Archives for August 2019

The US Open: Halep out; Townsend, Kudla rising

Taylor Townsend

It was quite a day at the United States Open on Thursday. A couple of the Americans won in gigantic upsets: Taylor Townsend stunned Simona Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4). Then, Denis Kudla won 7-5, 7-5, 0-6, 6-3 over the the No. 27-seed Dusan Lajovic. They could have lost given that both of them have not reached the top-45 ever. But, they kept trying, digging and, yesterday, they believed in themselves. They are not that fast, but they really wanted to show the fans that we are more than respectable.

More than a few years ago, it looked like Townsend would rise up into the top 10, pretty fast, and then after, she would win a Grand Slam. Sadly, not even close. But this summer, she switched it. Against Halep she attached the net 106 times, winning 64 points for a 60-percent clip. The strategy worked.

“It’s been, like, a really long journey. You flood with emotions of the things you’ve been through, positive, negative,” Townsend said. “Just to be able to get over the hump, it’s such an amazing feeling because after Wimbledon, I was devastated after I lost to [Kiki] Bertens after having a match point. That woke me up out of my sleep. I put my head down and just worked really hard and just tried to take the positives away from it, just continue to press forward. I belong on this level.  I’ve had a lot of people doubting me being able to break through, quote unquote.”

She actually has a good chance to reach the second week: on Saturday, she will face Sorana Cirstea, a decent player, but not great. If Townsend will stay composed, she could push her way back and then throw in a few soft drop shots.

Kudla has been playing for a long time now. He plays a lot of challengers, almost every week, in the U.S., Europe, Asia … you name it. He can be very consistent, but he needs to mix it up more. And be more aggressive. But, when he came to the US Open, he was ready to sprint and lock it in.

“I knew if I just stayed patient, if I work, I did a little bit kind of soul searching, whatever you want to call it, just thinking from inside me what’s kind of missing,”  Kudla said. “Ever since Montreal [a month ago], I’ve been playing with a different fire, different kind of motivation. I feel inspired again. Just lucky to be back out here.”

While that is true, he will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the next round. To be close, Kudla will have to go for the lines when he has an opportunity. If not, he won’t win a set.


American Tennys Sandgren beat Vasek Pospisil, and now he will go up against the good veteran Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine is the favorite, but Sandgren can push him hard …

John Isner won again, beating Jan-Lennard in straight sets. Maybe the tall American can go far, if he plays fantastic against Mario Cilic. But, it’s a toss-up. The winner could play Rafa Nadal, who advanced in a walkover. That would be very, very tough, especially when Isner has to face the Spaniard.

Out of nowhere, Caroline Wozniacki won two matches in a row. She has been losing a lot, essentially because she has been injured for months. Now it looks like she is feeling OK. However, Wozniacki has to face the terrific Canadian Bianca Andreescu. What a match it should be…

Two years ago, Jelena Ostapenko won Roland Garros. Then she fell down mentally. Now it looks like the big hitter is focusing. She beat Alison Riske and now she has to play against Kristie Ahn, who was born in Flushing Meadows. If Ahn wins, maybe she can dive into the ocean and swim, and cheer loudly.

The US Open: Keep the momentum, please

In the first round, at the US Open, there have always been a number of terrific players who have lost early. On the hard courts in the hot summer, it can be difficult and keep up the momentum built during the North American swing.

Look what happened to No. 4 Dominic Thiem who lost to the Italian Thomas Fabbiano, 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-2, with 48 unforced errors. Ugh.  

Then, Stefanos Tsitsipas went down, losing to another very good young players Andrey Rublev, 6-4 6-7 (5) 7-6 (7) 7-5. It was almost four hours, but Rublev hung in there, and he battled, constantly. But, then the Greek, Tsitsipas said he does not “feel inspired.”  He should not have said that.

Another top-10 player, Karen Khachanov, went down 4-6 7-5 7-5 4-6 6-3 to Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The Russian can be erratic, while when he is healthy. Pospisil can be extremely intelligent.

Do you want another seed who was ousted on Tuesday? Why not? Tenth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut was defeated by Mikhail Kukushkin 3-6 6-1 6-4 3-6 6-3. Bautista Agut was physically tired.

How about a good one today: the struggling No. 6 Alexander Zverev, who won, when he beat Radu Albot 6-1 6-3 3-6 4-6 6-2. While the big hitter Zverev, has played so many five setters at the Slams, eventually, he can go down, when he is exhausted. If he wants to reach the second week, he had to bare down. They all have to.

Stephens gets bounced
When Sloane Stephens is feeling good, she can defeat anyone. But this year, her head is in trouble. In the first round, she lost to Russian Anna Kalinskaya 6-3 6-4. Stephens won the tournament two years ago, but now she didn’t survive the first round, at least in singles. She is just so confused. Who knows what her future will bring?

The No. 1 Naomi Osaka won, beating Anna Blinkova 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-2. Good enough. … Caroline Wozniacki won and she will now play American Danielle Collins. Quiet a toss-up. … The powerful Aryna Sabalenka upended Vika Azarenka 3-6 6-3 6-4, a tight match. Where Azarenka will go from here, nobody knows. … That was a gigantic win by American Alison Riske, who beat Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-1 6-3. She can be really focused when she wants.

Women: Can Osaka can win the US Open again?

Naomi Osaka

Here we are, waiting to see which woman is going to be dominate at the end of the US Open?

Could it be the defending champion Naomi Osaka? The No. 2 Ash Barty? The 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams? The 2017 winner Sloane Stephens? The other Grand Slam winner this year, Simona Halep at Wimbledon? Or a vet like Petra Kvitova? Or how about the very young and the rising Bianca Andreescu from Canada?

Early on, everyone can win. But in the second week, then the pressure will be enormous. Not only do you have to think hard, but you have to be totally focused. Then, there is a real chance a player can wear someone down and you can seize the day.  

Since Osaka won this year’s Australian Open, she went down for a few months. She was overwhelmed and confused. She hasn’t won a tournaments since then, but who knows, at the Slams, she was been composed on the hard courts.
In the fourth round, she might face the Swiss Belinda Bencic, who gets injured a lot. Over the past few months, she has been healthy and when she plays, she is definitely a top-10 player. She is a huge hitter.

Still, Osaka will move on and in the quarters, she could face Aryna Sabalenka, Vika Azarenka {they have to play against each other the first round) or Donna Vekic. All four will crush the ball and go for the lines. For sure, they can go right in the face versus Osaka, but how do you contain her? That is the biggest question, for all of them.

In the second quarter, it will be a bunch of players who could reach the second week: Halep, Stephens, Kvitova, Andreescu, the former two-time champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, and the other Americans: Danielle Collins and Alison Riske.  
Between all of them, Andreescu has risen so quickly that she refuses to know fear. She is already so smart, and composed, but during the event, she has to be healthy and brilliant. I bet she will.

In the second half, here is the list of the people who will reach the second week at Flushing Meadow: Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova, Jo Konta, Serena, Anastasija Sevastova, Qiang Wang and Barty.

All the Americans playing right now who have reached the US Open final — Venus, Serena and Stephens — have won it before. Except for Keys. Two years ago, she did reach the final, but she froze against Stephens. This time, if she gets there again, Keys will be very comfortable.

Men: Who will win the US Open?

Novak Djokovic

Who will win the crazy tournament in Flushing Meadows?

There have been some wonderful contests, dozens of them, in the past 26 years that I’ve covered the US Open. At the end of August and the beginning in September, it can be super hot, or cool and windy. And rain, too. There were so many perfect days, sunny and bright. Also, at night, playing matches, in the biggest stadiums, or medium sized, the fans were thrilled.

That’s what they will do next week. On words, with the men.  

The No. 1 Novak Djokovic is favored, but perhaps, slightly. He could face the rising Hubert Hurkacz, who just won Winston-Salem, pretty early, but the young players might panic at the US Open. Then Djokovic might play Stan Wawrinka, a great player, but he hasn’t played fantastic this year. Maybe he will rise up, but the Serbian will crack at his forehand and his serve in the third round.

In the quarterfinals, Djokovic must be staring at the fifth-seed Daniil Medvedev, who just won Cincinnati. He knows that Medvedev has improved a tremendous amount over the past month and a half. He is very steady, and even more powerful now. That could go five sets under the lights. Bring it on.

If Djokovic wins, then the very famous person, Roger Federer, could be in the semis. The Swiss has won 20 Grand Slams, but he hasn’t grabbed it in New York since 2009. Now it has been a relatively long time ago for Federer. Yes, he is very smart, and he can hit the balls upwards and backwards, but that doesn’t mean that the 38-year-old can seize the night. He just has to find his rhythm in the first week, and then when he gets to the second week, Federer must step on the gas.

He could face David Goffin in the fourth round, and the Belgian is confident again. Yes, he can be fast and has heavy shots from his forehand and backhand, but he has yet to reach the semis at the Slams over the past decade. Goffin just can’t do it.

There are a punch of good people who can go to the second week: Borna Coric, Milos Raonic, the Aussie Alex de Minaur, and San Diego’s Taylor Fritz. All four of them really want to upset Federer. There will be a five setter, for all of them. While Federer will win, that doesn’t mean that he will struggle for hours. Last year in Queens, Federer was sweating all night. And he lost.

On the bottom half, the No. 2 Rafa Nadal is cruising already. He doesn’t have to face Djokovic or Federer until the final, so he has to be relieved. Of course, he can beat them if he is playing 100 percent. Last year, in the semis against Juan Martin del Potro, he got hurt badly. He was angry and then he retired. This time, hopefully, his sore legs will be healthy and happy.

Nadal should crack Fernando Verdasco in the third round, and then in the fourth round, he will have to face American John Isner or Marin Cilic. Both of them hit huge serves, with Isner’s nailing his forehand and Cilic hitting dangerously from both sides. Cilic won the USO before, so he will be very excited on court. Either way, Nadal will move ahead easily.

However, in the quarters, he might face Karen Khachanov, another young Russian, who is ranked No. 9. If he gets there, Khachanov has to bash Nadal’s backhand, and return really well and into the corners.

Here are some other terrific opponent who might face the 18-Grand-Slam champion Nadal: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev (who will play the Greek in the first round,) Nick Kyrgios (who won Washington), Gael Monfils, Denis  Shapovalov  Felix Auger-Aliassime  and Alexander Zverev (who is still slumping).

Nadal’s biggest hurdle could be No. 4. Dominic Thiem, who really relives that he can win a major, somehow, someway. Thiem has reached the final at Roland Garros twice. But, on the hardcourts, he can get frustrated. When he is on, he will jump on the ball. However, I would be surprised that Thiem can reach the semis in New York, because it can be too sticky.

At the US Open, it is August and September, so it is impossible to predict about the weather. And that makes the tennis unpredictable, too.

All of a sudden, Madison Keys rises up, wins Cincy

There are times that Madison Keys can be so out of it. But, this week in Cincinnati, the powerful American was on top of the game. Her first serve was gigantic, her strokes were deep and true, and her returns were tricky. She won it, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5 7-6(5) in the final.

Kuznetsova had a terrific week. The Russian has won two Grand Slams, but she was injured for months, and when she came back, she wasn’t secure, losing early. But finally, she started to run and be very consistent. She has been on the WTA for very long times. Some weeks, she is down; other weeks, she is joyful. Kuznetsova could win another major in the next few years. She is already thinking, “Can I be patient and grab the US Open?” The last time she won it was in 2004, 15 years ago. A super long time. But, you never know.

That might be the same thing with Keys. She has gone deep at the Slams, reaching the 2017 final at the US Open, falling versus Sloane Stephens. She was pretty nervous, but she has matured a little. Now, she has to center herself at the US Open, and bolt.

The Men
Who would have thought that Daniil Medvedev would actually win an ATP 1000? After all, over the past month, the Russian was rising fast, exploiting an odd but tricky game. He has finally accepted his game’s limitation and potential. When he first started, the now 23-year-old was suffering at times. Currently, he is blissful.

Medvedev took down David Goffin 7-6(3). 6-4 in the final. Goffin has improved over the past few months, and he loves to grind. However, Medvedev was more potent in the final. He knew that if was close, so he wanted to dive on him. And Medvedev did. That was the biggest title ever.

When the US Open arrives, the top three will be favored: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who won the 2018 title at Flushing Meadows; No. 2 Rafa Nadal, who just won Canada and No. 3 Roger Federer, who is itching to play after losing Wimbledon despite have two match points.

Now, Medvedev upset Djokovic in the semis at Cincinnati, but that was two-out-of-three sets, not three-out-of-five. That is the biggest difference by far. You have to hang in there for a long time to win a men’s Slam. You can get tired, for many hours, but you have to keep trucking.

Djokovic has won 16 Grand Slams titles, and Medvedev has won … zero. Let’s see during the next two weeks if the Russian can ascent.

Federer goes down, but Barty rises again

The great Roger Federer went down at Cincinnati on Thursday, losing to the up-and-coming Andrey Rublev, 6-3, 6-4. Rublev is very good, when he is on.

For the most part over the last 16 years, Federer knows how to win. He may not play well, but he still mixes it up and he changes the tactics. But not this time. The powerful Rublev kept coming, he hit it hard, and he really focused. Federer, who just started playing after he lost in the final at Wimbledon, losing 13-12 in the fifth set against Novak Djokovic. So close by Federer, but no cigar.

The Swiss will go to the US Open, and he could go deep once again. But, to win it? That is a tossup, because Federer hasn’t won it since 2008. That is 10 years ago, on the hardcourts, at the US Open, which can be hot and sticky.

However, you have to give him a shot, perhaps his last time, as he is 38 years old, and to win a major again, the 20-time Grand Slam champ has to go for winners pretty early. Because if he doesn’t, during the second week, Federer could be tired and overhit.
It was pretty clear that Ash Barty thinks she can beat anyone when she is so confident and steady. Plus, a few years ago, she was shaky, but now she is locked in. A few days ago, she beat the former five-time champion Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-1. The American/Russian is back again, but she isn’t steady yet, and she has to find her solution. It will take her months to be 100 percent, physically. If she can continue to play, and she doesn’t gets injured again, then she will be a fantastic player. No doubt about it, but somehow she has to get healthy, period.  

Naomi Osaka is lurking. She has reached to the quarters, and while she has been mentally up and down this season, the two-time Slam champ wants to prove she can beat anyone. Yes, she is No. 1 again, but she hasn’t won an event since January in Australia. It is time for her to leap up and knock everyone down.

Osaka will face against American Sofia Kenin, who down Elina Svitolina for the second time in two weeks. Kenin is getting better all the time. She isn’t quite there yet, but she is smart and intelligent…

Venus Williams woke up this week, after she lost a lot of matches over the past few months. But, when she is confident, she can dominate with her sharp first serve and her razor backhand. She will play Madison Keys, who also is finding her past form. Venus has gone deep over the past few years, but Keys can be negative, on court. It sounds like Venus has been very positive in Ohio.

Serena Williams vs Naomi Osaka – again

Serena Williams hasn’t won an event this year, but over the next five weeks she has an opportunity to raise her game, and perhaps, she can win Toronto this week.

If she does, who knows? Will the 37- year-old will be healthy or not? Will she start hitting her massive serves, her deep and hard forehand and backhand, and nail her returns.

However, it has not been a great year. She has been hurt a lot and she hasn’t won an tournament in 2019. She did reach the 2019 Wimbledon final, but Simona Halep cracked her easily.

But before that, Serena won so many events since she started playing in 1997. That is over 22 years ago. It is a very long time, but not too long for her because she just wants to play tennis. She can get angry, but she can also be peaceful. She absolutely has to.

On Thursday, Serena beats Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in straight sets. Now she has to face against the two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka on Friday. Of course, almost everyone remembers that the Japanese/American upsetting Serena 6-2, 6-4 in the 2018 US Open final. Serena went out of control, yelling, and Osaka was so lethal in the last game. Minutes later, Osaka wept during the ceremony, but Serena said some very nice words. They became friends. They probably always will.

The former No. 1 Osaka hasn’t played great, either, but she is an amazing player, when she is locked in. But this year, she can scatter. If she can win Toronto, then she walk into the US Open and push herself.

Can Osaka beat the 23-Grand Slam-champ Serena again? As Osaka said: “Every Serena match is once-in-a-lifetime.” Well, close. For both of them, they both have huge weapons and they will go for it, almost immediately. We hope there an extraordinary contest.

Caro Wozniacki lost early again, and I am not sure why she isn’t playing well. She has been around for a long time, she did win the 2018 Australian Open, plus she has grabbed a number of big titles. Either she is still hurt, or she isn’t happy…

The Canadian Bianca Andreescu won on Thursday, and finally she feels much better on court. So many people get injured, all the time, and it was been going on for years and years. Hopefully, the young Andreescu will stay healthy.

The strong Elina Svitolina crushed Belinda Bencic, so perhaps she is feeling comfortable again and smarter? She did before … American Sofia Kenin has been a bit up and  down, but she is only 20-year-old, so pretty soon, she will proceed.

In Montreal, there should be a fun match, with Rafa Nadal against Fabio Fognini. Nadal leads 11-4, but Fognini did shock him at the 2015 US Open, and in April at Monte Carlo, the Italian won 6-4, 6-2. However, Nadal has beaten him a lot, on clay and hardcourts. They know each other very well, but Nadal is very wary.

“He’s having a great season, one of the best of his career, if not the best,” Nadal said. “I need to be playing well.” They both do.

Mr. Zverev: Will he come around again?

Remember in November, 2018? He won the ATP Final, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, two of the best players un¹ever. Then, when he started playing in January, 2019, he could actually win a Slam. But he didn’t. He fell back.

At what point will Alexander Zverev rise again? He has not had a good year at all, but I would think that he can come around.

The 22-year-old reached the final at Acapulco in March, but he lost to Nick Kyrgios. And then, the now No. 7 lost fairly early for the next five months.

On Tuesday in Montreal, Zverev  beat Cameron Norrie 7-6, 6-4. That was pretty decent, but now has to play against Nikoloz Basilashvili
who is ranked No. 17. Basilashvili beat him 7-6 in the third at Hamburg, two week ago. Now they will clash, on hardcourts, so it is faster and he has to attack early. He has to jump on the lines. His first serve is huge, if he gets in, that is.
Last year in Canada, Zverev lost in the third round against 
Stefanos Tsitsipas, a guy who is very good. But then he lost early in Cincy and the US Open.

It is just impossible to know how poorly the German is thinking on the court. We will find out ASAP as the North American hardcourt season proceeds.


In Montreal, The veteran Milos Raonic beat Lucas Pouille, a good win, but now he will have face Felix Auger-Aliassime, the excellent 18-year-old. Both of them live in Canada. Auger-Aliassime is rising up, quickly, but Raonic wants to frustrate him. It should be a terrific match, forehand versus forehand.

Roberto Bautista Agut destroyed Bernard Tomic. The good thing is that the Aussie qualified, but he needs to work out more, and not travel all the time. Tomic is ranked in the top 100, and I would think he will qualify for the US Open, but it is hard to tell. He is up and down mentally all the time — still.

 The women in Toronto

Was this a surprise? Anettt Kontaveit took down Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Kontaveit can play excellent balls, or she can lose her temper. Over the last couple years, Sharapova has been hurt all the time, but she is still trying. Hopefully, over the rest of the year, she won’t get hurt, or here and there, because for many years, her right shoulder is sore all the time. She just has to deal with it, and she knows that.

“I’m still building the confidence and my form, and that’s something that’s just going to come with time and with match play,” Sharapova said. “Unfortunately, I just haven’t had that yet, so will just hopefully try to build on it. There’s never the perfect scenario. … So it will just take time to build that confidence again, because I have struggled with it for a long time.”

Another good Czech, Marie Bouzkova, upset Sloane Stephens. The American cannot get going. It is in her head…

The other Canadian, Bianca Andreescu, has returned after being injured for months. Recall though, she won Indian Wells, which was a shocker. But not anymore. The 19-year-old is a worthy player. If she stays healthy, she will make the top 10 by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Andreescu beat Genie Bouchard 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. Years ago, Bouchard won so many matches. Now, she is not even in the top 100. Will she come back? I just don’t think so.

Re-think the game: Hardcourts are back

Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

The hardcourts have begun again. Since in early April, the natural-surface people started to play on clay, and then, on the grass. Now at the end of July, the all competitors leap back on the hardcourts.

This week, in the United States, San Jose, and Washington have begun. None of the top players are playing yet. Next week, it is Toronto and Montreal. Most of all of them have to compete. So, they have to pay attention — big time.

In San Jose, the very young and aggressive Aryna Sabalenka is there. Last year, she was very, very good. She was incredible at times, but this season, she has been struggling. Once in a while, over the decades, there have been some fantastic players, when they rarely lost month after months, such as Serena Williams and Steffi Graf. Of course, they have missed some huge matches, but week after week, they think, they remember, and they build upon their success.

In 2018, the now 21-year-old Sabalenka rose quickly and she won Wuhan, a huge event. She was flying. When she started in 2019, she won a small event in January, Shenzhen. But after that, she skidded, and she has lost early during the past six months. Sabalenka is a tremendous talent, but she has to think on court. If she doesn’t, she won’t be able to crack the top 5.

At the Australian Open, believe it to not, she went down against the Amanda Anisimova, a super young player. Anisimova will face Zheng Shuai. That could be a blast, assuming that they both are on fire.

The San Diego player CoCo Vandeweghe finally returned, as she was off for months due to a major injury. Now she feels better, but it will take her a while to raise up her game. On Wednesday, she lost to Sabalenka. Elina Svitolina is the top seed, and she is ranked No. 7. Look, she is a darn good player, and she has won some important tournaments, as she is quick and mighty, but she can get nervous and shaky. She has to keep her focus.

In Washington, Jack Sock returned. He’s another person who was hurt for months. Last week, in Atlanta, he lost in the first round. The same thing happened on Tuesday, when he lost against Jordan Thompson in Washington.

Sock is ranked 173, but a few years ago, he made it to the ATP Finals, in singles and doubles. Can he come back into the top 10 again? That is a long road back. In doubles, he is a terrific player, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the ATP Finals with Mike Bryan in 2018. Yet in singles, he looks rushed. Then, he can collapse. If he wants to show the world how good he is, he has to re-think his game. Or else.