TennisReporters.net 2014 ATP & WTA Coaches of the Year

Voting will run through Dec. 23 … Please vote!

Bringing out the stars

At the end of 2013, the top players dramatically changed their coaches. Novak Djokovic announced he had hired Boris Becker, and Roger Federer asked Stefan Edberg to consult with him. Kei Nishikori working with Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic coaching Marin Cilic.

Only Toni Nadal had stayed put, and Magnus Norman had helped Wawrinka in 2013 and knew that he was about to arise in a serious manor.

At the end of 2014, the former standouts that are now retired listened to their players and all of them cheered. Wawrinka won the his first Slam by taking the Aussie Open, Nadal won Roland Garros again, Djokovic never stopping when anyone could have folded and he won Wimbledon; and Cilic find who his first title by bashing through and winning the US Open. Federer may not have been able to win another major, but he was so close against Djokovic in Wimbledon but kept on pushing and winning the Davis Cut for the first time. Nishikori finally listened to what he needed to do, reach a first final and ended the year at No. 5.

Who is the top of the Coach of the Year? They all did well, or spectacularly very well, this year.

Toni Nadal is the only man of the five selected coaches who neither won majors or came very close. He never played for the ATP, but he is extremely smart, which is why after Rafa owns 14 Slams. Uncle Toni might win the poll again, but Magnus, Boris and Goran kept calm and knew when to push their opponents or make them back off. Magnus taught him that he would never say die, while Stefan convinced his all-time great that he will be happier than Davis Cup than anything else around.

So pick your choice, but make sure that the man is truly the most successful choice.

Psychology important with the women

On the WTA side, things have also changed. Maria Sharapova hired Sven Groeneveld at the end of 2013; Nick Saviano grabbed Eugenie Bouchard around the same time and Wim Fissette signed up with Simona Halep in February.

Groeneveld has been around for a long time, bringing Ana Ivanovic to win Roland Garros in 2008 and for Sharapova she did again, as the Russian won Paris for the second time. Sharapova faced Halep in the final, where Fissette (who once coached another former Slam champ Kim Clijsters) helped the Romanian to keep her on the ball and she nearly won it.

Saviano had known Bouchard for years, but rarely traveled with her. This year he decided to try it out and the Canadian was immediately focused, reaching the semifinals of the Aussie Open and Roland Garros and reaching the Wimbledon final.

But there are three coaches whom we know well and are smart enough to be quite when their charges are upset: Carlos Rodriguez with Li Na, David Kotyza with Petra Kvitova and Patrick Mouratoglou with Serena Williams. If they were mad, all you need to know was to shrug their shoulder. When they began to feel better, it was time to release them and tell them its time to rip the ball.  They did and all three of them won Slams again: Li at the Aussie Open, Petra at Wimbledon and Serena at the US Open.

No WTA player was perfect this year, but every player was darn good. It’s finding out which coach was needed the most. Your choice, but it has to be a smart one.

 

Can the ATP top 5 stay there?

POLL RESULTS
Milos Raonic 41%
Grigor Dimitrov 39%
Marin Cilic 9%
Ernests Gulbis 6
Gael Monfils 5%

Cilic, Raonic, Dimitrov, Gulbis and Monfils all are ready to move up

At some point in the future, say the next two years (2017 to start), the Big 4 of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray will no longer be dominating and another group will push them out of the elite group. Eventually, things change and the Big 4 won’t be easily sitting in the top 5.

This year, the season ended between No 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer, No. 3 Nadal, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka and No. 5 Kei Nishikori. Murray is No. 6, who was way down and struggling seriously big time until he was rose up in the fall — until he faced against Federer in London and collapsed. Can he reconstruct his purpose quickly? That we do not know but we do know the two-time Slam champion believes he can beat anyone, except for the rest of the Big 4, whom he did not beat him during the 2014 season. Even if he loses to the Big 3 during 2015, he still could finish in No. 4.

But the big question remains: Is the new bread ready to pounce and finish in the top 5 at the end in 2015?

Not everyone has a serious chance, but there are enough who are encouraged and ready to make it very close to the top 5. Will they stay for more than brief moments or will they stay? Here are a few who have yet to end 2015 in the top 5:

cilic goran 14

US Open champ Cilic has the potential to grab a 2015 slam.

Marin Cilic: The Croatian finally broke out, smashing with serves, forehands, backhands and at the net, winning the US Open. He is tall and he’s in great shape, but he gets hurt and can become depressive. He has to steady his nerves and, if he does, he will have another Slam in his pocket.

Milos Raonic: The Canadian is consistently better year after year. His backhand has improved in 2014 — which is mandatory – and he is looking why he should be thinking about his better point construction. He is very aggressive, but he has to begin to best the top guys or he will never make it.

Grigor Dimitrov: The Bulgarian is a very colorful person and when he on fire, he can actually beat just about anyone, including the Big 4. But even though he can dance and react to size of the back, he can also grow at impatient and lose games before he wakes up. The top men have lasted so long because they don’t think about messy calls. They yell, they glare, but then they move onto their next point. Dimitrov must go the same, because if he does, he will look as pretty as Federer does by dipping wicking slices with their one-handed backhands, or he can be stuck in their mud outside of the top 10 forever.

Ernests Gulbis: The 26-year-old came a long way from outside  the top 100 and now is ranked No. 13, but the talkative Latvian started fast and then slowed down fast. He is a very flashy opponent who isn’t afraid to go for his shots. Many fans discovered who he is when he took down Federer and Tomas Berdych to reach the Roland Garros semis, before he went down to Novak Djokovic. He looked like he was ready to really break out, but after Paris, he did nothing after July, losing everywhere and everyone on grass and hard courts in the fall. He likes to talk about how good he is, but to ever reach the top 5, he has to commit to playing hard for an entire season and he’s never really been close for that.

Monfils IW 10 MALT6324

Monfils has the talent to return to top 10 but can he break into the elite circle? Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Gael  Monfils: Can the Frenchman looked as good as he ever was when he stunned Federer in the Davis Cup final, or will the world No. 19 stay healthy enough and make the top 5 for the first time? The quick-footed Monfils once reached No. 7 in 2011, but he began to slip. The 28-year-old has been consistently hurt due to his sore knees, but he can play for hours and loves his crowds. He lives for long points, but he can swing away from his first serve and his gigantic forehands. He looks like he will make one last push, but staying in the top 5 for more than a week or so? This time, why not?

Where does Federer go next?

Nadal IW 13 TR MALT9260One week before the Davis Cup final between the Swiss and France, Roger Federer somehow managed to play even though he was hurt on Saturday against Stan Wawrinka in the ATP Finals semifinal.

He won a classic over his buddy, Stan, but then his back was very sore, making him pull out vs. Novak Djokovic, and the Serbian won the year-end prize.

No one knew whether Federer would be able to play on Friday against France, but some how, some way he got out there. Even though he lost that day against the high-flying Gael Monfils, he still showed up. Just seeing the Swiss team watch Federer trying even though he was stiff, they grew more inspired and they were ready to take down anyone who was in their path.

Wawrinka played terrific crunching Jo-Wilfried, the pair of Federer/Wawrinka in doubles were out of this world, wasting Richard Gasquet/Julie Benneteau on Saturday, and when Tsonga got hurt again and couldn’t play, Federer was there, feeling healthier and ready to rock and roll. He blew apart Gasquet and the Swiss won for the first time ever in Davis Cup, shutting them down 3-1. They smiled all day and all night long.

Who’s the best?

So now Federer has won just about everything. He has won 17 Grand Slams, all four majors, Master Series crowns all over the place, 82 titles overall, and about to go over 1000 career records in Australia in January.  Really, there is nothing to gain any more, except perhaps the 2016 Olympic. He and Stan won in the doubles in 2008 Beijing, but Roger hasn’t won the singles there. And yes, he fell to Andy Murray in the 2012 London – and that hurt – but it is not as important of the Slams, or really, not even as important as the Davis Cup, at least for me.

The Davis Cup is different, because there are national teams which have to work with each other. It is not just one person winning by himself. This time, Federer and Wawrinka worked with each other and it paid off, as they were hurting or tired or not playing great. They just kept going at it. He will never forget that; neither will Stan.

Essentially, it is pretty clear that Federer is considered The GOAT, the Greatest of All Time Perhaps, but the one thing we do now is that there is one man who is nipping at the heels of the GOAT. That man is Rafael Nadal, owning 14 Grand Slams, and who has won a huge amount of Masters Series, has won Davis Cups, and who won the Olympics gold in 2008 in singles. Will Nadal actually win four more Slams and pass Federer to reach 18 majors? I doubt it given that Nadal is constantly hurt again and missed much of this season after June.

But what we do now is that Nadal is 23-10 over Federer in head to head and that is huge.

Roger is 33 years old and Rafa is 28 years old. As the old man is getting a bit slower and you’ve got to figure Federer will retire after the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. But, what if Nadal beats Fed another say four more times? Will the Swiss retire down 10-27 in head to head and say, “I’m the Best Ever” over the guy who beat him again and again? Will he actually say that, or will Federer just say to the tennis media, “What all of you decide is fine by me.”

What we don’t know, but will find out, which one will wins in 2015.

But what we did find out last week is that Federer rose up and pocketed a very necessary win to help grab the Davis Cup for the Swiss.

Now we know that Federer is battling again.

But, considering the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry, we almost have a brand new world.

Warwrinka, healthy Federer snare Davis Cup doubles victory

Gasquet will face Nadal

Gasquet can’t raise his level in doubles.

LILLE, FRANCE — The Roger Federer magic finally emerged on the second day of the Davis Cup final, he and Stan Wawrinka taking the doubles to give Switzerland a 2-1 lead going into the final day. But while it keeps alive Federer’s dream of capturing the one top-level title he has never won, the architect of this victory was Wawrinka, who is rapidly becoming the Swiss hero this weekend.

It’s been a mystery why Federer and Wawrinka have had such a poor record in Davis Cup since winning Olympic doubles gold in Beijing six years ago. When they lost to Golubev-Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan in April’s quarter-finals, they looked as shaky as a scratch pairing. But both brought missing pieces to today’s party – Federer brought the volleys he has honed in recent months with more forays to the net in his singles, while Wawrinka brought the overt confidence he developed during the ATP Finals in London and that clearly has not been shaken by his heartbreaking defeat to Federer a week ago. They have also been working this week with David McPherson, the Bryan brothers’ coach,  who Switzerland’s captain Severin Lüthi brought in to help maximise the Swiss pair’s potential.

The result was a superb display by the two men in red, one Federer described as “the best doubles Stan and I have ever played”. While Federer picked up the low volleys that would beat most people and swooped like a gazelle for some high backhand volley interceptions, Wawrinka provided the raw aggression from the back of the court. For two sets the French pair of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet stuck with them, but once Gasquet was broken in the 11th game of the second set, the French spirit seemed broken, and the Swiss bludgeoned their way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 victory in two hours 10 minutes.

With all the focus on Federer, in particular following the back problem that forced him to forfeit last Sunday’s ATP final against Novak Djokovic, the focus has failed to pick up that the French are far from the happy camp they have seemed to date. At French practice on Saturday morning, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga spent the whole time practising alongside Gasquet, and as it was Tsonga-Gasquet who beat Berdych-Stepanek in the doubles of September’s semi-final at Roland Garros, many expected Tsonga-Gasquet to be France’s pair. The French sports
daily L’Equipe even announced on its website that Tsonga would replace Benneteau.

But he didn’t. Benneteau played, and Tsonga didn’t turn up on the French bench until late in the second set. That has left question marks hanging over who will play singles against Federer in Sunday’s first reverse singles. After Tsonga’s pallid showing against Wawrinka on Friday, if he has a problem – whether to do with confidence or health – he could be cannon fodder. France’s other options are Benneteau or Gasquet, but Gasquet was picked on mercilessly by the Swiss in the doubles so his confidence won’t be high, while Benneteau had to have treatment on a thigh or lower back problem late in the third set. It does not look good for France.

The French pair pulled up the drawbridge when asked about Tsonga’s health. ‘We always expected to play the doubles,’ Benneteau said. He also denied rumours that Tsonga has a wrist problem, and said the only reason Tsonga practised with Gasquet on Saturday morning was that it fitted the time at which each player wanted to hit. Believe it if you will.

Although Benneteau and Gasquet have played together several times and won an Olympic bronze medal in 2012, Gasquet’s refusal to play in the deuce court meant Benneteau had to take that role. Benneteau has done that in the past, notably partnering Michaël Llodra, but he has played the past season in the advantage court partnering Edouard Roger-Vasselin. And if you break the match down, the French were undone by their inability to return well enough.

Federer served first, to send the signal that he wasn’t having to tread carefully with his back, but Wawrinka was the dominant player in the first set. He ran Nadal-like back to the baseline after the coin toss, he pummelled his returns, and he did most of the talking. It was like the younger brother finally losing his awe of the illustrious big brother.

The match was of very high quality. All four players came in behind every serve, there were some acrobatic volleys, which produced scintillating rallies. It was in many ways the ultimate in doubles and illustrates one of the unheralded jewels Davis Cup can often produce.

If the French were to make any headway they had to take control in the second set. They had a break point on a shaky Federer service game, they then had two break points in each of Wawrinka’s next two service games, while holding their own serve with ease. But by the time the Swiss had levelled at 4-4, the French were 0-5 on break points, and it cost them. They survived two break points at 4-4, but at 5-5 Wawrinka’s aggressive returning opened up an opportunity the Swiss were determined to take, and minutes later the visitors were 2-0 up.

After that it was all Switzerland, and at one point in the third set Federer and Wawrinka were both left with broad smiles after winning a glorious rally. By then they were unstoppable – Gasquet saved two break points at 1-1 after leading 40-0, but that proved the last game the French won, as the Swiss reeled off the last four games to seal a deserved victory.

Benneteau was doing his best to keep French spirits up. “Tomorrow could be one of the most beautiful days in French tennis,” he said, “so we have to keep the spirit up.” But ominously for the French, Federer, answering what he said would be his last question on the subject of his back, said “Whatever it feels like, I feel at 100 per cent now, and I expect to be that way tomorrow.”

If it is, there looks to be only one winner.

Federer unable to play ATP Final due to bad back

roger-federer-wilson-racket

Federer looks beyond London to Davis Cup final.

LONDON – Roger Federer pulled through an historic event when he fought off fourth matches and overcame his friend, Stan Wawrinka, 4‑6, 7‑5, 7‑6 in the semis on ATP World Tour Finals Saturday. But by the time he woke up, he was way too sore and, although he tried, he couldn’t loosen it up and give it a go. The Swiss couldn’t walk on the court against Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday and compete. The world No. 1 Djokovic walks away with another title. Once again, he advances himself as a legend of the fall season.

Federer did not want to risk it because next week the Swiss will face France away in the Davis Cup final. Perhaps he would have played in London on Sunday. But given that Djokovic had played excellent this week, he would have had at least being able to compete say at 80 percent. Against the Serbian who was ready to rumble, he didn’t have much of a chance.

But No. 2 Federer wanted a real chance, as the 33-year-old does is still aiming to reach No. 1 someday for the last time. But, today, he decided not risk it.

“I am sorry to announce that I cannot play the finals tonight vs. Novak,” Federer said on his Facebook page. “I hurt my back late in the match yesterday against Stan.”

He later said, “I try all year to be ready for the ATP World Tour Finals, and I didn’t want it to end this way. But I tried everything I could last night, also today, painkillers, treatment, rest and so forth, warm-up till the very end. But just I can’t compete at this level with Novak. It would be too risky at my age to do this right now and I hope you understand.”

Federer may not say it, but the Davis Cup final in gigantic for him. The Swiss have never won the Davis Cup, and given knowing exactly what will occur during the entire season, that is very difficult to predicut who is healthy and who is hurt. If you are healthy and decided all year long to make Davis Cup a priority, then reaching the final is an important goal. This time around, the Swiss finally did.

However, no one really knows whether Federer will be able to play at all. But what we do know is that he will try to get healthy by Friday in Lille and hope that he can stand up, run around and out-think the assumed foe of Gael Monfils on clay.

France’s Monfils runs like the wind, but he is 2-8 against Federer and the Swiss has taken him down three times at Roland Garros. While Monfils pushed Federer to a fifth set in the US Open quarters – which the Swiss won – with Federer physically hurt, you may has well throw out the window.

Federer might be able to play for three hours and win, but he it is highly unlikely to play in Saturday for doubles. Perhaps he will be OK with a day’s rest and compete on Sunday, assuming that he or Wawrinka (who will face Jo Tsonga on Friday) or Swiss to have won at least a tie going into the final. Who knows, Federer could win two matches in Lille and celebrate one of the last pieces to his incredible resume. Or hurt his back hurt again and pulled out. If Federer can’t play next weekend, you may as well give the trophy to France.

What does Murray do after Federer’s demolition?

Andy Murray

Murray must start beating the other “Big 4″ to stay in the elite group. Mal Taam/MALT Photo

LONDON – Everyone can have bad days. Every person has experienced one or another. But if you look at the greats in tennis, all of them have admitted that they had a lousy match and learned from it. Or forgot about it. Or just threw it in the trash.

But exactly what will happen to Andy Murray mindset after he went down 6-0, 6-1 to Roger Federer on Thursday in a packed house? Everyone wanted to see their countryman win. He was back and ready to knock down the other best players? But he was not even close. He wasn’t in the ballpark or, in this case, The O2.

Murray has been unable to beat the big guys again. Yes, he has played well enough to beat anyone outside of the Big 4 and he looked pretty well during the fall. He scratched up to No. 5, largely because he outworked David Ferrer in October and early November. But against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer during the season, that was another story this year. Murray entered the ATP Finals knowing that he had gone 0-8 of the three guys this year.

That hurt, but a chance to taking down Federer and Djokovic, and that would have made the season.

Somehow he went all wrong and quickly. Murray whacked the ball in the first four points, but after that, he could not find his rhythm. He was never there. Federer played very well, but he never had to play great, even though it seemed he couldn’t miss his forehands, backhands, slices, rushing into the net, digging in, smashing, and pocketing balls deep.

It did not really matter because Murray couldn’t get anything going. It was impossible to tell what his plans were, because he did not have anything at all. He was so out of it that the fans were shaking and were afraid. Down 6-0, 5-0, somehow Federer made a couple of errors and Murray won a game. One single game to 6-0, 6-1. The fans cheered and laughed. Andy didn’t smile for a second. Federer found it odd, shook his hand and did not to celebrate 6-0, 6-1. So much for classic contests.

“Not so cool because I wouldn’t want to be in that position,” Federer said. “I was happy to get it done. At the end I was happy I didn’t win the second to last game to be quite honest. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t know. I don’t like it.”

Murray admitted that he did not play well at all – obviously – and that Federer was quite good. But what has his show for it this season? He won three tournaments, which is fine, but they were not Slams or ATP Masters Series. At a few times in 2014 he looked as though he would return to his normal self. But, as he said, it has been very hard to come back easily after his back surgery.

“The first three, four months were tough,” he said. “It was hard. Going through surgery isn’t easy. Maybe I didn’t appreciate that so much at the time. I found it quite frustrating at the beginning of the year. But then once I accepted that it’s a hard thing to go through, and obviously in the middle of that period I switched ‑‑ obviously stopped working with Ivan [Lendl].

“The French Open [Rafa Nadal] and Wimbledon [Grigor Dimitrov], I played well, but when I got to the semis of the French and the quarters of Wimbledon, I didn’t feel like I played well.

“Obviously tonight,I’m disappointed with those matches. I don’t want to play matches like that obviously.”

Murray is hearted of the fall as he did win Shenzhen (over Tommy Robredo), Vienne (over David Ferrer) and Valencia (over Robredo), but if he is going to have any chance in Australia, he is going to have to change it up. If Murray wants to remain his “Big 4,” he is going to have to start beating them on occasion, especially as the younger players like Kei Nishikori and and Milos Raonic become more formidable foes. Right now, he has to figure out exactly why and what will his answers be. At the very least, he has to work harder than before.

“It’s not a nice way to finish the year,” said Murray. “But I know there’s obviously a lot for me to work on now. I didn’t feel like I was playing that badly going into the match. I’d had some good wins the last few weeks. Had played decent against Milos. So obviously in that respect I know I’m going to have to put in a lot of work on the tennis court, a lot of work in on my game. If I want to start the season, with an opportunity to win in Australia, I’m going to have to put in a lot of work, that’s for sure.”

On fire again: Czechs Kvitova & Safarova out hit Germans

Kvitova IW 12 TR MALT1546

PRAGUE – Petra Kvitova began firing and she wouldn’t quit.

The 23 year old knew exactly what he would do on a super-fast hard court and she was swinging away. Yes, she did throw in a couple of sweet drop shots, but other than that, she banged the balls and believed that she would out hit Andrea Petkovic.

That is exactly what she did. Kvitova took down Petkovic 6-2, 6-4 to lead the Czech 1-0 over Germany in the Fed Cup final. Essentially she walked on the court, stared at her foe and said, “Can you slug it out harder than me?”

She could not. Although Petkovic moved much better in the second set, she was always behind. Petkovic had to deal with more pressure and, when she didn’t, she went down fairly quickly.

Kvitova decided that she wasn’t concerned about different tactics. The tall lefty hooked her serves that would swerve out wide. Petkovic would try to get the balls back in, but the Czech was all over the returns, which she powered out of the German’s reach.

The world No. 14 Petkovic is pretty fast, but the balls were racing like lightning. So it didn’t matter that should couldn’t get into the points. The German had to start attacking immediately but Kvitova punched her lights out.

Up 5-1 in the first set, Kvitova went into a walkabout and she was broken to 5-2, but she came right, smoking on a backhand down the line.

Petkovic pushed her hard in most of the second set, but could the German disturb Kvitova? She could not. Petkovic fought off break points serving at 3-4 with two terrific serves. In the next game Kvitova nailed a big ace to go 5-4.

Then the pressure rose and Petkovic could not settle down. With the 12,000 sold out screaming, at 30-all, the German missed a simple slice that flew away and a forehand that disappeared.

She was gone and Kvitova once again showed that more than anyone of the top 10, she has committed to Fed Cup time and time again.

Kvitova scored 25 winners, while Petkovic only came up with seven.
Kerber upset by Safarova

World no. 10 Angelique Kerber of Germany went out to fast and furious, and was up 4-2 in the first set, but No. 17 Lucie Safarova had other plans. Safarova has been pretty good since 2007, when the now 27-year-old can knock out some of the better players, but she has rarely been a major factor in the Slams. However, the lefty reached the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal, which shows that she doesn’t mind if she has to bend low. In fact, she likes to move quickly, set up for a shot and swing it super hard.

Two years ago, Kvitova was ill and Safarova has to close out the Czech Fed Cup final in Serbia. Safarova was electric, crushing Jelena Jankovic to the win 2012 Fed Cup in Prague.

Now, she was ready again, knowing that she could knock out Kerber if she was willing to be more aggressive. The two had more rallies than Kvitova and Petkovic did, but which of the lefties would swing out? That was Safarova, who knew exactly where and when she should go for her shots.

 

At 5-4 on set point down, Kerber crushed her forehand and believed that Safarova wasn’t going to touch it. So Kerber yelled in delight, but Safarova had run over. Kerber said, “Come on” very loud. However, Safarova hit the ball and returned. The chair umpire calls it a hindrance, so Kerber lost her point and the set.

Kerber kept trying and broke, but Safarova rushed forward and was willing to hit out anytime she could. At 5-4 in the second set, Safarova cracked a forehand and nailed an overhead to get to match point. Kerber fought off two match points when the Czech was a bit wild. But Safarova finished her off, when Kerber rushed to the net and instead of crisply knocking it away, she lazily put it in the middle of set and Safarova stroked a forehand into the corner. Lucie grinned after another win, this time 6-4, 6-4.

The Germans were afraid, while the Czechs were dancing on their heads. Safarova ended with 20 winners, while Kerber could only manage 10.

The Czechs are up 2-0 and are ready to go on Sunday. Kvitova will start with either Kerber or perhaps Sabine Lisicki, who would sub in. Lisicki has fast burners, reaching on the 2013 Wimbledon final, but she has not played great this fall in the past six weeks. Her German coach, Barbara Rittner, might change another coach, but Kerber is there best player overall and she would be saddened if she had to sit.

Safarova will play after Kvitova if the top Czech is upset, but won’t care if she faces Petkovic or Lisicki. She has a healthy amount of ultra confidence.

Serena Gets Slammed

SINGAPORE – Serena Williams has been bad at times before, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion rarely plays horribly. But, in her 6-0, 6-2 loss to Simona Halep, she never woke up and couldn’t keep her balls in court.

Without question, the young Halep was very solid, but she didn’t have to put together her best strokes. Really, all she had to was keep the ball in, move it around, and stay away from what could have been a panic when she need to finish the match off.  That is exactly what the 23-years-old Halep did, who scored her first win over Williams, and did not shake at closing time.

Serena could not keep her forehand in the court, which is somewhat amazing that the American usually crushes her ball and strokes them close to the line. But not this day. Williams dumped it into the net, couldn’t see where the lines were, or even get on top of his heavy spins. Williams ended with 36 errors – in just 14 games – where the forehand errors were somewhere around 27. She may be her best server ever, but she didn’t murder the ball, only put in two aces. When asked about it later, Serena wasn’t messing around.

“My forehand was off today again. I guess it went on an early vacation,” she told Tennis.com. “Lord knows my serve was as well. My serve was at best in the 10-and-under division in juniors. Yeah, it was actually embarrassing I think describes the way I played. Yeah, very embarrassing.”

The great Williams was embarrassed early on. Halep came out firing early on, as she wanted to prove that she could stay with her and did, playing much more aggressively then she was in August of 2013 when Williams smoked her 6-0, 6-4 in Cincinnati. But No. 4 Halep has been much better this season, reaching the Roland Garros final where she nearly took down Maria Sharapova and gaining the Wimbledon semis.

She moved very quickly and kept pushing forward, keeping Williams deep with her forehand and backhand. Williams tried to slap his balls back, but was so erratic early on that she dropped an f-bomb by the third game.

Williams tried to keep into the second set and even thrown out a “C’mon” after a couple winners, but she could not become steady at all.

Halep showed a bright smile, while Serena was disgusted. And why not? The 33-year-old Williams loss is the worst match since 1998, when she went down to South Africa Joannette Kruger’s 6-1, 6-1 in Oklahoma City. No. 1 Williams wasn’t sure if she was going to play in Singapore because she has been dealing with a sore leg. But she is going to trot on, because she wants to show that she could win the title, plus she wants the fans she can watch her brilliant play. But Williams did admit to us after the loss that she does not feel fantastic. Not even close.

“Oh, God no,” she said. “I’m definitely not 100% okay. I’m just here playing, but I’m not nowhere near 100 percent.”

Williams praised Halep today, but she went further. In fact, Serena says that Simona had “the best match of her career.”

Williams has to face Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday and even though she could be limping, she is going to try very hard. Serena cannot stand losing, but she loves cheering — and winning.

“To be quite frankly honest, I’m looking forward to our next meeting because she is making me going to go home and work hard.”

WTA Finals Singapore ready to rock

Ivanovic going deep would help ticket sales

Ivanovic steps it up in 2014.

By Matt Cronin

Singapore – The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore will begin on Monday. Here are the eight players, some of which are are on fire and others who are struggling. On Sunday, all the players spoke to what is head. Tennisreporters discusses the field, with TR also asks for players as well as journalists who discuss the field.

Matt Cronin returns
to writing for TR

This is Matt Cronin’s first article for TennisReporters.net since his brain surgery last spring.

Matt has written for Tennis.com and USOpen.org.

Matt: Great to have you back as you return to the work you love and the work the tennis world loves you for!

– Ron Cioffi

RED GROUP
Serena Williams: The US No. 1 has not been as dominate as she was in 2013, but Serena found herself believing her game by winning the US Open and snagging her only Slam in 2014 when she needed the most. Now she has the chance to walk away with the WTA 8 final again if she is cracking the ball once again.
Last year in the WTA final in Turkey Serena served and hit her corners when necessary — even when she was hurting — but came through the victory. This year Serena will be careful as she pulled out of Beijing with a knee injury. Williams will play Ana Ivanovic Monday night.
Q.  How important is the year‑end No. 1 ranking to you?  And if you had already had it locked up, do you think you would be here?
WILLIAMS:  I definitely would be here if I already had it locked up.  It’s obviously super important for me.  I love being No. 1; I love being the best.
     But at this at the same time, I’m really glad that I was able to get a slam this year, which was really annoying for me that I wasn’t able to capture one.
     That was something that was super, super, super important, especially for the goals that I was trying to reach.
Simona Halep: The Romanian began to step up last summer and this year she finally showed her self-believe, walking quickly and jumping on the courts. Halep came very close to knocking off  Sharapova in the Roland Garros final, but the Russian turned on the afterburners and nailed his second Slam. However, Halep has been rising quickly and could eventual grab No. 1 – if she can win the WTA 8 and a Slam next year.
 Q.  Do you think that actually, say, in the next year you will become No. 1?
HALEP:  “I cannot say about this because I am very far to No. 1.  So I just want to take the pressure out of me, out of my body, of my mind, and just to be relaxed and to, like I said, to be focused every match.”
Genie Bouchard: The Canadian had become relevant early on and hasn’t stopped, grabbing the semis of Australian and Roland Garros, and playing very close at the lines where she earned the runner-up at Wimbledon. She is contending with a left leg injury but is ready to go.
Q.  When you were here in January, was it possible to look as far ahead as October, and did you think to yourself: I’d like to make it; I want to make it; I’m going to make it here?  What were your thoughts about the year‑end finals in January?
Bouchard: “It’s the craziest thing, because I was with Chrissy [Evert] in this exact room at this table in January launching the WTA Finals and the Road to Singapore.
     So I don’t know who believed that I would be here in October, but being here in January motivated me so much.  It was an amazing city, and seeing the glamorous side of what the finals are inspired me so much to try and make it here.
 Big day for Southern at USTA national Junior Team Tennis Championships. Madison, MS (advanced) and Woodstock, GA play for national titles.
Ana Ivanovic: The Serbian has matured a great deal, becoming much more consistent and winning four titles. She is more aggressive than she has been and is more effective charging the net cords
Q.  Does 2009 [when she won her first and only Slam at Roland Garros] seem like a long time ago?
Ivanovic:   It feels like the other life.  Yeah, definitely does. I think in a way we are very fortunate because we travel so much.  We compete week in, week out.  I feel like there is so many experiences that we have weekly.
     You know, even Auckland seems like two years ago, because so many things happen in the meantime on and off the court.  Also you change a lot.  You change your views on things.
     This is what I feel happens.  So I feel like I’m different person comparing to 2008 or 2009.  I experienced lots of good and bad.  You learn so you much about yourself, too.
     In that sense as well it feels like long time ago.
WHITE GROUP
Maria Sharapova: The world No. 2 recalls back in 2004, in LA and besting Williams in the final, the last time she took down the great Serena. She has played the year pretty well, winning the French Open and two other big wins in Madrid and Beijing. If Serena falters, Sharapova could snare from the top spot to end the year.
Q.  Just talk about 2004, WTA against Serena, just your memory, your thought.
Sharapova:  Well, first I couldn’t believe that I was part of a field at that point in my career.  Yeah, I was in Los Angeles where I had been training with Robert [Lansdorp] for so many years.  It felt like a home tournament in a way for me.  I remember the players.  It was, of course, a very tough field, as always.  Just going through the draw there and the way that I felt and the way I played. I’ve seen some clips as well, very inspiring.  Certainly hope I can do that here again.
Petra Kvitova: The Czech has been much more consistent by being free from injury and rarely backing down. She grabbed the 2014 Wimbledon by striking the ball so   hard that she was untouchable. The lefty recently won Wuhan earlier this month and has a chance to reach the yearend No.1. But she is going to play nearly perfectly to win the crown. She will face Ana Ivanovic on Monday night.
Q.  It seems like your nerves, we don’t see them as much anymore.  Why did that happen this year?
Kvitova: “I’m more relaxed on the court.  I have a little bit more confidence probably.  From the Wimbledon I showed maybe that I can play great tennis again, and that’s really what I missed for the three years. So from that time I think it’s much better.  I can enjoy the tennis, I can really play, and I know that I love to play tennis.  So that’s very important, to know it.
     Yeah, I feel good.  I know that sometimes my game, it’s too risky, but that’s part of the game.  I can live with that, so that’s okay.”
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Pole has been very consistent over the past five years or so but has not been fantastic this season. She did win Montreal and reached the final of Indian Wells, but falling to Dominika Cibulkova in the semis of Australia has really hurt her overall. She needs to step up big time and end the year at a high note.
Q.  What would make you really happy at the end of this year and then all of next year?  What would make you super happy?
RADWANSKA: Well, of course, I think winning Grand Slam as well.  I think this is the tournament that we all waiting for to get a title.  I didn’t do it yet; I was close few times but still didn’t get it.
     So, I think winning Grand Slam, that will make me really, really happy.
Caroline Wozniacki: Even though she is rising again, Wozniacki is only reached the top 8 when Li Na retired. However the former No. 1 has played better than in years, reaching the US Open and stepping inside the court at hard courts. Wozniacki, from Denmark, may not have figured out to upset Williams, but she is confidence to trouble anyone else at the WTA.
Q.  As you were sort of slipping down and then making your way back up, did it feel like it was a long way to go, or did it feel like you were pretty close to where you had been?
Wozniacki: No, didn’t feel like a long way to go.  I never really looked at the rankings, but I definitely totally stopped when I went down to 18.  I’m like: This is depressing.  I don’t want to be down here.
     At the end of day, I just told myself, “Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or No. 18.  At the end of the day, you have to compete with the same players.”  A lot of girls play so well now so it’s never easy.  I just thought if I play well, the ranking will come back up soon.
     I started playing well. I started finding my form, and then the ranking just came up really quickly.

A Battle Royale, this time regarding me

Matt Cronin, Indian Wells.

That’s Matt Cronin (second from left) with tennis writer friends Steve Tignor, Doug Robson and Brad Falkner at Indian Wells.

For the first time in 21 years I will not be attending the tennis tournament at Indian Wells, CA, certainly one of my favorites events ever. I traditionally has arrived there on the Tuesday before plays starts on Wednesday, which ironically is the day this year that I am undergoing brain surgery on San Francisco.

I just came off a great five-week trip to Australia personally and work-wise.The day after I arrived back at my home in Moraga, CA, I was talking to my son, Connor. in the kitchen. I can’t quite recall about what it was but as I was standing over the counter. It’s very likely I was talking about what chores needed to be done – my kids favorite subject :-)

As many of you who know me or listen to me on radio, I have a lot to say, and most times I can say things clearly, but at that moment I had a good five sentences in my head and couldn’t get any of them out. All I could do, as Connor would attest, is drop a series of F-bombs in frustration. Perhaps I have never used the word more appropriately.

A little more than 24 hours later I found myself in a neurologist’s office staring a brain tumor on the left side of my head that was the cause of the incident the day prior.

Hey, Doc, hit one like Fed

By Ron Cioffi

Over nearly four decades, I’ve written about forehands and backhands, murders, politics, hometown features and how much I love the Rolling Stones. It’s been easier to write about sports, the arts and tennis tournaments than my personal life. But, hey, we all have to change.

It was nearly 13 years ago when Matt Cronin and I (with Sandy Harwitt) founded TennisReporters.net. It was a great idea: a website written by professional journalists who covered pro tennis. No amateurs, no gloss, no frills and no BS. We broke new ground in the world of sports and tennis journalism. At first I thought TR would pay for a cushy retirement but soon realized it was wouldn’t make a cent and was an addiction that we couldn’t shake.

Matt and I worked at Inside Tennis in the early 1990s. But, believe it or not, I’ve only seen Matt three times since we established TR, twice at the US Open and once at Fed Cup in North Carolina. But we often start our phone calls on business but lapse into the world of tennis, family, age and frailties. I never thought we would come so close to a life-threatening situation. Figured it would be me, a decade older and more decrepit than Matt.

Over the years Matt has kept the site running, based on his goal of writing honestly about tennis without an editor telling him what to say or not to say. I try to do that once in a while. But, Matt is pretty headstrong.

All I can say to Doctor Berger is: “Hey, Doc. It’s a good brain. It’s a really good brain. There’s a hell of a lot of great tennis info in there, years of experience, expertise and clarity.

“So, Doc, do the tennis world a favor: Don’t screw it up. Hit a winner down the line.”

For about a month before that, there were days when I felt a little odd. My father, Bill, was a doctor and my mom, Joan, was a nurse, so I am by no means I am not psychosomatic and might be the opposite as my parents could recognize real illnesses. When my two bothers and two sisters and I were kids, they knew when to tell us to shake it off. Perhaps as result I have only visit the doctor for mandatory checkups.

While I was still in Australia, I called a couple of people and told them I knew something was wrong with me and that when I returned I would go straight to the doctor. While I was in no real physical pain, I had a sense that something dangerous was going to take a swing at me and I wanted to get a handle on it before it took me completely down.

But before my scheduled doctor’s appointment, I had my mini-meltdown in the kitchen and the battle was on.

I am not going to get into the details of all my medical visits and their effect on me, but what I can offer that it has been an extremely emotional time for me as my kids, other family members and close friends can attest to. Those who know me know that I think a lot about a lot of things, and my mortality has been at the top of the agenda over the past month. I do not fear death at all, and believe that I will leave the operating table healthier and with a decent chance at a long future, but I am a realist and a care-taking type and trying to get my head around not being there for my kids/family/friends with all the things I wanted to accomplish with them is difficult to swallow. At least in my case, I don’t feel like I have planned ahead enough and had I know this was coming a decade or so ago I very well may have changed the vast majority of what I was doing – excepting the constant tennis coverage, of course.

It seems like at all times that I am thinking multi-dimensionally about my past, present and murky future. It’s fascinating, but does not leave time for much sleep, which is OK because at least this point it seems like a pretty big waste of time and, as all of you know, dreams during these types of periods can quite off-putting.

When many people think about relaxing, they think about kicking back and mellowing out. I have never been that person. In fact although I do like short naps in the afternoon, what really relaxes me is physical exercise, namely yard work which I crave daily and can do for hours at a time without feeling overly stressed. That is how I relax for the most part, by doing non-work related chores. Even living in my now beloved California for the past 31 years has not cured me of that habit.

I had a very interesting decision to make last week, choosing between two very reputable SF Bay area neurosurgeons, one whom I had seen three times and the other — who I will describe as the Roger Federer of his profession — I had only talked to on the phone.

Regarding this issue, last week I made a long and drawn out tennis analogy to some of my tennis journo friends, most especially Emily, as well as Doug, Richard, Courtney, Tom and Brad as to why I would make the call either way: essentially, whom am I going to trust to win a match with my brain tumor.

To me, it made perfect sense, but perhaps not so much to others. However, to tennis people it might. In my nearly 22 years covering the sport, I think I have learned to distinguish real confidence from false bravado, which is why some players consistently deliver in the clutch and others don’t. For me to allow someone to open my brain up I needed to be sure that he was not only a distinguished person with great reputation, but if I put the challenge to him to show me that he was confident and great enough to win my “match” that he would look me in the eyes, tell me he was, and his voice would back that up.

I did not want to be put in situation where I felt like I was in broadcast booth on the outside looking in at a tennis match, where the likes of Federer, or any other star, would choke a simple backhand down the line on match point because there was too much pressure on him. As tennis journalist, if I have been around a player for years and have spoken to him or her at recent tournaments, I usually get a much more clear idea as to where their head space is at the moment and how competent they are really feeling.

New fans walking into a stadium might not have a clue as to why an all-time great misses a crucial shot at a big moment, but most of us regulars get why. In the case of the surgeon, I did not want to be in similar position going into the OR, wide-eyed and merely hopeful he would make the shot. I wanted to be sure as much as I could that the guy I picked (and of course who allowed me to be his patient) would bring all of his so-called weapons at his disposal the court and use them appropriately.

And that is why I chose Dr. Mitchel Berger out of UCSF, that and because he talked to me like my dad, Dr. William T. Cronin, would have, straight, to the point with no BS and telling me firmly that he will get the job done.

I joked with my tennis journalist friends that I was going to live tweet my operation on Tuesday and would Skype into the Indian Wells WTA All Access Hour on Wednesday to take care of any questions they might want to ask, or just to chat with a player who was not getting enough attention.

Of course that is not going to happen – largely because I don’t want folks looking at me with half-shaved head– but believe when I tell you that if I felt even remotely confident that I could pull it off I would try to make a go of it. That is how much I love being part of sport. For me, being there and telling pro tennis’ true story is what tournament coverage is all about.

I recently came back from a one-week Bucket List trip, the first few days of which I spent with my 21-year-old daughter Cassandra, my soon to be 18- year-old Connor and my 14-year-old daughter Chia. We had some very memorable dinner table conversations about how we view friends and family and their reactions to these types of situations. My kids may already be smarter than me and I sure hope they have 100 times my intelligence level when they reach my age. But I have a bit more experience due to age and been on the other side of some of these situations as a support person. I’m not sure how I really did, but I do know that many of my friends and family have been extraordinarily helpful to me, especially when it comes to listening. In my opinion, there are few folks in one’s general circle who can hand out sound medical advice (fortunately for me I have some people whom I am very close to who are excellent with it), but there are many who can show they really do sincerely care by just hearing you out on anything you want to talk about.

Believe me there were times when I didn’t want to talk about it at all, which is why I did not tell everyone I am or have been close to until now because I have led a long enough life to have gathered a fair amount of important relationships. While I realized that I would like to talk to everyone I hold dear, there were so many other things I had to deal with on a daily basis that it would have been overwhelming to talk to everyone. I did not leave anyone out on purpose, I just needed fair amount of quiet time in my head.

The mother of my children, Patti Orozco, has been extraordinarily helpful and dedicated as have my mother, Joan, my siblings Tami, Mark, Megan and Paul, their spouses and kids, some of Patti’s extended family and my nieces and nephews on that side, as well as my kids, who for the first time have been really faced with one of their parents mortality and have dug deep to try to sort it out. It has been a role switch for them having to pat me on the back this time in an attempt to keep my spirits up. They have been patient, understanding and given their dad as much love as a man could ask for.

There have also been those close friends whom I contacted and are asking me every day how I feel and are super concerned. Those people know who they are. As it was before I would walk through fire for them. After this experience, I think I would roll and crawl through it, too.

Now to the bottom line of what may of you are wondering about: my prognosis. It is unclear now as the type of tumor won’t be identified until the open me up on Tuesday and take its pathology. The good news is that it does not appear to be large and it is close to the side of my head so the removal process will more than likely go OK. It may be benign, it may be malignant, but one way or another as much of it as possible has to be removed. After that, I will have a good idea what type of recovery process I am in for.

Tennis tournament wise … my plan is to be 100% fit and improved by the time the French Open rolls around in mid-May, talking up a storm on Radio RG like nothing ever happened, and showing Serena Williams my head scar like she showed me her foot scars post her pulmonary embolism scare a few Wimbledon’s ago. And then I can write another tennis book, another couple of thousand articles and produce a million tweets.

Lifestyle wise, the day after I return to our property from the hospital, I want to be out in the spring sun again like I was in this picture two years ago, pruning tress, chopping wood and mellowing out in my own distinctive way. It has been a hairy ride the past month, but my life has been good overall and hopefully it will soon get a hell of lot better.

Best,
Matt