Ben Shelton wins his first event, grabs Tokyo

Ben Shelton

The last time that Andy Roddick won his first title, in 2001, he started to rise, and his first serve as well his forehand were massive.

On Sunday, in Tokyo, the young American Ben Shelton beat Aslan Karatsev 7-5, 6-1. Early on, when he started on the ATP Tour, the now 21-year-old was decent, but not yet. Currently though, his forehand and his backhand are much more consistent, and his first serve is harder. He is pretty good at the net, and his return is improving, month after month.

“We have been working really hard since the beginning to build my game and win titles on the ATP Tour. I made some deep runs lately,” Shelton said. “You see the great champions, they finish weeks off…I am really looking forward to this tail-end stretch of the year. I am looking forward to finishing the season strong.”

In 2001, for the first time in the United States, Roddick won in Atlanta, Houston, and Washington. Two years later, he won the 2003 U.S. Open when he was 21-years-old. Perhaps that Shelton can win a Grand Slam in the next  year, in 2024. He is really good, already.

Shelton still has some huge opportunities. He will play in Vienna, next week, and then in  Paris. He does have a small chance to play at the ATP Finals in Italy, the top 8, but in Vienna, he has to face the Np. 4, Jannik Sinner. That could be a brutal match, but Shelton is so enthusiastic. Even though he must be a little bit tired, he will jump into the court and race, super harsh.

Marcos Giron did lose to Shelton 6-7(2) 7-6(5) 6-4, but he was darn close. That was a positive weekend.

Alexander Bublik did win Belgium,  and he played terrific, but who about the 19-year-old Frenchman, Arthur Fils, who reached the final? He is very fast, running, and he can attack, early, but he needs to set up the points.

This was an amazing week from Gael Monfils, as the 37-year-old won Stockholm. He edged Pavel Kotov 4-6 7-6(6) 6-3, with his tremendous backhand. He has some super cool shots, everywhere. He might now win another tournament, but he look ecstatic…

Katerina Siniakova

Three of the WTA women took the titles, with Katerina Siniakova, Tamara Korpatsch, and Elise Mertens, who won his eight title, but only the six 250s. But that was very good. None of them will play the WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico, in the singles, but Siniakova and her partners will play with Barbora Krejcikova
 again, as well as Mertens, who works with Storm Hunter…

 During this week, I will talk a lot about Mexico, D.F., where I lived for two years, my first job,  in the early 1980s, with a newspaper, called “Mexico City.” At that point, I worked a lot with the politics, but I also loved sports, so I would go to watch, with my job, and also to talk to with the players. There was some wild matches, like in Soccer, the Bulls, and of course, the tennis Davis Cup. Soon, I can remember something, the stories, and why…, the top 32, in 2022: women 32-26

Elise Mertens
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

32. Kaia Kanepi
She is 37 years old and she still is a darn good player. She has never gone too deep at the Slams. In at least in four of them, she has reached all the quarters. That is a fair accomplishment. However, even though she is very strong, a huge hitter, she does not have enough variety. Next year, if she wants to reach into the top 20, she has to be much more aggressive.

31. Karolina Pliskova
The Czech was so close to winning the US Open and Wimbledon,. But her mental game disappeared. When she is playing amazing, she can crush her first serve, her forehand and her backhand, but unfortunately, she is not very fast. That is too bad, but after she finished her match, when she talks to the press, she is so honest and real. Just turning 30, when she walks on the court, and she has to realize that pretty soon she will retire. In 2023, at the important tournaments, then she has to go for the lines. Maybe she can push herself at the net, as she has rarely done it. So, do it now.

30. Aliaksandra Sasnovich
She seems to really like clay, going somewhat deep at Rome and Roland Garros. She is even-keeled. There are other times when she loses early and she is upset. She has been around for 10 years. If she wants to knock down the excellent players, then she must attack very early and then try to clip the lines. Try to rip it.

29. Elise Mertens
She can really hustle. The Belgian plays all the time, and certain weeks, she is thoughtful, but other times, she loses her control. It is hard to know why she is doing. She can play great, or she can play mediocre, at best. Perhaps next year she can try to hit the ball harder, because when she does it, here and there, she can be very tough to beat her. That is up to her.

28. Martina Trevisan
Here is another young player who is rising now. The Czech is only 20 years old, and she started the year ranked No. 81. She took down a number of good players, like Jessica Pegula and Caroline Garcia. She actually won Prague this year and she wants to win when it is extremely important. She knows that, and next year she can meld it around. Finally, she can pop the ball.

27. Qinwen Zheng
Another 20-years-old who has reached the top 30, Zheng is certainly climbing up the later. Maybe she is not that powerful, but she is very quick, and steady. On court, her eyes are locked in. She started the year No. 108, and now when she starts in January, it is very possible that she can be seated at the Australian Open. If she wins a few matches, then the fans will go to watch her. She has some wonderful variety, and she has to use it all the time.

26. Victoria Azarenka
The so-called ‘Vika’ is one of the most powerful players over the past 12 years. Yes, when she started, she was very shy, and she realized that to grow, and she had to really listen, on court and off. Finally, she did, not only banging her forehand and backhand, but in some key moments, she locked in, winning two Grand Slams. However, that was a long time ago, so the 33-year-old has to find out what is working for her. She still needs a couple pieces so she can have one more shots at a huge event. 2020 year-end review: top 16-20, women

Petra Martic

20. Elise Mertens
She was almost in the top 20, both 2019 and 2020, as she racked up  some good, but not specular, wins,. She won the WTA title at Doha upsetting Simona Halep. She had a super week and on Sunday, really stroked the ball. But, that was February. After that, she was only decent. If she wants to add some new shots, then she has a shot at more success. If she goes for more variety, then she could punch into the top 15.

19. Elena Rybakina
The Russian is still very young, but she had a very good year, especially in January and February. On her beloved hardcourts, she reached the final at Shenzhen, and then won Hobart. She also reached finals in St. Petersburg, Dubai (she upset Karolina Pliskova and Petra Martic) and Strasbourg. In the fall, Rybakina was decent, but not fantastic. The 21-year-old has yet to go beyond the round of 32 at a Slams. If she adds new shots and trust herself, she can rise into the top 10.

18. Petra Martic
The veteran had a good year, overall, running all over the place, really digging. She can get down really low for her shots. Even though she slides out way to the left, almost in the seats, she can flip it crosscourt on the on to the lines. In 2020, 29-year-old became a little more ambitious as she knows that she has to change it up. Now she goes bigger on her first serve, but her forehand is decent but not great. If she wants to go even further, then she is going to have to refine her forehand and at net play.

17. Iga Swiatek
Out of nowhere the 19-year-old won Roland Garros, sliding and going for the lines. She downed the Halep and Sofia Kenin, losing just a set in seven matches. She was on fire. It is amazing that over the past three years, while the top veterans had won many times, the new ones can explode because they had no fear at all. Such as Naomi Osaka, Kenin, Bianca Andreescu and Jelena Ostapenko. In 2021, Swiatek has to be consistent and thoughtful. Within next year, she could easily reach the top 10. Maybe higher.

16. Madison Keys
Over the past five years, when she is healthy, the Floridian beat everyone. She hits very hard with her forehand and backhand, with some jolting shots at the Grand Slams. She reached numerous second week, making her more and more ambitious. But, she really likes the hard courts, which contributes to her getting hurt repeatedly. She retires on court, or she will pull out before tournaments start. If she wants to reach a Slam final in 2021, she has to figure out how to stay healthy. If that works out, then there is no doubt she can leap back into the top 5.

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 20-16

No. 20: Angelique Kerber
This was not a great year for the German. She has won two Grand Slams, and she became to No. 1. But, this year she was darn frustrated. She didn’t win an event, and, after she reached the final in Eastbourne in late June, she did nothing the rest of the year. On court, that is. Kerber is so steady and fast moving to the left and to the right. When she is on, her strokes were deep and true. But she can get upset for many matches. If she can become confident again, then she will go deep at the big events. Really, Angie has to, because she is aging.

No. 19: Donna Vekic
The Croatian had a pretty decent year, gaining ground. Over the past couple years, she has improved, month after month, hitting very hard and snapping it. She can over-hit, and she can be disheartened, but usually, she fights to the end. If Vekic improves her serves and net play, she can crack the top 15 in 2020. But will she leap into the top 10? Right now, I would say no.

No. 18: Alison Riske
A few years ago, the American did very little on the hardcourts and on the clay. But she loved to play on the grass, crashing the ball. However, she had to change, gradually, or else. Very few people knew how good she was. In 2019, Riske started going pretty deep at the tournaments, hitting super hard. She has been around at the WTA for 10 years, and finally, she understood how she should play. In 2020, when she will be a 30-years-old, she will win a big event. A huge one.

No. 17: Elise Mertens
The 24-year-old played a lot of three-setters this year, battling to the end, which is good. Still, she lost a number of them, against the very fine competitors. Yes, she is very consistent, and she thinks out there for two sets. But, deep into the third set, she can rattle and push back. She did win Doha in February, beating Kerber and Simona Halep, which was tremendous. Then, over the next eight months, she couldn’t beat any of the top 10-ers. In 2020, Mertens has to add more to her game.

No. 16: Marketa Vondrousova
The 20-year-old has been coming up very fast. She reached the final at Roland Garros, on clay — which she loves — and in looked like she was going to be around at the critical moments in big matches. In late June she hurt her left wrist and she stopped for the rest of the year. Vondrousova will return in January, to start again. She is very young and keeps her calm during matches. After her injury, it will take her awhile to reset. If she does, she will punch herself into the top 10.

2018 Aussie Open, The Picks, Day 11

Caro Wozniacki vs Elise Mertens

We all know who Caro is, but who is Elise? In the semis of the Aussie Open? Clearly, she is very talented and driven. She is pretty quick, stable and she focuses. As long as she is healthy, the 22-year-old will be around for another decade, moving closer into the top 10. Or the top 5. Or No. 1, someday. We don’t know yet. 

But we do know that Wozniacki has been there since the dawn of time. That is a joke, but really, she has played hundred of matches, and even when she started 10 years ago she was already so quick and her backhand was phenomenally good. Hopefully, she won’t get super nervous at the Grand Slams because she has won many important tournaments, but she hasn’t won a Slam yet. Eventually, I would think she will. But, at the AO this week, she is not the overall favorite until she finally grabs a major.

Caro will win this match against Mertens, because Wozniacki will breath and crack her first serve and her heavy backhand. Wozniacki will win in straight sets.

Simona Halep vs Angie Kerber
Two days ago, I thought that both Halep and Kerber would have have to play many hours against Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys. But, both contests wer super short, because Simona and Angie played spectacularly good. While the other two couldn’t find the solution. 
Hopefully, later tonight, both Halep and Kerber will play extremely well and then, it will be a heck of a match. Both are very strong, fast and super consistent. They move quickly side-to-side. They hit crosscourt and down the line. Neither of them like to go to the net, and neither of them have a huge first serves, but they return so well. They move forward and jump of the balls. 

This fortnight is a huge opportunity. Still, this is a real pick-em. The two-time Grand Slam champion Kerber is totally locked in. Angie will win in three fantastic sets.

Marin Cilic vs Kyle Edmund
A toss-up? Maybe. We all know that Cilic studies hard, he mixes it up, and when his body is feeling good, he can swing away. He has a gigantic serve, a massive forehand and his backhand down the line, has improved over the year. Until last year, Edmund was up and down mentally. When he was close to winning over the good players, he would hit some crazy shots and lose. But now, not only can he hit some huge shots, he is also very steady and he could make better decisions.

The Brit has already won a few marathons against some excellent players. The former 2014 US Open champion Cilic wants to reach to the final in Melbourne — badly. He will win in four tough sets.

2018 Aussie Open, The Picks, Day 8

Rafa Nadal vs Mario Cilic
The Spaniard had a pretty tough night against the improving Diego Schwartzman.Nadal won, but it took nearly four hours. He has been there before, and the No. 1 will be there again, but still, it is somewhat early and he has to make sure not to get hurt at all during the AO event. 
For Nadal, the good thing is when he is on court against Cilic, they won’t have too many rallies, The very tall Mario is a terrific player, but he isn’t that fast. Cilic has a big serve, his heavy forehand and he can mix it up, going down low. 
Yes, Cilic can upset Nadal, if he is playing amazing, hour after hour, but in reality, Nadal has won 16 Grand Slams, and Cilic has won just one — at the US Open. Clearly, over the past 13 years, Nadal has been a better player. With his phenomenal forehand and his tough return, Nadal will win in four sets.

Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmunds
Dimitrov is totally on fire. He took down the Aussie Nick Kygrios on Saturday night, and now, he is locked in. Brit Edmunds has had a fine tournament this week, and he has improved a lot over the past year, but when is he going to figure out what to do with his weapons? Here and there, yes, but Dimitrov has so much variety, when he needs it. The Bulgarian wins in straight sets.

Caro Wozniacki vs Carla Suarez Navarro
This should be a very interesting match. They have never faced off against in the Grand Slams. In 2016 Tokyo, Caro won 6-4 in the third on a hardcourt, and in 2017 Madrid, Carlo won 6-4, 2-6, 6-2  on clay.  
Wozniacki has been better than Suarez over the past 10 years, as she has won 27 titles, while the Spaniard has only won a few. Yes, Wozniacki can fall flat here and there, but in the past 12 months, she has changed it up a little bit and once again, she is very focused.  
Suarez practices all the time, she goes from tournament after tournament. Even though she can sit way behind the court, she mixes it up consistently. Plus, she actually has a one-handed backhand, which is very unusual on the WTA. 
It will go three sets and both of them already know that they will be there for a solid two hours, rally after rally. Neither of them ever gets tired. You never know with Caro: will she be aggressive, or push the ball. Either way, she will win to advance at the semis.

Elina Svitolina vs Elise Mertens
Ukranian Svitolina is coming very close to No. 1. Maybe next week, maybe in a few months, or towards at the end of the year. But first, she has to take down Mertens, a very good player. 
There are times that Svitolina gets angry, inside her head, but she is so driven. She has a terrific first serve, and loads of spin, and she can nail her forehand and her backhand. 
Mertens hustles, too, and everyday, she gets better and better. But can she upset Elena? I cannot see it, yet, but maybe soon. Svitolina wins in straight sets.