Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kvitova: the game's great mystery


So before I get into the subject of the headline, let me make this post disclaimer:

I don't like to see top 10 players, or those that can make a run at a Major, in action the week before a Slam.

It's deep-rooted from watching Andre Agassi dominate the summer of '95, winning everything up until the eve of the U.S. Open, then falling short in the final. What if he'd dropped New Haven from his schedule? Would he have been sharper for the Open? Plus, the fact that he had to work hard in that New Haven final might've sapped him however minutely for New York. I guess you can't tell, but why chance it?

And to today's players: If Double-A couldn't do it...

Anyway, fast-forward more than 20 years later to now, switch tours and surfaces, and you have the WTA stop in Eastbourne, the last warmup for the women before Wimbledon. There's more top 10 women there than there are in the top 10! (Just kidding, obviously: That's what we writers call "a witty line.") Seriously, though, there are four of them in the draw and one right outside of it, two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova.

Now if there's any player I'll ever give a free pass to playing the week before a tournament, it's Kvitova. She could win Eastbourne then get bounced in the first round at the Big W. Or vice versa. You just never can tell.

She has to be on anyone's short list to hoist the Venus Rosewater dish at the end of the fortnight, and that's despite the fact she's only reached one semifinal on the season so far. 2016 has seen her fall to the likes of  Saisai Zheng, Daria Gavrilova, Shelby Rogers, etc.

This year is almost a near-mirror of what she went through in 2014: Back then, pre-Wimbledon, it was Alisa Kleybanova, Luksika Kumkhum and Heather Watson among the players notching victories against the potential Hall of Famer. At Wimbledon, she breezed through her first two matches, then got into an epic struggle with Venus Williams before just escaping. After that, the rest of the tournament was a breeze.

Aside from Serena Williams, it's hard to tab anyone as a favorite for the title this year. Maybe last year's finalist Garbine Muguruza? It'll be interesting to see how the Spaniard follows up her French Open title. Kvitova should be in the mix, too.

Or not: You just can't tell.

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Note to self: Don't overthink it, just enjoy the tennis



If you're seeing this post right now, then that's a good thing. It meant that I was able to get past the brain drain the French Open just put me through and I was actually able to write something!

Novak Djokovic won his fourth Major in a row and his first French title, and completed the career Slam. Garbine Muguruza announced her arrival among Grand Slam champs with her first big title, shocking Serena Williams for the W. Muguruza's countrymen, Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez, won the men's doubles title and on the women's side, Frenchwomen Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic took home the title. In mixed, veterans Leander Paes and Martina Hingis completed the career Slam (together and apart) in the discipline.

Big stuff, and a lot to be celebrated post-Paris. But with all that happening, among other things, my mind's been on spin cycle with questions, musings, wonderings, etc. These are some of the things I've been thinking about:

• I'm big on Novak Djokovic. I love his approach to the game and his desire to be the best out there. I'm going to say this, too, which I can't recall seeing anywhere else: I bet if he was American with his dominance and personality, there'd be a tennis boom in the States like you wouldn't believe.

But...

I'm still hesitant to put him up there in the GOAT conversation, and this isn't through any fault of his own. The way the surfaces play so uniformly now has just changed the complexion of the game. Djokovic's game is solid in every department, but I wonder, what would happen if he played Ivo Karlovic on the type of grass at Wimbledon that Boris Becker won his first title on?

It's a different ball game now. (Gosh, I feel so old after typing that last sentence. And typing "Gosh" made me feel even older!) Djokovic's accomplishments are amazing and there's more yet to come from him, but I guess I'm too much of an old fuddy-duddy to give him the GOAT title.

• Speaking of "old," I told my seven-year-old daughter that Serena lost and at first she couldn't believe it. After I convinced her, she said Serena's getting "old." I thought that was kind of funny. I'll never say Serena's "old" and I'll give her favorite status going into any Major for at least the next three years, if she's still playing. However, these last few Slam losses have been kind of weird. Well, maybe not the Muguruza one, but for sure the ones to Angelique Kerber and Roberta Vinci. I think Serena's not only capable of equaling then topping Steffi Graf, but also Margaret Court, as well. It should happen soon, though, before she gets too old!

• More legend stuff: Great run by Bob and Mike Bryan to the finals, as their past year and a half has had more ups and downs than they've ever experienced during their legendary careers.

• And (half a) legend stuff: What's up with Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza? It's crazy that they went from being so dominant and looking like an all-time team to early-round losses left and right, including at the French. Will a rough grass-court stretch be the end of them?

• The future of the sport is in great shape with so many young players making breakthroughs. Dominic Thiem, Shelby Rogers, Kiki Bertens...I could go on and on. It's an exciting time to be a tennis fan, which is something I should remember. Don't let the nuances weigh me down: I should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

That is, until the next tournament, when more questions will undoubtedly pop up.

(Photo: Espana Tennis)