Nadal, Djokovic: back on track in Monte Carlo


Rafa Nadal won easily in Monte Carlo, crushing Aljaz Bedene 6-1 6-3. He loves clay — he is an addict — and when he walks on the court, he is already locked in. In the last 10 years, he rarely — and I mean rarely — loses. That’s it. He is the best clay court ever, hands down, but he gets hurt a lot, so now, he is vulnerable. However, this week, if he is healthy, he is the favorite. But, there will be some close matches.  
 
Novak Djokovic finally played well, and it has taken a year — or two years — the Serbian has said. He was pretty lost at Indian Wells and Miami. In Monte Carlo, over the last three days, he is faster, comfortable, and powerful.

Will it last? I would think so, but he has to be patient because the 12-time Grand Slam champion isn’t there yet. He beat Borna Coric 7-6(2) 7-5, which was huge, because Coric has been very confident over the past two months. Coric is very steady, and the same goes with Djokovic. They played for two-and-a-quarter hours, but the Serbian reached back and nailed it.

Good for Marin Cilic, who beat Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-6(4). Verdasco does like clay, but Cilic is up and down. However, one this day, he was calm and, when he had the opportunity, he moved forward. His first serve is massive, and his forehand is gigantic. But to win it at Monte Carlo? I cannot see that.

Way to go by Kei Nishikori, who bested Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2. Nishikori really wants to play as much as he can, but he does get hurt a lot, so he has to be careful….

That is a great win by the Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, who blew out Diego D. Schwartzman 6-2 6-1 in the second round. He has an amazing backhand. … Canadian Milos Raonic is still in there despite nagging injuries. Hopefully, his arms are better, and he won’t think about how sore it is. He is a terrific player, but he doesn’t love clay. On grass and the hardcourts, sure, he can go very deep in the summer. But in the spring, he cannot win in the big events. Including Monte Carlo.

Miami final: John Isner can bounce Alexander Zverev

Here goes John Isner, playing fantastic again. The same goes with Alexander Zverev, who was reeling during the first three months, but now the No. 3 is calmer and he is hitting it close to the lines.

Isner was totally locked in against Juan Martin del Potro is the semis. As always, his first serve is massive, and his forehand is big and gutsy. His backhand is still medicore, but he can nail it down the line when he wants. Also, he is 6 foot 10 and he isn’t that fast, but he is sharp at the net.

The German Zverev won two ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, snagging Rome and Canada in 2017. He also has a huge first serve, is pretty quick, and can go crosscourt, down the line and put in a few good dropshots. He has beaten Isner three times, in 2016 in Shanghai, and last year, in Miami (7-6 in the third) and Rome. The 20-year-old has had a solid event in during the past 10 days, beating David Ferrer, Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric and Pablo Carreno Busta, without dropping a set. He could be a little bit cocky, but over the past six months, he has learned that he cannot play perfect all the time. He had to push it back and figure it out. 

Over the past few days, Zverev was very good, sprinting side to side and when he was way off the court, he can nail it for a winner. He was totally pumped up.

Isner not only defeated the red-hot del Potro, he also jumped over Marin Cilic and  Hyeon Chung. The American has never won an ATP 1000, but he has come close. He is 32-years-old and I am sure he will continue in the next four years. But, when you are in the final at the ATP 100s and/or the Grand Slams and have such a rare opportunity, you have to grab it. 

While Zverev is a better player than Isner, he will drop down a bittoday and Isner will win it in three tough sets.

John Isner vs. Juan Martin del Potro: Coming down to the wire?

Finally, John Isner is back again. I mean, in the last nine days, he woke up in Miami. Prior to that during the past two and a half months, he was sadly down. He only won two matches, and he lost time and time again. Very early.

But after he played Indian Wells, he talked to his coach, and his friends, and they said, ‘C’mon, you are better than that. Don’t be so nervous and be  so depressed on court. When you get start the match, make sure to shake it off, even if you whiff. This is your life. You are 32-years-old now so it is time to believe in yourself, because in another five years, you might retire. So go to it.’”
He did and in the last three days, he played extremely well, knocking out the  No. 3 Marin Cilic, and the young rising Hyeon Chung in straight sets.

Isner and Cilic have been around for a very long time. Cilic has played pretty well in 2018, but he has not been terrific. So Isner hit some huge serves, his big forehand, and he was very patient. When he beat Chung fairly easily, he returned pretty decently, which is surprising, because over the past decade, Isner  rarely broke. But he did on Wednesday.

So now he will face Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine won Indian Wells, and when he arrived in Miami, he said he was very tired and he wasn’t sure whether he can last. But he has, overcoming Milos Raonic in three very long set, 7-6 in the third.  The Canadian Raonic was right there, but he hesitated, or he just missed it. As Delpo said, I can go for my shots, anytime I want,  because I am riding the waves. He sure is.

They will play on Friday with Isner against Del Potro. Last year, they played each other twice, in Canada,  with Juan winning 7-5 7-5, and in Paris Bercy,  John won 6-4 6-7 6-4.

All of those contests were on hardcourts, and they will do it again in Florida. Obviously, del Potro is favored, as he has won the 2009 US Open, and almost two weeks ago, he won his first ATP 1000 in California. He is simply cracking the ball.

If Isner can crush it when DelPo hits a second serve, he might have a chance to break him. However, if he doesn’t, then he will go down in straights set. But if he does, he can go into the third set and then, who knows?   Obviously, Del Potro is favored, as he has won the 2009 US Open, and almost two weeks ago, he won his first ATP 1000 in California. He is simply cracking the ball.

If Isner can crush it when DelPo hits a second serve, he might have a chance to break him. However, if he doesn’t, then the American will go down in straights set. But if he does, he can go into the third set and then, who knows?

Federer lost, but you cannot win every time

Over the years, there are lost moments when the players go down hard. On Saturday in Miami, the great Roger Federer lost against Thanasi Kokkinakis 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) in a dramatic three-setter.

The Swiss has won so many times against everyone, but this time, he was out of bounds. On the past 14 months, Federer has been spectacular, but you cannot win every week. That is impossible. So now, he has decided that he will not play on clay once again, meaning that Federer won’t return on court on the grass in mid June. That is almost 3 months when he won’t be there, when the fans will be a little upset —or really upset — but perhaps they can watch some other people play. Yes, everyone knows that Federer has so much variety, and intelligence, but that doesn’t mean he is the only talent on tour with some great players. So, if you have an opportunity, watch pro tennis on TV, on the internet, or at the tournament. That would be nice.

You have to like Kokkinakis, the Aussie, who stunned Federer. Yes, Federer did not play great, but so what? The very young Kokkinakis nearly retired, but he did not, he recovered. He practices all the time. So, when he went on court, he was ready for battle. He served huge, returned pretty welland smoked his forehand. If he stays healthy, he will be a force the rest of this year.

No. 1 Simons Halep went down to Aga Radwanska. Stunned? I am not. The Pole is a very, very fine player when she is healthy and motivated. She has been on tour for more than a decade. She has come close to winning a major, but she hesitated too often. Her forehand is pretty mediocre. Still, maybe she can change it in the next couple of years, because if she cannot, then the former No. 2 Aga will not grab a Grand Slam. 

But, in Florida, she can make some noise, if she manages to knock out Vika Azarenka on Monday, who is rising fast. Radwanska has to push her back and run down shots because when Azarenka is on top of the ball, she can totally rip it, down the line and cross court. Another note: If Azarenka can play every month this season, she will go right back into the top 5. 

So what about Halep? She is a true grinder, and never gives up, which is good. But mentally, she gets upset and confused. Being No. 1 is terrific, but at this point, she has to find a way to win a Grand Slam. Somehow. However, she does love clay, so maybe she can take a deep breath and get on the Roland Garros winner’s stand. 

Here’s a fantastic match on Monday: Sloane Stephens against Garbine Muguruza. Both of them has won Slams, both of them love rallies. Ashleigh Barty is rising all the time. I bet she will crack the top 10 soon. … Finally, the frequency injured Nick Kyrgios came back. He will face Fabio Fognini and the Italian wants to yank him around. … So you like long matches? If you do, Jack Sock will face Borna Coric. Sock now comes into the net quite a bit, which can be good, but he has to put it away because Coric is getting better all the time.

Federer and del Potro: ‘It’s a great story’

Remember back when Juan Martin del Potro couldn’t even nail a winner with his one-handed backhand? But recently, his arm and wrist have recovered. His confidence grew and grew. After his multiple surgeries, del Potro stopped his two-handed backhand and he chipped the one-hander almost all the time. But over the last year or so, he became to use a two-hander here and there. He uses it more and more frequently. Last week, he won Indian Wells over Roger Federer in the final. The two-hander is back.

In Miami, Federer wasn’t that surprised.  

“In the beginning he was chipping a lot, for quite a while, actually. I was surprised how long it took him to get more and more confident coming over, but I feel like he’s finally there,” Federer said. “I feel like he looks good on the backhand now. Basically to his old self, probably a confidence thing. But what’s interesting is that he put himself out there with no double-hander almost, but just happy to slice and still take losses. I guess because he knew it was going to probably not be enough against some players, but he was happy enough playing this way, which I admire a lot. He’s won a Masters 1000. It’s a great story.”

Yes, really great story.

Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, while del Potro has won just one. However, del Potro is 4 to 2 in the finals against the Swiss. Overall, though, Federer has won 18 wins and seven losses against the Argentine. It is very likely play against each other sometime. Perhaps in Miami next week? Possible.

As Federer said, the Indian Wells final was as tough match.

“Should I have won the [2009] US Open finals [which del Potro won]? I could have, should have. I didn’t,” Federer said. “Same [at Indian Wells]. So that would have changed the whole thing around.

“But he stuck around, like most players who go deep in a tournament, the better they start playing. So clearly the tougher they [are] to beat. But, of course, I have had a few wins against him when he was still younger, where I almost had to win because, he wasn’t quite there yet. So that’s why I also have a better head-to-head. I’m not sure why the final record is the way it is. A lot of them have been extremely tight. Most of them have gone the distance, so it’s been tough against him.”

Notes
Reporter Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald, talking with Roger Federer:

Q: If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?
A: A retired soccer player by now. I was hoping to be a soccer player once upon a time. I liked midfield and scoring goals, but in the end I chose tennis because I didn’t want to blame the goalie or defender, I wanted to be in total control.”

Me, too, being in control.

Simona Halep likes to grind, and she does, but to start the tournament when it took more than two hours to beat Oceane Dodin 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, it won’t be easy to go all the way now. … Madison Keys retired in the second set against Vika Azarenka because her leg was pretty sore. Or worse. The first three months on the hardcourts haven’t helped Keys. … Sloane Stephens won easily against Ajla Tomljanovic. She says that it is one of her favorite tournaments. Really? Truly? Then win it. … Australian Matthew Ebden overcame Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-5. Will he go deeper? … American Ryan Harrison lost against Joao Sousa 7-6, 7-6. The tiebreaks can be so worrisome for Harrison. 

 

Situation normal: Roger Federer is in control

INDIAN WELLS – Once again, Roger Federer is a seriously favorite to win another huge title. It is possible that someone will play perfectly, and the Swiss is a little bit off, and at the third set, the guy hits the lines all the time while Federer cannot keep his first serve in, and soon enough, he will get frustrated and he will miss point after point. 

Not these days, though. However, even though Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, and 97 victories overall, there have been losses. All the great champions have a few in the “L” column.

So this week, Federer can lose, but who exactly can run past Roger?
He will face Jeremy Chardy on Wednesday and while the Frenchman is pretty wily, he won’t be able to out-hit him, especially with the forehand. In the quarters, Federer would face either Hyeon Chung or Pablo Cuevas. The young Chung likes to be on the big stage, so he will put together some intense rallies, but in the end, Federer will confuse him. Unless …

One more terrific match coming up Wednesday is American Taylor Fritz versus Borna Coric. That is almost a tossup, but Coric is more driven this year. … How about this: Dominic Thiem and Gail Monfils retired. Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori pulled out last week. Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are all injured and couldn’t come, while Grigor Dmitrov and Alexandra Zverev both lost. Wow, is playing tennis that difficult for everyone?

Federer and DelPo talk about worrying Djokovic 
Many of the top American players are hurt, and couldn’t come to compete at Indian Wells, and a few retired — important players, too. But at least three very significant guys are here: Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and the former No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian lost early. He had a ton of unforced errors and, as he said, he was very shaky. He hadn’t played for months, but he really wanted to get back on court and swing away.  H  is struggling mentally, but that doesn’t mean that he will panic forever. He just has to be patient.  

Here is Federer’s take on Djokovic’s situation: “When you do come back, it’s like, ‘Oh, those break points; oh, those deuce points; those 30-all points; 15-30s; first point of the game.’ Where normally, when you’ve played a lot of matches, you just rock up, you hit a good serve, play a good point, 15-love, you just move along with the score.

“But you put extra effort to manage all that’s happening in your head. I feel like when you do come back from injury or when you haven’t played in a long time, it just takes extra effort. That’s probably also what he’s also feeling. And maybe was tired in the end a bit because, the focus you need to have is greater. Look, still such early stages for Novak coming back and the first one after surgery. He’s only going to get better from here. He knows that. We all know that. But it was nice to see him playing again.”

Del Potro has been there, too. Over the last eight years, he was in and out all the time. Multiple surgeries, leaving, coming back, winning, some big wins and some mediocre losses. He could have retired, but he has not. He is still very good, and he might be able to win a major again, but as he says, it can be difficult. Del Potro says that Djokovic just has to be patient,
 
“It’s not easy to come back and play good tennis, as everybody expect Novak’s game. And mentally you must be strong enough to deal with these kind of losses in this big of tournaments,” del Potro said. “It’s only time to get where he deserve to be. And if his body feels good, the tennis come along and the confidence come along, too. But is not easy to deal with this kind of frustrations after injuries or when you always be the favorite to win a tournament, you come here and you lose in first round. Is not easy. But he’s strong enough to deal with that, and I love him and I want to see him in the top positions very soon.”

The Women
No. 1 Simona Halep was very happy after beating Qiang Wang in straight sets, and she joked a lot in the press conference.
On Monday, she actually watched Serena and Venus Williams playing each other. Some people almost never watch the matches, but many of the players stop and watch the famous Williamses. Their matchups are pretty darn intense.
“I’m the world No. 1 in this moment, but I just watched the best player in the world,” Halep said. “I just do what I feel. I felt to come because I admire a lot the sisters.”
 
Venus knocked down Serena in straight sets on Monday, as the younger sister couldn’t control her ground strokes. Venus was pounding the ball very deep and hard. Plus, she was running well. 

On Tuesday, Venus rose up again, beating Anastasija Sevastova. Serena is gone, so Venus has an opportunity to win it all, but most of the very good players still left. Like Karolina Pliskova, who beat the 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in straight sets. Anisimova is already tall and strong, so watch her, if you get a chance. She does need a few more years to improve, but she is already very talented. “I think this will change a little bit in the future, but for sure the game is good and not really any weakness,” Pliskova said. The Czech will play the Japanese Naomi Osaka, who lives in the United States. What a basher.  

Stephens knocks down Azarenka, rising again?

INDIAN WELLS – American Sloane Stephens finally looked very good, turning around a nasty stretch of losses following her 2017 US Open victory. Over the past six months, she was out of it, physically and mentally. But finally, her body feels OK, and a little bit more confident. She beat Vika Azarenka 6-1, 7-5, which is very good, given that Belarusian had knocked Stephens out of the Aussie Open three times without dropping a set. But this time, Stephens was not only consistent, but lethal.

She says that this year, she won’t push herself because in 2016, she became seriously injured and she was out for almost an entire year.  Stephens doesn’t want to do that again.

“I’m going to listen to my body and make sure that I can do everything possible not to get injured again and make sure that I take care of myself mentally and physically the best way I know how,” she said. “Whatever schedule I play is what I play.

Obviously nothing’s ever set in stone. You can say, ‘Oh, I want to play here,’ and then not get enough matches and you want to play a different tournament. It’s kind of up in the air. My main priority is just making sure that I’m good and just staying happy.”

The two-time major champ Angie Kerber wore down Ekaterina Makarova, and on Monday, she will face defending champ Elena Vesnina. Kerber is the fav, but the Russian Vesnina has improved a lot in the past two years. … The 22-year-old Maria Sakkari upset Coco Vandeweghe, a great win by Greek, but a sloppy day by the American…
Karolina Pliskova dug deep to win in three sets over Shuai Zhang, who was seeded 32. The Czech stood strong, even though they went into a brutal third set. Can she go deep? Impossible to know with her, but if she does, watch out. …  20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko is skidding, losing against to the vet Petra Martic is straight sets. Maybe the Roland Garros champion need to relax once in a while.

The Men
Novak Djokovic showed up and did little more than that. He walked on the court against Taro Daniel and made so many errors, try 62. He lost and as he says he is mentally all over the place. However, he just started playing again, so give him some time, like a few more months. Then we will know how good he can really be again. … Gael Monfils took down John Isner. When the Frenchman is playing well, the fans will love watching him play. Isner has only won one match this year and seven losses and lost his confidence. … Brit Kyle Edmund returned after five weeks off due to injury, and he lost Dudi Sela. Still, Edmund should continue to improve. … Another difficult turn of events when Kei Nishikori pulled out. He is hurt all time. “I’m still not strong enough to go play a match. I’m very sorry as I love this tournament,” he said. Will he try to play Miami? Maybe not.

Indian Wells coming: Svitolina, Serena, Vika, Caro

Notes on A Draw Sheet, March 4, 2018

THE WOMEN
It was good to see Elina Svitolina win the title at Dubai, and as she says, she never gives up. Which is more or less true. But, at the Slams, she can mentally back off. Still, she is only 23 years old, so in the next decade, she can figure out and to go the right places. And nail it. 
In Dubai, she jumped on the resurgent Angie Kerber, and in the final, she beat the good, young player Daria Kasatkina. At Indian Wells, Svitolina will be one of the favorites, but the field is very close, as almost the entire top 10 can beat each other. 
It looks like Serena Williams will walk on the court and play again. It’s very hard to gage how her difficult childbirth and the demands of motherhood are still affecting her. Let’s hop she is ready to compete and win match after match, tournament after tournament. My guess is it will take her a few months to get comfortable. One way or another, it should be a lot of fun …

Vika Azarenka will return at IW, after not playing this year because she is battling with her ex-husband in a custody battle over her young child. Before she stopped playing, Azarenka looked pretty darn good. I would assume that she is very healthy, and she would love to win another major, but the same thing goes here: She needs sometime to understand how she is striking the ball, day after day…

The No. 1 Simona Halep is hurt again, but she always tries to play, pain or nothing at all. She is a true grinder…

The No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki finally won a Grand Slam at the Aussie Open. It took her so long to finally grab it, but now she has and I would think that this year — as she loves to play — she will have a chance to win another major, specifically at the US Open, because she gets frustrated on clay and on grass…

The former two-time champion Petra Kvitova look pretty darn good, winning Doha. She is another one who wants to win so badly she can taste it. She likes fast hard court, but if it is very windy, she can get frustrated. Kvitova does like Indian Wells, the weather, almost everything, so if she is feeling it, she could go very deep, and win it. That would be huge, mentally.
 
THE MEN
Once again, Juan Martin del Potro is on fire, which is terrific, because when he is healthy, he can knock down anyone. How about this: in Acapulco, he beat the vet Mischa Zverev, the grinder David Ferrer, the flashy Dominic Thiem and the young brother, the No. 5 Alexander Zverev. In the final, he knocked out the 2017 Us Open finalist Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4. Very good stuff.

It is all about Delpo’s health. When his arms start to break down, then he leaves and he cannot play. But when it isn’t so bad, he can hit his two-hander, rather than just his one-hander, which he can only slice. That is why, among other things, that he could not beat the best players at the Grand Slams and come up short in the past eight years. He can hang in there in two out of three, but in the Slams, it’s three out of five. Towards the end, in the second week, he gets tired and he cannot find the lines. He looked very good this past week, with his huge serve, his massive forehand, his decent return and improved net game. He is a darn good player.
Even though he lost, the same goes with Anderson. Yes, he isn’t that fast because he is very tall, but he really hustles and whenever he gets a chance, he can jump on it. Both of them will be extremely confident heading into IW next week.

Federer, Raonic, the Americans, Kvitova, Garcia and more…

Notes on A Draw Sheet, Feb. 20, 2018

Roger Federer keeps going, and going, and going. Last Sunday, he won Rotterdam, crushing Grigor Dimitrov. The 36-year-old Federer is No. 1 again!!! He’s been at the top for a record 303 weeks and counting … and he started 14 years ago after he won Wimbledon for the first time. Last year, he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon. This year, he won the Aussie again. He has won 97 events. Ka-boom.

I cannot imagine that he won’t reach 100 victories, assuming if he stays healthy. He is trying not to play too much this year. He decided not to play in Dubai, but he will return at Indian Wells and very likely Miami. After that, he won’t on clay until very late, if at all. In 2017, he skipped the spring clay-court season, including Roland Garros. Federer says that he isn’t sure whether he will head to Paris again. That is a toss-up — a big toss up — for now …

Milos Raonic has been hurt forever, but when he is feeling good, he can beat the top almost anyone, except for the top 5. He just won his first match this year, beating Taro Daniel in Delray Beach. He has improved a lot over the past two years, especially his backhand. But, he has to figure out why his body breaks down all the time. I am sure the doctors know what he has to do, but the Canadian doesn’t know how he can fix it, and really listen what they are saying. We know this week in Florida … 

American John Isner beat Radu Albot, which is good, because in January and early February, he really wasn’t there on court. He just won his first win of the season on Tuesday, except for Davis Cup. That is pretty surprising. Hopefully, he will begin to win more regularly …
 
Juan Martin del Potro also won, and will face American Frances Tiafoe, a young player who can really run, but needs to be more aggressive …

Ryan Harrison had a taxing week at the inaugural NY Open. He successfully dealt with Donald Young’s accusation that Harrison had made a racial comment. The two feisty and long-time competitors got into a heated argument during their match and the chair umpire had to step between them. But, an ATP investigation did not uncover any missteps by Harrison. In Delray Beach, Harrison lost yesterday against countryman Reilly Opelka 7-6(5), 7-6(6). It may take some time for Harrison to put it all behind him …

What a triumph by the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who won in Doha, knocking out the No. 3 Garbine Muguruza in the final. She is back in the top 10. She also beat Elina Svitolina and No. 1 Caro Wozniacki 7-5 in the third. Kvitova is so powerful, and now she isn’t giving in. She is on a roll, also winning St. Petersburg and the Fed Cup. Without a doubt, she can win a major again. At RG — yes, she did reach the semis once before — and of course at Wimbledon, and at the US Open. Bu,t she has to be healthy all the time …

Angie Kerber was not happy after she lost against Wozniacki, but still, over the past seven weeks, she has become substantially better. Last year, she couldn’t find her game. Now, she is settled and defending with her blazing speed. Watch her come back into the top 5 during March. She smoked Barbora Strycova 6-2, 6-1 …

Another fine win by Anett Kontaveit, who beat Sam Stosur in three sets. She is pretty young and she is improving week to week. Caroline Garcia continues to display a blossoming game , beating Lucie Safarova. Frenchwoman Garcia realizes that she can move up to the net and put away easy shots. She does it frequently, transferring her doubles talent to singles. If she continues to do so, she will have a chance to win a major this year. Maybe at RG?

Fed Cup winners – USA, France, Czech, Germany – on to semis

United States d Netherlands 3-0
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams has been playing for 20 years, and at times, she breaks down, but this weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, she was into it and very excited. She won two singles, and she bested Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands. Her backhand is incredibly strong, she returns very well and her first serve is massive.

Williams was in a tough first set until Richel Hogenkamp seems to lose concentration, banging a ball into the stands at 5-5. Once that game slipped out of the Dutch player’s grasp, she didn’t offer much opposition. Venus finished off the clinching match 7-5, 6-1.

Yes, she has aged. When she walks on court and she is feeling good mentally, then she can be patient. Venus not only won twice in singles. The still rising CoCo Vandeweghe grabbed won her match, crawling her way back to win Saturday in three sets.

Believe it or not, Serena Williams returned, one year after she had a child and she couldn’t play. She and Venus lost in doubles, with Serena looking rusty and not ready for competition, even against Lesley Kerkhove/Demi Schuurs, playing together for the first time.

On April 21-22 in the semis, the U.S. has to travel to France, which beat the Belgiums. Do the Williamses want to play in the Fed Cup again?  Possibly, but they have to go to Europe, and while Venus goes everywhere, Serena doesn’t like to travel all the time. That is a toss-up. And yes, even though France is always very good, the Americans are favored. At least for now.

France d Belgium 3-2
It was very close, but finally, Kristina Mladenovic got her head straight and she won all three matches. During the last six months in 2017, she couldn’t play at all, losing and losing, after she had a tremendous first five months. And then she fell down, and further down, and even more further down.
But now, Mladenovic is more comfortable, at least in the Fed Cup. At home in France, she will be very pleased to be in front of the massive crowd. The talkative Alize Cornet couldn’t play this weekend because she was suspended after she missed three out-of-competition doping tests. It is unlikely that she would be able play in April. With Pauline Parmentier losing, maybe the French will bring in the 21-year-old Oceane Dodin? Possible.

Czech Republic d Switzerland 3-0
The Czechs win every singles easily, as they have an incredible depth. Once again, in Prague, Petra Kvitova cracked Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-4 and they took it easily. It appears that Kvitova has become more consistent, she is moving the right way, and she is returning very well. This season, she has a chance to win another major as she is very motivated. In the next round, they have to play Germany, which advanced without its two top players, Angie Kerber and Julia Goerges. We would think that against the Czechs, who have been very strong for years, the Germans will be challenged. It should be a terrific contest.

Germany d. Belgium 3-2
It came to the very end, and the Germans with the longtime veterans Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Tatjana Maria overcame Lidziya Marozava and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4. As Groenefeld said, “We just kept going. … For me this is the best win for my country.” But the Germans will need to bring their best to deal with the Czech Republic.