grand slam finals

Will They Ever Win…Again?

A tennis player’s career is defined by Grand Slam competition. Whether it’s fair or not, even players who win tons of titles or attain the world number one ranking will go down in history beneath those who are talented or lucky enough to win one of the coveted Slam titles. This means that an entire year’s worth of work usually boils down to just eight weeks of results.

All things considered, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina have enjoyed similar careers. They’re only two years apart in age. Both have achieved the world number 1 ranking. Both have competed in three Grand Slam finals. Recently, both women have shared a similar dive in the rankings. However, with all of these similarities, one huge difference defines the careers of these two women. They faced each other in the 2008 French Open final and Ana scored her first and only Grand Slam victory. Regardless of what turns her career took after Roland Garros ’08, Ana Ivanovic will go down in the history books as a Grand Slam champion while Dinara Safina will be dragged out as a sad statistic for underachievers. Now, before I get a deluge of angry comments from both Ana and Dinara fans, I fully realize that both of these women are still young and active on the tour. It’s certainly possible that one of them could score another Slam victory before they retire; however, as it stands, this is the situation.

Because Slams are so important for a player’s career, it’s only natural to speculate on which players will win and which will come up short. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most talked about cases and answered the all important question, ‘will they ever win?’ or ‘will they ever win again?’

First up, let’s look at some players who’ve come awfully close to taking home one of those coveted trophies, but in the end came up second best. Will they ever win?

Andy Murray

Will he win? Yes.

Frankly the whole Andy Murray argument is what spurred me to write this article. Murray’s been as high as number 2 in the world and has been camped out in the top 4 for the better part of the last two years. He’s made the finals at both the US Open and the Australian Open, falling easily to Roger Federer both times. Even after his defeat at this year’s Aussie Open, journalists were asking “When will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Lately, journalists have been asking “Will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Those are two very different questions. Andy Murray certainly hasn’t gotten worse in the past two years, in fact his fitness and conditioning has made him stronger than ever. Lately, he just doesn’t seem to have ‘it,’ whatever illusive factor makes Federer and Nadal so incredible at Grand Slams. Murray’s proved capable at beating both of them, just not on tennis’ biggest stages. Well, I disagree with the commentators. Andy’s only 23 and while he may have battle past Rafael Nadal for the entirety of his career, at some point Nadal will falter and Murray will win a major.

Robin Soderling

Will he win? Yes.

I wavered a lot of this one. Robin was a fairly unheard of commodity before the 2009 French Open, where he beat 4 time defending champion Rafael Nadal and made his first Grand Slam final. Everyone was convinced this was one of those one time dream runs, but then he did it again. French Open 2010 rolled around and for the second year he beat the defending champion, this time Roger Federer, before making his second consecutive French Open final. Since then, Soderling also made the quarter finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. Robin’s had the misfortune of meeting Roger Federer at almost every turn when it comes to Grand Slams. Frankly, only Andy Roddick has been less lucky in this respect. However, one day, Roger Federer isn’t going to be on the other side of the net and Robin will get lucky. Probably.

Vera Zvonareva

Will she win? No.

Bepa’s great and she’s had an amazing breakout year, making two consecutive Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Pre-Wimbledon, I wouldn’t even have considered putting her name on this list, so she’s definitely doing something right. However, no matter how well she played leading up to the final, it didn’t seem to stop her from self destructing. Mentally, I’m just not sure that Bepa has the strength to make it through all seven matches en route to a Grand Slam title.

Caroline Wozniacki

Will she win? Yes.

Caroline’s only 20 years old. She’s already made one Grand Slam final and she’s about to take over the world number 1 ranking, and while that certainly doesn’t guarantee Caro will win a Grand Slam, her resume’s pretty strong. She made the semifinals at this year’s US Open as the number one seed and I was very impressed with her return game. Overtime, I think Caroline’s game will continue to improve and best of all, she’s got youth on her side. The eight year age gap with Serena Williams means that she’ll have plenty of Slam opportunities with a Serena-less draw.

While one Slam is plenty impressive, when it comes to winning, more is better. So, will these former champions be able to add to their totals?

Novak Djokovic

Will he win again? Yes.

From the 2005 French Open to Wimbledon 2009 (18 Slams,) Novak Djokovic was the only man aside from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win a Grand Slam title. He played an incredible match against Roger Federer at this year’s US Open and took Nadal to four sets in the final. At 23, he’s got plenty more opportunities to win. Let’s just hope that one of the Slams is unseasonably cool.

Roger Federer

Will he win again? Yes.

This is probably the biggest debate in tennis right now. Roger Federer is 29. His amazing semifinal streak ended at this year’s French Open and he only won two titles so far this year, although one of them was the Australian Open. Well, Fed’s doubters are fools. Even if he only plays for another 2 years (he definitely wants to compete in the 2012 Olympics,) that’s 8 more chances at a 17th Grand Slam title. He’s won 16 on the last 30 Grand Slams. Do you really want to bet against him?

Andy Roddick

Will he win again? No.

It kills me to write this. I still tear up watching footage of the 2009 Wimbledon final. Just kidding, kind of. However, I’ve come to the realization that, at 28, it’s likely that Roddick will never win that illusive second major title. Last year, I would’ve given him a chance, but I think Wimbledon was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was potentially the best match Andy ever played and the defeat was clearly and understandably crushing. Andy has been unlucky enough to play the most matches against Roger Federer of any guy on tour with a lopsided head to head of 2 to 19, including four major finals, all won by Federer. When he finally decides to call it a day, I think Roddick will still be known as a one Slam winner, the 2003 US Open champion. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Maria Sharapova

Will she win again? No.

I started tossing around ideas for this article a week ago and I originally had Maria down as a yes. She’s three time major champion and just 23 years old, even though it seems like she’s been around forever. At that age, with that resume, it’s hard to believe that she won’t win again. I really thought that this year’s US Open was her chance. Her serve looked slightly more consistent and she had a pretty good draw. But then she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. I was still optimistic. However, Masha crashed out of Tokyo to Kimiko Date Krumm, who’s 40, yes 40. Since then, Maria’s decided to end her 2010 season. I’m just not sure that physically or mentally she’s ever going to get back to her old form. Maria’s titles came at Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. By virtue of the pattern, she really should have won this year’s French Open. I’m kidding, but that would’ve been awesome.

Venus Williams

Will she win again? No.

This one should be fairly obvious. She’s 30 and she has knee problems. She’ll wow us with crazy outfits for another couple years and eventually call it quits.

I’m sure you’ve realized I’ve left some pretty famous names off the list. There’s no question in my mind that Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will both win more majors, so I didn’t even bother including them. Did I miss out on your favorite? Feel free to let me know who you think will win, or who won’t. Comment below, or tweet me @achangeofends.

Coach Changes For Federer and Murray: The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Coach Onboard – One of the two big news stories that broke earlier in the week was that Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer has announced that he’ll be working with American coach Paul Annacone. Paul Annacone is one of the most respected coaches in the sport, and his work speaks for itself. He’s had the experience of dealing with a legend of the game in Pete Sampras, as well as helping a guy discover his best form late in a career as shown in his work with Tim Henman. With the possible exception of someone like a Darren Cahill, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for Federer at this stage in his career. The move also represents just one more signal that Federer is still hungry and is committed to getting back to the top, and he’s not afraid to admit that he may not be able to do it solo. Annacone still has some lingering commitments to the LTA before the two can consider going fulltime, but this has all the makings of another positive turnaround in Federer’s career.

Coach Overboard
– On the opposite end of the coaching carousel is the news concerning Andy Murray and Miles Maclagan. Murray announced that after just less than three years, he is parting ways with Maclagan. Murray explained the reasons behind the split, with most of them stemming from MacLagan and Murray having differing opinions about where he is and how to get to where he wants to be. I’m inclined to see this as a very positive move for Murray, and it’s no disrespect to Maclagan. He’s done a great job with Murray, taking him to two Grand Slam finals and the No. 2 singles ranking. But there’s no doubt that Murray’s career has at best stalled, and at worst, has been in a steady decline since the Aussie Open final, excluding his unexpected run to the semis of Wimbledon. Murray is in no rush to replace Maclagan and will be staying with his part-time coach, former professional Alex Corretja, through the US Open before reevaluating the situation. Sometimes a ball of negative energy, Andy Murray can undoubtedly be a handful to coach, but there’s bound to be a nice selection of coaching candidates willing to harness that emotion and take a talented player like Murray to the next level. Stay tuned…

Fish Flying High – Confident coming off his win in Newport, Fish continued to accumulate the victories with his second straight tournament win in the inaugural ATP event in Atlanta. Battling the competition and searing summer temperatures, Fish hung on to take a third set tiebreak over fellow American John Isner in the final. It’s great to see Mardy’s hard work to get in better shape and bounce back from injury is paying dividends in a relatively short window of time. It’s also good to see him playing it smart, opting to withdraw from singles competition in Los Angeles in order to rest and give his tweaked ankle an opportunity to recuperate (and it’s probably not such a bad thing his attempt to win the doubles was abruptly cut short by the Bryan Brothers). If Fish continues to grow in confidence, he could be a dangerous floater this summer, and with his ranking jumping yet another 14 places after his performance in Atlanta, he may even earn a seed for the final major of 2010.


The Road Back?
– Less publicized over the weekend was former World No. 5 Anna Chakvetadze’s win over Johanna Larsson to win the Slovenia Open. Chakvetadze seems to have predominantly (and understandably) gone in a downward spiral ever since the traumatic robbery experience she and her family endured at their family home in Moscow in late 2007. With her ranking now outside the top 100, Chakvetadze has been a mere shadow of the Top 5 player she once was, but this win in Slovenia may just give the Russian the confidence she needs to get her ranking and her game going in the right direction once again.

Not Hanging it Up…Yet – Earlier in the year, James Blake looked all but ready to retire. He wasn’t enjoying himself on the court, the wheels had come off his game, and he was playing with pain and a lingering injury. Now, after playing without pain and earning a relatively routine win over Leonardo Mayer in his opening match L.A. , Blake is feeling much more positive about his game. His current approach couldn’t be better, setting small goals and just enjoying being out on the court. Blake has always been one of the better sportsmen in the game, and he’s had some great results in his career. Will he get back into the Top 20? Top 50? That’s hard to say, but it’s great to see that Blake may at least be able to go out on a positive note and on his terms when the time comes.

Check World Tennis Magazine’s Interview with James Blake:

WILL GULBIS BE THE SHINING STAR FOR LATVIA?

While the cameras may have been focused on Dubai and Acapulco last week as the two largest tournaments taking place on the ATP Circuit, a (not-so) little Latvian was making history on the courts of Delray Beach in the United States.

The 6 foot, 3 inch, 21-year-old was in scintillating form and didn’t drop a set as he progressed to the final via wins over Ryan Harrison (USA), Teimuraz Gabashvili (RUS), Leonardo Mayer (ARG) and Jarkko Nieminen (FIN).

The final saw him line up against the Croat second seed Ivo Karlovic who was hoping to lift the title and crown on his 31st birthday in style. But as is always the case in these stories, Ernests hadn’t read the script.

To the astonishment of many in the watching crowd, he dropped only five games in a mesmerizing 6-2, 6-3 victory which saw him become the first male Latvian player to lift a singles title on the ATP Circuit. Queue the celebrations on the streets of Latvian Capital Riga.

Gulbis and Latvian tennis fans in general have rightly been crooning on internet message boards and forums.

“He played so well and I was pretty much in tears when he won. His smile and his little fist pump…I am so proud of him. He has gone through a lot and Karlovic is definitely right, this will be his break through year! I am so pumped for Indian Wells and so happy for Ernests,” beamed Stelle on menstennisforums.com.

“I have problems to find the words to tell how happy I am for him. What a brave effort. The guy was written off by almost everyone. So unfair often. But he showed what he is capable of. We can call him a champion now,” added moni.

But what does this mean for Latvian tennis exactly? Well, they finally have a male champion to add to the likes of Larisa Neiland, who won the 1989 French Open and 1991 Wimbledon doubles titles with Natasha Zvereva. They were also the runners up in ten other Grand Slam finals.

But the authorities will also be hoping that such victories help the infrastructure. Lifting from the Latvian Institute website (www.li.lv):

“Our accomplishments in professional sports are brighter than they might seem considering the available national sports infrastructure and the small number of people officially engaged in regular professional exercise.

“Secondly, it is a tradition that, in major international competitions, Latvian sportsmen and women compete with rivals who have many more advantages in terms of financing and human resources.

“Thirdly, approximately 100 different types of sports are developing more or less successfully in small Latvia with its population of just 2.4 million.”

Latvian basketball and ice hockey continues to produce successful worldwide exports and football continues to grow off the back of the Latvian’s qualification for the 2004 European Championships.

The same website lists Gulbis in its list of top Latvian sports stars and is very proud of what he has achieved on the tennis court considering the lack of funding they could provide for him which resulted in him flying the roost to seek coaching in Germany.

They recognize that the lack of help they can offer him and his fellow players could be holding them back:

“Gulbis is still showing signs of impatience and immaturity due to his young age, however if he can learn to harness his considerable talent and keep the pressure on his opponent, he will be a strong player. He has gotten this far on talent, but if he could commit to working with a seasoned coach he could emerge in the next year as a contender.”

Unfortunately, money controls everything and of course the Government has a lot to consider on top of sport when it comes to distributing funding. But if Ernests can continue to add to his trophy haul alongside the successes of his fellow sportsmen (including some terrific performances at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) then the future prodigies of Latvia can receive a greater start in their careers than Ernests had.

Sport can set a people free and unite a nation in support of their brightest talents. This will not be lost on the authorities who can look at a long list of great powers who used sport as a way of cultivating and developing their people (namely Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and, to a lesser extent, the USA and United Kingdom).

I have seen Ernests Gulbis play only once, in his straight-set defeat to Andy Murray at last year’s US Open, but what I saw impressed me. It reminded me of a young Murray; power and will let down by physical frame and, as mentioned above, concentration levels.

With every achievement directing a few more glances towards one of Europe’s smallest nations the Latvian Government will be pining for more moments like these, preferably at the three remaining Grand Slams of the year.

As well as the opportunity of being Latvia’s brightest star the knowledge and understanding of how his success can help the prospects of his descendents should be more than enough to spur on a player who continues to show that you don’t necessarily need the greatest financial backing to earn success.