Archives for May 2021

2021 Roland Garros: 8 men to reach the quarters

While he’s No. 2, Danill Medvedev doesn’t like clay, so he could go down in the first week. Roger Federer is just starting again, and while he is very intelligent, he needs another month to be totally respectable.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas

Here are eight players who will reach the middle of the second week.

Novak Djokovic
Yes, the consistent, smart and his phenomenal backhand might make him the best player ever. His serve can be a weapon, he can bend down at the net for winners and put it away and hit ground strokes with the best. Even though he likes clay, but he his better on the hardcourts. He has won RG only one time, which is good, but not great. To beat Rafa Nadal on the dirt, the No. 1 will have to reach the heights. Maybe he will never win again in Paris.

Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard as won it 13 times, which is one of the sports most amazing records. His forehand is very hefty, he can spin it, and shatter it. He can knock it crosscourt, down the line, and in the center right at the chest. His serve is cold-blooded and he can twist it to the left, and to the right. Over the past month, he looked decent, but not great. Still, Nadal is a huge favorite once again.

Dominic Thiem
The Belgian really thinks that he can win it for the first time in Paris. He reached the final twice. He can be confident, but Nadal beat him and can do it again. Over the last couple years, he certainly became substantially better. He added with more game. He could win this event, but he has to play 100 percent in the final to bag it.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
The Greek has become thoughtful and more focused. This year, he has beaten some excellent players, ponding then with his heavy strokes. He is alert, he can be locked in, and he finally likes to slide. He really believes that he is one of the best players currently. Maybe he will be, eventually, but to become No. 1, he has to win a Slam or two.

Alexander Zverev
You never know how well the German will play. He can be phenomenal, and then, he can be ticked off when he isn’t playing well. From the backcourt, he can run for a long time, and he can be super consistent, and he can punch for a winner. He did that when he won in Madrid a few weeks ago. Yes, he was close to winning a Grand Slam when he fell to Thiem at last year’s US Open  and he has won a few ATP 1000s. So, in a sense, he is right there. Eventually, he can win a major soon, but at RG in June? Not quite yet.

Andrey Rublev
The Russian was on fire in the first three months, but in April, he beganto skit. He became more aggressive and stronger. But, he can be very good, and bad, winning and losing. He is only 22 years old, so he is trying to be more consistent. He probably will, as long as he can find a more complete game. And learn.

Matteo Berrettini
The 25-year-old Italian has become a very terrific player, upsetting Thiem, Rublev and Gael Monfils. In 2019, he won a lot of matches, on the clay, grass and the hard courts . The No. 9 is very tall and he can rip the ball, but he needs to step it up a little bit. On clay at RG, if he wants to go deep, he has to take more chances.

Casper Ruud
The Norwegian just won Geneva. The week before in Madrid he lost in the semis, to  … guess who? Yes, Berrettini. That is very close. Once again, he is only 22 years old, and he likes to hustle, and he is pretty consistent. To go much further though, he has to push himself more.

2021 Roland Garros: 8 women to reach the quarters

Bianca Andreescu

On Sunday, Roland Garros will start. It is a huge draw, at the four Grand Slams, but many people cannot make into the second week. Moreover, to reach the quarters, then they are already playing very well and they can think that they knock down anyone. 

But that is not reality as the eliminations continue. 

Here are eight players, to reach the quarters, as not only playing darn good, but they also like clay, sliding all over. 

Ash Barty
She has won this before, with an incredible combination of skills. Not only can she run fast and rarely gets tired, but she can slice it, top it, and then she can nail it. As long as she won’t get nervous, she can be brilliant and win it again. Maybe.

Aryna Sabalenka
The Belarus is now ranked No. 4, winning Madrid on clay. While she had taken down against a few of the top players, but she still haven’t to figured out who to cut them down at the Grand Slams. Yet. The 23-year-old might be the biggest hitter on tour. If she really wants to do it for the first time at a Slam, then she was to be placid and bottomless.
Bianca Andreescu
She finally returned this week, after she reached the final at Miami, got hurt and she had to retired. Yesterday, she won in Strasbourg but then pulled out before her quarterfinal with an abdominal injury. She might not be 100 percent, but she hits the heck out of the ball. The one-time Grand Slam champ really wants to show in Paris that she is back in form as long as she continues to be healthy.

Serena Williams
The American has won here before. While she is aging, she really want to win another major to tie Margaret Court Smith with 24 23 Grand Slams. Yes, she is a little bit slower now, but she has been practicing a lot, so when she arrives at RG, she will be ready to be more passionate, and hustle. She is still very powerful, so as long as she doesn’t get upset when she isn’t playing well, then she can fight back. But, to win it again? That would be surprising.
Iga Świątek
There is now doubt that she is the favorite, she is a titanic hitter won the 2020 RG, and last week, she won another big event, crushing Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0. She is quick, she can read opponent’s shot, she can slap it and crush it. Not only does she love clay, but the young person studies off the court, and on the court. She is ready to grab it again.

Garbiñe Muguruza
The Spaniard also won it in France. Then she went through a stretch when she was really struggling. However, in 2021, she came back mentally so now, she is more mature. From the back, both sides, she can smack it very deep. When she moves forward, if she can breath on court, she does have another opportunity to win RG another time. But that is a big if.

Coco Gauff
The 17-year-old American is getting better all the time. She hustles, she practices with purpose, and she has added some fine strokes. She is very young, and she is ambitious, and she also has improved to return. But, to win it at this age? Maybe not, but or maybe she can stun the world.

Jessica Pegula 
What a year it has been for the veteran, who for her first eight years, it was hard to for Pegula to knock off the top 20 players. Now, she has been stable. Plus, she finally figured out that she can be much more assertive. She is very spruce and she can pull it into the quarters. But, to win it all, probably not even though she will scrape in the glorious three-setters.

California rising, in Indian Wells

Casper Ruud

To start, California’s Indian Wells will play in October, which is fantastic. Over the years, in March, hundreds of thousand fans came out and watched some thrilling matches during the day and night. Last year and early this year, they couldn’t play due to coronavirus. But they waited. Last week the owners decided to push into October when many more people will have taken the vaccine. So now, it is time to try again, with the players and the fans. Go for it.

Roland Garros will start in May 29. Here comes the Grand Slams again. But, this week, who will rise up and play fantastic? Who is playing great, who is mediocre, or someone who is playing bad?

Here is the first one. Casper Ruud believes that he can reach the second week. He has had a good year, taking down Diego Schwartzman, Pablo Carreno Busta, Fabio Fognini and Stefano Tsitsipas. Ruud is playing this week in Switzerland. The 22-year-old has much more aplomb.

”I’ve shown myself that I’m up there at the high level of clay court players and I can compete well with pretty much any player on clay,” Ruud said. “I’ve been winning a lot of good matches against good opponents. So, it gives me a lot of confidence going into the Roland Garros and I have to say I’m hoping to be in Paris for the second week of the tournament. That’s my goal.”

Ruud did mention that his forehand and his backhand are strong, but he needed to improve his return, so he worked on it a lot, and now, it is better.

As he said, later, he might be playing terrific, but he is not there to knock off the big boys: [But] “I’m not a rock star in Norway yet,” Ruud said.

This was a stunner last Sunday. During the final in Rome, Karolina Pliskova lost 6-0, 6-0 against Iga Swiatek. Yes, who would believe that? The 19-year-old Swiatek won the 2020 RG and, when she plays on clay, she is incredibly good.

The 29-year-old Czech Pliskova has won some big wins over the years, reaching the final at the 2016 US Open, winning Rome in 2019, and grabbing other titles, such as Cincinnati, Doha and Brisbane.

But Swiatek was on fire in Rome, every game.

“[Swiatek] didn’t give me anything, but sometimes I just tried to make it a bit difficult just to put the ball in. I just was feeling horrible out there,” Pliskova said. “She really made it extremely difficult for me to do any point. She was playing super fast. I thought she was just going for it. She had amazing day and I had horrible day. She’s really extremely confident on clay,”

Swiatek is powerful, and more than that, she can mix it up and it is hard to read where she will go. She does like to adjust.

“She can just redirect so well and she can play even faster, and especially on clay. Because she has so much spin, it’s super tough to do something from it,” Pliskova said. “She had amazing placement of the ball. Everything was super, like, deep and just like close to the lines. She was serving quite big. She has a good serve overall. I think she didn’t have really any — I think overall she didn’t really miss anything today. Even though I was not playing great, but she was having maybe a moment of her life,”

Swiatek can win it again to win another Slam. On the other hand right now, Pliskova is in the cloud.

Sloane Stephen has won three wins in a row. Two years ago, in Madrid, she reached the semis. Two years later, she lost so many early matches, and currently she is ranked No. 65. Now the former US Open champ is in Parma this week, she appears to be slightly back. We hope …
Grigor Dimitrov lost again. He can be pretty good, but week after week, he can collapse. … Dominic Thiem lost this weekend and really thinks he can win RG for the first time. He has been there twice in the final but Rafa Nadal took him down. To do that, he is going to have to pound Nadal’s backhand, over and over.

On Fire: Nadal and Swiatek win Rome

Iga Swiatek

On Sunday in Rome, Rafa Nadal and Iga Swiatek won the tournament, and they were joyful. Nadal knocked down Novak Djokovic 7-5 1-6 6-3. In the third set, he hit deeper, he moved to different areas, and his massive serves can twist it into the corners and he yanked Djokovic almost on the ground. Then Nadal would crack a winner. 

Swiatek played one of the best matches ever. Given feeble opposition from Karolina Pliskova 6-0 6-0, Swiatek still performed at the level we saw when she took 2020 Roland Garros. Let’s say it again: The former US Open finalist Pliskova was out of it. She couldn’t face come with anything when it was time to raise her game. She was sleeping, maybe a bad dream? Where she goes, it is ruthless to say. Playing great or awful? In the last 10 years, for the most part, she is a head case. 

Swiatek really understands how to play fantastic on clay, which is why she dominated Sofia Kenin in last year’s French final. Now she can do it again. She moves really well, she can scramble, and eventually, she can smoke a winner, with her forehand and backhand. She returns super well, too.

In Paris, she should be ranked No. 8, as Simona Halep is injured and likely she won’t play at the French Open. Is Swiatek the favorite? I would say yes, but Aryna Sabalenka , Garbiñe Muguruza and Jessica Pegula have a shot to win it, too.

At RG, Nadal will be ranked No. 3, while Djokovic stays No. 1. Guess who is ranked No. 2? That’s right, Daniil Medvedev, who loves playing on the hard courts. But, as he said, he just doesn’t like clay. He could lose early in the first week in Paris…

Novak said: “Rafa and I had a little laugh today in the locker room after I won against [Stefanos] Tsitsipas. We kind of joked around that the old guys are still not giving up. I saw he said somewhere a few days ago that Roger [Federer], him and I think we’re showing some different, fresh energy.”

Swiatek likes to attack, and last year at RG, few of the fans knew who she was. Not know: ‘I’m, like, surprising myself actually when I’m not doing well because I’m pretty ambitious. I’m a perfectionist, which I’m fighting with actually sometimes. 

“I always try to learn from what other girls experienced. There are many players that had some kind of regress, after winning their first Grand Slam. I always thought try to be different, just work, just focus on not doing the same mistakes. It works pretty well.”

Novak Djokovic & Serena Williams: ‘It’s just really cat-and-mouse’

Serena Williams

Serena Williams is 39-years-old, and soon enough, she will retire, possibly at the end off 2021. She has a young child, and she wants to be with her daughter all the time. That is reality, and that is a good thing, but at the same time, she wants to win one more Grand Slam.

In Rome, she lost in the first round against Nadia Podoroska. So now, if she wants to go deep at Roland Garros, she has to compete a lot in the next two weeks. She has to be super hard.

“That’s always like a little struggle in the first two matches, and then I’m raring to go. I was struggling a little bit, and just final shots,” Serena said. “I had a lot of opportunities to win, final shots and just kind of missing those. Overall, it was good for me to play such a clay court player, but it’s a little frustrating. But it’s all right. It is what it is. I’m not playing as many matches. I’m just doing a lot of training. So it’s actually really good to get out and to play some matches.”

Williams has decided to play next week at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma. It is all about getting in more matches.

Novak Djokovic has a won a huge amount on hardcourts and grass, and also, the clay, too, except when he has to face against Rafa Nadal, who is the best on the dirt ever.

But Djokovic is close, because maybe he doesn’t totally love clay, but he improved over the past 15 years. He is excellent, and he is thoughtful on court. He studie, and rethinks what he can do. He is very thoughtful.

“Well, we all know the clay is a slower surface in the sport. As much it requires more physical energy from a player, but also I think mental and emotional energy as well,” Djokovic explained. “You have to train on clay more than any other surface really to get yourself comfortable playing on it. It is also a very demanding surface in terms of tactics, in terms of just constructing the point. Sometimes it’s just really cat-and-mouse type of play where you have to fight for a better position on the court, sometimes use the shots that you would not normally use on other surface, like this looping forehand or backhand, trying to get back in play, build your position. It is the surface that probably requires from a player to defend better than on any other surface.”

Djokovic rarely gets tired. Even when during at the Slams, he can play for many hours. He is in great shape, but once in a while, he can be feel the effects of the demands of clay.
“I haven’t played a lot at all, so I don’t feel physically exhausted or worn out. I don’t think that’s going to be a case for me coming to Paris. I’m excited to come to [Roland Garros]. That’s obviously the biggest goal of my clay court season,” he said.
The 17-year-old Coco Gauff is getting better and better. She stunned Aryna Sabalenka, who was on a streak. Sabalenka was tired and she missed a lot of balls. But Gauff rose up and smashed the ball.

“I guess a 10 out of 10. I think I played pretty well the whole match. She’s not an easy opponent,” Gauff said. “Sometimes you’re always on defense, so sometimes you just have to scramble a little bit. I played smart.”

On the next day No. 1 Ash Barty retires, up 6-4, 2-1 against Gauff. She is hurt. There are so many injuries, with the women and the men…

There are a few people wo played the Australian Open, who after February, they have to travel all the way through November. That can be very hard, not to see with your parents, your terrific friends. Mentally, it can be upsetting.

John Millman said, “I don’t want it to come across as a bit of a sob story.

“For me really it’s impossible to come home midseason. I knew going away, and probably that’s a reflection of probably my poor form to start off the season was when I went away. I was probably a bit depressed because I knew that I was going away for like 10 or 11 months. I was a bit depressed. I can’t stress the mental side of it, but I’m in a much better place now and have come to terms with a 10-and-a-half month trip.”

It was another big win by American Reilly Opelka, who eliminated Federico Delbonis in the quarters 7-5, 7-6(2). His semifinal opponent was Nadal and predictably, the Spaniard knocked him out 6-4, 6-4. “Clay is not really my thing. [It is] not much of an American thing. Probably just a fluke, but I’ll run with it.”

The two very good A’s: Alexander Zverev, Aryna Sabalenka win Madrid

Aryna Sabalenka

In the third set in the Madrid final, the rising Aryna Sabalenka was looking at a 4-4 score against No. 1 Ash Barty. Last year, in the winter, the spring and much of the summer, she was decent, but not great. But in the fall, she decided it was time to be different, smarter and control her emotions. So then, she was in control.

Sabalenka won the next two games for 6-0 3-6 6-4 victory. That was the best title ever. She is a gigantic hitter, with her hard forehand and backhand, and with her first serve, she can blast it. Her returns are very decent, too.

But listen, she has yet to win major title, but Barty has. Now they are 4 and 4, tied in their head to heads.    
Sabalenka thinks that she can win Roland Garros. She thinks that, but she has to prove it. The Madrid championship was the first time she won on clay. So, in Rome and Roland Garros, if she wants to week after week, against the excellent players, she must focus all the time.  One way or another, Sabalenka will continue to be aggressive and, right now, tough to beat.

Barty won 2019 Roland Garros, and she could win it in June. She has played excellent ball this year, mixing it up and move it all around the box. Getting another French title is very doable for her, as her confidence is beginning to make a difference.

German Alexander Zverev is so spectacular when he is confident. On Sunday, he overcame Matteo Berrettini 6-7 6-4 6-3 once again in Madrid. There have been so any times when he gets upset and irritable/ But, when he is playing well, he shows a smart and tactical game. He also likes to scramble and eventually he can whip the ball.

Zverev now has five ATP Masters: Madrid (twice) London, Rome and
Canada. Last week, also upset Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem, two Slams winners. If he continues to be healthy, it is pretty clear that Sasha will win a major. But in Roland Garros? Possibly. Good luck.

Sabalenka said: ‘I feel a little bit better on the clay, a little bit different.’ Oh yes she did…

John Isner on Andrey Rublev: “He’s the second best clay-courter in the world right now. He hits the ball so big. It’s pretty fast. He just does so many things well.” He has, over the last year…

Simone Halep, after she losing Elise Mertens: “I want to do it better, is to stop missing, because sometimes I am rushing and I do some mistakes that I normally don’t do. I have to work on that and to be more patient in the future.” The future is now …

Felix Auger-Aliassime when he lost against the rising No. 16 Casper Ruud: “He’s improved a lot. He has a great forehand, we all know that, and he did what he had to do.”

Any miracles? The U.S. men will go to Madrid

John Isner

Next week, in Madrid, the American men will knock it up in the early rouds, and hopefully, they can go further. But, there is the opposite and they can lose quickly.  

Finally, there are more Americans who traveled to Europe for the clay court season. The current players are so-so. On the hardcourts, they are better, because they can go for the winners early. But, on clay, which is slower, and you have to slide, the matches and points are longer and can mean hours-long matches. But why not test it? Currently, the US men are not in the top-20. But, at least give it an effort.

John Isner is ranked No. 38, and the huge hitter has rarely gone deep on clay. He did win Miami (on the hardcourts), and he has gone into the semis at Wimbledon (on grass), pounding ace after ace. But, in the past year and a half, he hasn’t played much. Now, he has to bear up. He could face Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round, and the Spaniard revels clay. That is a huge challenge for Isner.   

Taylor Fritz is ranked No. 30, and he is still young, but he plays every week. Believe it or not, in Monte Carlo, he lost to Bautista Agut is two sets. OK, that was alright, and while he can lose early, at least he almost upset Novak Djokovic in the 2021 Australian Open, in a famous five-setter. And in Doha, he beat David Goffin and Denis Shapovalov. So he was psyched. Over the past three years, he has only won a couple matches on the dirt. That is problematic. He has to slide more, and go at the net, and put it away. He will face against Pablo Carreno Busta. Ugh?
Two more American guys: Reilly Opelka is very lofty, and he can crack it, but he hasn’t done much this year. He lost to Fritz in five sets at the Aussie Open. Just like Fritz, Opelka does does not like clay, but he did have a some good wins in 2020 on the hardcourts, when he upset Matteo Berrettini at Cincinnati. In Madrid, he will face Dominik Koepfer in the first round, and if he wins — which would be groove — he could face Cristian Garin, who is ranked No. 22. For Opelka, that would be a miracle.

Tommy Paul also travels lot, and he is making an effort. If he beats Pedro Martinez, then will face the red hot No. 7 Andrey Rublev. What a imposing challenge.

Here are four guys who will make it to the end of Madrid: Rafa Nadal (the favorite), Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas.