Archives for May 2019

Nadal, Federer cruising in Paris

In is possible that Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer will meet in the semis at Roland Garros. They have a long way to go, three more matches to win, and for sure, whomever they play, they will be the favorites.

However, anytime, any day, they can break down. With Nadal and Federer, that has been very rare, but it happens, here and there. At the Grand Slams, they have played brilliantly, and the 17-time Grand Slam champ Nadal is totally focused on clay, while the 20-time Grand Slam victor Mr. Federer is a master performer. However, they can hick-up. If it happens for one hour, or two, even these great champions can be eliminated. Nadal and Federer have done that before, and they can do it again this week, and next week.

On Wednesday, Nadal crushed Yannick Maden 6-1 6-2 6-4, while Federer was solid, beating Oscar Otte 6-4 6-3 6-4.

On Friday, Nadal will have to face David Goffin, which should be a fun match, but how will the Belgian attack Nadal’s sometimes-soft backhand, and leap on his second serve. Other than that, Nadal will push him into the wall with his massive forehand, his heavy
first serve and his deep return. Nadal will likely be comfortable, and Goffin does get nervous. If Goffin wins a set, he will be thrilled. But Nadal will move on.

Federer’s next opponent is Norway’s Casper Ruud, who is only 20-years-old. Ruud can play well on all surfaces, and in February, he was ranked No. 135. Now he he is ranked No. 63. He is coming up. However, dealing with Federer is totally different. He has so many shots. Plus, Ruud has to walk out of the court and listen to the fans, who absolutely love Federer. Emotionally, it will be difficult for Ruud to be very calm and forceful. It is possible that Ruud can grab one set, but not more
than that.

Four of the top men won on Wednesday: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian Dimitrov is rising up again, but the same goes for Wawrinka, who won this tournament before. Stan the Man is the favorite, but Dimitrov can change it up. He hopes.


I am waiting to see Karolina Pliskova actually win a major. She has been very close, but she still hasn’t found a way to shake it off and grab a Slam. Pliskova just won Rome, and she is ranked No. 2. She is quicker than she used to be. But on clay? I am not sure she can focus every match at RG. On Wednesday, Pliskova destroyed Kristina Kucova 6-2 6-2, with so many winners.

American Sloane Stephens took out Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 7-6. Stephens reached the final last year and she was locked in. She hasn’t had a great year, though, so she has to raise herself, immediately.It is too bad that the Canadian Bianca Andreescu withdrew due to a right shoulder injury. She won Indian Wells and shortly after, she had to stop at Miami. Now she has done it again. She has to fix it and be 100 percent before she plays again.

Halep can actually win Roland Garros again

Simona Halep

It must have rained on Monday in Paris, a beautiful, fascinating place. Last year, at Roland Garros, the now defending champion Simona Halep was in the third set, in the final. She did not back off, as she had in 2014 against Maria Sharapova. Five years ago she was in her first Slam final and she froze and the American/Russia flew away to victory.

It took her four more years to recover at the Slams, but eventually, Halep became more aggressive and she locked it in. Romanian Halep finally won a major, beating Sloane Stephens in three sets.

Can she do it again over the next two weeks? That is a toss-up, because this year, the clay court lover hasn’t won a tournament this season. But Halep is very, very good, and she can run side to side forever, making her always a threat on the dirt.

“[It’s] much better and much easier, because I have the title already. Doesn’t matter anymore what is going to happen,” Halep said. “Everything comes now comes as a bonus. So, I will try just to give my best and to see if I’m able to do it again.”

There are a number of people who can win the event. Not everyone, but maybe 15 other people. Halep said that maybe 10 folks can do it, and she mentioned that Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens are on the cusp of major glor, as they recently won Rome and Madrid, beating Halep in the final.
This season, Halep lost to Pliskova in Miami on the hardcourt. In January, at the Australian Open, she went down hard against Serena Williams in a tough contest in three sets.

The now retired and former three-tim Grand Slam champion and broadcaster Kim Clijsters said that Halep is now without her former coach Darren Cahill. The Aussie Cahill stopped coaching because he wanted to spend more time with his children.

“It’s also going back there without Darren Cahill, how [Halep] talks about it, but it must have a little bit of an impact in a way,” Clijsters told Reuters. “It will be interesting to see for her going back to a place where Darren helped her last year to win her first Grand Slam and then not being there.”

Halep will find out pretty quickly. Today she had to right her ship. She rolled in the first set but Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic pushed her in the second. In the third set, Halep rolled, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
Here is a terrific match set for the third round with Kei Nishikori going against Jo Tsonga. Frenchman Tsonga has never won a Slam, but he has gone deep. Obviously, he has been hurt a lot over the past five years, robbing him of too many opportunities. But, when he is on and health,y he can keep finding the answers. Nishikori has also been very good at the majors when he is ambitious, and the Japanese actually likes clay. That has to be a five-setter. Grueling… 

Another good Serbian Laslo Djere, is ranked No. 32, and he won the first round. He is pretty young, and without a doubt, the No. 1 Novak Djokovic is watching him, and I would think that he gives him a little bit advice…

Both Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer both won easily on Monday. Nadal is clearly the favorite again, but he might have to face against David Goffin in the third round. That could be fun, at least for a while…
Here is another excellent contest coming up: the 2014 US Open champ Marin Cilic against the 2017 ATP Final winner Grigor Dimitrov. Yes, they are not playing great now, but in Paris, they will dig in for many hours.

The creative Djokovic wins Madrid, now playing Rome

Years ago, the No. 1 Novak Djokovic could not figure out on clay, he was pretty decent, but not fantastic. But now, the Serbian more or less knows how to construct his points.

On Sunday, Djokovic won Madrid, beating the young but tired Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-4. He has won 14 Grand Slams, and he has also won 33 Masters 1000 titles. Overall, he has won 74 crowns. Without a doubt, he is one of the best players ever — along with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.

This week, he will play in Rome, another huge event, and he has won it four times. We all know that his serve and his backhand are legendary. His forehand has also improved a lot, when he can spin it or flatten it out. He is also very efficient at the net, and he can return the first serves almost better than anyone. Let us just say that he, Federer and Nadal can find a way to get their rackets and get it back. Djokovic’s returns are best, when he gets them back deep.

However, he is not perfect — nobody is. So, even if wins Rome again, does that mean that he will automatically grab Roland Garros again in a few weeks? He did it once, in 2016, beating Dominic Thiem in the semis — he crushed him — and then he put down Andy Murray in the final in four sets. That was very good stuff by Djokovic.

But hold on. Last year, at RG, he lost in the quarters to Italian Marco Cecchinato. Djokovic wasn’t quite ready to dance again, because he had been hurt, so it had taken him five months to be confident again.

So, then his confidence boomed, as he grabbed Wimbledon, the US Open, and then in 2019, he won Australia. That is three in a row at the Slams. Can he do it, four in a row at the majors? Very few have done that, just a few, like Aussie Rod Laver, who did it twice. But that has been a long time, almost 50 years ago.

Now we are in 2019. Djokovic is very smart on court, and he finally likes the sliding clay. He should be mentally happy in Rome, but in Paris, in the second week — assuming he wins three matches — then the pressure is on. And he will know that

On Thursday, he will face the young, good Canadian Denis Shapovalov. The blonde, 20-years-old Shapovalov can really crack it, and he is ranked No. 22. This year, he can reach the top 10 in the summer, but on clay, he can get frustrated and then he stops thinking. He cannot do that for only a second, as Djokovic will attack him quickly. Djokovic has done it hundreds of times and should do it again on Thursday.

Ole Madrid: Who can take on Nadal?

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Rafa Nadal loves clay. The Spaniard has won it everything, at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. But, over the last couple weeks, he lost to Fabio Fognini in the semis in France, and then he went down in Spain against Dominic Thiem.

In mid-March, at Indian Wells on hardcourts, he pulled out in the semis because his right knee felt pain, and he was injured — again. On April 17, he was ready to play again, Nadal said: “I can’t pretend that I don’t have pain at all, because I never thought about that. It’s a long time ago that professional players play normally with pain, because that’s part of the sport at the highest level.”

Well, then, he will find out pretty quickly, because at the 2018 Madrid, Nadal actually lost to Thiem again in Madrid. After he lost in Barcelona, Nadal said, “After this week, my confidence is back.”

Really? But he lost twice in a row on his favorite surface. He has been dominating over 13 years, but perhaps he is getting older, so maybe he knows that he cannot win too often, or maybe he is thinking that his legs aren’t that solid.

But, remember back at 2018, Nadal won Rome over Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, and then at RG, the Spaniard flipped Thiem in the final 6-4 6-3 6-2. Nadal knows exactly what he wants to in France, which is why he has won 11 Roland Garros titles.

The reason why is because he, Roger Federer (20 majors) and Djokovic (15 majors) are in great shape and super smart. Most importantly, they really like playing 3 of the 5 sets, rather than just 2 out of 3. In the fifth, they won’t become too tired, while others — who have yet to win a Slam —  will. The 25-year-old Thiem knows he can win a major, but he really has to dig very deep.

Three guys are missing and hurt: John Isner, Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic. Will the tall men play at RG? Up in the air, because all of them like grass over clay. It’s about foot speed on clay and huge serves on grass.

Federer and Thiem could face off in the quarters. Nadal could go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters, which could be a blast to watch. The frequency injured Juan Martin del Potro is finally back and will play in Madrid.

Stefanos Tsitsipas just won Estoril and now he is ranked No. 9.  On hard courts, the young man looks terrific, but on clay, he is figuring how to construct points. That was a good week in Estoril, but now he has to beat a number of excellent players. In the next month, we will see how darn good Tsitsipas will be.

Who’s the favorite the French Open?

Simona Halep

“Who’s the favorite for fabulous France? There are a lot, which is another way of saying there isn’t one at all.

One day, the two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova might actually become No. 1 — she has been so close over the previous 10 years — and it could be on the clay courts. The Czech just won Stuttgart and rose up to No. 2. She doesn’t always love clay, but with three clay titles since 2018, these days it seems she does. Kvitova is very strong and now can play for many hours, and she can really hit some hopping serves.

She has never won the French Open, but she did reach the 2012 semis against Maria Sharapova, when the two-time champion and Russian out-slugged her.

Though Kvitova has won twice at Wimbledon, on clay in Paris, you have to slow down and wait and wait until you get an opportunity, and then strike. Having improved her fitness, she’s starting to do that.

Simon Halep finally won a Grand Slam when she beat the American Sloane Stephens in the final at the 2018 French Open. During the third set, she was consistent and forceful, while her opponent checked out. Halep can do it again, and actually, so can Stephens, who won the 2017 US Open. Even though she seems very confused and hasn’t won a tournament this season, she just hired the very smart coach, Sven Groeneveld, and might right herself as she does so often. Regardless, it’s the 2018 winner Halep who’s seen as the current favorite. “

Osaka in the top line
The No. 1-ranked Naomi Osaka is a tremendous player, upsetting Serena Williams in the final of the controversy-laden 2018 US Open, being so peaceful and lethal at 5-4 in the third set. There were no nerves, just blasting the ball. K-boom — Osaka grabbed it. The same occurred during the Australian Open final against Kvitova, and she edged her 6-4 in the third. She really believes in herself, and she can blast the ball in Paris. But Osaka does not love clay yet, so she has to learn to slide and return before she starts swinging hard.

Serena Williams has won the tournament a couple times, and the 23-time Grand Slam champion can play anything she wants — except at the net — so when she is feeling fantastic, she can win it again. But right now, she is still hurt — if she goes to the French Open, she has to step up quickly, or she will get knocked down.

Caro Wozniacki loves hard courts, but like over the years in Roland Garros, she gets pretty angry because she cannot hit enough winners, especially with her forehand. When she is happy, she is really happy, but when she loses, she clams up. She will likely do it again.

Muguruza, Sabalenka slumping
Garbine Muguruza has won this tournament before, in 2016, which was surprising, but the Spaniard can smash her forehands and backhands and knock the ball on the lines. Mentally, she can go down fast, but when she does not do that, she can raise her game. In Paris? That is a toss-up, but if she’s healthy, she has a small chance to produce another surprise and win it again.

It was in 2018 the young Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka eventually cracked the top 10. She is very intense and strong, but on clay, she is still learning to figure out how to play. There are a few other excellent established players — Angelique Kerber, Karolina  Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Ash Barty. The German veteran Kerber has won three Slams — at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. But in Paris, she has never reached the semis, not because she is not super steady — which she is — but because she doesn’t go for the corners or punch the ball returning second serves. But when she is rock solid, she can go very deep.

Pliskova should win a major, but the 27-year-old hasn’t yet. She did reach the semis in Paris in 2017 and she faced Halep, but right towards the end, she wasn’t steady enough. Regardless, she has improved a good amount, and she is thoughtful, so perhaps she can do it for the first time on the gorgeous clay. It wouldn’t seem like the most obvious place.

Elina Svitolina never gets tired, and she has won some big tournaments, but at the Grand Slams, she gets very nervous and loses fairly early. But she is so good with her first serve, her forehand and backhand, that it seems she has to have a breakthrough sometime. This year?

The young Australian Ash Barty is getting better all the time. She is steady and thoughtful and she never gets tired, too, playing both singles and doubles. But she doesn’t like clay and has to grind it for many hours in the French Open. At least she can aim to reach the second week.

There are still more players who can reach the second week and beyond: the again-rising Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, the new and excellent Canadian Bianca Andreescu — who is currently hurt — the steady Qiang Wang, and the other Americans — Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin and the long time veteran Venus Williams. Some American will go deep in Paris, but exactly who is an extremely big toss-up.