By Maud Watson
One of the bigger casualties of Week 1 at the French Open was Caroline Wozniacki, who was dumped out in the second round by Bojana Jovanovski. The sad part is her loss wasn’t even a surprise. Her results this clay court season – and for the better part of the year – have been dismal. What’s even sadder is she seems blind as to how to reverse the trend. “It’s all about just momentum, I guess. Hopefully it will turn and I’ll start winning some more.” What she doesn’t seem to comprehend is that, as a general rule, that doesn’t just happen. And if it did, shouldn’t we have seen better results from her following her finals appearance at Indian Wells? The crux of the problem still remains that she needs a real coach to teach her how to better utilize her strengths and hide her weaknesses. But until she commits to that, cuts the strings with her father, and commits to re-tooling her game, she’ll continue her slump, and we’ll likely be hearing the same line again at the conclusion of the grass court season.
Bernard Tomic is another young player unwilling to part ways with his father/coach. Perhaps mercifully given all of the off court drama he faced coming into Paris, the young Aussie was forced to retire in his opening match thanks to a small tear in his right leg muscle. But his early exit didn’t allow him to completely avoid the topic of his father, who has been banned from attending a slew of professional tennis events for his alleged misconduct against Tomic’s hitting partner prior to Madrid. Tomic insists that his father will always be his coach, and it’s understandable how hard it can be to cut ties with a family member, especially a parent. But Tomic also doesn’t have to look far to see how past overbearing and abusive fathers have interrupted, hampered and sometimes completely derailed promising careers. At least Tomic is willing to add another voice to his camp, though he may have a tough time finding someone willing to step in as a second fiddle John Tomic. Hopefully for his sake the right person will come along to join his team and fix more than just his game. If not, his career may be over before it even gets off the ground.
Food for Thought
Former pro Marc Rosset didn’t mince words earlier this week when he declared men’s tennis “boring.” He felt it was too much about the Big Four, and that a large part of that was due to the current seeding system and homogenization of the playing surfaces. While suggesting that men’s tennis is boring is an opinion that likely goes too far, he does raise some valid points. The standardization of the surfaces has meant less variety in today’s game, with virtually the same game style getting it done on all surfaces (though the greats do make minor adjustments). But the current seeding system hasn’t really come under fire since they first opted to seed 32 at the majors, and maybe it’s time to revisit that decision. Seeding 16 instead of 8 at the Masters is acceptable. Those fields are already loaded due to the smaller draw size, which means a fair number of intriguing matchups early in the tournament. But also seeding just 16 at the majors might be a better way to go than the current 32. With a singles draw of 128, there are too many early matches that feel like mere formalities. Seeding only 16 would likely add some excitement early but still protect the higher-ranked players in their attempt to reach the business end of things. More often than not, the cream will continue to rise to the top, but making some of the suggested changes might make watching them do so a little more fun.
Say what you want about Ernests Gulbis, but one thing he’s not is dishonest. Of course, he’s not always wise either. In his interview following his loss to Monfils, the Latvian called out the Big Four for being boring interviews. Granted, Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal may have a tendency to play it overly safe for some, but it’s an approach that beats taking the risk of crossing the line from refreshingly honest to outright obnoxious. Furthermore, in case Gulbis hasn’t noticed, being blunt doesn’t yield success. In some cases, it can hamper it. Just look at the difference in Djokovic form when he first arrived on the scene to where he’s at today. Yes, his game and mental strength have evolved, but he also helped his cause by becoming more diplomatic to avoid generating off court drama for himself. It’s a fine line to walk, and Gulbis would be well served to take a few pointers from the Big Four to strike a better balance in his approach to the media and fans.
They often say fame comes with a price, and for Sergiy Stakhovsky, the price tag was $2,000. In his losing effort to home favorite Gasquet, Stakhovsky pulled out his phone to take a picture of a disputed ball mark. Instantly, the Ukrainian’s image was plastered all over the Internet and various sports shows. Unfortunately for him, the officials weren’t amused and hit him with a fine for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” He may have carried on longer than appropriate, but considering some of the other stuff that goes unpunished, the $2,000 seemed a bit steep. It amounted to roughly 7% of his overall prize money, which for a player of Stakhovsky’s caliber is a sizeable chunk. Talk about learning a lesson the hard way!
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the day: A stormy view of Suzanne Lenglen court where Tommy Haas took out Guillaume Rufin in straight sets “while sick and on antibiotics” as tweeted by his proud wife, Sara Foster.
Rain, Rain, Go Away: Day 3 of the French Open commenced with an unfortunate 2.5 hour rain delay. The lengthy delay not only pushed back the third day of opening round matches, but it puts players such as Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova at disadvantage because as the Associated Press reports, “They won’t begin until at least Wednesday, three days after some players were already into the second round.”
Philipp Kohlschreiber tells all: In this Road to Roland Garros feature, German Philipp Kohlschreiber discusses the prospect of serving up a triple bagel, his favorite movie and actor, his goals when entering a match, and even dresses up in a Viking costume.
Nick Kyrgios poised and patient: In an interview following his first round victory over Radek Stepanek, Australian Nick Kyrgios said “playing juniors has been a major step in being so confident” but he realizes thinking too far ahead can spell trouble. His coach, Simon Rea, echoed this sentiment stating, “I don’t view this as a skyrocketing path to the top 50 for Nick (but rather) an important step on his journey.”
Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal demonstrate erratic nature of tennis: As Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated describes, Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens have had markedly different results since the Australian Open but their first round matches would indicate otherwise.
“Given his form coming in, he figured to make quick work of Daniel Brands, a German journeyman of little regard” but as any tennis player and fan can attest to and as Wertheim articulates “there are no sure bets in tennis.” Nadal fans held their breath for nearly two sets before the Spaniard ran away with the win in four.
“Since Australia, it’s been tough sledding for Stephens … (but) on Monday, with efficiency and deceptively hard hitting, she pushed aside Karin Knapp 6-2 7-5.”
Jack Sock playing in the memory of friends: In a picture American Jack Sock posted via twitter, he indicated he is “not only playing for myself but for two friends that passed away in the last couple of weeks.” Sock penned in the initials of his two friends on the shoes he would presumably be wearing during the French Open: Brian Boyd from his high school days and Alex Rovello from their years playing in the juniors, who was a University of Oregon tennis player and died in a tragic accident recently. Today, Sock recorded his first ever victory at the French Open over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain in straight sets.
Ernests Gulbis discusses future, on court etiquette: In an article written by Reem Abulleil of Sport 360, Gulbis stated that recognizes the lack of pressure he will deal with for the rest of the season. He said, “I have no points to defend until the end of the year. I think ranking wise I’m probably in the best position of anybody. Step by step we’re going to get somewhere.” Although Gulbis may display animosity toward his opponents on and off the court he told Sport 360 “I can sometimes be disrespectful in some press conferences but when I play, I really want to respect the opponent.”
Bernard Tomic injured, forced to retired, comments on father: Bernard Tomic was forced to retire in his opening round match of the French Open against Victor Hanescu claiming that he felt his “leg sort of tear and didn’t know what it was.” Not wanting to talk about the incident in Madrid with his father, Tomic only said “my dad’s still my coach, and he’ll always be, because, you know, I grew up with him and he knows me better than everyone else.” Tomic said in regards to injury that he is “lucky it’s not huge” and that he should be ready in time for Wimbledon.
19-year-old Lucas Pouille scores massive win: Lucas Pouille, a 19-year-old French wildcard, won his first ever tour level match, defeating American wildcard Alex Kuznestov in three convincing sets. In an article (translated) written by Lucas Apulia of francetv, Pouille stated, “It was fabulous, I had an incredible time. When I finished the game, I was really happy.”
Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.
Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin: The baby-faced Belgian spurred a flurry of headlines last year when he reached the second week of Roland Garros and took a set from Roger Federer there. Goffin has mustered barely any quality wins since then, losing to Grega Zemlja in Dusseldorf last week. An enigmatic Masters 1000 clay season behind him, Djokovic hopes to resemble the man who defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo more than the man who lost to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid.
Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Just about anyone has managed to knock off Tipsarevic this year, from Dmitry Tursunov to Guido Pella. Struggling for confidence and fitness, the Serb briefly slumped outside the top 10 before currently returning to its edge. Mahut has not won a main-draw match at the ATP level all season, losing to such unremarkable figures as Laime Ouahab and Romain Jouan. An ugly encounters on both sides could ensue, in which Mahut could gain strength from the vigorous show-court crowd. A second top-ten upset by a Frenchman in two days still seems like a long shot.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Thiemo De Bakker: An untimely muscle tear in Wawrinka’s thigh cast his participation here into doubt. The Madrid finalist has defeated four top-eight opponents on clay this spring, and his high volume of matches might have contributed to his injury. De Bakker should not challenge a healthy Wawrinka, so this match will offer a barometer for the Swiss No. 2’s health.
Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: On Sock’s shoes are written the names of two friends who recently passed away, extra motivation for him this fortnight. He will look to extend the encouraging and unexpected trend of American success here against Bucharest finalist Garcia-Lopez, less of a clay threat than most Spaniards. Big servers also have fared well here in general from Querrey and Isner to Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson.
Bernard Tomic vs. Victor Hanescu: Without his father to monitor him relentlessly, Tomic enjoys his first taste of independence. Off-court distractions should undermine his focus on his weakest surface, though, and he is still nowhere near the player outside Australia that he is on home soil.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Andujar: On the heels of reaching the Madrid semifinals as a wildcard, Andujar reached the semifinals of Nice as well. He did not defeat anyone more notable than Gilles Simon at either tournament, but he will hold the surface advantage against Youzhny. The Russian did win a set from Djokovic in Monte Carlo before recording consecutive victories over clay specialists Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro in Madrid.
Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Despite the increasing threat that he poses to the ATP elite, Dimitrov never has won more than one match at a major. Questionable fitness may cost him in the best-of-five format, or these events may expose his lack of experience more starkly. A duel with a Colombian dirt devil could test Dimitrov’s resilience two rounds ahead of a rematch with Djokovic.
Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka: With the other top-four women’s seeds advancing so convincingly, Azarenka needs to keep pace with a statement of her own. After a 10-1 start to 2012, Vesnina has cooled off and lost in the first round at three of four clay tournaments. Azarenka started cooling her off by dismissing her in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where Vesnina lacked the weapons to threaten her. Never past the quarterfinals in Paris, Vika should conserve energy with some quick early wins in a weak section of the draw.
Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai: Three long years have passed since Rezai won the Premier Mandatory title in Madrid over Venus Williams. The fiery Frenchwoman with a fondness for flamboyant outfits has won just one main-draw match since last year’s clay season. Kvitova has made a habit of struggling at the most unexpected moments against the most anonymous opponents, so a three-setter would not surprise in this slugfest of wildly erratic shot-makers.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova: This match struck me as the most interesting of the women’s first round, partly because of the history between them. Meeting more than once in the fraught environment of Fed Cup, the two have collaborated on several tight encounters and have played their last five matches on clay. Jankovic has regained traces of her vintage clay form by winning Bogota and upsetting Li to reach the Rome quarterfinals, while Hantuchova upset Kvitova in Madrid. Both lost to Simona Halep in the wake of those top-ten ambushes, though, showing how much they struggle to sustain momentum as they age.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Lauren Davis: After American women posted a perfect record on Day 2, Davis hopes to continue that trend despite winning just two clay matches this year (one against Christina McHale). That task will prove difficult against a Frenchwoman who shone on home soil in February, reaching the semifinals of the Paris Indoors. Mladenovic has struggled almost as much on clay as Davis has, but she won sets from Maria Kirilenko and Dominika Cibulkova in difficult early-round draws.
Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi: A tireless counterpuncher with a vulnerable serve, Zakopalova has extended both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to final sets at Roland Garros. She came closer than anyone to threatening Sharapova’s surge to the career Slam, and her retrieving should test Kanepi’s patience as well. Returning impressively from injury last month, Kanepi won Brussels on Saturday after collecting six wins at her two previous tournaments. To continue defending her quarterfinal points, she will need to take control of rallies immediately with serve and return.
Jamie Hampton vs. Lucie Safarova: The small American won three consecutive three-setters over higher-ranked opponents, including Roberta Vinci, to earn a semifinal berth in Brussels. Limited in her clay experience, Hampton attracted international attention by severely testing Azarenka in the first week of the Australian Open. Flaky Czech lefty Safarova also arrives with momentum after winning her home challenger in Prague and taking a set from Sharapova in Stuttgart.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off court.
- For full match recaps from day one, Chris Skelton details the comebacks, winners, surprises and commentary.
- Gilles Simon sweeps mom off her feet: World No. 18 Gilles Simon rallied from two sets down to take out Lleyton Hewitt in an expectedly drawn out and physically taxing three hour match on a cold and dreary Paris afternoon, to take it 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5. After squandering a 5-0 lead and two match points in the fifth set, Simon sealed the deal breaking the Aussie in the final game of the match to take it. The relief and happiness expressed by Simon after his win paled in comparison to the reaction of his mother, who Simon kindly offered flowers to following the match. Really, it was the least he could do following the insane amount of stress he must have put her through, especially in the fifth set. Prior to the grueling win, Simon sat down with Eurosport for an exclusive interview, divulging that Roland Garros feels “like a party for everyone.” Wonder if he still feels that way.
- Pablo Carreño-Busta handily welcomed by Roger Federer: While Roger Federer’s first round match was a straightforward win over the Spanish upstart Pablo Carreño-Busta, the 21-year-old has an impressive game with some recent notable results. Though the Spaniard was very much overwhelmed and outclassed in his grand slam debut, he has recorded 39 straight victories at the futures level with seven titles. And as Tom Perrota of the Wall Street Journal reports, Carreño-Busta is not ready to let this result against Federer hinder his progression and will get back to work in just over a week in Italy.
“It was my first match in a Grand Slam, first match in Roland Garros, first match in center court, and my first match against Roger Federer,” he said. “So it was very nice, but very difficult.”
- “Pica” Powers over Petrova: 19 year-old Puerto Rican Monica Puig scored a major upset in her first ever grand slam victory, coming back from a set down to take out 11th seed, Nadia Petrova. Puig, who has been nicknamed “Pica” by her followers, has a diminutive stature but she certainly compensates for her lack of size with an abundance of power and potency from the ground. After being down a break at 4-3 in the third set, Puig took matters into her own hands and hit her way through to the finish line, winning the final three games of the match. For those less familiar with Puig, Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover put together a fabulous piece giving tennis fans a glimpse of the exciting and charming Puerto Rican.
- Blaz Kavcic once again spices up Twiter: Slovene Blaz Kavcic comfortably took out Aussie James Duckworth 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in what was easily considered a far less thrilling rematch of their epic five-hour encounter at this year’s Australian Open. You may recall Kavcic joking about receiving infused morphine after that match, but he did get an IV drip of muscle relaxants and fluids. Today, the 26-year-old provided us with even more humorous post-match photography. (Warning: photo is somewhat NSFW.)
- Serena Williams marches through: Serena Williams was intent on not having a repeat experience from last year’s French Open where she lost to relative unknown Virginie Razzano in the first round. This time around, she thrashed Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 in just over 50 minutes in the same round. Despite looking at ease and being in stride throughout the duration of the match, Williams admitted afterward that nerves have sometimes gotten the best of her:
“I’m always a little nervous going into first round matches at Slams. This time I wasn’t as nervous as I was at other Grand Slams, though. But for the most part I felt pretty safe and felt good about my game and that if I just do what I did in practice, I’ll be okay.”
- Loopholes exposed in John Tomic’s favor: Bernard Tomic takes to the court for his opening round match against Romanian Victor Hanescu Tuesday and shockingly enough, his father, John Tomic will be in attendance. As Will Swanton of The Australian describes, John Tomic will be able to evade the bans imposed by the ATP and the ITF for physically assaulting Tomic’s hitting partner, Thomas Drouet by “entering the grounds as a paying customer.”
- Nadal takes to practice courts: Rafael Nadal is already in full preparation for a run at what would be his eighth French Open crown. He can be seen practicing with Spanish compatriot and 32nd seed, Tommy Robredo.
- Piotr Wozniacki decides to stop coaching daughter: In news that many fans will be quite pleased with, Caroline Wozniacki’s father and coach, Piotr, has publically announced his intentions of ending his role as his daughter’s coach. In an article translated from Danish, Piotr laid out his dissatisfaction with his current position saying “I am an adult and I do not want to travel around all the time. I want my own life.” He added that, “This is, of course, not my job. It takes too much energy from me and I become less and less my own person. I do not have friends and contacts, and I do not live the life I want.”
- French Open renovations: According to the AP, Roland Garros officials are outlining a $440 million renovation plan for the tournament which will include a retractable roof over center court, a new 4,850-seat show court, redesigned outer courts, and a dedicated night session among other things. Tournament director Gilbert Ysern elaborates:
“We don’t want to finish very late in the night. We are not going to do like our American friends with the night sessions (at the U.S. Open) starting late and sometimes never ending. But we do indeed want to have a dedicated night session.”
- In case you’re still itching for a forecast for the rest of the fortnight at Roland Garros, the entire Tennis Grandstand team has you covered with elaborate previews and predictions of both the men’s draw and women’s draw.
Check back on Tuesday for more “Roland Garros Roundup”!
By Maud Watson
It seems that all of the chatter about Nadal’s seeding for Roland Garros may have been for nothing, as the Spaniard may be guaranteed the No. 4 seed even if he fails to win the title in Rome. Unfortunately, his potential guarantee of a top four seed may come at the expense of Andy Murray. The Scot, currently ranked No. 2, was forced to retire in his opening clash with Granollers at the Foro Italico and afterwards announced he would be surprised if he’s able to compete in Paris. The culprit behind Murray’s misfortune is a bad back that has plagued him since the end of 2011 and reacts particularly bad during the clay court season. Though players ultimately don’t want to have to miss any event, especially a slam, skipping Paris may be one of the best things Murray can do for himself right now. It’s his worst major, and he has a lot to defend over the course of the summer. There’s little sense in risking it all for Paris.
Bad to Worse
Not surprisingly, the Tomic Family saga is far from over, and sadly, it’s continuing to have a major impact Bernard Tomic’s season. John Tomic’s trial in Madrid for allegedly head-butting his son’s hitting partner has been postponed until October, but that doesn’t mean he’s free to travel the circuit in the interim with both the ITF and the ATP suspending his credentials. Unfortunately, it seems Tomic Sr. has also taken this to mean that his son can’t compete in any ATP-sanctioned events either. Tomic withdrew from Rome earlier this week citing personal reasons, and there are conflicting reports about his participation in Paris, with his father saying he won’t play and Woodbridge insisting his participation in the year’s second major is likely to go on as scheduled. It’s a sorry situation no matter how you slice it. Given Bernard Tomic’s young age, it will likely be that much harder to break away from his father’s grip, especially if he can’t get access to people like Woodbridge, Rafter and others who want to help support him. It also doesn’t help that when John Tomic was asked by the media if his son’s potential withdrawal from the French Open would be due to lack of a mental fitness, John Tomic replied that if that were indeed the case, it would be on the media’s head for creating this nasty situation. His failure to own up to what he’s done and the detrimental effect it’s had on his son is appalling and creates yet another barrier to getting Bernard Tomic out from under his father’s thumb and allowing him to realize his full potential.
Like Laura Robson, another promising up-and-comer has opted for a coaching change as Milos Raonic made a mutual decision with his previous coach, Gala Blanco, to part ways after his loss in Madrid. Raonic was very complimentary of Blanco, thanking him for bringing him so far and wished him all the best. The Canadian will now embark on a search for a new coach who can hopefully take him to that next level. One of the candidates now confirmed on the short list for that job is Ivan Ljubicic, who was spotted in Raonic’s box in Rome. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a happy first outing with Raonic suffering a loss in his opening match, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. Known as a “poor man’s Federer,” Ljubicic was a man who knew how to maximize his talent and was a real student of the game. He could certainly impart come pearls of wisdom to Raonic, so, with any luck, perhaps we’re on the verge of seeing a new and exciting pairing that will spell great things for Raonic in the future.
When In Rome
When in the Italian capital, why not pay the pope a visit? That’s what Juan Martin del Potro did when he was in town for the Rome Masters. It was a memorable moment for the Argentine, who was undoubtedly surprised and delighted when Pope Francis I recognized him in the crowd and gave him the thumbs up. Del Potro also relished the opportunity to meet the new pope, a fellow Argentine and the first pope from South America, and present him with one of the racquets from his 2009 US Open title run. It’s too bad for Delpo, however, that despite the visit to the Vatican, there was no divine intervention on his behalf – he was upset by Paire in straight sets on Thursday. Maybe his fortunes will improve in Paris.
Like Wimbledon in 2011, the USTA has worked out an extended contract with ESPN to assume sole broadcasting rights in the United States to air the US Open from 2015-2025. CBS, which currently airs the women’s and men’s singles finals, has enjoyed significant broadcasting rights of the season’s last major since the Open Era began in 1968. But in spite of CBS’s years of service, opting to go exclusively with ESPN was a wise move from the USTA. The network has a number of additional platforms for providing coverage and hopes to soon be able to provide live feed from all 17 courts at Flushing Meadows. Equally important, ESPN, which bills itself as the “worldwide leader in sports,” is certainly at the center of American sports culture. That means airing the US Open on the various ESPN platforms should result in greater exposure for the game. In short, this change should translate into better ratings and potential growth in the sport. It’s a win-win for everyone (with the possible exception of CBS).
Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Ryan and Christian Harrison lead the next generation of ATP players in a Men’s Journal feature entitled “Hit Squad” where they divulge what opponents fear most about their game. Though Twitter followers of Ryan Harrison may recall the photoshoot involving extravagant colors, photographer Theo Wenner opted to bring the shoot to life in black and white. Also featured are David Goffin, Ricardas Berankis and Bernard Tomic.
GRIGOR DIMITROV: “Called ‘little Federer’ for his fluid strokes, he’s a perpetual threat, particularly on hard court, with a dangerous topspin forehand and a creative, some say restless, style of play.”
RYAN HARRISON: ”When he was 11, Harrison met his tennis-pro dad in the finals of the Shreveport City Tournament which his father won, and they knew Ryan needed more competition.”
MILOS RAONIC: ”The son of engineers, the 6-foot-5 Raonic was college-bound until he persuaded his parents to let him go pro. They gave him a year to crack the top 100, and he did, rising from 150 to 37 in just six weeks.”
DAVID GOFFIN and RICARDAS BERANKIS: Berankis says of what opponents fear about him, “I never give up. I fight till the end.”
CHRISTIAN HARRISON: ”When big brother Ryan was battling Dad in the Shreveport City Tournament, nine-year-old Christian was in the stands pouring Coke on his little sister. He’s since learned to pay the game some respect.”
BERNARD TOMIC: On his indulgence, “Cars. A lot of people say I’m being the bad boy, but who doesn’t love a nice car? I just did things that a normal teenager dreams of doing.”
DAVID GOFFIN: On the best compliment he’s received, “I saw John McEnroe in the locker room of the US Open after a match, and he said, ‘Hey, I love your game. Just work on your legs’ — because my legs were too thin.”
(Quotes and photos via ATP World Tour and Men’s Journal)
By Maud Watson
At the start of the week, Sloane Stephens experienced some off court drama in addition to the woes she continues to suffer on court, thanks to the young American’s dumb decision to publicly call out Serena Williams, essentially branding the veteran a phony. Yes, a little bit of honesty is refreshing. Yes, many of Stephens’ comments regarding Serena’s friendliness or status as a mentor weren’t anything that many didn’t already suspect – after all, player like Clijsters are the exception rather than the norm. But Serena doesn’t owe anybody anything, including Stephens. There was no reason for Stephens to attack her compatriot in the manner in which she did, especially when the evidence to back up her claims amounts to nothing more than a social media snub or failure to sign a poster from when Stephens was 12. To her credit, Williams took the high road when questioned about Stephens’ comments, and Stephens has since admitted and apologized for her folly. It was an ugly incident that highlighted the fact that Stephens isn’t yet fully ready for the limelight, but with any luck, it’s a mistake she won’t make again in the future.
In virtually every brilliant career, there first comes that signature win that marks the start of something special. On Tuesday, Grigor Dimitrov may have just earned such a win with his shocking upset of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Dimitrov, nicknamed “Baby Federer,” has been on the radar for some time. He’s played the greats close before, including a near-upset of Nadal in Monte-Carlo. Here in Madrid, after failing to close it out in a tight second set tiebreak, Dimitrov look destined for another near miss. But unlike it Monte-Carlo, he held it together better both mentally and physically. He proved the steadier of the two in the deciding set, breaking Djokovic twice to secure a breakthrough victory. Dimitrov has stated he’s looking to shed his nickname, and if he can get himself in better shape and secure more wins like this one, it shouldn’t be long before more people know him for who he is and not who he reminds them of.
Bernard Tomic is no stranger to frequently making headlines for all the wrong reasons. His often cocky and careless attitude has made him a tough figure to tolerate, let alone like. But prior to the start of Madrid, something happened that changed much of that as news broke that his father, John Tomic, had head-butted and injured his hitting partner Drouet. Drouet then broke his silence and stated that John Tomic has also hit Bernard Tomic on more than one occasion. Suddenly Tomic has become a sympathetic figure and many of his previous actions have been cast in a new light. Thankfully, the ATP has banned his father from all ATP events, and both Woodbridge and Rafter are quickly stepping in to support the young Aussie. They’ll join him at the French Open and will attempt to set him up with Josh Eagle, who is already in Europe, as a temporary coach. Tomic possesses a lot of natural talent and plenty of upside. Now, with the proper support, tutelage, and less abuse, perhaps we’ll finally see him start to settle down and produce the kind of results that fans have been expecting.
Laura Robson has opted to split with Coach Krajan after nine months, and based on what we saw in Madrid, it looks like the switch may already be agreeing with her. The young Brit has yet to give a reason as to why she split from Krajan, but many speculate that it was simply a matter of his coaching style. Robson initially blossomed with him in her box, putting together a thrilling run at last year’s US Open with wins over Clijsters and Li. But her results have been predominantly dismal since then. Couple that with Krajan’s reputation for being overly tough with his charges, and the split isn’t that surprising. She certainly appeared to swing more freely in Madrid with Krajan absent, and it paid off with her securing two wins, including a routine victory over No. 4 seed Aga Radwanska. She really should have gone one further after leading Ivanovic 5-2 in the deciding set of their third round clash. If she can gain more consistency, especially on the serve, it’s a safe bet that we’ll be seeing her at the business end of tournaments with greater frequency in the future. She just needs to find the right coach, and with her abilities, there should be no shortage of qualified candidates willing to take the reins.
The WTA appears to be taking a page out of the ATP’s book with the news that the WTA has inked a five-year deal to stage the season-ending championships in Singapore in 2014-2018. The new deal will be worth a total of more than $70 million, which translates into financial stability and growth in prize money. It also allows the WTA to put yet another premiere event in the growing Asian market. Additional welcomed news is the decision to include more doubles entrants, staging exhibitions with past stars, and putting on music concerts and fan festivals. So, though there’s still plenty to play for in 2013, fans should already have a reason to look forward to next season.
by James A. Crabtree
Arguably the most hated Australian tennis player since a young Lleyton Hewitt, life isn’t easy for Bernard Tomic.
In fact Bernie has almost gone in search of bad press. There was the turning down of Lleyton Hewitt as a practice partner. The allegations he was going to quit Australia at his father’s behest and play for Croatia. In the 2012 Miami Masters he asked the chair umpire to remove his own father. During last years US Open John McEnroe accused Tomic of tanking a loss to Andy Roddick. Following all that he angered the old guard of Australian tennis with apparent refusal to play Davis Cup. And then we have the numerous driving issues, too numerous to mention.
Nevertheless Tomic is also the man with the best chance of restoring Australian tennis fortunes.
It must be tough for him. Most people find young men in their late teens and early twenties irritating to the say the least. Unless you are a fifteen year old girl chances are you also find Justin Bieber and One Direction intolerable.
Another difficulty for Tomic is the daddy dilemma as Bernard is not the person with the biggest ego among his entourage.
What on earth is young Bernie supposed to you?
The youngest Wimbledon quarterfinalist since Boris Becker in 1985 Tomic started 2013 well. He won all three of his singles Hopman Cup matches against none other than Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic and Andreas Seppi. He then went onto win Sydney. There he beat Marinko Matosevic, Florian Mayer, Jarkko Nieminen, Andreas Seppi (again), and Kevin Anderson for his tenth win in a row and his first career singles title.
Quickly Tomic went from being loathed to loved.
The following week at the Australian Open, Leonardo Mayer and Daniel Brands fell victim. By this time the whole of Australia was in a flutter and Tomic was not only invincible, but was displaying the sort of ego not seen since Clubber Lang.
Then there was the rumoured incident before the big Australian Open 3rd round match. On the practice court where John Tomic is notoriously hot headed Bernie sat after practice, his dad stood behind and berated him incessantly for ten minutes. Eventually Bernie walked off shaking his head. Not the best possible way to get a sense of Zen before a match?
Bernie went on to lose the match, and hasn’t won more than two matches in a row since. Of course his drop in form went unnoticed until dad John reportedly beat up Bernie’s hitting partner Thomas Drouet. Complications have heightened further since Drouet has come forward with other incidences.
What is Bernie supposed to do?
Judy Murray once commented that talent got her son, Andy Murray, within the top 100, but it was hard work and determination that propelled him to the heights he now knows. Compare the 2013 Andy Murray with the 2005 version of himself and we could be looking at a different athlete.
It is obvious that Bernard could administer similar changes.
This poses the question, who would be the perfect person to guide arguably the most naturally talented youngster on tour? Tennis Australia are already trying to help solve the crisis, and undoubtedly all the familiar names will arise such as Tony Roche, Pat Rafter and Scott Draper. Again akin to the LTA Brad Gilbert hiring for Andy Murray perhaps the best coach for the player is not one made by a committee. And besides, Bernie has had more than his fair share of runs with a number of high profile Australian coaches during Davis Cup play already. Perhaps he needs someone with an old school work hard mentality similar to Ivan Lendl or someone who can understand the games intricate details such as Andy Roddick’s old coach Larry Stefanki.
Sacking the only coach you have ever known would be difficult enough, now imagine starting that ordeal with the word ‘Dad’. Bernard obviously needs a new coach, but probably deep down worries about what his father will do without him.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
During Wimbledon 2011, three young players that were expected by many to someday be top tennis players were all playing their second-round matches at the same time. Two of them were competing in what many thought would be their coming-out parties. One was playing quite poorly against a middling opponent.
The names in reference are Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic. Harrison was fighting tooth and nail in an epic clash against David Ferrer. Over the course of two days, Ferrer would win in a tough five-setter that showed that Harrison did not quite have the mentality to compete at the top levels but that he would get there someday. Dimitrov was playing top-level tennis against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and looked like he could beat just about anyone in the world. Unfortunately it was not to be his day and Tsonga and his nearly-unbreakable serve prevailed. And Tomic was down two sets to none to Igor Andreev before Andreev faltered and Tomic came back to win in five.
What happened to these players since then? Tomic went on to the quarterfinals where he took a set off of Novak Djokovic. Since then, he has done nothing really of note aside from winning his first career tournament in Sydney right before this year’s Australian Open. Harrison has also not really done much, showing flashes of brilliance amidst a lot of mediocrity and now mostly competing back on the Challenger tour. Dimitrov likewise also faded into relative anonymity, but of the three, has managed to improve with each passing tournament seeing his ranking slowly and steadily rise, week by week.
After Tuesday’s valiant display in Madrid though, Dimitrov is anonymous no more. He battled world no. 1 Novak Djokovic in what turned out to be a flawless and epic match by the Bulgarian in the second round. Dimitrov overcame a few mental hiccups, second-set cramps, and the best opponent in the world in what was without a doubt the biggest win of his young career so far.
Fans (and detractors) of Dimitrov will say that he is finally utilizing his talent. He is blessed with great abilities and has finally sustained the top level that he can play at and won a big match. And, more importantly, this will allow him to move forward and win future big matches and tournaments. The sky is the limit for young Grigor and he proved it by beating the best player in the world.
And I agree; Dimitrov has nowhere to go but up. But the notion that he could have been winning like this for two years now—since he first showed this potential in that Wimbledon match—is foolish. Maybe we have been spoiled by the great players who burst on to the scene at a young age and were there to stay. Maybe we expect the great talents to reach the top 10 as a late teenager or in their early 20s and be a top player for their career.
Not everyone can do what Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and others have done. Not everyone can immediately assert their dominance on a strong tour and do it on a consistent basis. Everyone is waiting for players like Tomic, Harrison, and Dimitrov to suddenly be in every discussion. These insane expectations do nothing but hurt these players.
Tomic and Harrison haven’t really realized this. They pick up flashes of interest by showing flashes of greatness but really don’t do anything noteworthy on a consistent enough basis. They are still young players and have incredible talent, but they are not really moving forward in their careers yet. They are stuck wherever they are, which means being decent players on average that can throw in a great match or run here and there.
Dimitrov, on the other hand, is doing things the right way. He is consistently playing well and getting better and more confident as each season moves along. He almost took a set off Djokovic in March. He came close to beating Nadal in April. And now he has beaten Djokovic in May. This victory, the biggest of his career so far, is not the culmination of many hard years of work nor the showcasing of a great hidden talent. It is just one step on a long, slow, and gradual journey that could someday lead to greatness.
There are fewer matches that capture the imagination on Friday, but those that do offer plenty to discuss. Here’s a look at the end of the men’s second round and the start of the women’s third round.
Tomic vs. Murray: The Aussie prodigy has all of the elements that should make him a future star: a balanced but distinctive and aesthetically pleasing game, a personality oozing with charisma, and more than a whiff of controversy. All of the elements, that is, but competitive toughness, although Tomic has begun to remedy that flaw this year with somewhat more consistent results. He has yet to leave his mark on a Masters 1000 tournament, however, unlike a few of his fellowing rising stars, nor has he scored a signature win over one of the Big Four somewhere other than an exhibition. Such an opportunity might await against Murray, who was fortunate to avoid an exit earlier than the quarterfinals at Indian Wells amid notably scratchy form. Since both men know virtually every shot and tactic in the book, a display of all-court tennis should ensue that suits this notably slow surface.
Venus vs. Stephens: The past and future of American women’s tennis collide in a match of two women separated by over a decade. Having just turned 20 this week, Stephens may have catapulted into celebrity a little too early with her victory over Serena at the Australian Open. She now attempts to echo what Kerber did last year by sweeping the two Williams sisters on hard courts, a task probably within range considering the arduous evening to which Kimiko Date-Krumm subjected Venus in her first match. The contrast in their serves should boost the veteran’s chances, albeit less than it would on a faster hard court. And Sloane also has looked mortal as she has struggled to find her best form in the wake of that Australian accomplishment. She will rely on her consistency to extend the points longer than the erratic Venus can harness her weapons.
Kubot vs. Querrey: Now the top-ranked American man, Querrey has some work to do in justifying the expectations associated with that label. His results this year have toed the line between mildly disappointing and unremarkable, and he lost his only previous meeting with Kubot in a five-setter at the 2011 Australian Open. The doubles specialist from Poland kept Querrey’s serve at bay with penetrating returns and took time away from him by capitalizing on short balls to approach the net. But these are the types of matches that the top-ranked American man is supposed to win, and the excuses for Querrey’s apparent lulls in motivation will grow less convincing with the increased spotlight on him.
Bellucci vs. Janowicz: A fairly straightforward lefty, the leading man from Brazil had lost five straight match before rallying from losing the first set to oust lucky loser Daniel Brands here. Curiously, considering his clay origins, he defeated Janowicz on the indoor hard courts of Moscow last fall, near the time that the latter launched himself on his charge through the Paris Masters 1000 draw. The superior server and arguably superior competitor, the youngster from Poland should fear little if he can unravel the wrinkles of a lefty’s game and put a reasonable number of returns in play. An intriguing rendezvous with Murray could await in the next round.
Petkovic vs. Tomljanovic: Reaching the Miami semifinals in her last appearance, two years ago, Petkovic justified her wildcard at this tournament by not only winning her first match but also upsetting top-15 opponent Bartoli (admittedly, by retirement). Since she played only a tiny handful of matches in the first half of 2012, she certainly would relish the opportunity to collect more points to boost her ranking. Petkovic will enter this match as the favorite, but Tomljanovic enters with plenty of momentum as well. The 19-year-old Croat defeated both Pervak and Goerges in straight sets to justify her own wildcard, producing a level of form well above her ranking of #242.
Wozniacki vs. Muguruza: Virtually unknown before the last few months, Garbine Muguruza raised a few eyebrows when she slugged groundstrokes fearlessly against Serena in Melbourne. Then she raised many more eyebrows by reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier, the best result that any qualifier had garnered in the desert for nearly a decade. Armed with much more potent weapons than most of her compatriots, Muguruza aims to duplicate that achievement at a second sraight Premier Mandatory tournament. Consecutive three-setters in the first two rounds may have sapped her energies for a physical matches ahead, although Wozniacki also opened the tournament with a taxing battle. Extended to a final set in her Indian Wells opener too, she hopes to bounce back again from that uninspired start but has no more margin for error on the eve of collisions with Li Na and then Serena.
Flipkens vs. Kvitova: Never at her best at the spring North American tournaments, the former Wimbledon champion has struggled with the heat and her breathing in previous appearances. An Indian Wells quarterfinal appearance struck a more hopeful note, although her serving debacle at that stage did not. Opponents who can disrupt her baseline rhythm with something unexpected tend to trouble the Czech more than those with straightforward styles, and Flipkens can offer some unconventional looks with her backhand slice and occasional forays to the net. Those tactics should work better on a faster, lower-bouncing surface, though, while the Miami court should present Kvitova with balls at a comfortable height and time to target the lines.