Tag Archives: Garbine Muguruza

New names to feature but surely the King is back?

IMG_7002

It’s bird’s eye view in Paris!

 

The tennis season’s second major starts in Paris this weekend with big names missing from the women’s draw and one major omission from the men’s tournament. It’s a chance for lesser lights and up-and-comers to showcase their talents but there will probably be at least one very familiar name on a trophy in fifteen days’ time.

Men’s favourites

The absence of Roger Federer won’t be felt too keenly. His resurgence in the early part of the year should not be underestimated or discredited but he simply would not be the threat on clay that he was on the early hard courts of the year; the Swiss clearly recognises this himself hence his decision to skip in preparation for Wimbledon. Instead, it falls to his oldest and longest rival Rafael Nadal to draw the biggest crowds to Roland Garros where the popular Mallorcan will go for his tenth French Open crown. Nadal has a tricky opening match against the once-touted-future-number-one Benoit Paire but no serious money should be put on the Frenchman to get a set never mind the win. From there on, it is not until the semi-finals that Rafa will face a stiff test when he will be expected to come up against Novak Djokovic. The Serb is in fairly decent form as he comes into his first tournament working alongside new coach Andre Agassi but would come up short against the King of Clay again. Djokovic should be applauded rather than condemned for ripping up his coaching team in an attempt to get back into the majors picture but positive results will come later on in the year if at all.

bn-rv762_2w4fr_or_20170129074235

Federer’s absence won’t detract

 

Where will the challenge come from the other part of the draw? There is a potential blockbuster third round tussle on the horizon between Andy Murray and Juan-Martin del Potro, with the Argentine possibly slight favourite at this time. Murray has admitted his bemusement at his current lack of form on the orange dirt and don’t forget that whilst he reached the final last year, he twice had to come from two sets down in the early rounds. Add into that the savage battles these two have had in the past and del Potro might be ready to take another step back to the top. It is 20 year old Alexander Zverev who could provide the fireworks in the top half of the draw. The German has long been predicted to reach the top and his form going into this event (wins in Munich and Rome) point to him as Nadal’s biggest threat. A run to the final would be a minefield, but it would not be a shock if he successfully negotiated matches against Del Potro, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka can never be counted out as he is capable of beating everyone on his day but there is nothing in his current form to suggest a second Roland Garros title is in his grasp – worth remembering though that his other title wins have all come from under the radar too. The only other guy in with a shout is Dominic Thiem; the young Austrian reached the semi-final last year but was found lacking when up against Djokovic; another year of experience will see him as a bigger threat and a recent runner-up display in Madrid serves notice of his chances here. Expect him to put up a better shout this year but still go down to Djokovic in the quarters.

The women

The women’s tournament is lacking traditional star power but has the allure of unpredictability written all over it. Last year’s champion is here but Serena Williams is pregnant, Victoria Azarenka is not yet ready to return after childbirth and Maria Sharapova’s ranking is not yet high enough to qualify after her doping ban. Those three names are all top draws for fans but it is up to the women who are there to put their names and games to the forefront.

2016 champion Garbine Muguruza will be fairly confident that she can win a second major in Paris as she has been gifted a fairly stress-free draw but there is a potential banana skin in the form of in-form Kiki Mladenovic in the Last 16. The French doubles specialist has really upped her singles game in the last nine months much like Sam Stosur once did and with the backing of a fervent Parisian crowd she could cause major trouble for the defending champion. If Muguruza comes through that, expect her to make her way into her third Slam final.

Lazy Paris days 🙂

 

Simona Halep has a niggling ankle injury which may cause her to pull out before her first round match but if she is cautious with it over the first few rounds she has time to play herself into fitness. A finalist in 2014, Halep would fancy her chances against the likes of Dasha Kasatkina and Carla Suarez-Navarro, before a possible winner-takes-all quarter-final clash with the bang-in-form Elina Svitolina, which would be a repeat of the recent Rome final, Svitolina coming out on top on that occasion. I am reticent to predict a first major for the Ukrainian as she is one of my favourite players, but bookmakers make these two the favourites so there has to be something in that. Halep, however, won the Madrid final, besting Kiki Mladenovic so, fitness permitting, definitely looks the one to beat in Paris. Karolina Pliskova will be well-placed to take advantage should these favourites fail to live up to their tags, but it must be said that clay is not her preferred surface and her golden time should come later in the year. Spare a thought for Petra Kvitova too. Just six months after being attacked by a knifeman in her Prague home, she is set to open up proceedings on Philippe Chatrier Court tomorrow morning. There were fears that she would never play again so this will be her biggest victory so far in an already-stellar tennis career.

IMG_7199

Is Svitolina really ready to win a major? 🙂

 

Predictions: Nadal to beat Alex Zverev in final.

Halep to beat Muguruza in final.

Most likely to disappoint: Andy Murray and Dominika Cibulkova

French players to go furthest: Kiki Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Roland Garros

2016 Slammies

The end of the tennis season is finally here, time for at least four weeks of non-competition. It all never seems to stop but let’s take a deep breath and look back at some of the biggest moments of 2016 before we get ready to go again.

Biggest dope of the yearMaria Sharapova

No other place to start the piece but to acknowledge that the WTA tour has been a poorer place without the intensity of Maria Sharapova. Her two year ban has been reduced to fifteen months and, rightly or wrongly, events will be falling over themselves to hand her wildcards come April. What message that sends out to up-and-coming players remains to be seen, but you do feel that Sharapova has been, and will continue to be judged differently to lesser-marketable players. She argues that she has been made an example of, whilst others will see it as her using her name and image to get a smoother transition back to the sport. The sport has missed her this past ten months, and the overriding admiration people have always held for her in the past will never quite be there again.

Moment of the yearMonica Puig winning Olympic Gold

gettyimages-589320394_custom-e90cbf44f24446f2d797dc46f565515e48d6701b-s900-c85

There have been some amazing moments this year; a rejuvenated Juan-Martin Del Potro leading Argentina to the Davis Cup final, Sam Querrey ousting Novak Djokovic from Wimbledon with a huge-serving display, Angelique Kerber both becoming World number one and lifting the US Open within a matter of days and Andy Murray seeing off Djokovic in the ATP Tour Finals to make it to the end of the year as World Number 1. But it is the Puerta Rican Monica Puig’s stand-out Olympic Games run that trumps the lot. She had been knocking on the door of a major breakthrough for a few years, seemingly hitting a brick wall of being ranked around the top 30, but in Rio she defeated Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova to reach the final where she came up against Angelique Kerber. The look on Puig’s face as she won Gold, coupled with Murray and Del Potro’s slugfest final should see tennis safe as part of future Games.

Struggling to cope with superstardomGarbine Muguruza

Where has the brave, free-hitting Muguruza of Wimbledon 2015 and Roland Garros 2016 gone? Since winning the French Open in majestic manner in June, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard has only won two Grand Slam matches, going out in the second rounds of both Wimbledon and the US Open. She seems to be struggling with being a Grand Slam champion to the extent that Petra Kvitova did in 2011. Hopefully, the malaise will be temporary, and she will go on to achieve as much as her game is capable of.

The ‘Isner v Mahut is this ever going to end?’ awardJo-Wilfried Tsonga v John Isner

I’m not sure that anybody with a weak bladder should go anywhere near a John Isner match in South-West London. It’s a slight understatement to say that this didn’t come close to his 2010 marathon with Nicolas Mahut but Isner’s 17-19 defeat at the hands of Tsonga has to be the match of the year. There’s a style difference between the two, and Tsonga’s reputation as fan-favourite meant that this match had the atmosphere to match the play. They are two players that leave everything on the court in attempts to get to the latter stages of majors and the sheer drama of the final set has to make this the match of the year.

Rivalry of the yearAndy Murray v Kei Nishikori

img

The smart money would be on either Murray v Djokovic or Serena Williams v Kerber here, with maybe Del Potro v Murray as a possible shout too. But the fact that these guys played 13 supremely competitive sets out of a possible 13 across the Davis Cup, US Open and ATP Tour Finals edges it. I wouldn’t necessarily say they bring the best out of each other’s games but they do match up pretty damned well. Nishikori managed to get past Murray in New York but the new world number one edged the Japanese on home territory in Birmingham and London. If you get the chance to see these two at a major level, settle down and bring plenty of snacks because you’re in for the long haul.

Player of the yearAngelique Kerber

96548_angelique-kerber-us-open-trophy-shutterstock_481318069

This was a tough call as Andy Murray won a Grand Slam, Olympic Gold and the Tour Finals whilst finishing the year as World number one, having a truly stunning final seven months of the season, overhauling Djokovic’s huge lead in the rankings race. Kerber has to be the player of the year though as she has been pretty faultless from the moment she saved two match points in the first round of the Australan Open back in the middle of January. The only real blips were a first round defeat to Kiki Bertens in Paris and having to settle for Olympic silver when she succumbed to the inspired Puig. Other than that, she reached the Wimbledon final and won her first two Grand Slams in Melbourne and New York, ending the year as a richly-deserved number one in the world. It’s both intriguing and exciting to see how she will fare in 2017 but whatever happens, 2016 will always be Kerber’s year.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

London sun shines on two all-time greats – Wimbledon 2015 Review

I wrote 15 days ago about how I had a feeling that Wimbledon was going to be a stellar tournament and I have to say that for me it delivered. At the end of the fortnight, Serena Williams was the holder of her 21st Grand Slam title and Novak Djokovic was holding his eight major aloft. But on the way to these fairly predictable outcomes, we were privileged to see scintillating encounters as well as near-exhibition tennis from some of the all-time greats. Moreover, a former champ returned to the winners’ circle and the tournament played out in virtually-perfect summer weather. Yeah, 2015 was a vintage Wimbledon.

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is a machine. He’s now gone onto nine major wins, putting him ahead of Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi. I don’t think any of those players, especially the Open era champions, get less respect and recognition than Djokovic does. I said in January how when you watch Djokovic in the flesh up against the very best you truly appreciate just how far he has come since his early days in the sport. He was always a very good player, but what he does on a tennis court now is the stuff of legend. I have never seen such a great counter-attacker on a tennis court, hitting so accurately and so deeply on such a consistent basis. But that accurate, deep hitting allows him to set the pace in these big matches; it was Federer doing the scampering around at many stages in that final. Add to this Djokovic’s ridiculously low number of unforced errors in such a big match then you are now looking at a truly flawless tennis great; there is no weakness there.

Across from Djokovic on the champions’ dinner dancefloor was Serena Williams, celebrating her sixth Wimbledon title and 21st major in total. The elder Williams is now 75% of the way to completing the elusive calendar Grand Slam and only a fool will bet against her achieving that in New York in eight weeks’ time. Serena is now only three majors behind Margaret Court and it seems a foregone conclusion that she will now at least equal that mighty haul of 24. She came within a couple of points of being dumped out in the third round by Heather Watson, but that is where Serena’s grit shines through. Yes, she is the most powerful player to ever play the women’s game and her serve is the greatest it will ever see but it is the incredible fight that she can possess that has seen that number rise so high. Wanna play Pontoon? Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams- their total major championships come to 21, the same number as Serena has won on her own.

21 not out

21 not out – the incomparable Serena Williams

As examine the tournament, we see great examples of depth in both draws. Who would have backed Richard Gasquet to calmly see off reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set? John Isner seemed to shy away from going for his own Wimbledon record when he bowed out on the second day of his five-set marathon with Marin Cilic. Vasek Pospisil leaped out of the Canadian shadow of Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard, who had disappointing and dreadful championships respectively, by reaching his first major quarter-final.  Roger Federer advanced defiantly into a second consecutive final and would surely have lifted an eight Wimbledon title if Kevin Anderson had have taken care of the eventual champion when he led him two sets to love last Monday evening. Federer was imperious against Gilles Simon and Andy Murray leading into that final and will be cursing his luck that he came up against the flawless Djokovic once more.

On the women’s side, there were stand-out runs to the latter stages for CoCo Vandeweghe  and Garbine Muguruza. The former showed no fear as she went toe-to-toe with Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals, pushing the five-time major winner every step of the way. It will be interesting to see if Vandeweghe pushes on from here. Muguruza had an amazing run to her first Slam final, taking out the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska and then doing herself proud by putting in a decent performance against Williams in that final. Her powerful groundstrokes and wingspan remind me of a young Venus Williams and she would do well to go back to Barcelona and purchase a grass court to ensure her performance here isn’t a one-off. Her results at all the slams now are showing signs of consistency and she seems to be the youngster who is most capable of being a regular feature in the world’s top five.

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

When Martina Hingis came back to the tennis world following a drugs ban, there were few that didn’t queue up to offer her their partnership. The chosen ones were Indian duo Sania Mirza and Leander Paes and Hingis is surely close to being the best doubles player in the world right now. She waited 18 years for another Wimbledon title, and much like London buses, two came along at the same time. It’s good to have Hingis back and so much a part of the scene, but it’s to her eternal shame that her career will forever be asterisked with a 2-year drugs ban. Having said that, it’s still good to see that smile back on a doubles court and one wonders how she’d fare if she decided to make a second singles comeback, even at the age of 34.

It wasn’t all great over the past fortnight. Caroline Wozniacki rightly opened up the debate about Wimbledon’s scheduling of the two main show courts. Their late starts (starting 90 minutes after outside courts) mean that there is only time for three matches per day on those two courts, and 99% of the time that means two men’s matches and only one women’s match each day. By also starting at 11.30am, it would give greater exposure to the top of the women’s game. (Come on) Tim Henman has promised that he and the rest of the Wimbledon Committee will look into this and Henman has been a force for good since he started in that role five years ago so expect to see change in the next year or two. Not before time.

Wimbledon's show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

Wimbledon’s show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

All in all, the British summer time sun shone brightly on a magnificent tournament. More and more players in the modern day seem to be acclimatising to playing on grass and the extra week’s rest between Roland Garros and Wimbledon ensured they had enough time to adapt to the different surface, ensuring a Wimbledon that will live long in the memory, especially for two of the greatest champions that have ever graced the sport. Roll on New York City!

1 Comment

Filed under Wimbledon