Dec/17

15

Subplots Galore, As Australian Open Approaches

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By Scoop Malinowski

January marks the birth of a new tennis season and all the players are currently training and refining their bodies, minds and technical proficiency to achieve the best year of their careers in 2018. Each professional has new confidence and inspiration to add to their physical experience, with the sole ambition to make their lofty dreams come true on the court of battle.

Each player has his own odds of making tennis history and/or millions of dollars. And you can wager on your favorite players in 2018 at BetOnline Sportsbook.

Here are just some of the top stories as we get ready to enter the 2018 pro tennis season…

Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam champion, has not played since defeating sister Venus in the 2017 Australian Open final and is on the entry list to defend her title after getting married and giving birth. Williams has been hitting and training in Florida and inspired to re-eastablish her Serena supremacy.

Simona Halep is the WTA’s top ranked player but is still seeking to certify her ranking by winning her first major title.

Grigor Dimitrov lost a heartbreaker to Nadal in the Australian Open semis last year in five sets but he won the World Tour Finals in London and could be ready to take the final step to finally win his first Grand Slam major. 26 year old Dimitrov is currently ranked a career high 3.

Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori return after prolonged hiatuses due to injury.

Up and coming stars Nick Kyrgios (21 rank) and Dominic Thiem (5) have seemingly hit walls in their progressions but we can never know just when they will explode for their big breakouts, like Stan Wawrinka suddenly did in Melbourne in 2014.

World no. 4 Alexander Zverev sputtered to finish 2017 but he is another serious threat who could make the big jump in January.

Aging veterans like Ivo Karlovic, now 38 and ranked 80, Victor Estrella, now 37 and ranked 83, Mikhail Youzhny, 36 and ranked 84, Andreas Seppi, 33 and 86, Gilles Simon, 32 and 89, are all desperate to get off to a good start to rebuild their falling rankings.

While the new wave of youngsters and top 100 newcomers, Stefano Tsitsipas (91), Tennys Sandgren (96), Laslo Djere (88), Marton Fucsovics (85), Daniil Medvedev (65) and the incredible Denis Shapovalov are all extremely driven to establish that they are solid top 50 main ATP Tour calibre players.

Can 27-year-old Caro Wozniacki, ranked no. 3 finally assert herself as a major champion?

Can 37-year-old Venus Williams go even higher than her ranking of no. 5 and threaten once again to win another major?

Can Caroline Garcia fulfill Andy Murray’s prophecy to be world no. 1? She is pegged at no. 8 right now.

Can the three Americans on the cusp of the top ten, Coco Vandeweghe (10), Sloane Stephens (13), Madison Keys (19), take the next step to the elite pantheon of the WTA?

Ashleigh Barty was out of the sport for a couple of years but now the 21-year-old Aussie is ranked 17 and has to be considered an outside threat to compete for the title.

Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elina Svitolina, Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta, Angelique Kerber, Daria Kasatkina are eight other players who could all have excellent chances to be the one to stand triumphant at the end of the fortnight.

Two other WTA darkhorses, who are in their 30s now, are no. 27 Peng Shuai and no. 30 Lucie Safarova.

And then there’s Maria Sharapova, also 30 and ranked 60, aspiring to revive her career as a top five stalwart.

23-year-old Eugenie Bouchard is ranked 82 and surely highly motivated to eradicate herself from ranking obscurity.

31-year-old Su-Wei Hsieh, the former world no. 1 in doubles, has said this will be her last year of singles play and surely she would like to make her final singles season a special one to remember.

20-year-old Belinda Bencic has resurfaced back into the top 100 after a tremendous run of success to finish 2017. Ranked 98, the Swiss Miss is on her way back to the top 15 hopefully.

And finally, Jack Sock blasted his way to the top ten with stunning late season success in Paris Masters (where he won) and WTF (where he made the semis). It’s possible he can continue to ride the wave and become the first American major champion since Andy Roddick in 2003.

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61 comments

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 3:26 am

    Of course there are one or two tournaments before the Open, allowing plenty of time for players to sustain injuries and then to complain about the season being too long etc etc :)

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 4:26 am

    Off topic (but not really)- good little interview in Guardian sport this morning with Kvitova, who isn’t mentioned above but could be a contender with the right draw.
    Her surgeon looks like an ageing hippy :)

    Scoop – I don’t think Kuznetsova is playing AO.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Thanks for mentioning the Guardian article. I think Kvitova’s comeback is the tennis story of the year, certainly on the WTA side. Petra is one of 3 WTA players who are on my treats list. I bought a lovely flowering plant in honour of her Birmingham title. The plant is going strong, just like Petra.

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Hartt – I agree about Petra’s comeback – somehow it seems to have been rather overlooked but definitely would be my story of the year. So many times she must have felt her career was finished. My big wish for ’18 is that she could get a third Wimbledon. And your plant keeps flowering :)

    By the way, there’s a little photo essay Behind the Scenes at the Fed Cup, Germany v Czech Republic 2014,in Prague, that gives a good sense of the great spirit they bring to the game, as a team and individuals. Martina was there that year. Germany lost, although their spirit seemed quite good too. The site is fedcup.com/en/photos.aspx and you scroll down to 2014 ‘Behind the Scenes’.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Catherine, thanks for the info on photo essay, I will definitely look at it.

    Right now I am having a great time updating my Felix Auger-Aliassime files. I am surprised at how many clips there are of his junior matches and of his very early pro ones, such as when, in March 2015, Felix became the youngest player to qualify for a main draw in ATP Challenger history. He was about 14 years, 8 months at the time, and if you did not know his age there is no way you would think that is a 14-year-old kid playing.

  • Joe Blow · December 16, 2017 at 10:04 am

    What’s wrong with aging hippies?

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Joe – there’s nothing wrong with aging hippies ! Except you don’t expect to see a surgeon looking like one :)

    I expect he keeps those tangled locks under a suitable cap in the operating theatre.
    Seems Petra was lucky to get him anyway.

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Harrt – I would bet on Felix becoming the next Dominator. If only his name was simpler. Everyone will call him Felix I’m sure.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Sometimes Felix is called FAA, but I think he will be like Rafa and will be called by his first name. I doubt there will be any other top players named Felix.

    I reread Scoop’s Biofile on Felix, plus his article on the Eddie Herr title that Felix won in 2015. As we know, Scoop can be over the top sometimes, but I love what he wrote about Felix then. “Felix is the kind of player and person that just stands out from the rest – he has the countenance and aura of a prince – who someday surely will be the King.” :)

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 11:36 am

    2018: Wta, more one hit wonders? Curse of number one a la Safina and Pliskova? Will Muguruza care, again?

    ATP: Will ATP finally become the WTA? Will we as tennis fans finally accept that some players are better at best of three sets and can’t handle best of five? Will Australia get beyond Hewitt? Can Goffin Goff a slam?

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Will Sam Querrey aka Samimal make the Wimbledon final?

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Will Lucas Pouille find his game? Will his game find him?

    Will Nadal start being honest about players and, in so doing, motivate them to beat him?

  • Hartt · December 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    From a Canadian perspective: Can Raonic stay injury-free for a few months at a time and have an impact on some big tourneys?

    Can Pospisil actually get back in the top 100?

    Can Shapo avoid the sophomore slump, and maybe even reach his stated goal of No.25?

    Can either Abanda or Andreescu make the top 100? Abanda is not a kid any more, so she needs to make a move soon.

  • catherine · December 16, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Seems only five minutes ago we were having this conversation about 2017 –
    and who could’ve predicted what happened next ?

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    No, Canada cannot win big. Her name was Carling and she left the game a long time ago!!!

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Raonic, unfortunately, is a higher ranked and more accomplished version of Brian Baker. The word is out: make him run and he won’t make it. Sorry to break it to folks.

    And raonic is Canada.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Catherine, so true. To me it’s one big roll of the die.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    Andrew, why are you being so mean about Canadian tennis? Raonic is not Canada. I thought you were a Felix fan. And Bianca Andreescu is just a few weeks older than Felix. It is too soon to predict how she will do in her career overall, but she is a serious prospect.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Hartt, I’m anti predictions. I think more or less this, to win a slam or anything big or small really a player has to actually go ahead and do it. And then if they win one they can win two.

    Maybe Raonic should win more before the slams and stop putting so much pressure on himself.

    I like the potential of Canadian tennis though the results aren’t wow. Changing that requires more players. The best thing that could happen to Dennis and Felix is for some other Canadian to come from nowhere and put pressure on them. Peer pressure works. Otherwise it will be like the Australians.

  • catherine · December 17, 2017 at 2:41 am

    Predictions ? I’m anti them too. Except I can confidently predict there will be lots of tennis matches and no player will win the Grand Slam.

  • catherine · December 17, 2017 at 4:40 am

    I think I predicted that last year. I was right :)

  • catherine · December 17, 2017 at 6:26 am

    Here’s a comment re Grand Slams. I looked up Maureen Connolly, first woman to a GS, on some old film clips – she played fast against the static women of the time and volleyed a bit, although she’s remembered as a baseliner. Makes you wonder, if she hadn’t had to retire at 19 (!), how much she might have changed the women’s game back in the 50s and maybe later as a coach if she hadn’t died young (of the same cancer which killed Jana Novotna).
    And this is how Maureen looked back on her career:’ I always believed greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny at times, where the court became my secret jungle and I a lonely fear stricken hunter. I was a strange little girl, armed with hate, fear, and a Golden Racket.’

    Wow.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Wawrinka, too. Del Potro may be remembered for one electrifying run through to the us open title, though Wawrinka manuevered his way to three at the heights of the big four dominance. The Belgians Clisjters and Henin for making their mark amidst the dominance of the Williams, same deal.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Muster I’d argue also changed the sport with his streak on clay and his French Open run after injury.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Ostapenko has the potential to do the same if she’s up for it, on courage alone.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Sloane Stephens, too. Only if they are up for it.

  • catherine · December 17, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Andrew – I can’t see how Sloane Stephens is going to ‘change the sport’ – if I understand you correctly. Referring back to Maureen Connolly, if she’d continued to play then I think the other women would have started to move around a bit and use the court and hit harder a lot earlier than they did. That would have been a major change.

    Sloane basically plays the same style as almost everyone else. She’s not introducing anything new.

    I was struck by Maureen’s honest feelings about the game – hadn’t read that before. Nothing much about enjoyment there. And can’t see that kind of comment getting past the WTA gatekeepers these days.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    Catherine, to me the sport changers aren’t around too long. They are like Muster with one slam. Innovators are a little crazy. Then the players with consistency pick up on the innovator and use it.

    Like Rios. Federer took what he liked from Rios game and used it.

  • Andrew Miller · December 17, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    My expectations are low for the wta. At this point I’d like to see players I like win a slam while they can.

  • catherine · December 18, 2017 at 2:23 am

    Maureen Connolly wasn’t around long enough to change the game – an accident ended her career at 19 – so we’ll never know if she would have had a lasting impact. The game evolved into a US dominateed s/v style (introduced by Alice Marble before WW 11) with a few exceptions and then Chris Evert came along and changed things and then technology advanced and here we are now.

    On the men’s side Jack Kramer is considered a game changer. And then maybe Borg.

    Federer ? Remember this year he asked: ‘ why don’t more guys play like me ? ‘
    Answer came there none.

    Perhaps that’s why he’s picked Felix :)

  • catherine · December 18, 2017 at 2:52 am

    Andrew – Ashleigh Barty and Nick Kyrgios will win Slams for the Baggy Greens this year, inspired by the spineless collapse of the England cricket team.

    (if anyone from Oz reads T-P they will know what I’m talking about)

  • Duke Carnoustie · December 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Huge tennis news. Anna Kournikova has given birth to twins!

    http://www.tmz.com/2017/12/18/anna-kournikova-gives-birth-twins-enrique-iglesias/

  • catherine · December 18, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Well, it is the silly season in tennis :)

  • Andrew Miller · December 19, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Federer question was interesting p. His training is known for being very tough but it’s truly customized. One reason I’d say to a guy like Felix, study the regimen but don’t participate! Set up your own super training thing and invite Federer to practice with you, not the other way around. No reason to be cannon fodder if you are the cannon.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 19, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Andrew, I like your advice to young Felix. But sometimes the young gun can learn from the Grand Slam kingpin or proven veteran – Sampras trained with Lendl, Mac trained with Gerulaitis, Thiem trained with Gulbis. Were you offended when Donald Young turned down a chance to train with Nadal in Majorca?

  • Andrew Miller · December 19, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Scoop, I don’t have the back story for so much of this. I’ve seen some poor results from practicing with Federer. It seems like a one way street.

  • Andrew Miller · December 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    I also remember what Federer said – he has a thing for history. He wants people to remember him for being Federer. I think he’s much more humble than he was, much more appreciative, though I’m wary of the training regime as the results are bad.

    That said Genie Bouchard started last year flat footed despite training with Gil Reyes and advice from Steffi Graf. Seems her loss to Coco took the wind out of her sails for the whole year!!!

  • catherine · December 20, 2017 at 2:09 am

    Andrew – Bouchard isn’t that talented IMO – not at the crunch. I really think her results would have shown up by now and that really hasn’t happened.

    Advice from Steffi ? I wonder how Steffi would be as a regular coach. (she’s never shown any interest there) Angie had advice from Steffi which was apparently good for 2016 but not therafter. Maybe the ‘advice’ just amounts to a trip to Las Vegas, coffee, and a chat.

  • Patrick · December 20, 2017 at 6:31 am

    Andrew — I’m quite certain that Roger Federer is the least humble human being on the planet. I can’t think of another word that would do as poor a job of describing Roger Federer

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 20, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Patrick: I tend to agree. But all top players must have an element of arrogance in their demeanor. To be the best takes a lot of confidence and conceit. Federer is good at keeping it disguised and giving off a humble aura. I have heard rumors that he is humble on the exterior but it’s just for show.

  • Andrew Miller · December 20, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    Perhaps. Federer was quite grateful in his pressers for the sport itself. Maybe because he actually was grateful for everything. He has moments where he looks around and says goodness this is awesome.

  • Andrew Miller · December 20, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Genie Bouchard is a unique player in my opinion. Who’s done what she did reaching three straight semifinals of slams in hardly any time on tour? She also showed a lot of guts in that period a few years back. Unfortunately then she played a hometown tournament, lost incredibly early, then lost her footing at the us open, slipped in the locker room and hasn’t been the same for more than a few stretches

    She is a better player in some ways but has in others lost some of her drive or love of the game. She may have been distracted by the fame thing and her hope to be like Sharapova in the endorsement department. Sharapova put results first and her career first, to her detriment in part.

    As much as I’d like to say hey Bouchard isn’t good, to my eyes she’s very good, even amazing some times. The consistency has departed and her toughness isn’t there enough during her matches. But you know how this sport is.

    One win or remark can make a difference. Bouchard may decide her best tennis is en route. If so we would have a few nice rivalries for the wta, and it would be nice to see Bouchard decide that if Muguruza could win and Sloane Stephens could win a slam that she has it in her to win a slam too.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Bouchard develop a few combos and improve some parts of her game and up the pressure she puts on opponent service games. I admire Bouchard for nearly seizing the sport. I’m sure she has another good run or two or three in her.

  • catherine · December 21, 2017 at 2:35 am

    Andrew – I know you’ve always been a big fan of Genie’s and who knows, she could start to make inroads at tournaments again, although I feel the other players know her pretty well and have the psychological edge.

    I still maintain that losing to Kvitova at Wimbledon, although it’s a few years ago now, was an experience which mentally scarred Bouchard in some fundamental way.
    Deep down she may not believe she’s good enough.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 21, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Bouchard may have made somuch money that she just doesn’t really care. I was told by a Russian journo that some of the Russians like Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova are so rich that they just don’t care about winning everything like an obsessed machine. They don’t care. I never heard anyone discuss this aspect of pro tennis, about players becoming so wealthy and not caring as much as they did when they needed money. I think this could apply to Bouchard. I remember in boxing Emanuel Steward said the top champion boxers who stay at the top for a long time are “freaks.” I think the same thing applies to the champions in tennis who stay at the top for a long time.

  • Andrew Miller · December 21, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Scoop, maybe the money thing is getting in the way of champions on the wta tour. Kuznetsova is ridiculously talented and to me eyes the equivalent in talent of an Agassi. But at the end of the day, even without the motivation or drive, Kuznetsova has a very fine resume and can rest easy in terms of her legacy. She came around when the Russians arrived in force on tour, she’s outcompeted a few rivals like Myskina, Kirilenko, the player who made so many finals but couldn’t serve (what’s her name?), and finished up just below Sharapova as best Russian women’s player of the last three decades no?

    This is why, this element of peer pressure, it’s why I say to any proponents of USA men’s tennis or Canada men’s tennis, if you want a champion keep developing players or supporting players and hedge bets sp that, if one of them aka like Australia crew, loses their enthusiasm you have another player just behind them pushing to beat them.

    It’s the only reason for even the modest resurgence of USA men’s tennis. In Canada, where would we be if everything were in the hands of Dancevic? If we said hey watch out for Dancevic, he’ll save Canadian tennis?

    Well that’s not what happened. Dancevic had a huge stable of players behind him eager to be the top Canadian tennis player. We can thank Dancevic for pushing himself and his decent run in Indianapolis way back. But the guys behind him were there and were hungry. Peer pressure is the reason Shapovalov and Canadian tennis is on the rise.

    It’s the Russian women thing from the early 2000s. And the peer pressure posse thing works!

  • Hartt · December 21, 2017 at 9:06 am

    I think Bouchard does care, and that she was bitterly disappointed with her poor season. Lack of confidence seems to be her big issue – she can play well for 1 set and then starts to fall apart. With her high-risk game, confidence is even more crucial for her than some other players. Also, she has had a string of injuries which made it difficult for her to make headway.

    The way Bouchard played in her match against Sharapova shows she is still capable of playing good tennis. I don’t know what the answer to the lack of confidence is. But until that is resolved, I think she will continue to struggle.

    Also, I think that her getting wildcards is not helping. She needs to do what players outside the top 80 do, play smaller tourneys, the way Belinda Bencic did this fall. Get some match play, instead of going out of tourneys in the first round.

  • Andrew Miller · December 21, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Peer pressure: Not long ago we were debating prospects for Raonic and Popsipil – to some extent Raonic is still a Krajicek run away from a Masters title, maybe another slam run to the finals etc.

    Now? It’s all Dennis and Felix. To me: Canada better push the players behind them!

    Why? Players get content being best in their country. Not just the money, but the rewards.

    Federer was different and Nadal too in that they began seeing their peer group as the top ten, rather than other fellas from Switzerland or Spain. We may even argue that there’d be a less formidable Federer without Wawrinka playing doormat (sorry, Stan!). Even that the most recent Federer era wouldn’t exist without Wawrinka out dueling everyone and making Federer number two…in Switzerland!

    Peer pressure. You want to be the best? Make sure your buddies want your seat. And that the generation behind you wants your glory. Otherwise it’s too easy to say hey I’m at least the top player in (USA, Canada, etc).

    It’s the contentedness.

  • catherine · December 21, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I don’t believe any player who is really driven to be the best is ever content with the money – and money can disappear pretty quickly if it’s not in the right hands. Scoop will confirm that from his knowledge of boxing, I’m sure.

    My theory about Genie, for what it’s worth, is that she’ll get so far in a main tournament and then the fear of the nightmare scenario will kick in and she’ll lose. This happened in Madrid when she got as far as the qf or sf when Angie retired and then Simona didn’t let her in the match.
    I think Hartt is right – play in smaller tournaments and if she progresses, without the pressure, her confidence may come back. Desensitisation, kind of.

    Scoop – of course the great champions, the ones who stay around for a long time, are ‘freaks’. The same is true of anyone in sport or performing arts. You have to be significantly different in personality to have the talent and the staying power.

    Pavluchenkova’s main motivation these days is to keep on beating Kerber :)

  • Andrew Miller · December 21, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Novotna had that issue. I’d argue Bouchard needs to win her early matches. She’s putting too much pressure on herself and is overlooking what pushed her early in her career. Raonic got ahead of himself too, it’s pretty normal.

    It’s actually par for the tours to do amazing then flame out. Consistency is rare and if a player is as consistent as Berdych then they get criticized!

    Tough sport

  • catherine · December 21, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Jana never had Genie’s experience at Wimbledon. Yes, she lost that match to Steffi but she had some immediate comfort from the Duchess and got over it. (As her coach Mandlikova said ‘Jana was devastated for 2 days. I was devastated for a month’.)
    Novotna never had the off-court distractions of being a glamour figure either. That’s been big in Bouchard’s career.

    Genie does need to win early matches but playing in smaller tournaments, and taking them seriously, is probably the best way to do it. Build the confidence.

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