retirements

Retirements Plague the US Open Men’s Draw

by Kevin Craig

@Kcraig_Tennis

 

The first round of the 2015 US Open has produced some history. An Open Era record 10 retirements occurred in the first round, including big names like Gael Monfils, Alex Dolgopolov, Marcos Baghdatis, and Ernests Gulbis. Seeing a player get hurt is never a good thing, especially at this tournament as it is what many players have worked for all year long.
Florian Mayer and Radek Stepanek were two of the players forced to retire on the first day of play, which may not come as a surprise to many due to their histories with injuries as Mayer and Stepanek have been forced to miss a lot of time from the tour in recent months. Each player made it through three sets, but was forced to pull the plug in the fourth set of their respective matches, giving Martin Klizan and Marsel Ilhan victories through to the second round.

Retirements that were more of a surprise on Day 1 came from Yen-Hsun Lu, Pablo Andujar, Dolgopolov, and Monfils. Lu was unable to get anything going in his match as he retired down two sets to love and 3-0 in the third set. Andujar and Dolgopolov each retired after the end of sets, while Monfils called it quits two points away from dropping a set. Andujar’s match was level at two sets all, while Dolgopolov and, essentially, Monfils were down two sets to one.

Day 2 saw more of the same as Alex Nedovyesov, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Gullbis, and Baghdatis each were unable to make it through their matches. Kokkinakis had battled Richard Gasquet at a very high level of play for the majority of four sets, but succumbed to cramps at the end of the fourth. Unable to move or hit serves effectively, the Australian was forced to retire after going down a break in the fifth set. Gulbis and Nedovyesov both retired in the third sets of their matches, with Gulbis’ match even at one set all and Nedovyesov down two sets to love. Baghdatis was only three games from losing when he ended his match.

With nine retirements, nine five-set matches, and a few seeds being upset highlighting the first round of the US Open on the men’s side, surely there will be many more unexpected events occurring throughout the rest of the tournament.

The WTA’s Lost Girls

One of the things that makes tennis so unique is the ability to categorize periods in the sport by generations; the struggle of the “new guard” to take control from the “old guard” is a constantly recurring narrative. With the news Wednesday that Agnes Szavay has officially retired from professional tennis due to lingering back issues, it’s only right to take a look at the highest-profile players in what can be dubbed “The Lost Generation” of the WTA; each of these women, fairly close in age, all found success over a short period of time that all went away in an instant due to injuries, personal problems or both.

It all began with Nicole Vaidisova.

In 2004, her first full season as a professional, Vaidisova became the sixth-youngest champion in WTA at the Tier V event in Vancouver, aged 15 years, three months and 23 days. Behind her strong serve and attacking baseline game, Vaidisova looked to be the next champion who had been groomed of the courts of the Bollettieri academy.

Despite being born in 1989, Vaidisova was a force on the senior circuit while her contemporaries were still playing juniors. When she made the semifinals of Roland Garros in 2006, defeating Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Williams along the way, Caroline Wozniacki was the second seed in the junior event, players including Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova were unseeded there, and Agnieszka Radwanska won the title; in addition, Victoria Azarenka was the 2005 ITF Junior World Champion. Vaidisova reached her second Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in 2007, and peaked at No. 7 in May of that year.

Also in 2007, the trio of Anna Chakvetadze, Tatiana Golovin and Szavay arrived.

Golovin burst on to the scene very early in her professional career, reaching the fourth round in her debut at the 2004 Australian Open and winning the mixed doubles with Richard Gasquet at their home slam in Paris later that year. She boasted an impressive all court game, also highlighted by a lethal forehand. Inconsistency followed, but Golovin found form late in 2006, when she reached her first, and only, Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open. She captured her two career WTA titles in 2007, finished runner-up to Justine Henin in two big events in the fall indoor season, and ended that year as World No. 13.

At her peak, Chakvetadze was perhaps the only player with legitimate claim to the (oft-misguided) comparison to Martina Hingis; Hingis herself affirmed the comparisons, once stating, “She’s very smart around the court and she has good vision. You don’t see anything specific that she’s winning matches [with] so I definitely see some similarities.” The Russian burst on the scene in 2004 as well, when she qualified and defeated reigning Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina in the first round of the US Open. Following a steady rise, she won her biggest career title at the Tier I event in Moscow in late 2006; on the back of a quarterfinal in Australia in 2007, she made her top 10 debut in February. Another quarterfinal at Roland Garros, a semifinal at the US Open and four titles put her among the elite at the 2007 Year-End Championships in Madrid. She is one of only a handful of players who can boast a win over both Williams sisters.

Possessed with a strong serve and elegant two-handed backhand, Szavay rose from obscurity to “destined for stardom” in a matter of a few months in 2007. As a qualifier at the Tier II event in New Haven, she reached the final, where she was forced to retire against Svetlana Kuznetsova up a set due to…a lower back injury; looking back, an injury which had originally been attributed to a taxing week may have been a sign of things to come. Nonetheless, Szavay reached the quarterfinals of the US Open, where she was again stopped by Kuznetsova. The Hungarian pulled off a lot of upsets in 2007, but perhaps greatest of these was her 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Jelena Jankovic in the Tier II event in Beijing; at a set and 5-1 down, Szavay hit a second serve ace down match point en route to one of the greatest WTA comebacks in recent memory.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsLq8_aGst8

After starting the season ranked No. 189, Szavay ended it ranked No. 20. For her efforts, she was named the 2007 WTA Newcomer of the Year.

With the good, sadly, came all the bad. Vaidisova suffered from mononucleosis in late 2007 and her form took a nosedive; she officially retired in 2010, as her stepfather stated she was “fed up with tennis” and that it was “understandable” because “she started so young.” Chakvetadze, after being tied up and robbed in 2007, dealt with a whole host of injuries; she too is currently sidelined with a recurring back injury. Having made a foray into Russian politics in 2011 with the Right Cause Party, and being a featured commentator on Russian Eurosport for the 2013 Australian Open, it’s unclear when or if she will return to competition. After reaching a career-high ranking of No. 12 in early 2008, Golovin has been inactive since due to chronic lower back inflammation, and has ruled out a return. Whilst still being troubled by her back, Szavay showed only flashes of her best form in the seasons since, including upsetting then-World No. 3 Venus Williams 6-0, 6-4 in the third round at Roland Garros in 2009. 2010 was her last full season; a failed comeback in 2012 concluded with a retirement loss to countrywoman Greta Arn in the first round of the US Open, her last professional match.

It’s hard to say if this quartet could’ve taken the next step into legitimate slam contenders, or even champions, more than five years removed from their days in the sun. But largely due to matters outside their control, we’ll never even know.

 

Further Calls for a Shorter Tour Highlight Injury Problems

Last week’s article looked at whether Russian star Elena Dementieva’s shock retirement outlined a tendency for money-rich stars to get out of the sport for other pursuits more readily. Over the past few days interviews with top players have seen calls for a shorter tour due to the physical strains the current setup puts on players contributing to early retirements.

The professional tennis tour currently lasts through nearly eleven months of the year with a bevy of tournaments and challengers being hosted every week for players to choose from. During the Dementieva piece it was highlighted how the Top 10s on either side can afford to pick and choose their tournaments more carefully as they already have a host of ranking points backing them up.

For everyone else, however, it’s a case of scrounge every point you can get. It’s like an expensive, and slightly more entertaining, version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. It makes for a long and exciting tour for us fans but what about the pros involved week-in, week-out?

Over recent years a number of top pros have “fizzled out” due to injury or mental strain after a bright start. Jennifer Capriati faced all sorts of issues off-court while players like Marcos Baghdatis and David Nalbandian have never quite reached where they should have because of continual injuries.

As we speak, Nikolay Davydenko has had his 2010 ruined due to wrist injuries while we can only hope that Juan Martin Del Potro returns as exciting and vigorous as he was throughout 2009 next year.

And further down the ladder, American Taylor Dent has finally given up the goose after doing so well to fight back from a debilitating back injury. It is so sad to see such problems happen to genuinely worthy individuals. Of course they are always thankful for what they have experienced and accomplished. But there is no doubt that they will always feel they could, and probably should, have had more.

With Rafael Nadal’s mentor Toni admitting that Rafa is going to have to play a reduced calendar from 2011 to prevent complete destruction of his knees, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have also been calling for a reduced tour to help the physical and mental conditions of people who, for all the fame, riches and glory, do spend roughly ten months of the year away from friends and family having to keep themselves in peak condition for fear of losing touch with the top.

“I think it’s time we shifted back a bit and we get a proper off-season,” said world No. 2 Federer. “Four weeks is just not enough. I think six is much better as you can take two weeks off… practise three, four weeks which is a lot for us in our world.”

Federer also added that it may help the closing tournaments of the year who are often hit with withdrawals from top players who have either long-since secured their places at the WTA/ATP Finals, or want to end the year earlier to enable them to recuperate and prepare for their assault on the Australian Open.

The calls have previously been backed by Nadal and also world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who both sit with Federer on the Players’ Council.

Andy Murray also added that players such as Dent, Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt would be helped by a less demanding schedule being placed on their body.

“There’s no time for you to take a break to get rid of an injury,” the 23-year-old Scotsman told The Sun newspaper. “Instead players end up playing through it and that actually shortens careers.

“There should be fewer mandatory tournaments because you get punished so much for being injured and I don’t really think that’s fair. If after the US Open you had two or three months when you could actually take time off to recover, players would have longer careers.”

It’s not just the length of the tour which proves a gripe for some players either. Some despise the constant switch between surfaces and the changes in speed from one tournament to another prove a problem for consistency. Before this week, 64 ATP Tournaments had been played this calendar year. We’ve had 36 on hard courts, 22 on clay and six on grass.

“I like varying surfaces… indoor tennis should be fast,” said Murray. “But it’s annoying when it changes week to week. Last week [in Valencia] was one of the slowest courts we’ve had all year, and here it was lightning quick.

“It would be nice for the players to have a run of tournaments on the same surfaces. It’s tough to play tennis week in, week out if you’re always changing the surface. You’re not going to play your best tennis after just two days.”

The new, lightning-quick surface at Paris is proving a hit with the players who feel that many have been slowed down too much in recent years.

“It’s a different type of tennis,” said American No. 1 Andy Roddick. “I believe it’s become so monotonous … it feels like there is a slow court available nine months of the year.”

Federer backed up those sentiments: “It’s nice that some tournaments have made the courts faster again. I’m not saying it should be the trend for all the tournaments, but indoors is supposed to be faster. We only have one indoor Masters 1000, so I think it should be the fastest one, which is the case.

“Shanghai was brutally slow; Toronto was very slow as well. The only other one that is a little bit fast is Cincinnati, then Miami and Indian Wells have been also slowed down drastically. It’s good for the players, honestly, to experience a faster court again, and a bit of two-shot tennis is fun for a change to do. It’s tricky, it’s not easy—but it’s fun.”

Could the change in surfaces be contributing to the increase in injuries? Could the continuing change of pace be a problem? The Sports Medicine Information website lists common tennis injuries along with treatment and prevention techniques. Surely one of the biggest preventions of all would be to reduce the strain on tennis pros?

The ATP schedules for 2012 and 2013 will be finalised during a series of board meetings to take place during the ATP Finals in London in the next couple of weeks. It remains to be seen whether they will listen to their top pros or whether the dollar signs will continue to be too hard to resist.

The Weekly Debrief – Federer praises Fish; Microphones in player boxes at US Open?

In this week’s Debrief, I catch you up on Sunday’s final in Cincinnati where Roger Federer fistpumped his way into a victory, touch on Mardy Fish’s current mental attitude, update you on the 2012 Olympics, and analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly about a new fan enhancement in effect at this year’s US Open, microphones in the player boxes. Wait, really? Yes. But first …. Federer.

Top Five

Roger Federer is once again the forerunner of this year’s US Open after taking the title Sunday in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. He defeated American Mardy Fish in a tight three-setter, 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 6-4.

What makes Federer’s run in Cincinnati so alluring is that he had only played a total of 37 minutes to reach the quarterfinals, and only 3 hours and 26 minutes to reach yesterday’s final. Compare that to Fish’s time on court prior to the final, 10 hours and 22 minutes, and the disparity is staggering. How could this have happened at a Masters 1000 event? And exactly how lucky is Federer? Well, Fish entered as a wildcard and proceeded to play all six rounds, with his quarterfinal and semifinal matches each going to three sets. Federer, however, had a first-round bye, a second-round retirement victory over Denis Istomin, and a third-round walkover from Philipp Kohlschreiber. Exactly how lucky IS Federer? Well, of the tournament’s four retirements, two came as a direct benefit to Federer.

This was only Federer’s second title of the season, as he had fallen in his last three finals in Madrid, Halle and Toronto.

This is a breakthrough of sorts for a champion whose tennis genius has been challenged by several players this year alone. The wide gap that once existed between the “King” and the rest of the players has diminished, allowing the upcoming US Open to have one of the deepest fields in recent times. Federer could come out crushing in Flushing Meadows, but he could also come out crashing as he did in Wimbledon, struggling from his very first match. Either way, he is fully prepared to attain that coveted trophy again.

Speaking of Mardy Fish, he’s had quite a decorated summer himself. Despite losing to Federer in a match that could have gone either way, he also improved to 2-0 in the year against Andy Roddick and 3-0 against Andy Murray.

His newfound game is most directly a result of his weight loss, but as with any change in a person’s life, their mental attitude tends to be even more telling of their physical state. Take, for example, John Isner’s recent annoyance about “still” being questioned regarding his second-round Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut. Or Francesca Schiavone’s “so over it” attitude concerning how her life has changed after her Roland Garros win this year. Fish, on the other hand, has been constantly questioned about his weight loss and how it’s affected his game. He began his regimen when he went in for knee surgery in September of 2009. He then changed his diet, lifestyle, and obviously mindset because, almost a year later, he still doesn’t mind the reporters and fans asking him the same question about his weight loss. He’s proud of his commitment and it has paid off, why not enjoy it?

In Federer’s presser after his win over Fish, he applauded him for his “great serve,” accuracy and mixing up his shots and pace to keep Federer on his toes. “He’s got a great serve,” Federer remarked. “He keeps you guessing. His first serve is particularly hard to read and get any proper play on it. I saw the stats against Roddick, and he had 95% first serve winning percentage, not only here, but in Atlanta.” Although it looks like Fish will be seeded in the US Open, he will likely be at the top of many people’s lists for a possible upset of any of the top four men in the field.

On the heels of Serena Williams’ announcement that she has withdrawn from the US Open, last year’s men’s titlist, Juan Martin del Potro, has also withdrawn citing a recovering right wrist injury. To most avid tennis fans, this isn’t really “news,” but when it’s officially stated, it still stings.

Del Potro’s only tournament this year came at the Australian Open where he made a run to the fourth round. Currently, at number ten in the world rankings, after the US Open he is expected to drop out of the top 30. No doubt, a plummet in the rankings hurts del Potro’s return. However, it will also alleviate some of the expectations that people have of him coming back and winning every tournament he enters right away. “It would have been a pretty tall task for him to come back and [at] his first tournament be a major player,” said Andy Roddick. “That’s something that’s built up over time.”

So, the ugly injury list continues. We now add del Potro to an already-growing field of withdraws: Mario Ancic, Ivo Karlovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Haas. Here’s to hoping this list doesn’t grow any longer, but with the intensity of today’s tennis game and players being in a perpetual state of injury and pain, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two more players withdrew.

The 2012 Olympics in London are still two years away, but there are already announcements coming from tournament staff concerning the dress code at the tennis games. While Wimbledon is known for its all-white dress attire, the All England Tennis Club has decided to suspend the dress code for the London games which will be played at the same venue. “We have been very supportive to the Olympic organizers throughout the process,” stated AELTC chief executive Ian Ritchie. “We hope to some extent there will be a different type of audience. It is not a repeat of the Championships. It will be its own competition, have its own style and it will play out in its own way.”

Another change will be that only 12 of the available 17 courts will be in use, bringing down crowd capacity from 40,000 to 26,000. The question I have is whether there will still be a desire from fans to watch tennis a mere 20 days after the completion of Wimbledon, especially when there are so many sports at the London Games. The 2012 tennis event will also be the first to have mixed doubles, bringing the medal count to five: men’s and women’s singles as well as men’s and women’s doubles. If nothing else brings in the money, the mixed doubles may. It will be interesting to see possible new pairings such as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, or Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

Last week, the USTA announced that it is expanding its “fan enhancements” for the 2010 US Open. It began with the inaugural US Open National Playoffs earlier this summer and will continue with venue improvements in Flushing Meadows, as well as online.

After reading about all the enhancements, I realized that one stood out unlike the rest. “Microphones in the Players Boxes.” Wait, is this what I think it is? “For the first time, microphones have been installed in the player boxes in Arther Ashe Stadium, which will help viewers get even closer to the emotion and drama of the US Open by adding perspective of the players’ guests as matches unfold.”

Can I admit that I’m a bit surprised this is allowed? As much as I would enjoy getting into the head of a player’s coach or parent, I wonder if every player and their guests are aware of this new “enhancement.” Some players don’t talk about their personal lives much, and many don’t disclose what they need to improve on in their game specifically. This lack of privacy that this new enhancement allows simply can’t be what they signed up for. Although I’m sure there will be player guests and teams that don’t cheer or say much during a match, others are quite vocal. Taking it one step further, who will be monitoring their conversations? The ESPN2 and Tennis Channel staff? They’re already armed with more information than the typical fan needs sometimes, why further disrupt the privacy of a player’s team by granting us access to their guests? I think a line needs to be drawn now or soon there may be a new “enhancement” that forces coaches to wear microphones at all times while they’re coaching so we can get “added perspective” as fans. Come on, enough is enough. Let us just watch what we signed up for: the beauty of the game.

ATP Bonus
Two greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were interviewed by Cincinnati.com junior journalists last week. They ask Rafa how he celebrates after a great win and Roger on his cooking skills. These girls are asking great questions and better than some professional media out there!

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP Tour. We’ve got you covered!