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As I pack for indian wells….

Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open is only a couple of weeks away and as I start packing I am starting to ponder what the event holds.

First of all I am sure the desert weather will be a relief from the bitter cold winter that continues to grip Toronto with another round of snow forecast for this week. However you never know what the desert will hold, extreme hot days and frigid nights make packing a challenge.

The venue for this tournament is first class.  Not only do you get to watch great tennis, but the backdrop of palm trees fading into mountains glistening in the sun is a whole level of awesomeness on its own.

The women’s draw appeared to be wide open, that was until a couple of weeks ago when Serena announced that after an absence of 14 years she would be returning to the California desert. I am not sure if she is a guaranteed trophy holder as there will be several players taking a direct aim at her. Furthermore many of these players have been playing tournaments and staying match tough, whereas Serena has not played any competitive matches since her win at the Australian Open.  Not only could she face tough challenges from some of the new power hitters in the game including Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys, but an unseeded, quickly returning to form Victoria Azarenka is lurking in the field.

Keep an eye out for the Czechs including Doha winner Lucie Safarova and  Barbora Zahlavova Strycova to do some damage, as well as newcomer Karolina Pliskova.  Dominika Cibulkova could also be a factor if she has sufficiently recovered from her achilles injury. Kvitova would have been a factor but apparently she has just withdrawn from the tournament and no reason has been provided as of yet.

Taylor Townsend of the USA was granted a wild card into the main draw and after watching her at the French Open I will not be surprised to see her post some impressive wins. Hopefully a physically healthy Bettanie Mattek-Sands can have a great run close to home.

Unfortunately I don’t expect much from Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who has not played well yet in 2015. After hiring Sam Sumyk as her new coach she has withdrawn prior to her last two tournaments, and i have heard a few rumblings about an arm injury.

Of course the ultimate final would be another Serena and Maria match up, but I think they will both have to work hard to make it to the final.

On the men’s side of things we could be heading toward another Roger-Novak final as in last week’s Dubai event where Roger came out the winner. A win in Indian Wells by Roger would certainly have everyone talking about him regaining the number one ranking. Nadal played well on the clay courts of South America the past couple of weeks, but i don’t think he is up to the challenge of a Masters 1000 level hard court tournament yet. Kei Nishikori is now the number 4 ranked player in the world and the hard court suits his game so i certainly think he will be around until at least the quarter finals.  Andy Murray hopes to answer a few questions about his play after some early round losses this year have resulted in him now occupying the number 5 ranking.

As far as upsets go I don’t expect any major upsets involving the top five. But the new wave of players including Nick Kyrgios, Thanes Kokkinakis, Borna Coric and maybe even Ryan Harrison could present some problems for Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and perhaps even Thomas Berdych.

The American men will feel the pressure to perform at home especially John Isner or Sam Querry. Might be hard for Querry to focus after all the attention surrounding his millionaire matchmaker appearance.

Predictions are always fun, but how the tournament unfolds is always a surprise. Can’t wait for play to start.

If I were a real tennis player I would probably take performance enhancing drugs!

I played two hours of singles tennis Friday morning. Saturday morning I was still tired as I staggered downstairs for my cup of coffee. And I started thinking…..what if I was a real tennis player and even though I was really beat I had another match to play on Saturday. And what if winning that match meant I could keep my coach with me full time and losing meant traveling on my own with no support crew. Or what if winning was the difference between qualifying for a main draw or heading to the next event without earning a paycheque?
Now if I could take something that would help me recover from my match faster so I could play my best in the next match maybe I would be tempted.
I have always considered athletes that use performance enhancing drugs (PED) as cheaters. I always told myself if I was a real athlete I would never cheat like that.
But when I really started to think about it and put myself in a real tennis player’s shoes I found myself challenging my beliefs.
It would not be like PED would give me better ground strokes or make my backhand slice stay really low. I would just be able to play my best and after all isn’t that what my opponent would want?
I also have a few sort of chronic tennis pains. The elbow that gets a little stiff and an old ankle sprain that throbs when it gets really cold out. Maybe there is a PED that could sort of erase those aches and pains. Again these little helpers wouldn’t give me a better volley or a more accurate serve they would just allow me to play at my best.
Of course I would not go on a full steroid enhanced muscle building regimen so that I end up with biceps like Nadal, or engage in outright blood doping giving me the stamina of a marathon runner, now that would really be cheating. Just a little hit of maybe growth hormone to repair some damaged tissue or maybe a stimulant to help perk me up the day after a tight match. I guess if KT tape was considered performance enhancing there would be no one left playing matches on the tour.

And what if everyone else is already taking PED then really all I am doing is making my playing field level. I wonder what statistically speaking my chances would be of getting caught by the doping police. There are hundreds of pro tennis players, scattered all over the world playing WTA and ATP tournaments and hundreds more struggling through the challengers and the futures circuit. And in reality there is a limited budget to fight doping and for that matter match fixing.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that my “I would never cheat like that” bravado might be just a bit idealistic. In the reality that is the professional tennis circuit, important matches are played day after day and chronic injuries are a fact of life. Time away from the circuit to allow injuries to heal causes a drop in rankings often resulting in having to play qualifying matches prior to main draw matches.
The temptation to use PED cannot be underestimated. When your livelihood and your passions are threatened that temptation may be too great to resist.


Thoughts on Australia 2015

After two weeks of disrupted sleep patterns and lots of coffee I am now ready to table my thoughts on what was The Australian Open 2015.

The hardest loss to watch – Ana Ivanovic’s meltdown in the first round. Anyone who has ever played a competitive tennis match knows exactly how she felt during that match. May it never happen to another player ever again.

The weather – this year is a year that the weather had absolutely no effect on the tournament’s results. In previous years the heat of the Australian summer often took its toll on players. We got to witness athletes cramping and hallucinating in the heat, great television drama but so unfair to the players.
The new roof on the revamped Margaret Court Arena made a total of three stadiums capable of play during inclement weather. But the inclement weather only made a brief inconsequential appearance.

Breakout player – Without any question Madison Keys broke out from the pack this tournament. The last two games of her match with Serena showed what Madison is capable of and I hope all the players of the WTA took notice. As Madison gains more confidence in her abilities her ranking is going to skyrocket.

Fashion – I think tweets and blogs relating to the tennis fashions outnumbered the tweets and blogs about actual matches. Although Serena’s neon yellow dress won lots of accolades, the Adidas purple dress worn by Ana Ivanovic was by far my favourite look of the tournament. Maria’s Nike dress was also a hit in my books but Vika’s Nike neon yellow ensemble was a dud.
As for the men, I still can’t figure out why Under Armour spent all that money on a deal with Andy Murray only to dress him in boring all black plain t shirt and shorts. I just can’t see tennis players all over the world running to the stores for that look.
The Uniqlo outfit sported by Novak was conservative and boring both in colour and style.
Nike had players dressed the colour of the tennis ball and Uniqlo had its key player dressed the colour of the court!

Most disappointing- I really thought that one of the young guns was going to make a huge breakthrough at this tournament. Milos Raonic showed us his ground strokes have greatly improved but his volleys betrayed him in the end. Nick Krygios is on the brink and I am excited to see him play at other tour level events. I think Grigor Dimitrov is steadily improving and his time to win a major is not all that far away.

Best story – Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova winning the ladies doubles was the feel good story of the tournament for me. I love Bethanie’s game and she has fought so hard to come back from numerous injuries. I hope she savours this victory and goes on to many more tattoos and crazy outfits included.

Can’t wait for the rest of the Grand Slams!

Things I look forward to during the Australian open

January 19th marks the start of the Australian Open the first grand slam tournament of the year on the tennis calendar. Every tournament is unique but each grand slam tournament has its own set of quirks that sets it apart from all the others.
So here are the things I look forward to as the Australian Open gets underway.

The first quirk of the Australian Open is that being held down under everything takes place 16 hours ahead of my home base in Toronto, Canada. As any avid fan knows it is necessary to prepare for a tournament where matches begin at 10pm and continue through the night. Coffee supplies must be topped off as well as middle of the night munchies including bread for toast but skipping the Vegemite and sticking with peanut butter.
All appointments during the day must be scheduled in the late afternoon allowing catch up sleep to occur in the late morning.
My match tracking begins with television watching, but when my eyes start to get really heavy, I turn off the tv and tune in to AO radio, available on the tournament app. It is amazing how adept the commentators are at calling a match, I can picture every point until I fall asleep only to wake up in the middle of an entirely different match. There is a kinship among tennis fans this time of year when they knowingly look at each other and need no explanation for the huge bags under the eyes and the bigger than usual cup of java in the hand.

I am looking forward to the new kits or outfits the players will be debuting at the first grand slam of the year. I am so glad the colourless and overly ruffled Adidas Stella McCartney dresses are gone forever and hope that the 2015 collection is significantly more appealing.
Previews of the Nike collections appearing online are a little scary looking. The purported dresses for Serena and Maria did not appear all that flattering and the print patterns on some outfits are interesting. On the men’s side of things it seems that bright pink may be the new black.
The Uniglo outfits for Djokovic and Nishikori that have been seen online appear extremely conservative to the point of being boring. Hopefully there will not be anymore butterflies for Radwanska in Lotto and maybe the Lacoste dresses will actually have enough skirt length on them to be called dresses. And as for Camila Giorgi’s dresses words fail me in regards to both their fit and their length so let’s see what she unveils for 2015.

As I struggle through a winter of snow and sometimes bitterly cold temperatures it is somehow satisfying to see the players struggle in the heat. If we are lucky maybe more players will have heat induced hallucinations like Canadian player Frank Dancevic, who saw Snoopy appear on court during his match last year. Hopefully after the disastrous handling of a player in heat distress at the U.S. Open , serious heat illness will be dealt with in a more acceptable manner.

On Twitter I look forward to following various commentators and players. I enjoy Brad Gilbert’s upset predictions as well as his creative player monikers.
Other good accounts to follow during the tournament include Courtney Nguyen, @fortydeucetwits and if you are into match statistics @sharkotennis. For a Canadian viewpoint Stephanie Myles @opencourt is the one to follow. Twitter also seems the best way to get tournament updates especially if there are rain delays or you are following several matches simultaneously.

Since the grand slam tournaments are among the few events that have mixed doubles as well as ladies and men’s doubles it would be great if more of these matches were televised. These matches are much faster paced than singles matches and they can be very entertaining.
As far as predicting the winners, I always like to do it, but there are so many factors that come into play over the two weeks that it really becomes just a guessing game. On the men’s side, I would love to see Federer win it all and I really don’t think any of the up and coming players (Raonic, Dimitrov, Tomic) are quite ready to win a big one. On the women’s side I think Halep could take it all but you can never count out Sharapova or Serena and Venus showed us last week that she may be a force to be reckoned with as well.
In an odd sort of way my dark horses are Nadal for the men and Azarenka for the women, both on tour again after long injury layoffs.


And the injuries and withdrawals begin…

The official start for 2015 for the ATP and WTA tours is just over a week old and certain things have picked up just where they left off at the end of 2014.
We saw several champions pick up additional trophies including Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Venus Williams on the women’s side and Roger Federer, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka on the men’s side.
But what I find both frustrating (as I am sure many tournament organizers do as well) are the number of injuries and withdrawals so early in the season.
The off season, although short, is supposed to be the time to let old injuries heal and get in top shape to prevent new injuries occurring. But many players spent a good chunk of the off season participating in the new IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) events, where ranking points were not involved but performance fees probably were.
And so right away as 2015 opened we had two top players withdraw from the first grand slam tournament of the season, The Australian Open.
Jo Wilfred Tsonga world #12 withdrew with a forearm injury, and he is a previous Australian Open finalist.
Marin Cilic the U.S. Open grand slam winner also has withdrawn, citing a right shoulder injury that has been plaguing him for over six months.
Rafa Nadal returning from an extended off time due to appendix surgery, suffered a first round loss last week so how his back/knees/wrist will hold up for the first Grand Slam event is a big unknown variable.

On the women’s side, this week has seen a number of withdrawals. Often players will pull out of a tourney the week before a Grand Slam if they feel that have had enough tournament play already and this most likely is the reason Simona Halep pulled out of this week after winning a title last week.
But at the Hobart tourney, American Christina McHale withdrew midmatch with an injury as did Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia. After seeing how taped up Lucic-Baroni’s leg was last week it did not surprise me.
And yesterday in Sydney there was the withdrawal of Caroline Wozniacki with a midmatch wrist injury. Wozniacki felt pain when hitting backhands and knew she could not win over Barbora Zahlavova Styrcova without her backhand. The question is will the wrist recover in less than a week?

The injuries and withdrawals will continue right up until the first ball is played at the Australian Open and they just may open the doors for some lucky losers, qualifiers or low ranked main draw entries to make some noise at the first grand slam of the season. I guess we will have to wait and see if anyone can take advantage of the opportunities that become available.

Genie in 2015?

Last season was a breakout season for Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. She reached the semifinals of the first three majors, The Australian Open, Wimbledon and The French Open, making her the only WTA player to accomplish that feat in 2014.
By the end of the season she had reached a career high ranking of number 5 in the world putting her among the ranks of the elite players including Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova.
Looking forward to the upcoming season I must say I am feeling apprehensive about how her sophomore season will unfold. A number of changes have occurred in the Bouchard camp following all her success.
As with any successful athlete, endorsement opportunities became available almost immediately. Genie went from being the spokesperson for “Pinty’s” chicken products to signing a Canadian national deal with Coca-Cola. The demands for Genie’s presence at events increased, including promotional appearances for the WTA finals event in Singapore. In the offseason, Genie signed on with IMG to be her agent and she also signed a modelling contract with IMG as well.
Around the same time Genie severed her coaching relationship with Nick Saviano who has been her primary coach for the last eight years.
So as Genie enters the 2015 season she has not yet secured a coach and her focus solely on tennis appears to be in jeopardy, and as one can see by her Twitter posts she is enjoying the benefits of a good year.
Another factor to consider is that after the past year other players on the tour are now more aware of what to expect of her game when they play her and the pressure of now being expected to win changes the dynamics of the matches.
As we saw in some of Genie’s matches towards the end of the season most notably in Singapore, Genie can be stubborn when it comes to changing her game. If her aggressive game is not working she continually fires away instead of reigning in some of her shots until she gets back on track. As the star of Canadian tennis along with Milos Raonic i hope Genie has a great season but i will not be surprised if there are a few hiccups along the way.

My best and worst of 2014

Since everyone else has been posting their best and worst lists of the 2014 tennis year I thought I would contribute my version.

Best ATP match I saw live: Federer’s. loss to Nishikori at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, the velocity on some of the Nishikori forehands was incredible.
A close second was Sam Groth against Federer at the US Open, Groth tried absolutely everything and gave Federer all he could handle in a great evening match.

Best WTA match I saw live: Genie Bouchard vs. Soranea Cirstea at the US Open (slight bias as I am canadian) , it was a great match for Genie’s first on Arthur Ashe stadium court.

Most exciting upset I saw live: Naomi Osaka’s win over Sam Stosur at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University. Naomi played a fearless match and used a wide variety of shots for a straight sets win.

Most disappointing day as a spectator: the cancellation of both ATP semifinals at the Sony Ericsson in Miami, especially since we did not find out about the evening match being cancelled until we drove into the parking lot at the tournament site. The match was replaced with an excellent ladies doubles match but not quite worth the trip from Toronto.

Worst tournament to visit live: I have been to Roland Garros twice and each time I have endured cold days with rain and the only cup of coffee available on site comes in a size that can only be described as minuscule. I dream of opening a Starbucks on site.

Worst shopping experience: the new store at the Billie Jean King US Open tennis centre where they limit the number of shoppers inside but it is so crowded it is impossible to breathe let alone shop.

Best food on site: the grilled cheese truck at court 19 at the Billie Jean King US Open tennis centre. Hope next year brings even more truck options.

Best dressed WTA player: Ana Ivanovic in her little black Adidas dress, just add heels and you are all set for a night on the town.

Worst dressed WTA player: any of the women wearing the Stella McCartney Adidas collection, the lack of colour ie the nude shades and the oversized ruffles just made for unflattering outfits.
Giving those outfits a challenge in the ugly department were the animal print dresses Serena wore for the US Open. Again the dresses were not flattering, glad she was the only one wearing them.

Best dressed ATP player: has to go to Roger Federer, no one can come close to his timeless classics and the fact that he hardly even sweats means the outfits look nice and fresh through the whole match.

Worst dressed ATP player: all those players that were were wearing the colour combination of tennis ball yellow and black. Hard to tell who was who amongst all the bumblebees.

I am looking forward to what 2015 will bring to the tennis world while acknowledging I will miss Na Li both on court and in the interview room and I will remember Elena Baltacha.