Archives for May 2017

The women: Who can actually win the women’s RG trophy?

NOTE: Before we printed here, we decided to hold off until Sunday night, assuming most of them top players will win anyway. Some did not. The No. 1 Angie Kerber lost, as did Roberta Vinci. Within seconds, everything change. 

1st quarter
How about Petra Kvitova? She has won two Slams, but at the end of last year, two crazy people came into her house, attacked her and ran way. It has taken a long time to recover, but now she is back because she just wants to play tennis. Even if her body isn’t healthy, at least she can walk on the court and hit the heck out of the ball. That makes her happy.

On Sunday here, she took out Julia Boserup in straight sets. And she cried again — happy. 

Can she win it? I doubt it, although a few years ago, she reached the semis at RG But, she is so enthusiastic that she could reach the second week. And then?

Caro Wozniacki has never liked clay over the past decade. At RG, the former No. 1 can get extremely upset when she cannot hit the lines and slide all over the place. She could reach the third round, but then she will likely have to play against Kiki Bertens, who just won Nuremberg. The Netherlander will out-run the frustrated Wozniacki. 

Sam Stosur also just won a small tournament at Strasbourg, beating another Aussie, Daria Gavrilova, in three tight sets. Stosur has reached the final at RG before, and the veteran believes that she can dominate with her heavy forehand. She might have to play against Kvitova in the third round. They know each other well and without a doubt, it should be a classic. 
The No. 8 Sveta Kuznetova has won RG before and even though she is up and down, she knows how to grind her opponents down. If she reaches the second week, watch out. 

Second quarter
The defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza can be destructive on clay. But, in the past year, she has been upset much too often, gets hurt all the time and doesn’t understand why she isn’t perfect. That’s why she hasn’t won a tournament since then. Will she get on a roll? Well, at least she reached the semis at Rome, beating Venus Williams in the quarters. Against Elina Svitolina, she retired, hurt, believe it or not. Can she rise in rebellion? Perhaps, but she has to stop thinking that her legs will fail her. 

Kristina Mladenovic has advanced this year, but the Frenchwoman has to deal with RG, which is difficult because the entire world will be watching her. She is a tremendous hitter, and she is quicker than she used to be, but on court on Paris, you have to lock it in and don’t listen to the crowds who are yelling for you. If she does, she can actually reach the semis — or even the final. And then … exactly what?

The super veteran Venus Williams has never won Roland Garros, but she has come close, and this time, while she is aging, she is very smart. However, she is a little slow now; so the only way she can go super deep is going to the net once in a while and attack at the net. She won her first round on Sunday, and she might have to face a true grinder in Daria Gavrilova in the third round. She might also have to face Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, assuming the Slovak gets her game back on track. 

Third quarter
After winning Rome, Svitolina now she has a real chance to go far at RG. The No. 5 has never gone deep at the Grand Slams, but it is time. There will be pressure, but she has the tools. She might have to face the tough Croatian Ana Konjuh in the third round, and maybe Madison Keys in the fourth … if the struggling American manages to best No. 17 Ana Sevastova. Tossup.

After Simona Halep won Madrid, it looked like the Romanian was ready to roll. Then she reached the final at Rome, and ka-boom, she got hurt, pretty seriously, and now it’s impossible to tell whether she will retire this week. So, if Halep gets better quickly, then she could actually win it all. But, if she can’t, she could lose in the third round, against another young player, the Russian Daria Kasatkina.    

Fourth quarter
I have always thought that Karolina Pliskova is going to win a major. The Czech just crushes the ball on her forehand and her backhand, plus her first serve is gigantic. But she is so up and down, and on clay, the No. 3 slips a lot and she can’t recover. Without a doubt, though, she is smarter and faster that she used to be.
There is only one other player in this quarter who has played on very well clay this year: not Aga Radwanska, not CoCo Vandeweghe, not Lauren Davis, not Johanna Konta and not Carolina Garcia.

It’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who has played much better than last year. She won Monterrey over Garcia and Kerber; and then, she won Rabat. She lost two three-setters early in Madrid and Rome, but once she gets there, the 25-year-old will push as hard as she can. The Russian isn’t fast, but she can find the lines with her forehand and backhands. She could actually reach the semis. Imagine that.

French Open men’s preview: Who else … Rafa!

From Roland Garros –

THE FAVORITE
Rafa Nadal has won nine titles here but faltered since 2014. Without a doubt, over the past two months, he has finally been more aggressive and more consistent. Can he win it again when in the past three -, his body was sore and pretty weak? He is finally and gradually changing his tactics, given that as a 30-years-old, he needs to change. 
On clay, he is the favorite. His major test could be in the semifinals; watch out against Novak Djokovic, who has beaten Nadal a ton of times after 2014. Nadal might have to face the steady Roberto Bautista Agut or the American Jack Sock in the fourth round, and maybe another Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta, in the quarters. Others looming include Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov in the quarters, if they learn to love clay. It’s all about Nadal; if he gets on a roll, then he can throw anyone into the back wall and win it.  

CLOSE TO THE FAVORITES
Andy Murray is the No. 1 so even though he has been struggling this year. When he walks on court, he will attempt to lock it in. But he’s never won Roland Garros, and while he has gotten better on clay, he gets frustrated. Will he do it here? At some point for sure. This year he will have to take out the very young Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, if they get to the quarters.

Novak Djokovic has won this tournament last year, blasting away and having the best time of his life. But after he left from Paris, he was a little bit tired, and then he didn’t know why he was running the wrong way, and then his serve went down, and he couldn’t kiss the lines, etc. Since then, he has won just two events. He just hired a new coach, Andre Agassi, to help him now. Maybe he will, but to win Paris when he is still shaky? It’s a lot to ask. He has to be super patient and if he does, he has a shot to grab RG again, but that would be surprising. He might have to play against the up-coming Dominic Thiem in the quarters, who smoked him in the semis of Rome. 

Here comes the No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, who just won Geneva beating Mischa Zverev. The Swiss was a little out of it, but when he wakes up, he can win any title, which he as done at Roland Garros, the Aussie Open and the US Open. His one-handed backhand is legendary. Wawrinka can win it again, but he could face a number of fine players: maybe against Fabio Fognini in the third round, against Richard Gasquet or Gael Monfils in the fourth round, and against Jo Tsonga (who just won Lyon over Tomas Berdych in the final), Nick Kyrgios or Marin Cilic in the quarters.  It’s a very tough draw for Wawrinka.

BEST OF A REST
Alexander Zverev just won Rome, the first time that one of young kids actually grabbed an ATP Masters Series since, well, forever. The German really likes the clay, but still, he will have to face the vet Fernando Verdasco in the first round, maybe against Kei Nishikori in the fourth round, and against Murray in the quarters. Of course he can win a major very soon, but in two weeks in front of the massive crowds? Only he can stay calm within himself.
  
Thiem is another who is coming up very quickly. He’s already in the top 10 and he loves the clay. Can he actually upset Djokovic in the quarters? I doubt it, but he needs to improve his form now. 

A number of Americans can reach the second week: Steve Johnson, if he can out hit Thiem in the third round; Sock, who would have to best Ryan Harrison and then to crunch Bautista Agut in the third round; and John Isner  — who played very well in Rome — has to take down two phenomenal players, against Berdych in the third round, and if he beats him, then he will likely play against Murray in the fourth round. Brutal.

Notes on a draw sheet: Clay court season heats up

Hola, Madrid. Serious clay courts here now.

The clay courts are really starting now. Yes, it was important in Monte Carlo and Barcelona (the guys), and Stuttgart and Prague (the girls). But coming soon are three gigantic events: Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

Roland Garros is in five weeks and whoever wins on clay, they will be extremely happy, even if they happen to lose early on grass and then the hard courts. You will remember who wins in Paris — forever.

This week in Spain, Madrid has already started.

In Istanbul, one-time Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic overcame Milos Raonic 7-6(3) 6-3.

In Munich, the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev beat Guido Pella 6-4, 6-3 to win his biggest title yet. Zverev is coming up big time. The 6’6” player is now ranked No. 17, and he is coming up super fast. “I’m confident. I’m playing well so hopefully I can keep going and play some great tennis in the upcoming weeks,” Zverev said.  My colleague, Ron Cioffi, predicted at least a year ago that Zverev would be No. 1 at some point in his career.

The last time that a teenager won a Grand Slam was 12 years ago, when Rafa Nadal won Roland Garros in 2005. None of the top competitors were unable to grab Slams when they were teenagers: not Roger Ferrer, not Novak Djokovic, not Andy Murray, not Stan Wawrinka. Only Nadal, who was only 19 years old. He was very young, and he had a lot of work to do, but regardless, he ran like the wind.

Zverev isn’t as fast as Nadal is, but the German crushes the ball from the backcourt, with his serve, his forehand and his backhand. Ka-boom!

Nadal won this year’s Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, but now, he might have to face Murray and/or Djokovic this week. Not Wawrinka, who looks undisciplined. The Britain and the Serbian are struggling, so the Spaniard is the favorite.

NOTES

Maria Sharapova was unable to win Stuttgart, but she did reach the semis, which was more or less OK. But now, she has to focus and disregard fans who are screaming at her. It has been a very, very trying 15 months off since she was banned. Now she is back, and hopefully, she can be super nice to everyone. But, it won’t be easy, that is for sure.

On Sunday, Sharapova beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 and will play Genie Bouchard in the second round. They have played four times, with the American/Russian winning all of them, but at least the Canadian pushed her in Roland Garros a few years ago. Sharapova is the favorite, because Bouchard had just lost six matches in a row. The former No. 5 is very strong, but her brain goes away pretty quickly. Bouchard absolutely has to calm down or Sharapova will crush her.

Three of the top US American women aren’t in Madrid: Serena Williams won’t play the rest of the year (she’s pregnant), Venus is resting, and Madison Keys lost in the first round against Doi. Keys is just coming back, so hopefully, she will get better as fast as she can. Last year, she reached the final at Rome.

The US teenager Catherine Bellis won on Sunday and she is rising very quickly. But on clay? We will find out ASAP.

Notes on a Draw Sheet: Nadal rising

Nadal is recovering well, but can he beat other excellent players?

Rafa Nadal won another clay tournament. Just like in Monte Carlo, his victory in Barcelona gives him 10 titles in two clay events.

In the final, he crushed Dominic Thiem. As the Belgian said, there was no way he could win when the Spaniard kept smashing into his backhand. The young Thiem can wail his strokes from behind the baseline, hitting it as hard as he can, but his one-hander gets pushed way back in the court, and it was rare that he could nail it on the lines.

Against Nadal over the past 12 years, few can do it.

The 30-year-old has now won 51 titles on clay. Rafa clearly loves it, and although he hasn’t won a Grand Slam in almost three years, but he is trying very hard. Without a doubt, Nadal has to improve his backhand and his second serve — if he wants to. But we will find out very soon because he will play at the ATP 1000 at Madrid next week and then Rome.

Hopefully, he will get a chance to match up with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (who lost against Thiem in the semis) to find out whether he has actually improved enough to bring down the best. If he does, the 14-time Grand Slam champion will be the favorite at Roland Garros. If he does not, at least five players can win it all — Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Siegemund wins but Pliskova stalls

Out of nowhere, the 29-year-old Laura Siegemund shocked Kristina Mladenovic 6-1 2-6 7-6(5) to win Stuttgart. Two years ago, she was out of the top 100. In fact, for 10 years, she was unable to get into the top 100 at all. In 2015, finally, she did, swinging much harder than she did. It has taken her a very long time but at least she can finally say that when she is on, she can beat anyone. Well, most of them …

Mladenovic overcame Maria Sharapova in a tough marathon in the semis. The Frenchwoman is looking much better than she did before; she has always been a little bit slow and she hits some crazy shots, but when she comes to the net, she can put it away. This year, she may finally reach the top 10. But at Roland Garros she may be to nervous to make a statement.

How about Karolina Pliskova, who loses against Siegemund in Stuttgart. But, on Monday in Prague, the Czech lost in the first round against Camila Giorgi. The No. 3 Pliskova is excellent some days, and, on other days, mediocre at best. Sure, she can become No. 1 this year, but more importantly, she has to win a major. Or next year, because some people don’t think that a couple former No. 1s deserved to be super great. Look at Caro Wozniaki, who was No. 1 for almost two years, but she was unable to win a Grand Slam. Maybe she will someday —or not.

Right now, Pliskova has to do the same thing: at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open, where she has to shake off her nerves and go for it.