Archives for September 2019

Injuried: Nadal, Kyrgios and Halep

Here we are in the fall, and a lot of people are taking a break. It is the injury factor. In the past 10 days, many good players have retired or pulled out. I could name 10 people who are hurt — which is a lot — but I will just name a couple people, the most important people, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios and Simona Halep.

Nadal won the US Open and he did play a little bit at the Laver Cup last week, but he stopped playing on Sunday. He was hurt, so he will not play for the next four weeks, or even longer. The No. 2 is hoping that he can play at the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals. He hopes to, because he is really aware that if he gets significantly hurt, then maybe he won’t have a very good chance to win the 2020 Australian Open, which would give him 20 Grand Slams, tied with Roger Federer. Now that would be fascinating.

After Kyrgios lost easily at Zhuhai, he said that he is pretty much done. He may not play the rest of the season, because he has a hampered with his shoulder. He cannot serve huge or crush his forehand and backhand. Kyrgios l has happened so many times. He has to get it fixed. Go to the doctors in Australia, and have them really look at it. If he has to deal with his surgery, then so be it. If he wants to win a Grand Slam, that is the only choice.

“I’m serving usually somewhere around the 230 kilometers an hour mark and I wasn’t even able to crack about 180,” he said. “There’s no point for me to play if I can’t really serve, because serving is my strength, my favorite shot, my whole game is based around it and that’s where I’ve had my success this year when I’ve been serving my best. I’m probably not going to bother playing until I can get it right again.” Kyrgios did say, however, he does want to play the Davis Cup in a couple months. That is possible, but he cannot be so risky. Or he can retire again.

Like everyone, he just wants to go home to Australia. That is a very good idea.

“Man, I haven’t been home in almost seven months. So, at any rate I’m not even too sure what I’m going to do moving forward with the rest of my season,” Kyrgios said.

Kyrgios got off easy when the ATP gave him six months of probation after investigating his out-of-control behavior in Cincinnati. He can avoid a 16-week suspension and $25,000 fine if behaves over the six-month period.

Halep sidelined

Halep pulled out at Wuhan because she was injured. A couple days ago, the Romanian said that she is more relaxed but she is motivated, and as always, she works hard. Guess what? On court she has to deal with a herniated disc. That injury happened a year ago, in Beijing, and she retired in the first round. She stopped playing the rest of the year.

Hopefully, the two-time Grand Slam champion will recover quickly. Whether she can or cannot, she up and down in 2019. At least she won Wimbledon in July, and that will stay with her forever.

Here is one positive: Andy Murray won a match at Zhuhai. He bounced Tennys Sandgren, winning his first singles match. It took him eight months to do it. Murray dug deep to take Alex de Minaur to a third set but lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. The three-time Slam champ is improving.

Laver Cup event: Will the top players come back in 2020?

It will be a very interesting to see in the Laver Cup survive. Oh yes, this weekend, there is a ton of terrific players, but that doesn’t mean that next year, right after the US Open, they will play another time.

Many of them want to rest after the summer, when they had to play three of the Grand Slams: Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. The summer season starts late in May, and then it ends in the beginning of September. It is three and a half months, a real grind. Especially with the very good players, because they always go deep at the tournaments, most of the time. That is why their bodies can be very sore, or extremely hurt.

At the Laver Cup, the players are competing for Team Europe, and, for all other continents, Team World.

Yes, it was a dramatic end. They were all there: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic, Fabio Fognini and Nick Kyrgios, among others, and more.

In Sunday, the last match, Zverev beat Raonic 6-4 3-6 10-4 and Europe won cemented the win. Earlier, in the doubles, two Americans, Jack Sock and John Isner, overcame Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Then, another young American, Taylor Fritz, upset Dominic Thiem 7-5 6-7(3) 10-5. Then, Federer turned it around in singles by beating Isner 6-4, 7-6. Zverev has not had a great year, but he played much better this week in the Laver Cup
There were three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Was it very serious, or just having fun? That’s a toss-up.

Believe it or not, in singles, early on, Sock beat Fabio Fognini 6-1 7-6(3). Sock hadn’t beat anyone this year, in singles. That is a shocker, because in the fall of 2017, he reached No. 8, in singles at the ATP Finals. Yes, last year and this year, he was hurt, but he tried in singles and doubles. Clearly, now, he loves doubles, as he won a could majors with Mike Bryan. But, in singles, Sock has so much work to do, certainly in his head and beyond.

With the third Laver Cup in the books, I would think that many people had a fine time and attendance is strong. But again, outside of the Slams, it is not easy to sell it, year after year. My suggestion is a reevaluation and make some changes.
But the way, Kyrgios and Sock are good friends. They are controversial, and maybe, during the fall, they can win a lot of singles matches in Asia.

Here is a good quote from Zverev: “I had two great coaches [Federer], one on the court and one [Nadal] on the sidelines. I could just shut off my brain and do whatever they told me to do.”

In St. Petersburg, there are some good players last week. No. 4 Daniil Medvedev was there, and without a doubt, the fans were cheering for him. A year ago, not many people knew who he was. Now they do, after he reached the final at the US Open. And then, he beat Borna Coric 6-3, 6-1 to win on Sunday, He is a huge hitter, and he hustles…
Croatian Coric is ranked No. 14. Five years ago, he looked very good, and many thought he would go very far. But he has sort of stopped. Yes, he can win matches, but can he take down the best players? He is a true grinder, which is good, but he needs to be more aggressive and thoughtful.

Another top 10-er, Karen Khachanov, lost in the first round. He is slipping a little bit…

In Metz, France, the veteran Jo Tsonga won the title, beating Aljaz Bedene. In his long career Tsonga has been somewhat close to winning a Slam, but he hasn’t. I have said this so many times, that certain people become injured all the time. It is hard to stop it. But at least Tsonga keeps trying, and he can focus. He goes have a terrific forehand and his first serve, too. Now he is back in the top 40. He has won a bunch of events, winning 18 trophies. Yes, he was won two ATP 1000s, in Paris and Canada. But, can he win a Grand Slam for the first time next year? He is a nice, terrific person, but can he grab his first major when he is 34 years old? That is extremely difficult, but he can push, hard.

Sloane Stephens is hard to read

©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

Last year, it really appeared that Sloane Stephens would win another Grand Slam, plus win more huge tournaments and eventually become No. 1. But this year, she went backward, and her conviction went away.

Now she is ranked No. 14, and she does have a shot to play at the WTA Finals at the end of the year. But, that would be surprising, because over the years, she simply doesn’t love the fall. She can get tired, and she wants to go home, away from Asia and back to the United States.

Maybe Stephens will really like it in Japan and China, have fun, be comfortable, and then push herself. She has won six titles, four of them in the United States (including the 2017 US Open), one in Mexico (Acapulco) and one in Auckland, Australia.

But, in the fall, it is almost zero.

The good news is at the end of the 2018 WTA Finals, she reached the final in Singapore, beating Naomi Osaka, Kiki Bertens, Angie Kerber and Karolina Pliskova. Then, she lost against Elina Svitolina in three sets. That was pretty good on an indoor hardcourt.

Two months later in 2019, she wasn’t mentally there. For four months, Stephens lost early again and again. Maybe she was upset, or checked out or was a little bit afraid on court. When she was on, winning the 2017 U.S. Open, she was nearly perfect; she almost never missed the ball, being patient, and hitting very hard. She played strong, fast, smacking her forehand, backhand and return.

That’s why Stephens is hard to read.

She did wake up on clay for a few weeks, reaching the semis of Madrid, and the quarters of Roland Garros, beating Garbine Muguruza before losing to Jo Konta.

And that was it.

At Wimbledon, she went down against Konta again, in the third round.

Back on the hardcourts in the USA, Stephens played four events, and she won just one match. Yes, just four. At the US Open, she was stunned, losing against the young Russian player Anna Kalinskaya.

How good she will be over the next month? She has to recover, even when she isn’t stringing the ball and hitting the corners.

Stephens is a great player when she is on. But, she focuses on her off-court persona, pretending that people don’t like her. Many people do like her. That is reality, but you cannot be perfect. It is impossible. For everyone.

Hopefully, doing the fall, Stephens can re-change her game, little by little.
This week, on Wednesday, she  played in Tokyo,  at the Pan Pacific Open. But, on Wednesday in Osaka, she was crushed 6-0, 6-3 by Camila Giorgi — a blow out.  Stephens could be checking out once again.

Let’s not forget that Ash Barty is still very young, and as long as she doesn’t play all the time, she could stay No. 1 at the end of the year. In 2018, she played three events in Asia and she reached the semis at Wuhan — a big tournament — and she won a small tournament, Zhuhai. So next week in Wuhan, if she wins it, she will stay No. 1. But if she doesn’t and No. 2 Pliskova wins it, the Czech will be No. 1. That will be fun all the way to the end.

No. 1 Osaka just announced that she and her coach, Jermaine Jenkins, have parted ways. Who will be the next one? Someone who will really likes her, on court and off?

Simona Halep will reuniting with the coach/TV broadcaster Darren Cahill, after a year apart. Halep is extremely happy, given that she was up and down in 2019. Next year, Cahill will calm her down.

Will Serena Williams continue to play in Asia this fall? She hasn’t done it a lot over the past 22 years. Maybe a tournament or two in September or October? I doubt it.

Will Rafa Nadal win 20 Grand Slams or more?

©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

A few days ago, I wrote that during the fall lots of people will debate whether Rafa Nadal will end up being the best player, ever. That is true. There are a lot of people who really like him, especially in Spain. Nadal is a terrific player, a very intense person on court, he competes and thinks on every point he plays. He now has 19 Grand Slam titles when he won the 2019 US Open, outlasting Daniil Medvedev in five very tough sets. 

Nadal is 33-years-old and he does get hurt nearly each year. But, this season, he didn’t destroy his body. Now hee actually rests, for the first time. At the 2019 Australian Open, he reached the final, but then the No. 1 Novak Djokovic crushed him. Nadal wouldn’t play for another month, and he came back, but it was pretty slowly. His legs weren’t quite there yet, with his sore legs.

And then it changed, in mid-May, winning Rome and Roland Garros. Nadal was more enterprising and stoic at the same time.

At Wimbledon, he lost to the fantastic Roger Federer in four sets in the semis. The Swiss loves grass, he has won it eight times, he goes into the net, very quickly. He can slide or hit elegant drop shots from the net. Nadal has won it twice, most notably in the 2008 epic final against the 20-time Grand Slam titlist Federer. The Swiss is the ruler of grass. Kind of.

Back on hard courts, Nadal was hooked in. He won Montreal and the US Open. Maybe he was tired a little bit, but he just kept pounding, minute after minute. 

He barely beat Medvedev, 6-4 in the fifth. The Russian is 10 years younger, 23 years. He doesn’t get exhausted at all, and he hits some wonderful shots. His big forehand and his hard backhand are strong. But he couldn’t step on Nadal. At the Slams, in 2020, maybe Medvedev can trip him up. But he has to wait until January.

However, he could face him again during the fall. There are some big tournaments coming, like Shanghai, Paris, the ATP Final and the Davis Cup final. That could be a blast again, with the No. 2 Nadal versus the No. 4 Medvedev.

Eventually, Medvedev will be able to beat Nadal because Nadal can’t beat the clock. That is reality. But, in the next three years, if Nadal is healthy, then the Spaniard can win at least a few more Grand Slams. How about 21 majors, or 22? 

Former No. 1 Kim Clijsters will unretired, again

Kim Clijsters
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

The 2019 US Open is over, it is done, until 2020, when Flushing Meadows opens up again.

Let’s start with the women, those who went deep, and those were the good players who lost, and who were very disappointed.

But first, the three-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters announced that she will return, on court, even though she is 36 years old. Of course, she loves to play, and that is why she will return in January. 

She retired seven years ago, she won two US Opens and the Australian Open. She has won so many events, “only” 41 titles. She won on different surfaces, but when she competed, she liked the hardcourts much better.

Clijsters was always very fast, side-to-side especially, her forehand and her backhand was hard and deep, and towards the end, she mixed it up better. She is bright, she can focus and she can really think, on court and off. She now has three children, and they are old enough to see her watch the match. 

But can Clijsters win another Grand Slam? Sure, she can, but it will be difficult, as the young players have become better, and they will take on anyone. They won’t be afraid. Just like the Belgian, when she start playing on the court, she will go for the lines and slide so close to the ground. And off the court, she will laugh, because when she started at the WTA 20 years ago, she would always smile. She will do it again.

We already covered Bianca Andreescu, who won the 2019 US Open title. She is just so powerful and thoughtful. As I said before, if she stays healthy, she will reach No. 1 early next year…

In the semis, she out-hit Belinda Bencic, which was a little bit surprising, because I always thought the Swiss would win the title. When she is feeling great, she can swing away, left and right, and she can be very patient. But she isn’t quite there yet. There are times when she gets frustrated, and she over-thinks. We will know next year, but as long she doesn’t get hurt, she will be right there again.

There are two players who have a chance to becoming No. 1, the No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and the No. 3 Elina Svitolina, but they have yet to win a Grand Slam yet. So many times, it looked like the huge-hitter Pliskova was going to grab it, and then she falls back. She can look fantastic at times, but at the majors, she checks out at some point. ..
Svitolina is younger than Pliskova, so perhaps next year the Ukranian will reach the final at a major. She reached the semis last week, and it looked like she was going to seriously push Serena Williams, but the American destroyed her. Yes, Williams can play terrific, and she did during the match, but Svitolina was very erratic. She has to keep her head up …

The former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki lost pretty early in the third round, losing to Andreescu. At the end of the tournament, then we knew that the Canadian is a darn good player, but if you look at this year, Wozniacki hasn’t won much. Clearly, she has been hurt over the past year, but before that, the 29-year-old played all the time. Every week, just abpuy. Eventually, her body begins to break down. How long will Wozniacki will continue to play, or retire? That is very hard to say. She just got married this season (to the former NBA basketball player, the American David Lee), so maybe she will want to have a child. She has always loved playing tennis. She is sort of the same with Clijsters: they both just want to crush the ball, as a winner, of course.

It should be mentioned that the No. 1 Ash Barty has had a fantastic year, and I would think that she could finish No. 1, in October, when it ends. Yes, she lost at the US Open, put she also won Roland Garros. That was gigantic, and be with her as the first important step in her career.

US Open final: Nadal vs. Medvedev, can the ‘older’ Rafa win it?

There are times when Rafa Nadal isn’t crushing the ball, and the Spaniard has said that he was a little nervous, or mentally somewhere else. Most times, though, he pushes himself until he finds the solution.

Nadal has won 18 Grand Slams, and on Sunday at the US Open, he will be favored against the rising Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal pays attention, scouting the good, young players at the tournaments or watching on TV. He studies, which is very important. But, really, you have to be playing on court against the opponent. Whether you are practicing, or playing against him, eventually, you will understand their game.

The 33-year-old Nadal knows about the two other fantastic players, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, because they have played against each other so, so many times. But he has not been around with Medvedev too often. However, five weeks ago, they played each other in the final for the first time and Nadal crushed him in Montreal, 6-3, 6-0. He was just much more consistent, and solid.

Perhaps that the Russian was too tired, or messed up in Canada. And the next week, in Cincinnati, he kept trying, thinking and keep the ball in the court. Medvedev won the event (Nadal pulled out before play started), upsetting with the No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and now he is happy and driven. That’s why the No. 5 advanced this final.

At 6’6”, he is very tall, he is potent and he can mash his first serve. He can also be patient.

Nadal likes hitting spin, especially with his massive forehand. When he returns, he stands way back behind the court, and frequently, he gets it back. Here comes the rally.  

If Medvedev wants to win, he just has to focus on the ball for every shot. It appears that the Russian will win a Grand Slam someday, but not yet.

Nadal will play almost spectacular for a couple hours, and he will win in four sets. The gigantic lefty will have his 19th Slam.

Andreescu wins the US Open
There are times when people reach the final of a Grand Slam, and then they freeze. But, that wasn’t Bianca Andreescu, who beat Serena Williams, 6-3, 7-5. Serena has won it 23 major titles, but the 19-year-old Andreescu had not done it yet.

Going into the final, and watching her, she was so intense, and she could smack the ball off both sides. She also can return well, too.

That is why that coming into the US Open, she had won Indian Wells and Toronto, two huge titles. But to win a Slam, against everyone? That was questionable. But, oh no, there she went, hustling, sprinting and just putting it away, game after game.

The Canadian was up 6-3, 5-1, and it looked like she was about to win. Serena was not playing well, especially her serve and her forehand. But, all of a sudden, Williams began to play well. And Andreescu almost froze.

It was 5-5 in the second, the American fans were thrilled, cheering loudly for Serena. But, then Andreescu began to be good again, hitting with depth, and force in the backcourts. She wasn’t nervous anymore, she stared down and she won it. She did cry, almost everyone has, and she smiled for a long time.

Now the No. 5 Andreescu can become No. 1 fairly soon. Perhaps at the end of the year, or at the beginning of 2020. If Andreescu stay healthy, she will win a Slam again, without a doubt. She is that good.

Will Rafa Nadal win the US Open again?

Rafael Nadal
©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

It is possible that Rafa Nadal will win the US Open and then he will have 19 Grand Slam victories, just one behind Roger Federer. If it occurs, then many people will say Nadal is the best player ever.

But not quite, yet.

On Wednesday night, Nadal beat Diego Schwartzman in three tough sets, and he has yet to lose a set in Flushing Meadows in five matches. So clearly, he is the favorite.

But before you can bow down in front of the Spaniard, remember that at last year’s US Open, he had to retire in the third set against Juan Martin del Potro in the semis because he became injured. In the quarters, Nadal won, but he was forced to play Dominic Thiem in a very long, terrific contest. His legs were super sore and he had to wave goodbye.

This time, however, in the quarters against Schwartzman, there were some muscular points, but it was not so long for Nadal. On Friday, he will face the young Italian Matteo Berrettini, who upset Gael Monfils in five hard sets. Berrettini is playing much better now, with his hard forehand and his first serve, but if they play for more than four hours, the Italian could become exhausted.

As long as Nadal continues to be healthy and if he reaches the final, then he will be ready to throw in his fine serves and aim for the lines with his incredible forehand.

If Nadal prevails against Berrettini, there will be tremendous pressure on Nadal. It’s a pressure Nadal knows well and has conquered many time.

Dimitrov vs. Medevedev

On Friday, the now-spectacular Daniil Medvedev will face the fun veteran Grigor Dimitrov, who upset Roger Federer in five sets. The Russian Medvedev is on fire, and he is self-assured. He hustles, he waxes, and then when he has a chance, he leaps on it. Over the past year or so, Dimitrov wasn’t sure how to play. He had injuries (but almost everyone has to deal with them). When a player has top stop, they tend to be very worried. In 2017, the former No. 3 thought he would win a major. But in 2018, he fell hard. Month after month, Dimitrov couldn’t win hardly at all. In fact, this year going into the US Open, he was 12-15. That was mediocre at best. But in the past 10 days, the former ATP Finals winner rose up again, playing smarter.

Can he stop the 23-year-old Medvedev to reach the final? He could, but it will be very close both ways. I would think that Dimitrov will out-think him, but he also has to serve and return very well. If he takes a long breath, Dimitrov will win in an outlandish five sets.

US Open: Stan Wawrinka is back, and driving

Who would have thought that Stan Wawrinka would rise up at this point in his career? After all, over the past year, he wasn’t really there. He was injured, he had to stop, and then the three-time Grand Slam champion lost a lot of matches. 

But almost everyone kept trying, even though it takes time. You have to be steady, and powerful, and hit the ball deep into the court.

Wawrinka knew that against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, that he had to be very patient. Plus, to beat him, everything has to work, depending on the day. Luckily, in a sense, the Swiss didn’t have to play 100 percent, because Djokovic was hurt, and in the third set, he retired, down 6-4, 7-5, 2-1. The Serb was not happy, he has really irritated.

But that happens with almost everyone. So now Wawrinka has a chance to win the US Open once again. That it possible, but he will have to win it over three more matches. In the second week, at the Slams, it can be a blast, but it is depends who you are playing and whether you are sharp.
Wawrinka’s very good friend, Roger Federer, easily won. He hasn’t had to sweat. Federer has beaten Wawrinka so many times on hardcourts. He will be favored, but he doesn’t know that yet, because the Swiss Wawrinka has to face against Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday. The Russian is playing fantastic ball over the play six weeks. Finally, he is intelligent and he goes for the lines. I would imagine that it is a toss-up. 

Believe it or not, Federer will have to face Grigor Dimitrov, who had to stop over the last few years because his body was messed up. Even this year, he has been losing a tremendous amount, but now, the former ATP Finals winner is back. If he doesn’t get hurt again, he has a chance to shine. Both Federer and Dimitrov have a lot of different shots, so to watch the match on Tuesday, it could be fascinating. But, clearly, Federer is a better player. That is why Federer has won 20 Slams, and Dimitrov has won zero.
It was a huge win by Wang Qiang who stunned Ash Barty 6-2, 6-4. Qiang was consistent, while the Aussie Barty made a ton of mistakes. … Brit Jo Konta is playing substantially better, and she took down Karolina Pliskova 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-5. I don’t know that whether she can win it, but Konta did win Miami two years ago so maybe she can focus this week, and not get so fearful.

Who figured that on Sunday, Elina Svitolina would knock out American Madison Keys, 7-5, 6-4. While Keys has been better at the Grand Slams, but right against each other, Svitolina really hustles and she can switch it within a second. Yes, Svitolina has played some awful matches in the Slams, but now the No. 5 seems to be staying secure. If she can keep dominating with her serve, she has a real chance in New York.
Serena Williams is just so good when she focuses, and right now, she is. Serena beat Petra Martic 6-3, 6-4. While she has won 23 Grand Slams, that doesn’t mean that she can automatically grab it again. She lost in the final last year. This time, Serena will have to mix it up even more.