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.

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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.

Ball kid or towel dummy?

I cannot clearly remember when it started. You know the signal to the ball kid, usually a hand wiping the face and then the ball kid dutifully appearing with the towel and then waiting while the player towels down and then catching the now sweaty towel as the player tosses it away.
In my mind I imagine it was probably during a brutal five set match at the U.S. Open on a sweltering August day with the humidex reaching into the 40 centrigade degree range or the 110 Fahrenheit range. The kind of day that caused profuse sweating resulting in drops of sweat producing a burning sensation as they rolled into the players eyes.
I wonder which player it was that brought the towel from his chair and stashed it at the back of the court within easy reach for a quick wipe between points. I bet that player had no idea what he/she was starting.
Sometime between that day and today the towel wipe has become an integral part of each match and in some cases an integral part of each point.
It did not take long until players figured out a towel wipe was a great stall technique giving them a few added precious seconds between gruelling points. Pretty soon every player was storing a towel at the back of court and players were toweling off between every point even if that point consisted of a single stroke a cool day.
The ATP trying to speed up the game instituted the 25 second rule which requires the server to begin his service motion within 25 seconds of the end of the previous point. Instead of giving up on the towel wipe the players began to require that the towel be brought to them. And so the ball kids acquired a new job. Towel delivery.
After the towel wipe the player often just tosses the towel in the direction of the ball kid without even making eye contact. The ball kid is expected to dutifully pick up the towel and store it out of sight until the next point. I personally think it is disgusting and degrading that the ball kids have to handle the sweaty towels.
My solution. Have a stand placed at the back of the court for the towel. The stand could be sponsored by a prominent towel company or a store like Bed Bath and Beyond. The player can get the towel when he/she needs it and place it back on the stand when done. All on their own and within the 25 sec time limit.
I tried to think of any other sport that provides towel service and I cannot come up with one. It’s time to take the onus of towel service off the ball kids and put it back on the players.

Big serve equals big bore!

This past week has been filled with amazing matches, the WTA in Singapore and the ATP in Basel and Valencia. The match between Roger Federer and Ivo Karlovic was not one of them, in fact I found myself bored during this match. It wasn’t that the players were having bad days or it was a lopsided match. The problem was Karlovic was serving big. In fact too big for my liking.

There is a difference to me between big serving and good serving. The big servers blast high speed bombs one after the other and win numerous points without ever hitting a forehand or backhand. Think Karlovic, John Isner and Milos Raonic. These players have weak return games and do not do well in long rallies that require a variety of shots. Players like this just want to get the set to a tiebreak where they figure the odds are in their favour.

So why was I bored? In the three sets that Karlovic and Federer played Ivo hit 33 aces. The minimum number of points in a game is 4, this means that karlovic served 8 games worth of aces. He served 15 total games during the match. So basically he aced his way through half of his service games. Probably less than two seconds for each point. No return of serve, no ground strokes, no approach shots no volleys no overheads….nothing. I wanted to watch tennis. I wanted to watch Federer make a solid return and then watch the construction of the point. I wanted to see how Federer’s opponent would handle his lethal forehand or perhaps a slice backhand. I wanted to see Federer charge the net and end the point with a touch volley. But on those 33 points all I got to see was Federer turn away and walk over to prepare to try to return the next serve.
In contrast Federer is what I would call a good server. His serve may not break speed records but it’s placement in the service box is precise. It is also reliable, how many time have you seen him get out of trouble by a beautifully executed serve? And rarely does he double fault in those critical moments, something which cost Karlovic points at crucial times during the match.
So an accurate serve with good pace to set up the point in my view is more exciting and intriguing than a big serve which to me is just a big bore.

What is going on in Singapore?

In my last post I expressed my opinion that Genie Bouchard would advance out of the Red round robin group at the WTA Finals and that she probably would lose out in the semifinals to either Maria Sharapova or Petra Kvitova.   I also previously noted that the outcome of many matches could depend on the fitness and the injury status of the players involved.

In her first match Genie struggled against Simona Halep and her second match against Ana Ivanovic was similar in nature. Genie committed numerous unforced errors in both her matches and heavy strapping could be seen on her injured thigh.  Bouchard also has commented that she has had limited training time on the court due to her thigh injury and felt unprepared for this event.  Simona also withdrew from a recent tournament with a hip injury following  a number of poor showings that seemed to indicate a lack of confidence in her game. It seemed in their match that as long as Simona kept the ball in play Genie would make the error.  But i certainly was taken by surprise by the dominant win today by Simona over Serena Williams. Serena appeared fit in her win over Ana Invanovic on Monday showing no signs of the knee injury that caused her withdrawal from an earlier tournament.

As the Red group stands now, Simona is in the lead with 2 victories, Serena and Ana each have one win and one loss and Genie has two losses. So the match between Simona and Ana looks to be the deciding match as far as who will head to the semifinals from this group, while Genie could spoil Serena’s chance to advance.

The White group has also had surprising results. Petra Kvitova has been playing well following up her Wimbledon victory with a championship in Wuhan, China. In contrast Agnieszka Radwanska has struggled this season, winning only one title with a 46-19 record for the year.  But when the two met on Tuesday, it was Radwanska that used her all round game to defeat the powerful Kvitova.  The match between Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova was a classic struggle between the two players with Caroline coming out victorious. Going forward Petra will have to defeat Caroline and Maria to reclaim the title she won in 2011, also the year she won her first Wimbledon title.  Maria will have to defeat Petra and Aga to keep her hope of the title and possibly the number one ranking alive.

Predictions in sport are always fun, but if we knew what was going to happen, we would not have to play the game and thats the great part, the results are always a surprise.

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