Pro tennis: too many male players are injured

 

Fix it, please.

Who knew that they could snag a Grand Slam again, considering that they were aging, and the chances to dominate was very slim.   

But somehow, someway, they had improved their strokes and when they came on court, they were better and smarter. Federer won the Aussie Open and Wimbledon, and Nadal won Roland Garros and the US Open. They were back, and much better. 

Unfortunately, “everybody” is injured. Federer decided not to play on clay, because he though that if he did, he could get hurt again and once he came on grass, he could be very tired or very sore. Nadal played about as well he did on clay — once again, he won Roland Garros, 10 times — and the same thing on the hard courts in the end of the summer in New York. 

But three weeks ago, Nadal’s knees started to get extremely tender, and two days ago, he pulled out at the ATP Finals.

Now, it’s the middle of November. While there are some terrific matches at the ATP Finals played by Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev, four multiple Grand Slam champs who are not there: Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Those four have combined to win 33 majors; but they aren’t in London town. For the fans, that hurts.

It is not just them. Three excellent competitors also became substantially injured this season: Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios. 

The 36-year-old Federer says that now, you can play longer and you don’t have to retire so early, such as Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf. Perhaps so, but one of the problems is the length of the year; they have to start at the beginning of January and continue until the middle of November. Essentially, in pro tennis, you have to play the entire year. 

Yes, they can relax for a week or two. Players begin to practice in December. Within a second or two, it is time to get back on court, and play the matches. 

This has been going for many years now. If it was up to me, I would reduce the schedule. I know it’s all about the money, making more and more money all the time, but what I see — and this is totally true — lots of people stop watching tennis in the fall. It is too much, too many tournaments, too many days, and eventually, the fans get bored. So they stop.
That is why pro tennis is still struggling.

Hopefully, in 2018, they will fix it, at least a little bit. 

 

ATP Finals: Sock outlasts Cilic; Dimitrov beats Thiem

Jack Sock has been slumping for five months. At times, he was frustrated and very irritable. But, in the last three weeks, he became so consistent, he hung in there and he changed his tactics.

Two days ago, he lost to the phenomenal Roger Federer.

On Tuesday, in London, he overcame Marin Cilic 5-7 6-2 7-6(4). Now the American has a chance to reach the semis at the end of this week.

Today, he was pretty quick, especially when very close to the net. The court isn’t that fast, which is good, considering that the hard courts can be lighting quick in different indoor tournaments. Not in London, this time.

Sock has been sneaking up on the Top 10, finally reaching No. 9 with his Masters 1000 victory in Paris. Since the American Andy Roddick — who won one major at the 2003 US Open — American men have been underachieving. Surprise Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey was the first American man to break the final four Slam glass ceiling since Robby Ginepri in 2005.

Today, there are a good amount of U.S. male players in the top 100. But, winning a Grand Slam, or even making it into the ATP Finals, with only the top eight players at the end of a season, is very difficult.  

That was surprising two weeks ago, because it looked like that once again, the Americans would be unable to consistently beat the big boys. Now, Sock rose up, and has a chance to go deep this week in England.

Yes, obviously, Federer is the favorite, and yes, Sock will have to face the excellent, very young player Alex Zverev on Thursday. Can Sock win and reach the semis? That is up in the air, but finally, Sock is gaining confidence every day. Maybe, every second.

With a win today over Zverev (61 in the final set), Federer has sealed a spot in the semis for the 14th time.

Nadal calls it a year
Without question, Rafa Nadal has had a terrific year. He has won six titles, two of which were Roland Garros (10 titles in Paris) and the US Open. He has improved at the net, and his softer backhand is landing deep and with even more spin.

Nadal was pretty shaky when he lost against David Goffin in three sets He was limping towards at the end.

Nadal ran around, but he was a little slow and he could not crack his famous forehand. His legs were wobbly.

As Federer said, perhaps his good buddy, Nadal, should not have gone to Asia in October. But he did, winning Beijing and then reaching the final at Shanghai, losing against to, believe it or not, Federer.

Then, after that, Nadal was hurting, once again. On Monday, the No. 1 waved goodbye for the rest of the year.

Now, he needs to rest. And heal. In 2018, who knows? Will Nadal be healthy all the time? I doubt it, because over the past four years, the 31-year-old gets hurt pretty frequently. When he is feeling just fine, he gets better all the time, which is a very good thing.

During the afternoon, Grigor Dimitrov overcame Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 7-5. Dimitrov rarely goes away, and he mixes it up all the time. He almost lost though, because Thiem jumped on him and he was winning the one-hander versus the same one-hander. But the Bulgarian was more patient and confident. At the very end, young Thiem sort of gagged. Or panicked.

Either way, with Nadal now gone, Dimitrov is favored to reach the semis. He could actually win the entire event. Imagine that.

Vandeweghe soars, US women win the Fed Cup

Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Federer beats Sock in first ATP Finals match  
American CoCo Vandeweghe is the Fed Cup MVP, winning three matches versus Belarus in the final tie to bring the USA its first Fed Cup since 2000. 

Vandeweghe has had a terrific year, especially in Fed Cup where she won eight points. Facing Belarus in its capitol, Minsk, she pulled out two singles victories and then capped it off with a straight-set, clinching doubles win with Shelby Rogers.

The tie, which many predicted as a sure American victory, was a nail-biter, coming down to the doubles on Sunday.

Five years ago, Vandeweghe was out of it, mentally. Her sole strategy was just cracking her serve. This year the No. 10 was so effective, so driven. Even two years ago, she would become super angry, throw her racket and shake her head. Even now, she can become frustrated, but that is OK, because after a moment or two, the veteran will breath deep and go on to the next point.

It is one thing to win at home, but it’s another to grab it away. Venus Williams didn’t play (of course the new mom, Serena, was out of action) and the injured Madison Keys couldn’t come either. For the home team, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka couldn’t play either, as she is embroiled in a custody battle with her ex, Billy McKeague.

The 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens came to play. However, her losing streak since the US Open continued as she dropped both matches. She is hurt and exhausted.

Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich dug in deep and looked fantastic in their two singles victories over Stephens.

In doubles, the outcome was decidedly different. The Americans pushed forward, they returned very well at times, and when they had to, they put many shots at the net. In a sense, it does not matter who is playing, but when they get on court, you have to lock in, don’t become too nervous and hit the right way. At the end, the Americans did. 

By the way, bow-down to the captain, Kathy Rinaldi, who is calm and cool and smart. 

Federer v Sock at the ATP Finals in London 
There you go, Roger Federer won again. This time, he edged American Jack Sock 6-4 7-6(4) in the first round-robin match at the ATP Finals.

Fed has won this tournament many, many times indoors. On the hard courts, whether it be inside or out, he is superior. He mixes it up all the time. His serve is strong and it is difficult to find out which way he is going. His forehand is phenomenal, and for the past 10 months, his backhand has become more powerful. He can lose at times — they all can —  but there are only a few players who can legitimately beat Federer, like Rafa Nadal, who is on the other round-robin bracket. Hopefully, they can play each other towards the end of next week.
 
Sock was happy last week as he won Paris and qualified for the last ATP Finals singles slot. His rise to No. 9 is very surprising, given that from April through September, he did almost nothing. In France, he focused, moved inside the court and, believe it or not, was very effective at the net.

However, Sock needs to improve, obviously. His forehand is gigantic, and his backhand is OK, but he has to rip it crosscourt. Somehow, too, his legs need to be a little bit faster.

Federer should reach the semis, even with Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic rounding out their bracket. It should be a lot of fun — we hope.

Cronin book recounts Borg v. McEnroe in 1980 Wimbledon final

My book translated into Italian, released this week

Buy Italian book via Amazon
Buy Italian book via IBS
Buy book in Englishborg mcenroe, matt cronin

Six years ago, my book, “Epic: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever,” was published in the United States. A number of people have read it over the years. They still do. This week “Borg McEnroe” was published in Italy. Same book but different title and cover.

I am — believe it or not — half Italian. That would be me, Matthew Rezzonico Cronin. My mother, Joan, is 100 percent Italian. On the other side, well, let’s say I am also Irish, from my father, Bill, the former doctor, who passed away 18 years ago.

The thing is that Bill and Joan both loved playing tennis. My mom, Joan, still plays, even as she is an ‘old’ 82-year-old. They both got me into tennis – big time — when I was very young. Many years later, I still am hooked about tennis. Work wise, I have been writing for the past 25 years, traveling, writing/radio/TV etc, and of course, the book, Epic,  — everything. For whatever reason, I am still into tennis, not only following the WTA and ATP folks, but I am always learning new things, on court and off. It is still 2017, and almost every week, somewhere, watching, there will be a fantastic match. Or more.        

For this book’s forward, I asked the former French Open champion Adriano Panatta to be the writer. (Thanks, Adriano!) Here, the Italian remembered how he knew the young Borg and McEnroe were going to be great, eventually. And they did, but it took a little bit of time. Today, he knows them well. They are friends. But, back them, they had some great matches. That’s what tennis is all about.


Forward for “Borg McEnroe”

By One-Time French Open champion Adriano Panatta

The first time I met Bjorn Borg, I thought he was a little bit skinny and he would hesitate. But not for very long, because he grew taller and muscular. He never got tired, and he was incredibly consistent.

A few years later, I saw John McEnoe, running around, twisting it, slicing it, coming into the net and putting it away without hesitation. But on occasion, he would be yelling, all the time.However we eventually became good friends.

When they finally clashed, it was easy to see that they would be the best players out there. They were so driven and so good. Borg and McEnroe never stopped, until Bjorn retired, too early.

However, during the late 1970s, they still had to learn on the courts.

I had to improve every week, too.

In 1976, I won the French Open, beating Borg on clay, possibly the best match I ever played. I always loved clay, sliding, chopping, and when I needed to, I was ready to hit it as hard as I could.

Against Borg, I did a lot of drop shots. I didn’t like to run suddenly, and going fast to the net. He could not match one ball to the other side. It was always very mentally tough..I suffered the opponent and I was able to destroy his game.

In the final, I knew I really had a great chance to win the Grand Slam in Paris and I did, hitting through the lines and never hesitating. It was my best tournament ever.

However, thought time, McEnroe and Borg got better and better. Their serves were so hard and they mixed it up so low. They were so quick, they never got exhausted, they changed the tactics all the time. They could nail their forehands, they were very patient, and they became very intelligent.

I knew Borg better than John, because the Swede was pretty quiet on court, but off the court, he smiled a lot and when I asked him our questions about how to play tennis, he would answer exactly precisely. Bjorn had an ability to track down one ball after another. He almost rattled, he relished playing the big points . . .

WTA Finals: Revived Wozniacki wins the title in Singapore

Former No. 1 runs over Venus Williams for first year-end tournament crown

It has been six years since Caro Wozniacki was atop the end-of-the-year WTA rankings. Back in those years (some of her best), she reached many finals. But, especially in the Grand Slams, she grew crazy nervous and the steady foe almost collapsed.

But not this time. No, she rose super high.

In 2014, Wozniacki  reached the US Open final, when she was ready to win her first major. She went on court against Serena Williams — her good friend — and clearly, the American is a better player. Why? Wozniacki did not hit the ball harder enough, and she lost in straight sets.

No big deal. But pretty quickly, it became a huge deal.

In 2015, she would push the ball frequently, and she would not go for the lines. She only won one small title. Wozniacki was freustrated and disappointed.

In 2016, she did the same thing, more or less. Her backhand is one of the best shots out there, and she is incredibly fast. She never gets tired — ever. But her forehand was pretty weak, she would rush the net much, and she did not attack on the second serves. Wozniacki did manage to win Tokyo and Hong Kong, but it wasn’t big enough for a player of her ability.

This season, finally, she changed and she became more aggressive — especially with her forehand —  and courageous.  That got her to six finals and six failures in Doha, Dubai, Miami, Eastbourne, Bastad and Toronto. Could she find a way to do something different? At the US Open, in early September, she froze again.

She then went to Asia, and she discovered that win or lose, she has to burst out of her shell and take some chances.

And finally, she did.

Wozniacki won Tokyo and when she arrived in Singapore for the WTA Finals, she felt more comfortable with her new strategy. She crushed the No. 1 Simona Halep, edged Karolina Pliskvova in the semis, and in the final, she jumped over the seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4.     

Wozniacki won it, and on court, she smiled, so wide.

“I tried to keep pressure on [Venus] and tried to take a little bit of time away and stay a little bit closer to the baseline. It’s important for me to try and cut the angles and try and take the ball on the rise, and I think I did that pretty well,” Wozniacki said. “[Williams] started mixing up the serve a little bit more.  I just had to keep reminding myself that I’m still up and I’m the one who is leading here, and I’m the one who can close out this match right now.”

Wozniacki jumps up three slots and finishes 2017 ranked No. 3. She has already been No. 1 for a couple of years, which is good in a  way, but the most important thing is to finally win a Grand Slam. Next year, in 2018, she has to step up and play ball. If she does, she can win her biggest trophy.

The 26-year-old has been playing at the WTA for 10 years. It is time for her to triumph. Next year, we will discover that inside of her head, she will understand exactly what she has to do.
 
“I’m really proud of how I have played all week and how I have fought and how I really produced some great fighting out there. To be here with the trophy means a lot, and it’s a great way to finish off the year,” she said.

A nod to the hometown boy
Roger Federer may not be surprising us with his greatness, but he keeps on proving that the best is just a word that is constantly being redefined.

Federer won his hometown tournament in Basel for the eighth time, downing Juan del Potro and, in a certain sense, getting some revenge over the player who knocked him out of the US Open. 

More importantly, Fed moves into second place alltime with ATP wins. He eclipsed Ivan Lendl as he grabbed his 95 title along with his seventh this year. In an era with less money and more incentive to play often, Jimmy Connors won 109 tournaments over his long career. 

In the era when competition included undeniable greats Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Federer keeps finding a way to cement his legacy as the GOAT.

Federer is probably waving goodbye to any chance at ending the year as No. 1 by pulling out of Paris. Without emassing some major points in the French capitol, even a tournament win in the ATP Finals won’t allow Federer to surplant Nadal as yearend No. 1.

WTA Finals: Garcia overcomes Wozniacki, to face Venus


Pliskova to face Wozniack in other year-end semi

Caroline Garcia was blown out by Caro Wozniacki with a 6-0 bagel in the first set of their WTA Finals round-robin match. Then, after resurrecting with a 6-3, Garcia gained a running start. Going into the third set, she ready and confident. The Frenchwoman knew that she had risen before; now, it was time to fly.   

Garcia did, just before the finish line. Down 3-5 in the third, she rose. Once again, the Frenchwoman didn’t back off. She beat Wozniacki 7-5 in the third, stunning the world, once again. 

So now, Garcia has reached the semis against Venus Williams on Saturday. Can Garcia actually win the event? Based on her blazing hot recent play, she has an excellent chance with her big opportunity. Moving into the semis of this year-end tournament in Singapore is a huge career boost. She was No. 23 just one year ago.

Venus is rising, too
The 37-year-old Williamd pushed and prodded and finally, after three hours, beat the 20-year-old Jelena Ostapeno . Two days ago, Venus appeared to be tired, but somehow, blasted Garbine Mugruzua, the two-time Grand Slam champion in straight sets.

Venus has won the WTA Finals before (2008 vs Vera Zvonareva). When she’s physically well, she has a realistic chance, a big chance, to win it again.

It was good to see Elina Svitolina finally play well, and she knocked off Simona Halep. Both of then have lost two times at Singapore, so they are done this year. Svitolina has to calm down and steady herself more in 2018, week after week. Halep has be upbeat and aggressive next year. She remains a threat at every Slam. 

Wozniacki will face against Katerina Pliskova on Saturday. Pliskova is unpredictable.  It’s a tossup, because Wozniacki likes to keep the ball in play. The final decider: It is all on their forehands.

WTA Finals: Wozniacki is risking again, while Halep could sink

Garcia wins a marathon versus Svitolina

Years ago, Caroline Wozniacki was dominant, taking out pretty much everyone, except against her good friend, Serena Williams, the best player, ever. Wozniacki was No. 1 for a couple of years. The one missing component was the lack of a major title. So, so eventually, she faded out of the Top 10.

The Dane has always played frequently, week after week, hour after hour, and rarely gives up. Clearly, she can be stubborn, which is why it has taken her a long, long time to change and improve her so-so forehand. Other holes in her game: rarely coming to the net and not leaping on the second serves. 

On Wednesday, at the WTA Finals in Singapore, Wozniacki played nearly perfect, blowing out the No. 1 Simona Halep 6-0, 6-2. The Romanian can play as well as Caro can. Right now, the Romanian need more mental strength. It seems that she thinks she is going to lose, inside. That is why she has yet to win a major — yet.

“I must give her (Wozniacki) credit for the victory. She played well, but I missed too much,” Halep said. “I think if I just could keep the ball in, I could have been much better. But I played into her hands, and that was too much.” 

Yes it was. Wozniacki has been very healthy and happy this season. She bowed out in six finals this year. Then, it took her nine month to win an important tournament, finally prevailing in Tokyo in September. She was ticked off her abysmal final record, but kept pushing herself. On Wednesday, she was super consistent — as always — and she attached the ball. 

“I didn’t expect to be leading by that much in the first set and I started to think’ ‘What’s happening? Am I really playing that well?,’ ” Wozniacki said.

The Dane has won 58 matches this season. Perhaps she will end the year with 60 victories. Without a doubt, Wozniacki has a decent shot to capture the WTA Final.

There have been a few boring matches in Singapore, contrasting with a couple fantastic contests. In the third set, the Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia was down, but then she rose and upended Elina Svitolina 6-7(7) 6-3 7-5. Garcia was shaky two days ago, but this time, she wasn’t nervous and when she needed to, she went for the lines. She is muscular and she has been around for the past five years, up and down on court. In the past six months, she began to build point, and move better inside the court.

On Friday, Wozniacki and Garcia will play their final match. Wozniacki is 2-0 and has qualified for the semis. This will be a fun match, because Garcia is in the year-end tournament for the first time and still can advance.

Halep knows that,in order to stay at No. 1 at the end of this year, she has to reach the semis. She got a bump in the contest to be year-end No. 1 when Garbine Muguruza lost to Venus Williams. No. 3 Karolina Pliskova is 2-1 after losing to Jelena Ostapeno but will move into the semis. 

Good fun, no?

 

WTA Finals, Day 2: Wozniacki & Halep win; the fight is on

Simona Halep is in the best spot to be the year-end No. 1. Photo: Jimmy48

Without a doubt, there will be a couple tremendous match-ups in Singapore at the WTA Finals, but on Sunday and Monday, in four matches, it was so-so at best.

Caroline Wozniacki crushed Elina Svitolina 6-2 6-0 in less than an hour. Wozniacki was enjoying a wide variety of tactics and going from very patient to very aggressive. Ukrainian Svitolina was mentally gone, from the first point. 

Simona Halep can slip into states of being very nervous, causing her to lose focus. But not against Caroline Garcia. Halep controlled the match, winning  6-4 6-2 . Halep yanked her from side to side, hitting the lines and moving forward whenever she could. Halep rarely gets tired, running fast and long. When she was into it, she can swing hard with her both of her strokes. 

Garcia has been on fire during the past three weeks and is very happy that she reached the WTA Finals for the first time. But, the letdown is taking effect as she knows that much of the world is watching her for the first time. The Frenchwoman needs to calm down and mix it up, here and there.

Halep wants to keep her newly found No. 1 ranking, which means she has to at least reach the semis.  It is possible that she will face Garbine Muguruza, the No. 2 (who won yesterday) who also badly wants to become the topdog. There will be an incredible battle coming up.

On Tuesday, Venus Williams will face Jelena Ostapenko, and Muguruza is set to battle Karolina Pliskova. Two former No. 1 players will clash. Hopefully, they can smack at each other for three fun hours.

Singapore: Ambitious Muguruza and Pliskova, both win easily

Del Potro is coming up, wins Stockholm

Right fromthe start, it looked like Garbine Muguruza was ready to roll. She wants to end the season being ranked No. 1, as that has been her goal all year long.

On Sunday, she cracked the young player Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-4 at the WTA Finals in Singapore. Muguruza jumped on the ball immediately and was pretty consistent. She is fast, she hits two big strokes – her forehand and backhand – and now, she actually is planning her next shot, rather than getting angry. Ostapenko always goes for her shots, but at times, the Roland Garros champ is very erratic. She will learn in time, but not yet. 

For Muguruza, she knows that she is a the cusp of the title. She will battle this week until she can’t fight any more. As the Spaniard says about being No. 1:  “It is important. I’m not going to lie, of course, but I know I have to play well.”

In a sense, the same goes with Karolina Pliskova, who has struggled since the end of August when she lost too early at the US Open. She was so upset that she and her coach waved goodbye. She has been OK in Asia over the past six weeks, but not great. 

On Sunday, though, she was locked in and totally crushed the 7-time Grand Slam champ Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2. That was a blowout. Even though Pliskova said that it was close at  times, Venus realizes that she isn’t ready to compete right now. “I just have to put the ball in the court, is what it boils down to. I’ve been in this position before so I’ll be back on Tuesday,” Venus said.

We hope so. If Venus does not, the 37-year-old will go home, back to Florida. She is still extremely good, but without a doubt, she is aging. We all do. 

On Monday … No. 1 Simona Halep will play  Caroline Garcia, and then Elina Svitolina will face Caroline Wozniacki. According to Ostapenko, the ball is very slow, so both Halep and Wozniacki will have the edge, grinding it away.

Del Potro sweeps aside Dimitrov
With the guys, props to Juan Martin del Potro, who wins Stockholm by defeating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 6-2.  DelPo has a chance to reach the ATP Finals, but that means he is going to have to go seriously deep at the ATP Masters Series in Paris. DelPo wants to do it but, as he says, he has to be very careful. He gets injured too often. However, if he stays healthy, then maybe he can win the ATP Finals for the first time, In 2018, he has a very good chance to win his second major as his backhand is slowly healing.

2017 US Open men’s final: Nadal vs. Anderson

FROM THE US OPEN — SATURDAY, SEPT. 9 — Without a doubt, Rafael Nadal is a serious favorite here. He has not lost against Kevin Anderson, and on Friday against Juan Martin del Potro, the Spaniard was very aggressive and enthusiastic.

He pounded his phenomenal forehand and his shots are corkscrew wonders. While it has taken 15 years to improve his two-handed backhand, he can crack it deeper now. That is why Nadal has reached the final at the major again. Last year, at the 2016 US Open, he was nervous and tight, which is why he lost against Fabio Fognini in five sets.
Today, Nadal knows that his body is feeling good again and, because of that, he will take many more risks.

Anderson has never reached the final at the USO, much less at the ATP 1000s. Over the years he has changed a few things. He takes big swings much of the time. Over the past two weeks, he has concentrated and stayed positive when he is off. Not only does he hit the 130s on the first serve, but when he is set up, he can touch the lines with large forehands and backhands.

However, even if he walks on court, and he isn’t shaking, how can he out-hit Nadal if the Spaniard is playing pretty well? Anderson has never beaten him before, he hasn’t really even come close. While his foot speed has improved,  he cannot sprint like Rafa does. Point to point, Nadal is better, which is why he owns 15 Grand Slams and Anderson has none.

Really, if the South African upsets Nadal, it would be a true stunner. Unless Nadal gets hurt on the final at the Grand Slam (like he did at the 2014 Australian Open final versus Stan Wawrinka in the first set and lost, limping), he will win the US Open fairly easy. Anderson wants to be on the court for a few hours, but Nadal will be on top of him right when the start. Nadal will win in three, pretty easy sets.