Archives for March 2018

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.

Serena: ‘I just felt like my story wasn’t over’

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

INDIAN WELLS – It felt like forever that Serena Williams couldn’t play last year when she stopped because she was going to have a child. She did, her first baby, in September,  and she was having a great time being a first-time mother.

When it was time, she started to practice again, but in January, she knew that her legs wasn’t ready to compete, so she didn’t play at the Australian Open. So she waited and as she said, she practiced all the time. “The timing was so hard, but I wanted to get back,” she said.

On Thursday night she beat Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3.  It has been 14 months, the last time that she has played on court. She looked pretty good, moving fairly well, her serve was strong and she hustled. As she said,  she is trying to be very calm and not push herself.  When she was not playing last year, she actually watched a ton of matches on TV.

“I was really surprised, and I watched it a lot, the women and the men, but when I started practicing a lot, I stopped,” Serena said. “The minute I realized that I was going to take some time off, I just wanted to stay fit and stay ready the best I could. It just wasn’t my time to retire yet, even though it would have been a great way to retire. I just felt like my story wasn’t over. … I am going to go with the flow.”

Azarenka emerges
Vika Azarenka finally played again at Indian Wells. The former two-time champion is living in Los Angeles; she has a new child, and with that, she feels pretty happy. She hadn’t played inthe past eight months, which was a pretty long time. Off court, she is still battling with her ex-boyfriend, and the lawyers, so she may not be able to leave the U.S. until they can settle it. When will that  happen? It is very hard to say. At least she is playing Indian Wells, and then she will play Miami, and very likely, at Charleston.

On Thursday night,  Azarenka looked very decent, beating Heather Watson  6-4, 6-2. The 28-year-old wants to be there as much as she can, but as she said, there are days when she cannot play, having to do with her body and other things. Really important things. 

“Unfortunately, this situation is a little bit out of my control, so I have to go with the flow and continue to be positive, continue to be optimistic and continue to just fight, because that’s what I’m best at — fighting,” Azarenka said. “One day, I’ll write a book about this because it’s Hollywood-worthy for sure. It truly means the world to me just to be here, and to play, and enjoy myself and do what I love to do.”

The men
The top men players aren’t playing yet, but it will happen very soon. However, there are a number of young competitors who are here, like Taylor Fritz, who overcame Reilly Opelka 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. He thought he was going to lose, but he hung in there. But, he wasn’t sure why.

“I’m pretty lucky,” said Fritz. “I could have lost the first set 6-0. He almost broke me in the first three games I served. There wasn’t much I could do. I felt I was hitting my spots, but he was lasering returns back. I told myself, ‘Just play your game. If he keeps doing this, it’s too good. He’ll beat anybody playing like that.’ I was down a set and a match point in the second-set tiebreaker and I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. When somebody is playing like that, you just have to weather the storm … When someone like [Opelka] is on, someone who plays a big game, you just have to weather the storm as best as you can.” And he did, and then he won.

The 20-year-old from nearby San Diego is picking up his game. He won Newport Beach (an ATP Challenger Tour event), he reached the quarters at Delray Beach, upsetting Sam Querrey before he lost against Denis Shapovalov. Last week, he reached the semis at the Oracle Challenge Series in Indian Wells. Now he is ranked No 74. He believes that he is getting better all the time, as he can really listen when he is practicing with the coaches, Paul Annacona.  

When Fritz is playing, he says he can adapt his different styles. “Now, when I play somebody, if they hear that [I made that change], I can use reverse psychology and just go down the line on every one. It is mind games,” said Fritz. Fritz will face another very good young player, Andrey Rublev, on Saturday. 

Short shots
The Canadian Shapovalov won here and he will face Pablo Cuevas, which should be some long, tough rallies. … Borna Coric blew out Donald Young, which is a fine by Coric, but the American is way down mentally. Maybe he should take a break. He has been playing for a decade, all the time, and his body is breaking down. …Ryan Harrison went down, losing to Federico Delbonis 7-5 in the third. So close, but so far. … Props to Jared Donaldson, who overcame Evan King 6-4 in the third.

Throw in some other victories by the WTA players like: the vet Sorana Cirstea upseting Monica Niculescu, and it looks like Cirstea is getting quicker. … I keep thinking that the former No. 2 Vera Zvonareva was ready to rise, but Natalia Vikhlyantseva tooled her. Who knows why by the Russian decided to return. Ekaterina Makarova also won, and the former top-10-er will be back in the top 20 this season. She hopes. … Three good wins by the Americans such as the 18-year-old Catherine Bellis, who is ranked No. 45, as well as Jennifer Brady and Danielle Collins.

Teenager Auger-Aliassime ready to rock against Raonic

Felix Auger_Aliassime
INDIAN WELLS–Twenty years ago in Canada, there were a few very good players, but not that many. Now, there are a bunch. The teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime upset the veteran Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 7-6, and now he will go up against Milos Raonic on Sunday. Raonic has reached the final at Wimbledon a couple years ago. Without a doubt, he wants to win a gigantic tournament, but he gets hurt frequently, so the only way to do it and stay healthy this season, because if he doesn’t, he won’t be able to take down the big boys. 

Plus, Raonic must know that already Auger-Aliassime is very good, fast and strong. He is young, so it is hard to tell how great he will be over the years, but many folks that he is already darn good.   

He can’t wait to play Raonic at Indian Wells.

“I am exciting to see someone I have looked up to growing up. I’ll try do everything I can to return the serve and hang in there. It’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to it, yeah,” Auger-Aliassime said.

When you are young, there is a lot to learn. Even if you are practicing everyday, you still have to try new shots. And stay with it. Look at Roger Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slams, but it took him 35 years to accept his leaping backhand. The Canadian has a ton of things to practice and learn. But already, he likes a few important swings.

“My strengths are probably my serve, forehand. I’m an aggressive player, but I think the coverage of the court is something I have been working on. And I think it’s paying off now with the big guys, you know, to be able to cover the court, to move well, and then to defend and stay in the points,” Auger-Aliassime said. “That’s something that helps me a lot. As a player, you try and be as complete as you can, so there is a lot of things I want to improve and just that consistency that I want to get over the matches and over the tournaments.”

The women
The two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza is once again struggling, up and down. She was pretty decent in Europe in February, reaching the final on Doha and in the semis in Dubai. But now, she is floundering. In the third set against Sachia Vickery, the American hustled and banged away, while Muguruza overhit and was inpatient. Good for Vickery, but so-so for Muguruza.

As the Spaniard said, there is a lot of depth now and almost anyone can be upset. Perhaps not, but maybe things are changing. Vickery is ranked No. 100, while Muguruza is ranked No. 3.  

“We always say that there are so many players that can be dangerous, that can be motivated and have a great day and face an opponent where maybe they don’t have a lot of pressure and play good,” Muguruza said. “Maybe the top player exits early. And we have seen this so many times.”

Muguruza says that before she played with Vickery, she watched her a little bit, but in the match,  the American jumped on the ball. Plus, Vickery was very motivated.

“I think she has a great physical skill. I just think that when players with not a lot of experience play against top players, they are very motivated,” Muguruza said. “They elevate always their game. She was getting a little bit more excited, and the key points went her way, and she was getting more into the match and, at the end, she had a lot more confidence.”

More notes
It is very surprising that Aga Radwanska lost early again, losing against Naomi Osaka. Aga is already outside of the top 30 and she could be unseeded at Roland Garros in a few months. Radwanska needs to rest, for a while, until her body is fully heals. …Venus and Serena Williams both won on Saturday. They will face each other on Monday, which should be a fascinating contest. Obviously, Serena hasn’t beaten her many times, but given that the younger sister hasn’t played on court for the past 14 months, she’s a little rusty. Venus has played a fair amount in 2017, and this year, too. So yes, if Venus plays extremely well, she can upset Serena. But to beat her, Venus must serve very big, return with depth, and control her forehand. … How about the unknown Danielle Collins who upset Madison Keys? Collins changed it up a lot, while Keys lost her touch. She needs to step it up — again. … Dominic Thiem overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 3-6 6-3 and now he will face Pablo Cuevas on hardcourts. Neither of them loves hardcourts, but they can move well on the courts and they can whack it away. Three sets for sure. … That was a quite a win by Fernando Verdasco, who took down Grigor Dimitrov. Verdasco might be a little bit older, but he is focusing, again. Plus, as he said, he still loves playing tennis. 15 years later. That’s a lot. More tomorrow …     

Indian Wells coming: Svitolina, Serena, Vika, Caro

Notes on A Draw Sheet, March 4, 2018

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.
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.