
Young won the final two sets and the match 4-6 0-6 7-6 6-2 6-4.
Now that Eugenie Bouchard has pulled out of the doubles and mixed doubles after a fall in the locker room, Young is the only player still in each of the three events. He’s into the fourth round of singles versus 5th seeded Stan Wawrinka, the third round of doubles with his partner Michael Russell where the pair with square off against two fellow Americans Steve Johnson and Sam Querry, and finally him and his mixed doubles partner Taylor Townsend are into the second round facing Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot.
Friday Third Round U.S. Open Preview
By Tia Ko
Two easy rounds into the U.S. Open sees top ranked Novak Djokovic take on Andreas Seppi (25) in the third round this afternoon. Djokovic beat Andreas Haider-Maurer in straight sets on Wednesday night 6-4 6-1 6-2 while it took Seppi four to come out with a win over Teymuraz Gabashvili 3-6 6-3 7-6 6-1 to make it to the last 32.
Djokovic has spent little time on the court so far, playing for a mere two hours and 39 minutes in total. His first match versus Brazilian Joao Souza lasted only one hour and eight minutes and was just one game shy in each set of being a triple bagel match with a score of 6-1 6-1 6-1.
Head-to-head, Seppi hasn’t been able to take a single match from the world number one in ten meetings. Their last match was more than two years ago during the quarterfinals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships back in 2013 where Djokovic quickly won 6-0 6-3.
Will Seppi be able to pull off another huge upset in round three of a Grand Slam (think back to the Australian Open this past January) and improve his record versus Novak to 1-10?
We’ll also see both of the Williams sisters in action today when Venus plays the young and vibrant Swiss teen Belinda Bencic who made headlines earlier this week for her heated exchange with the umpire during her second round match. Bencic is ranked at a career-high number 12 and will likely have a tough match playing on Arthur Ashe against the American veteran.
Serena will be playing the first night match tonight against fellow countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands who is more known for playing doubles and will be playing her first third round match ever at the U.S. Open as a singles player. Serena, of course, is on route to make history by completing the calendar slam and she’s currently all the rage in the media. For the first time in history, the U.S. Open women’s final sold out faster than the men’s final; I think everyone wants to witness a piece of history that Serena Williams is writing!
The last match on Arthur Ashe will be a battle between Spaniard Rafael Nadal (8) and Fabio Fognini (32). The two have met three times this year: Fognini won twice in Rio De Janeiro and Barcelona but Nadal won the most recent encounter during the final in Hamburg. Nadal is 2-0 against the Italian on hard court.
Champion in 2010 and 2013, Nadal improved his record to 22-1 in his last 23 matches at the US Open.
U.S. Open Favourites
The fourth and the last Grand Slam event of the year is just round the corner, and exciting matches are bound to happen. According to TonyBet bookie some favourites are very clear, but as last year’s U.S. Open has shown, a dark-horse win can always happen. Here’s the top 3 leading players in our opinion – both at men’s and women’s courts – and the extra potential dark horses to watch out for.
1. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic is firmly at the top of the ATP rankings. The world‘s no. 1 has already triumphed in two Grand Slam events this years – the Australian Open and Wimbledon – and went through to the finals in French Open. Even with these results, he lost to Roger Federer in Cincinnati and before that, to Andy Murray at the Canadian Masters 1000 in Montreal, both times playing in the finals. This shows he can be beaten – but he may also be saving up his best form for the US Open.
2. Roger Federer
While Roger Federer hasn‘t had as impressive a year as Djokovic, he still did well in the previous Grand Slam events, climbing up from a third round showing at the Australian Open, to the quarter-finals in the French Open, to the final at Wimbledon. The Swiss legend has been named the 2nd seed and while he lost again to Djokovic in the finals of Wimbledon, Federer then beat him in Cincinnati, along with a win against Murray in the semis. He seems to be in a brilliant form and definitely has good chances at winning.
3. Andy Murray
The world‘s no. 3 won the US Open in 2012, but hasn‘t gone further than the quarter-finals ever since. Murray started the 2015 majors going to the finals at the Australian Open, followed by making it to the semi-finals at both the French Open and Wimbledon. He has managed to beat one of his main contenders, Djokovic, in Montreal, but afterwards lost to Federer in the semi-final in Cincinnati. Still, he is able to win the championship if he‘s in a good form.
The Dark Horse: Grigor Dimitrov
For a good chunk of promising players it would be quite a jump to dominate the US Open, however, Grigor Dimitrov looks like the one who just might be able to do it. Although it‘s admittedly unlikely that the world‘s No. 17 would become the champion, his recent loss against Murray actually revealed that he’s in a good enough form and what’s lacking is mostly in his mental game. Dimitrov has competed in all the Grand Slams this year, going out in the 4th round in Australia, 1st round at the French and 3rd at Wimbledon.
1. Serena Williams
The phrase “Serena Williams is the only real contender to Serena Williams” is quickly becoming a big cliché in the tennis world. The world’s no. 1 is in absolutely amazing form, having already won three of the major titles this year and is going for a calendar year Grand Slam. Besides, she’s already won the U.S. Open 6 times, and she’s a three-time defending champion. By now, it’s going to be far more surprising if Williams doesn’t win rather than if she does.
2. Victoria Azarenka
The Belarusian is a former no. 1 and current 20th seed. She has made it to the U.S. Open finals twice and to the quarter finals last year. Victoria Azarenka‘s 2015 season is looking very solid so far, and even though Williams looks unbeatable, Azarenka is the one tennis player that could challenge the no.1 - if she‘s in a good form. Even with her left thigh injury that had her retire in Cincinnati, Azarenka should be able to play some world-class tennis.
3. Simona Halep
Simona Halep hasn’t yet won a Grand Slam title, but after Serena she has been the most dominant player on hardcourts in 2015. Her hardcourt record of 33-5 this season proves that she is clearly at ease on the surface. Though her Grand Slam record has been suspect this year – quarter-finals in Australia, second round at the French and first round at Wimbledon – she has been on fire this summer and is a very deserving world No. 2 and perhaps the biggest threat to Serena’s calendar year Grand Slam.
The Dark Horse: Belinda Bencic
The world‘s no. 12 is only 18 years old – and yet she managed to beat Serena Williams in Toronto on a mere two weeks ago. Overcoming the world’s no. 1 on an extremely good year – even though it wasn’t in a Grand Slam event – shows that Bencic definitely has the potential to be the next big name in tennis. However, in Cincinnati she had to retire with a right wrist injury. If that doesn’t prevent her from being is a good shape, Bencic should be able to shake up the tennis world some more at the Open.
The first round of the U.S. Open 2015 starts on Monday, August 31st, and the championship will conclude on September 13th. Marin Cilic is the defending champion in the men’s singles, while Serena Williams is the three-time defending champion in women’s singles. Together, the participating tennis players will share more than 40 million US dollars in prize money but only two will have their names etched on that epic silver trophy.
U.S. Open Main Draws Revealed
The main draws for the 2015 U.S. Open were released this afternoon for both the ATP and WTA Tour's. Have a look at the links below. We will be posting our annual preview later on today so please be sure to check back with us at ProTennisFan.
U.S. Open 2015 Qualifying Draws
By Mike McIntyre
The qualifying draws for the 2015 U.S. Open were released on Monday and will allow 16 players on both the ATP and WTA Tour's access to the main draw. Play begins on Tuesday August 25th at Flushing Meadows with 128 participants on both sides. Players must win three matches in order to advance. Here are the two qualifying draws for you to check out: