The determined: Raonic, Djokovic, Schiavone, Muguruza and more  


The Men
When he is healthy, very healthy, Milos Raonic can actually win a Grand Slam. Maybe in Wimbledon, or the US Open, but right now he isn’t 100 percent physically. He is tall, his first serve is massive, his forehand is phenomenal and, without a doubt, his backhand has been improved over the past two years.

However, he is often hurt, which is why the 26-year-old has yet to win a major yet. Obviously, it’s not easy, given that he has to beat the fantastic competitors: Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Combined, the Big 5 guys have won 50 Grand Slams. To even get in there, Raonic has to improve every day because the Big 5 are super intelligent, and they are very fast, and they can return like animals. Raonic can club the ball, but outside of the Big 5, no one else can return consistency well — like Raonic. However, the Canadian is trying, so maybe this year, he can break the serves, and break it again.

On clay, you have to grind it out.

On Monday, he did, beating Steve Darci 6-3 6-4 6-2. That’s a good start. But can he win the tournament? Hmmm.  

“Every single match I step out on court, I know I will be able to have the opportunity to create chances to win,” said Raonic, who has never reached the semis at Roland Garros. “Will I do that? Will I get to that stage, and will I make the most of them? That’s another thing. But I believe a lot in my tennis.”

Former US Open champ Marin Cilic beat Ernests Gulbis in three sets. Cilic is very powerful, but he doesn’t slice enough

How about Joao Sousa who upset the former top-10er Janko Tipsarevic 4-6 7-6 6-2 6-2? Good for Sousa, but now he has to play Novak Djokovic, who smoked Marcel Granollers. Andre Agassi is here coaching Djokovic, which is super interesting, but they don’t know each other well — yet — so the Serbian has to rely on his ample experience.

The nine-time champion Rafa Nadal waxed Benoit Paire 6-1 6-4 6-1. He will play against Robin Haase. Straight sets for Nadal. He will cruise until the quarters next week. 

David Goffin was on fire, overwhelming Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2 6-2 6-2. Goffin might face Dominic Thiem in the fourth round. Pick-em.

Jack Sock lost against the vet Jiri Vesely 7-5 7-5 6-3. The American has to welcome a return to grass. Ryan Harrison lost against the Brit Aljaz Bedene 6-4 6-0 3-6 6-1. Clearly, Harrison will be happier when he lands in England.

A tough lost by the Frenchman Gilles Simon, who went down against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The Women
At the end of this year — allegedly — Francesca Schiavone will retire. She’s 36 years old, and even though she’s a little bit slow now, she still can run and run for hours. Unfortunately, the Italian lost against Garbine Muguriza in two tough sets.

A few years ago, Schiavone won the title at RG. She was so enthusiastic, so fast, delivering her shots with so much spin. She has declined though, but at the very least, she can be funny.

After she lost in Paris on Monday, she smiled and said: “I hate sometimes tennis. Is a big relation. Is a love that you have to love and then you hate sometimes. It’s like when you marry someone.”

The Spaniard Muguruza used to watch Schiavone playing on court. She still does.

“I think she loves it. She kind of enjoys out there. I saw her match in the final here, and I kind of like it. I was happy that she won the French Open at that time,” Muguruza said. “I don’t see myself playing at 36 with that shape. I think she has spectacular body, to be able to do that. I don’t know if my body can handle with how many injuries I have, and I’m 23. So it’s gonna be tough.”

For sure.

Some quick ones
Kristina Mladenovic beat Jennifer Brady 3-6 6-3 9-7 in a classic match.  Mladenovic was slightly injured but she hung in there. Can she push on after 3 hours? Hard to say, but the Frenchwoman really wants to go very The No. 3 Karolina Pliskova blasted Zheng Saisai. We all know how good she is, but on clay, she has to bear down.

Good wins by Sam Stosur, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Catherine Bellis and Varvara Lepchenko.

All the world is Nadal and Djokovic’s stage

Nadal IW 13 TR MALT9260


There have been few instances in the past when a dethroned No. 1 went as hard as Novak Djokovic has during the fall season to show the world that’s he really still the best player in the game. As the Serbian says, now No.1 Rafael Nadal deserves the top spot after his tremendous year, especially because he bested Djokovic in two Slams, Roland Garros and the US Open.  But this fall season has been all about Djokovic tapping into his enormous mental reserve, tweaking a few parts of his game and going right at the Spaniard, beating him in Beijing and the ATP World Finals. He was on a 22-match winning streak headed into the Davis Cup final, courtesy of an improved net game, clutch serving and a more consistent forehand.

Yes, Nadal was a little mentally down during the fall stretch and wasn’t his normal self in London, but he was out played after a solid week indoors and it sure looks like Djokovic believes that he still has the goods to take him down on a consistent basis off of clay. Nadal says that he thinks he’ll have a better shot at home in Australia and he should believe that given he’s won their last two outdoor hard court clashes (Montreal and the US Open) but if he’s to best him Down Under he is going to have to amp up his service speed again, have faith in his forehand down the line as well as his inside out forehand and perhaps in the offseason, improve his backhand down the line, the weakest part of his game.

Outside of Andy Murray‘s amazing run at Wimbledon and his fine play in winning Miami, this season has been all about Nadal and Djokovic. No other players really mattered. They combined to win three out of the four Grand Slams and all of the Masters Series titles except Miami. A healthy Murray would have had a lot to say about who was winning tournaments post Wimbledon, but his bad back got the better of him and now he has to prove post-surgery that he can still keep up with Nadal and Djokovic. In great health, he can, but it’s hard to think of any great tennis players who have returned from back surgery at the same level. Back surgeries have become more effective over the past 20 years or so it’s possible that Murray will come back at his Wimbledon winning level, but it is doubtful that the tennis world will see that right off the bat, so his chances of having major effect on the Australian Open are slim.

What that means is that there is a strong chance that Nadal and Djokovic will face off for the 40th time in the Aussie Open final. Will they play for almost six hours again like they did back in 2011? Perhaps not, but with the way that they match up they will surely grind it out for three hours minimum.

Can any other male player stop what appears to be the ATP’s inevitable final? No one really did at the O2 Arena in London. Sure, Juan Martin Del Potro has showed that in two out of three sets matches that he can play anyone tough and even beat them  on occasion but in three out five sets he hasn’t shown that since his return from wrist surgery in 2010. His serve and forehand are very effective weapons, but his backhand is relatively weak, his transition game is spotty, he doesn’t return all that well and even though he’s the best mover of any of the very tall competitors, he can’t run with the Big 4.

What he can do is continue to work on his offense, tighten the screws up a bit and do some mental exercises so he can avoid the lapses in concentration that plagued him in London in his loss to Roger Federer. He just announced he won’t play Argentina’s first round Davis Cup again, this one coming against Italy. He has a very poor relationship with the Argentine Tennis Federation

Speaking of whom, the Swiss played very at times during the ATP World Tour Finals, but he was also sloppy at times and that really costs him in his semifinal loss to Nadal. After the Spaniard’s tight straight set win, it sounded like Nadal described Federer’s play as “crazy” but he apparently said “aggressive” and noted that Federer had been effective against him in the past in London by going for winners off of every shot. While that strategy may have worked against Nadal a few years ago and might work one out of 10 times for Federer now against the man who is putting his GOAT status at serious risk, it’s just too hard for a 32 year old to pull that off when he’s lost a little speed and timing. Federer has to be more measured in his approach, like he was against Del Potro and to a degree in his opening three-set loss to Djokovic. Perhaps most importantly though is that in the off season and next year he has to open his mind up to change. He did not have a great season around the net, but he’s certainly capable of becoming a great volleyer and if he does not commit to charging ahead more and taking over matches at the cords then he’s not going to win a another Slam. His days of being able to consistently beat Djokovic, Nadal and Murray on anything but a very quick surface are gone. But a Federer 3.0 who can rush his foes and put away tough volleys? That Roger can win another major in 2014.

Regarding the other four men who played in London, the only one who really impressive was Stanislas Wawrinka, who displayed top 5 material at the tournament and for parts of the 2013. He has a terrific serve and backhand, and his forehand can be pretty effective when he’s on. He’s not bad at closing points at the net, but he doesn’t return that well and is still lacking that little bit of self-confidence that would have him actually upsetting a Djokovic or Nadal on occasion rather than constantly losing to them. If he can find a way to gain a little more belief in 2014, he may find himself back in Slam semi once again.

Of the other three men who competed there – David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet – only the Czech showed off a very high level on occasion, but it also appeared that his mind was more on the Davis Cup final. Ferrer was exhausted after a long fall campaign and was underwhelming. Gasquet is quite a shotmaker, but he’s too erratic to take down the top guys and he’s no without a head coach as Riccardo Piatti has left him. Hopefully next year one of the so called up and comers such as Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov will make it into the final and add a little more flavor the competition.

Some other interesting reading:

Sharapova: Serena and I left feud at Wimbledon

Tipsarevic: I’m no Rocky Balboa story

 Bryan brothers aim to reach 100-title mark in 2014

Rio de Janeiro Terminates ATP Advertising Agreement Before Expiration



Sony Ericsson Open/Miami Draw Breakdown

Nalbandian shows a resurgence. Photos: Mal Taam/MALTphoto


Novak Djokovic’s path to the Miami semis looks fine; he could face the mercurial Marcos Bagdhatis in R2 (who says he can beat him but really can

Taking a Measure of Dubai: Big $, few fans

Novak and the rest of the top 10 are cashing in at Dubai

Year after year now, many of the best players go to Dubai to contest two very big money tournaments. And, year after year, the United Arab Emirates fails to produce any players of note. While I am a big proponent of spreading the gospel of tennis and am willing to keep and open mind upon placing tournaments in various international locales, as it stands to day, I am failing to see the value of continuing to have tournaments in Dubai beyond the massive amounts of moneys paid to the players, and concurrently, the cuts that the tours get off the tournament fees. I do understand that the Dubai Duty Free is a big sponsor off the WTA and it would not be if not for the existence of a Premier level tournament there, but is there going to be any point in the next decade when enough fans actually attend the tournament to say, fill half the seats?

I did not see that last week during Aga Radwanska

Caro Mia! Wozniacki Upsets Kirilenko for Sexiest Award

Caro edged out two Russians.

Nadal Repeats as Sexiest Male; Newcomer Goes to Tomic by 1 Vote

The public has spoken in the seventh annual Readers’s Poll.

In the most anticipated and heavily populated voting ever, Caroline Wozniacki rode a wave of a European votes to outshine last year’s winner, Maria Kirilenko, and win the “Ana Ivanovic” Sexiest Female Player.  The Dane also outpolled two women who lead the early returns, Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges.

Defending champ Rafael Nadal prevailed among the men for the “Marat Safin” Sexiest Male Player, edging fellow Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez

Both awards are named after the two players who won the award for five straight years and were retired from competition.

In 2011, Novak Djokovic basked in the glory of his standout season with a large lead over the field in the Top Male Player. Somewhat remarkably, despite winning Roland Garros, No. 2 Nadal came in third in the poll behind Roger Federer, who did not win a 2011 major.

Wimbledon and WTA Championships winner Petra Kvitova outdistanced No. 1 Wozniacki by a commanding number for Top Female Player.

Even though the annual poll drew in an amazingly large vote total