Archives for March 2019

Miami: Can John Isner win once again?

John Isner

Last year, American John Isner won Miami, his first ATP 1000. He was totally thrilled. After that, he was pretty good the rest of the year, but as he said, he was up and down.

The same thing is occurring this week in Miami. Two weeks ago, he went down fairly early at Indian Wells. But he flew to Florida, and on Wednesday, he stood tall, beating Roberto Bautista Agut
7-6(5) 7-6(3). Bautista Agut had upset the No. 1 Novak Djokovic, playing  terrific ball, with both his forehand and backhand, but he couldn’t break Isner and John out-hit him.

The North Carolina native has been working for many years, trying to improve the return. On some weeks, he has done that, but he may never totally get it. In Miami, he was won four matches, and he has won seven sets 7-6, and only one at 7-5. That means only one break in four matches. He has to place the ball hard and deep over the rest of the tournament. It will get harder every day towards the end.

He will face 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime on Friday. Auger-Aliassime is on fire, but Isner can adjust, point after point, and then win. Auger-Aliassime can grind him if he can elongate the long rallies,

Roger Federer, who is still there, said about Auger-Aliassime: “I like his attitude. It’s impressive for someone so young. We saw it in (Lleyton) Hewitt or (Rafael) Nadal, so strong mentally at that age. We can put it in that category.”

What a win by Australian Ash Barty, who will finally move into the top 10 next week. She just knocked off Petra Kvitova in three sets. She has been changing her thoughts about where she was, and what she should do. Her variety is fascinating. On Wednesday, she will play Anett Kontaveit, another grinder. But Bartry is very strong, at singles and doubles. Over the past year, she grew up emotionally.

“It’s just been a massive difference since Wimbledon last year. I think for me that was a bit of a turning point,” said Barty. “We have done a lot of hard work over the last, oh, eight, nine, ten months, to try and just get that little bit better and try and tick every box that we can. I feel like it’s made an amazing difference in my tennis, both me as a person and a player.”

Late on Thursday, Simona Halep will face against Karolina Pliskova. Over the past four years, they have had some fascinating matches, but the Romanian has beaten her seven times, and the Czech has beaten her just three times. Halep is faster, steadier and quicker. Pliskova hits the balls harder, but she can get frustrated. While she will hit a ton of aces, the Romanian can get them back, fairly deep, and then she can wear down Pliskova mentally. You never know about Pliskova when she walks on the court. When she is happy and totally focused, she can play for hours. If she can be patient, and wait for the opportunity, then she can strike, and come into the net. Halep wants to yank her around, side to side, until the tall Pliskova gets upset or she gets tired. Then, Simona will trip her up. It might be a toss-up, but Halep is favored until Pliskova triumphs again.

By the way, if Halep wins, she will become No. 1 again. She has already won a Grand Slam, at 2017 Roland Garros, as well as taking a number of huge events. If she win Miami, some people will think that she is the best player hands down. But Halep is not, only if she continues to be the highest level for the rest of the year.

Photo gallery: Indian Wells 2019

Photos by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Federer on fitness: ‘Nowadays people do all sorts of crazy stuff’

Roger Federer

FROM INDIAN WELLS — The famous Roger Federer moved on Wednesday, easily beating Kyle Edmund 6-1 6-4, swirling around, attacking, sprinting. The 20-time Grand Slam champion is now 37 years olds, and while he is a tiny bit slower, he still is very fast, and each year, he gets even smarter.

Assuming that he will be healthy — which he usually is — Federer will win some big tournaments this year. His serve, her forehand, his return, his volley and even his shank backhand are almost perfect. Not every day, but darn close. Yes, the other Slam winners can beat him, specifically Rafa Nadal, who is still in the mix. They may face off against each other on Friday in the semis. That would be some kind of a match.

Federer has won 100 titles. That is huge, and he could retire immediately if he wants to. But he wants to continue, because he loves to play. The same goes on with the eight-time champ Venus Williams, who is 38 years old. She is also still here, having reached the quarters. They may not be No. 1, but at least they are close against anyone. They just want to have fun.

Federer said, “I think, number one, you’ve got to be happy to be on tour. It’s very simple, because usually you’re not at your career high, ranking-wise, anymore at that age. S,o you have to pick on something else that’s exciting for you, whatever that may be: travels, match play, whatever, practice, life on the road. So, you’ve got to be passionate about what you do. I feel more guys and more girls are really actually enjoying that part of the tour, which before I felt players were happy to do something else, which is cool, too.

“I think tennis really provides you with an incredible platform where you learn a lot, you run into a lot of interesting people. At the end of the day, you’re the boss of your own company, if you like, and you can choose how much you want to train, where you want to play. It will be very different at the time when you retire, most likely, you won’t be quite in control unless you run a company, and even then you have a completely different pressure than you have as a tennis player. So, players see more and more what actually a privilege it is to be a tennis player, and that’s nice to see.”

Federer works out all the time, practicing, figuring out how he should play. He can slice his backhand, top it, or smash it; he has a tremendous variety. When he is returning, he can guess which way he should go, to the left, or the right, or stay there if the opponent is attempting to try to hit it on his chest. As long as he stays in the top 10, he will be under control. As Federer has said, it is not all about playing, or practicing, it’s about finding your body.

“The secret behind, I’m sure, is starting with nutrition, stretching, massages, sleep, you name it. All these things have gotten more and more professionally done at a young age already,” Federer said. “I remember, when I came up, people doing the elastic band, people laughing at them doing it. Now everybody sort of does it. People stopped doing that and doing other things. Back in the day, all you took is a hot bath, ate a banana on the court. That was it. Nowadays people do all sorts of crazy stuff. It’s interesting to see how the game has evolved.”

Federer will face against Hubert Hurkacz, the rising Pole. Nadal will go up against Karen Khachanov, who is about to crack into the top 10 next week. He took down John Isner in straight sets.

Eighteen-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu blew out Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-0. How the heck did she do that? All of Andreescu game has improved a lot this season. She’s versatile.

Elina Svitolina did it again. Two days ago, she edged Ashleigh Barty in three hours and 12 minutes in a punishing three-setter. On Wednesday night, she overcame Czech 19- year-old Marketa Vondrousova 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in over two hours. Svitolina just doesn’t get tired. She will push to try to become No. 1, but will probably need that elusive emergence in a Slam to do it.

John Isner: ‘Always looking to add things’

John Isner

FROM INDIAN WELLS – The US men only have one left in California, John Isner, who has banged himself into the quarters. He did very quietly, for whatever reason, as he has gone deep here before, but in the first two months, he was struggling and losing his touch.

However, in the desert, he began to pick himself up, not becoming upset when he is missing his shots, but to re-set in the next point. Now he has won three in a row, which is important, because he can drop his chin down and mope if he is losing. He has won an ATP 1000 last year, in Miami, the first time that the 33-year-old finally did it. He has yet to reach in the final at a Grand Slam, and each year, it gets harder and harder to achieve. Bu,t he is still trying to add some new shots and better shots, like his backhand and his return.

“I’m always looking to add things. You don’t want to ever rest on your laurels or get pretty stagnant as far as training goes,” Isner said. “I have implemented some of those this week. Some of it comes from me, some of it comes from my coaches, and we just collaborate on that. It’s very important, as you get older to keep trying to add things, because it doesn’t necessarily get easier as you get older, especially into your 30s. And I’m no different, as well. I’m constantly evolving, and I think I still have some very good tennis ahead of me.”

He realizes that if he has an opportunity, he has to attack immediately. He isn’t quick, as he is very tall, but when he manages to get close at the net, he can put it away, even if he has to bend low. Perhaps the most important thing for Isner to improve is his return, on the first and the second serve. He rarely breaks.

“I think just taking time away from my opponents is very important, and that’s taking the ball early and coming in off of it, even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like an approach shot. The greatest ever to do that is Roger [Federer], how early he takes the ball,” he said. “You know, a lot of the guys I’m playing against are so fast. So, if I can just take a split second away from them, I can go a long way.”

On Wednesday he will face the No. 12 Karen Khachanov, a Russian who is very steady. There will be more pressure on Isner.

Venus’ hot streak

Venus Williams has not been playing much over the past couple of months, which is unusual for her. She is 38 years old, and over the past couple years, she can break down physically. Here, she won four fine matches, upsetting Petra Kvitova, and beating Christina McHale and Mona Barthel. She may not be 100 percent physically, but good enough.

“I think once I walk out there on the court, that’s my main focus, what I need to achieve in that match and I try to block anything else out. I need to do what I want. And what I want is to play the tournaments I want to play,” Venus said.

However, this year, she is cutting down the tournaments. Maybe she will continue to play until she is 40 year olds, or even later. Or if she gets significantly hurt, she could retire. It is a toss-up. But, she will not play all the time, as she has done it during the past 21 years.

“Probably somewhere around 12 [tournaments],” she said. Venus will face Angie Kerber on Thursday. That should be a bang-up match.

Bye, bye No. 1s

It has been highly unusual that the top players have lost before the semis. It happens once and a while, But, on Tuesday, guess who lost? Two of the No. 1s: Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, the former No. 1 Simona Halep, and the former 2016 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, along with the 2016 US Open champ Martin Cilic. That is unusual in the desert and it may never occur again, over in the next 100 years.

Belinda Bencic is bashing the ball, takes down Osaka

Belinda Bencic

FROM INDIAN WELLS, MARCH 11, 2019 – More and more, Belinda Bencic is becoming much more confident and knowledgeable.  The Swiss was really struggling over the past few years, because she was hurt a lot, and when she returned, she needed to re-think her game.

She played a lot of tournaments in 2018, playing whenever she could. She knew that eventually she would feel her legs. When she swings, and where she returns, she is blasting her shots. 

Back in 2016, she cracked the top 10. She won Canada, beating a bunch of excellent players. It looked like she could eventually become No. 1. But, she hasn’t … yet.

Can she return to the elite?  On Tuesday, she looked the part and crushed No. 1 and defending champ Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-1.

Bencic takes a little more time, and she likes some long rallies, but she has to push herself in front. Osaka does, and that is why she has won two Grand Slams. Bencic has not, so in order to even further, she has to mix it up more and then when she has a chance, she can crack the ball.

After her win over Ekaterina Alexandrova, the Swiss said about playing Osaka, “Definitely a big opportunity.  I always like to play on the big courts, I like to play the big players. I really enjoy that, and that’s what I work for. We try to push each other. One is doing well, so you’re motivated to do well again.

“We are all different players, but still, the ’97 generation, it’s so strong.  Everybody has their own timing. So sometimes it takes longer; sometimes it takes faster. Definitely, [Osaka is] a great player. I’m just super happy to be on the big court at 6:00 p.m.”

It will be, on Tuesday, assuming it will stop the rain. The good rain, except for tennis:)

Some other good wins today including Venus Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Angelique Kerber and Aryna Sabalenka. Mona Barthel, a veteran who plays all the time, almost every week, and she has lost so many matches over the past few years, but now, she hangs in there and battles. Almost six years ago, she was ranked in the top 25, winning a couple events. Now she is ranked No. 97.  Is she ready to leap forward? We will find out next week.

Milos Raonic barely escaped the American Marcos Giron 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.  He looked a little timid, but in the third set, he finally took over the corners. That was a fun win by the Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka, edging Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 in the third. That was darn close. … Alexander Zverev apparently is sick, so he went down easily against Jan-Lennard Struff. Everyone is ill. … After he struggled in South America, Dominic Thiem is playing better and now he could reach semis.

Djokovic is the favorite, but what about Zverev & Raonic?

FROM INDIAN WELLS – Novak Djokovic is standing tall. Clearly, he is the favorite as the Serb has won three straight Grand Slams. However, the ATP 1000s are very tough, as all the players want to compete — if they are healthy enough — and to win it; you have to be on top of the ball.

On Monday, Djokovic will take on the other veteran, Philip Kohlschreiber, who just knocked off the sort-of- young player Nick Kyrgios, 6-4, 6-4. The Aussie recently won Acapulco, perhaps his best week ever, but six days later, as he said, he was mediocre. But that is what happens. He couldn’t rise up, and the steady Philipp did.

Djokovic is the clear favorite against the German. His serves are much better, as well as his super deep backhand, and his intelligent returns. Kohlschreiber is still quick, and he has rarely become hurt. He knows the entire game, or close enough, and he also knows that he has to play spot on. Perhaps he will, but can he bother the 15-time Grand Slam champ Djokovic? Very doubtful.

On the top half, only one has won a Slam — Djokovic. There are a few have had a legitimate chance to grab it: Dominic Thiem, at the 2018 Roland Garros final, and Milos Raonic, at 2016 Wimbledon. Neither has won an ATP 1000 ever, but we would think that they can snap their drought this season? How about during the next week? Thiem can really hustle, even though he likes clay more than hard courts, while the Canadian can nail his serve, and crush his forehand. But they are not ranked in the top 5, which means they have to step it up.
Two others are on the top half, the No. 3 Alexander Zverev and the No. 18 Gael Monfils. Zverev has won a few ATP 1000s, which is why he is in the top 5, but he has never gone deep at the majors. The Frenchman has reached the semis twice in Paris, and he has had some fantastic wins, but he can get hurt frequently, and his backhand has been so-so for many years. But he can run forever, back and forth.

Raonic and Zverev could face off on Wednesday which is a very close contest. Whomever wins, next Friday, they will play against Djokovic, assuming that Monfils won’t stun the Serbian.
The Women
Serena Williams became hurt again, with the fever. Over the past month, almost everyone has had the fever. That stinks, on court and off. Things are changing through the world. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Remember, all the players, the women and men, exercise all the time, and that is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you can control a fever. You just have to deal with it.

Serena hasn’t played enough this season. If she wants to win another big event, she has to push herself, a little bit more. She has won 23 Grand Slams, but the last time she did that, it was two years ago now, at the 2017 Aussie Open, winning it, and then she went to have a child.

That was the last time that she won a major – and I am sure she will get another – but exactly when? It depends on her body and why she wants to continue, but I get she wants to tie with the controversial Margarete Court, at 24 majors.

There will be some excellent matches, with the No. 1 Naomi Osaka versus the American Danielle Collins, Venus Williams against Christine McHale, and the rising Aryna Sabalenka, who will play against the vet Lesia Tsurenko. Osaka won the tournament last year, and at that point, we knew she was very good. But great? We didn’t know that yet. But she won the 2018 US Open, and then the 2019 Australian Open. While she can be very emotional, she can really concentrate. On court, she can be very cool and calm. Collins has also become substantially better, which is why she is ranked No. 25. Today, she really believes in her ability. Will it last forever? Probably not, but in United States, you can be overjoyed.

Venus Williams is aging. We all know that, but she doesn’t not give it in. She was down a set, and a break. She kept moving forward, and somehow, she fooled Petra Kvitova and won 6-4 in the third. Venus can look amazing, and then there are days when she is a little bit slow. I think that she will continue to play until she is 40 years old, and then finally, she will wave goodbye. She has had a fascinating career.

Sabalenka is the youngest player in the top 10, only 20 year olds. She loves to bang and she swings very hard. She wants to end it, quickly and fast. She knows she is so close to beating all the players, but she has to add more to her game. Like at the net, her second serve and spin.  

Top quote
The 14-time GS Pete Sampras was in the house to watch Djokovic. Novak said: “I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I don’t get to see Pete that often. I was pleasantly surprised to see him watching my match. It’s a thrill, obviously, to see someone that I looked up to when I was a kid. I think I tried too hard in the first set to impress him (with a laugh).”

Notes on a Draw Sheet: injuries, again

Already, in February, there are a couple major injuries, like Maria Sharapova and Juan Martin del Potro. They won’t play at Indian Wells, and the Russian/American won’t go to Miami, either. The Argentine pulled out of Acapulco and Indian Wells. Whether he will return in Miami is up in the air.

Exactly why are there so many injuries, year after year, every month, everyday. The answer is pretty complicated, but the fact is that the vast majority of the pro players are playing way too many events. And they practice too much, also. Without a doubt, they want to improve, and improve how they are striking the balls, and in a sense, they have to, to get better. But if they want to stay on tour for a long time, they simply have to rest. It is a pain in the neck, but they have to be patient. Not enough people


There are some fine events this week. On Wednesday, Roger Federer took down Fernando Verdasco in three sets in Dubai. Somewhat casual, because he knows how to wear down his backhand. He did, and in a few days, he could win it all, and then, he will have 100 titles. That would be terrific, but he is asked about it, everyday. So, as he has said, he may not be nervous, but a little bit tight.

On Thursday, it took him almost two hours, and he survived the young Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6(6) 6-4. Tick, tock. In the other half, the best young player, the No. 11 Stefanos Tsitsipas, will face Gail Monfins in the semis. That should be a blast.

In Acapulco, Nick Kyrious edged Rafa Nadal 3-6, 7-6(3) 7-6(6). That was not a shocker, as Nadal is just coming back, and plus, when the Aussie is physically good, he can upend anyone. He hits a huge first serve, and forehand, and he can be efficient. But
he gets hurt all the time, so in order to win this tournament, he has to be patient and never give in.

But, the Australian remains hot, knocking off Stan Warinka in three sets. He’ll face John Isner in the semis.

On Thursday he will have to face the Swiss, Stan Wawrinka, at night. He will have to dig, because Wawrinka can return when he is locked in.

Isner beat his good friend, Sam Querrey, 6-4, 6-4. Querrey hasn’t done much this year, and Isner hasn’t either, but at least he has won a few wins in the past two weeks. In order to win the tournament, which will be tough, as a number of good players are still there: the Brit Norris, the Aussies Millman and Alex De Minaur, and the other American, Mackenzie McDonald, who upset Tiafoe in three sets. And of course, guess who will face De Minaur today? Alexandra Zverev, who has won some gigantic matches last year. But he can be somewhat inconsistent, and great, spending on the day.

Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia upset Sloane Stephens in Acapulco. The American hasn’t done great this year, she has played four tournaments and she lost against decent players, but not fantastic players. At Indian Wells she has to step on the gas.

Vika Azarenka took a wild card, and she crushed Danelle Collins, who reached the semis at Australia then goes down again. Vika still hasn’t gone deep enough in the past year, but she had a baby, so it takes a long time to recover. If she wins Acapulco, then she will be almost back. She will face Sofia Kenin on Thursday.

At Indian Wells, the Oracle Challenge is going on this week. It is different now, with more people, every year, it is gigantic. People will fly from all over the world. Twenty five years ago, there weren’t as many people. But they moved, very close in the desert, and they started to build. It is so muc better and bigger now. It is spectacular.

Qiang Wang is the top seed.