Djokovic is the favorite, but what about Zverev & Raonic?

FROM INDIAN WELLS – Novak Djokovic is standing tall. Clearly, he is the favorite as the Serb has won three straight Grand Slams. However, the ATP 1000s are very tough, as all the players want to compete — if they are healthy enough — and to win it; you have to be on top of the ball.

On Monday, Djokovic will take on the other veteran, Philip Kohlschreiber, who just knocked off the sort-of- young player Nick Kyrgios, 6-4, 6-4. The Aussie recently won Acapulco, perhaps his best week ever, but six days later, as he said, he was mediocre. But that is what happens. He couldn’t rise up, and the steady Philipp did.

Djokovic is the clear favorite against the German. His serves are much better, as well as his super deep backhand, and his intelligent returns. Kohlschreiber is still quick, and he has rarely become hurt. He knows the entire game, or close enough, and he also knows that he has to play spot on. Perhaps he will, but can he bother the 15-time Grand Slam champ Djokovic? Very doubtful.

On the top half, only one has won a Slam — Djokovic. There are a few have had a legitimate chance to grab it: Dominic Thiem, at the 2018 Roland Garros final, and Milos Raonic, at 2016 Wimbledon. Neither has won an ATP 1000 ever, but we would think that they can snap their drought this season? How about during the next week? Thiem can really hustle, even though he likes clay more than hard courts, while the Canadian can nail his serve, and crush his forehand. But they are not ranked in the top 5, which means they have to step it up.
Two others are on the top half, the No. 3 Alexander Zverev and the No. 18 Gael Monfils. Zverev has won a few ATP 1000s, which is why he is in the top 5, but he has never gone deep at the majors. The Frenchman has reached the semis twice in Paris, and he has had some fantastic wins, but he can get hurt frequently, and his backhand has been so-so for many years. But he can run forever, back and forth.

Raonic and Zverev could face off on Wednesday which is a very close contest. Whomever wins, next Friday, they will play against Djokovic, assuming that Monfils won’t stun the Serbian.
The Women
Serena Williams became hurt again, with the fever. Over the past month, almost everyone has had the fever. That stinks, on court and off. Things are changing through the world. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Remember, all the players, the women and men, exercise all the time, and that is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you can control a fever. You just have to deal with it.

Serena hasn’t played enough this season. If she wants to win another big event, she has to push herself, a little bit more. She has won 23 Grand Slams, but the last time she did that, it was two years ago now, at the 2017 Aussie Open, winning it, and then she went to have a child.

That was the last time that she won a major – and I am sure she will get another – but exactly when? It depends on her body and why she wants to continue, but I get she wants to tie with the controversial Margarete Court, at 24 majors.

There will be some excellent matches, with the No. 1 Naomi Osaka versus the American Danielle Collins, Venus Williams against Christine McHale, and the rising Aryna Sabalenka, who will play against the vet Lesia Tsurenko. Osaka won the tournament last year, and at that point, we knew she was very good. But great? We didn’t know that yet. But she won the 2018 US Open, and then the 2019 Australian Open. While she can be very emotional, she can really concentrate. On court, she can be very cool and calm. Collins has also become substantially better, which is why she is ranked No. 25. Today, she really believes in her ability. Will it last forever? Probably not, but in United States, you can be overjoyed.

Venus Williams is aging. We all know that, but she doesn’t not give it in. She was down a set, and a break. She kept moving forward, and somehow, she fooled Petra Kvitova and won 6-4 in the third. Venus can look amazing, and then there are days when she is a little bit slow. I think that she will continue to play until she is 40 years old, and then finally, she will wave goodbye. She has had a fascinating career.

Sabalenka is the youngest player in the top 10, only 20 year olds. She loves to bang and she swings very hard. She wants to end it, quickly and fast. She knows she is so close to beating all the players, but she has to add more to her game. Like at the net, her second serve and spin.  

Top quote
The 14-time GS Pete Sampras was in the house to watch Djokovic. Novak said: “I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I don’t get to see Pete that often. I was pleasantly surprised to see him watching my match. It’s a thrill, obviously, to see someone that I looked up to when I was a kid. I think I tried too hard in the first set to impress him (with a laugh).”

Muller shocks Nadal, Venus to face Ostapenko

Muller exploits his lefty serve in Atlanta. Brandon Feusner/ATC

Wimbledon, Day 9, JULY 10 – What a great win by Gilles Muller, who stunned Rafa Nadal  6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13.

The Spaniard was darn close of grabbing the match against the veteran but Muller never gave up as he came charging into the net, time and time again. He didn’t panic when the match was approaching five hours, He believed that if he could hang in, bend low, hit some sweet shots and serve like the demon, the he could actually win. 
And he did. It has taken him during many, many years and finally, Muller found some confidence and stability. Next he will play Marin Cilic, who is very thoughtful. Yes, Muller played as well as he could against Nadal, but Cilic is intelligent now and his serve is phenomenally good. Ace after ace, boys …
Obviously, Roger Federer is the favorite here, especially now that the red-hot Nadal is gone, but Grigor. Dimitrov played terrible and lost in three. Is Dimitrov ever going to win a Slam? Too much is clogging up his head.

How about that classic coming up: Federer versus Milos Raonic. The Canadian overcame Zverev in five sets. In the 5th, he locked in and wiped him out 6-1. Federer has beaten Raonic many times, but in 2016, Milos stunned Roger. It should be damned close on Wednesday.

Another vet, Tomas Berdych, overcame Dominic Thiem in five sets. Nice win by the Czech, but it is very surprising that the young competitors can’t move a notch. This year at the Slams? Maybe at the US Open, but to reach the finals at the majors, it is extremely rugged going against the Big Four.
Sam Querrey will go up against Andy Murray, the two-time champion. Of course, Murray is the favorite. But, last year, the American shocked Novak Djokovic in London. This time, or this week, the Brit will be more patient and he is playing better. But, if Murray starts to yell at his box over and over again, then all bets off.

Predcting the women on Tuesday
The 36-year-old Venus Williams will face the RG champion Jelena Ostapenko. Venus is playing pretty well. Ostapenko is up-and-down and playing nervously. What has helped he win Roland Garros and moving into the Wimbledon quarters is her ability to improve slightly every match. She has become more patient. The 20-year-old loves to swing away, even when she is erratic for a few minutes. Forehand versus forehand, Ostapenko will upset Williams.

Here is another classic, as Jo Konta who will go up against Simona Halep. Konta is super powerful, and she will attempt to hit the lines, all the time, but Halep is a little bit quicker. Halep is steadier, but this is on grass, and the Romanian isn’t comfortable at SW19.

What a great win by Garbine Muguruza over Angie Kerber. The Spaniard is finally back, she jumps on the ball and she doesn’t wait behind the baseline. Now she has to face the intelligent and experienced Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian can play fantastic, or she can drop mentally, pretty quickly. Either way, they will go three sets. If Muguruza doesn’t get hurt, she’s on to the semis.

American Coco Vandeweghe seems to be feeling the rhythm. She bested Caro Wozniacki and now she has to play Magdalena Rybarikova. You would have to think that the huge server Vandeweghe will win in two sets, but you never know. Sure, she has improved over the past year and a half, but she can check out mentally in smaller tournaments. But not at the majors.

Notes on a draw sheet: Clay court season heats up

Hola, Madrid. Serious clay courts here now.

The clay courts are really starting now. Yes, it was important in Monte Carlo and Barcelona (the guys), and Stuttgart and Prague (the girls). But coming soon are three gigantic events: Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

Roland Garros is in five weeks and whoever wins on clay, they will be extremely happy, even if they happen to lose early on grass and then the hard courts. You will remember who wins in Paris — forever.

This week in Spain, Madrid has already started.

In Istanbul, one-time Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic overcame Milos Raonic 7-6(3) 6-3.

In Munich, the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev beat Guido Pella 6-4, 6-3 to win his biggest title yet. Zverev is coming up big time. The 6’6” player is now ranked No. 17, and he is coming up super fast. “I’m confident. I’m playing well so hopefully I can keep going and play some great tennis in the upcoming weeks,” Zverev said.  My colleague, Ron Cioffi, predicted at least a year ago that Zverev would be No. 1 at some point in his career.

The last time that a teenager won a Grand Slam was 12 years ago, when Rafa Nadal won Roland Garros in 2005. None of the top competitors were unable to grab Slams when they were teenagers: not Roger Ferrer, not Novak Djokovic, not Andy Murray, not Stan Wawrinka. Only Nadal, who was only 19 years old. He was very young, and he had a lot of work to do, but regardless, he ran like the wind.

Zverev isn’t as fast as Nadal is, but the German crushes the ball from the backcourt, with his serve, his forehand and his backhand. Ka-boom!

Nadal won this year’s Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, but now, he might have to face Murray and/or Djokovic this week. Not Wawrinka, who looks undisciplined. The Britain and the Serbian are struggling, so the Spaniard is the favorite.


Maria Sharapova was unable to win Stuttgart, but she did reach the semis, which was more or less OK. But now, she has to focus and disregard fans who are screaming at her. It has been a very, very trying 15 months off since she was banned. Now she is back, and hopefully, she can be super nice to everyone. But, it won’t be easy, that is for sure.

On Sunday, Sharapova beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 and will play Genie Bouchard in the second round. They have played four times, with the American/Russian winning all of them, but at least the Canadian pushed her in Roland Garros a few years ago. Sharapova is the favorite, because Bouchard had just lost six matches in a row. The former No. 5 is very strong, but her brain goes away pretty quickly. Bouchard absolutely has to calm down or Sharapova will crush her.

Three of the top US American women aren’t in Madrid: Serena Williams won’t play the rest of the year (she’s pregnant), Venus is resting, and Madison Keys lost in the first round against Doi. Keys is just coming back, so hopefully, she will get better as fast as she can. Last year, she reached the final at Rome.

The US teenager Catherine Bellis won on Sunday and she is rising very quickly. But on clay? We will find out ASAP.

The 1,000 Club: Federer wins major mark, takes down Raonic


With his last Wimbledon crown more than two years ago, Roger continues to conquer.

Brisbane International – There was Roger Federer in another final, and he won again. This time it’s a huge win. He has won all sorts of incredible victories like, for example, grabbing a record 17 Grand Slams. You cannot touch that.

But on Sunday night in Brisbane, he walked on the court knowing that he had a great chance. Yes, he was favored to beat Milos Raonic in the final. The tennis world has been buzzing about his 999 wins and fans talking about his rich history. One more win and 1,000 victories.

The Swiss has scored wins against 12 No. 1 competitors: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Marcelo Rios, Carlos, Moya, Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That’s a heady accomplishment.

He showed up first in 2000 in Australia, when he was still a baby, only 18 years old. He had a very good time, but he wasn’t ready to take over yet. He ran around and he was smiling all over the place. He lost to Thomas Enqvist in Adelaide, to Ferrero in Auckland and to Arnaud Clement in the third round of the Australian Open. Eight months later, he was back down in Australia, when he played the Sydney Olympics, where he met his now wife, Mirka Vavrincova, when she was still playing on the tour. Quiet a night.

Mirka eventually retired. They now have four kids. But, Federer went on and on. He was not perfect, but he’s been excellent, capturing his first Slam in 2003 at Wimbledon. Then, he took off. He won majors at Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open all over place, and he even grabbed a Roland Garros once. Sure, Rafael Nadal has dominated in Paris (nine Slams at Roland Garros, thank you very much) but Federer did manage to grab one extremely important one on the dirt. He has won dozens of hard court trophies, and he understood exactly how to play on grass as well.

He has not won another Grand Slams since 2012, but he is right there with the other so-called Big 4 – Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. Even though the 33-year-old is older than they are and hanging No. 2, he still matters a great deal. Because he keeps trying.

Federer bested Raonic in a very close match 6‑4, 6‑7, 6‑4. The Canadian wanted it badly but Federer knew exactly how to step in.

“I think the way he’s come back and just all aspects that Roger does, from the sets of twins he has, everything he does is unbelievable,” Raonic said.

Federer says that he is not sure how long he will last. You would think that he will play this year, and certainly next year when the Olympics will arrive again. By that time, he could definitely pass Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Slams champ. Lendl retired with 1,071 career wins.

“You work hard and prepare hard to play consistently,” Lendl told the ATP. “I remember when I played over 100 matches per year in the 1980s and never thought about it. Obviously, getting to 1,000 wins is more difficult than it seems. It’s really rare. But I looked at it as a by-product of winning so many matches and being consistent for that long.”

Jimmy Connors played until he was 40. That was a very long time. He ended at 1,253 wins. Who know if Federer will be around for another five to seven years and keep swinging away as more and more young player arrive. Even if he doesn’t, he achieved another victory – just trying as hard as he could, year after year.

“Never even thought about it, because like I said it’s not been a goal of mine to reach any of those guys,” Federer said. “Next thing you know you’re in the top 3. I know how well they’ve played over the years, how much they’ve played, and how successful they’ve played.

“So it’s not a goal of mine in any way. Clearly at this point I doubt that it’s going to happen, but you never know. I have no idea, like I said, how long I’m going to keep on playing. The goal is to remain in the game as long as possible. For that I need to stay injury‑free. I need to be hungry, motivated, and all that. For the moment I am, so that’s more of a concern than reaching that number.”

Time to get it back and fast for Raonic

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Milos Raonic has been oh-so-close to winning a major. He is very tall, can knock off his massive first serves with aces and nail gigantic forehands for winners. He is “only” 24 years old, so he is still relatively young, but it is time now, and he played the right way to upset Kei Nishikori 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4) in the semis.

Raonic was very happy that he reached the final and guess who would meet there? The 17 Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer, who blew out Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-2.

nishikori 2012The world No 5 Nishikori was slightly better than the No. 8 Raonic last year. The Japanese was a bit more consistent, and went a little better deep into the big tournaments. Nishikori was faster, smarter and more confident, which is why, for example, that he overcame Raonic in five sets in the fourth round at the US Open. Nishikori kept on battling, eventually reaching the final where he went down to Marin Cilic. Nishikori then played Raonic in a couple more weeks, besting the Canadian, 6-4 in the final. Raonic was very close, but when he came into the crunch time, Nishikori ran around and went side to side, knowing that he could eventually out thought him.

But on Saturday in Brisbane, Raonic didn’t back off. Yes, he knows that Nishikori is substantially faster and has a more powerful backhand, but he served up huge and didn’t’ allow Nishikori to break him.

He lost the first set in a tiebreak, won the second set in a tiebreak and then went into the third. We all knew they were going to the tiebreak again. There was not other way.

Raonic could push the balls around and hope, but he didn’t. This time, he went for the balls early and often. He leapt as hard as he could with his forehands, winning with the contest when he crushed it into the corner 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4).

“I felt like we both played really well,” Milos said. “The level of tennis was very high, especially the beginning. I felt I served really well. That’s held me around, especially in the beginning, because I felt he was getting more and more on top of me at the beginning from the baseline. That sort of kept me in it and sort of gave me a chance, and then I was able to create some opportunities in the beginning of the second. After that, it was pretty much straightforward holding from both of us. I felt like with my serve I put a lot of pressure on opponents in tiebreaks, and I was able to use that.”

Now Raonic has to go up against Federer, who he has beaten him only one time, in Paris last year. Federer has a 7-1 head to head, four ATP World Tours and two Grand Slams, in 2013 Australian Open in the fourth round in straight sets, and in 2014 Wimbledon in the semis, when Federer won 6-4 6-4 6-4. He absolutely has to find out away he can get some solid returns. Plus, he has nail one after another.

“I got to serve well,” Raonic said. “That’s always been a key. Last few matches I started poorly. I would get broken right in my first service game, which is not the way to really go about things, especially against a top player and especially against Roger. So I got to keep that pressure on him and then sort of step up when I can create my opportunities. I think that’s a good.”

Raonic didn’t spend much of the off-season, or much of a vacation either. He did go for six days on a beach vacation but after four or five days he was ready to go back.

“I wanted to get back into things,” he said. “I had a lot of things that I wanted to do more than I did in 2014, so I wanted to get back in the swing of