Birmingham is Withdrawal City next week

Save

Tournament withdrawals happen routinely the week before a Grand Slam.

But that hasn’t stopped a lot of players from pulling out of next week’s WTA and ATP Tour events. And they are taking place two weeks before Wimbledon.

Birmingham has been the worst-hit. It’s a Premier event on the WTA Tour and thus has the right to expect a decent field. But it’s been decimated.

Here are the entered players who have withdrawn from Birmingham so far – plus the latest withdrawal, French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko:

-Karolina Pliskova
-Simona Halep
-Agnieszka Radwanska
-Madison Keys
-Elena Vesnina
-Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
-Daria Kasatkina

Those are just the players who were in the top 25 at the tournament’s entry deadline. Monica Puig, Yaroslava Shvedova and Saisai Zheng also have withdrawn.

Who knows, by the time the draw is made, there might be more.

A lot of players have pulled out of the qualifying as well. And that means, for a Premier-level event, the current cut-off is at No. 334, with doubles specialist Olga Savchuk. That’s not Premier-like.

The carnage isn’t nearly as bad in Mallorca, the International-level tournament also held next week.

Germans Laura Siegemund and Annika Back are out with long-term injuries. So far, Monica Niculescu of Romania is the only other player to withdraw.

Men hard-hit too

On the men’s side, the Queen’s Club event will not have Juan Martin del Potro or Brit Dan Evans. Or French Open Rafael Nadal, Diego Schwartzman or David Goffin. Goffin is still healing that nasty ankle injury suffered in Paris.

In Halle, Germany, only Pablo Carreño Busta is out, after suffering an abdominal injury during his match against Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

Other notable men’s players who have withdrawn next week: Kevin Anderson, Malek Jaziri and Borna Coric. 

Even Delpo hugs no solace for Almagro

Save

ROLAND GARROS – There are moments on a tennis court where humanity trumps tennis.

They are nearly always sad moments.

Thursday at the French Open, Nico Almagro and Juan Martin del Potro shared one.

The 31-year-old Almagro has been at this 15 years. He’s been in the top 10, won 16 ATP Tour titles and more than $10 million in prize money. He’s accomplished quite a lot in the grand scheme of things and on the ATP Tour these days, 31 is hardly retirement time.

But his last two tournaments have ended in agony and tears because of a left knee injury.

The Spaniard had just won the second set against his old friend del Potro when, early in the third, the knee went – again.

It happened just two weeks ago in Rome when he was playing another good pal, Rafael Nadal. He was forced to stop in the fourth game of the match.

On that occasion, it almost looked like he’d taken a bullet in the knee, when he went down in a heap after what seemed like a fairly innocuous twist as he landed after hitting a shot. It didn’t seem possible Almagro could be back in time for the French Open. But he was. And he won his first-round match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

But it was hard-fought, four close sets. And sometimes it’s the day after, and the day after that, that prove the challenge with a not-quite-healed injury.

Deja vu all over again

The Spaniard felt the knee in the second game of the third set. Del Potro headed over to Almagro’s side of the net, but quickly returned to his own side as Almagro indicated he would try to continue. 

On what turned out to be the final point of the match, Almagro let a second serve just fly by. He didn’t even see it; his head was already down. He already knew it was over.

You could hear him from the top of Court 2, as the entire court went silent. He fell backwards onto the court, his chest heaving up and down, wracked with sobs.

Throughout, del Potro was as solicitous as it’s possible to be on a tennis court – especially on such a big occasion for both. They were extraordinary scenes. The Argentine stepping over the net to get to the other side to offer what help he could. Helping his old friend back to his chair, and sitting with him to offer comfort once he had retired from the match.

Del Potro is the guy you want around if the worst thing in the world happens to you. But even the power of a Delpo hug wasn’t nearly enough in this case.

Take a look:

DelPo not exactly tip-top

Del Potro knows exactly how it feels to be unable to do what you do best because of an injury. He has lost years to his wrist issues and, indeed, is playing his first French Open in five years.

“I tried to, I don’t know, tried to find a good words for that moment. I say to him, ‘Try to be calm.’ Try to think about his family, his baby. And sometimes the heart is first than the tennis match or the tennis life,” he said afterwards. “It’s an unpleasant feeling. You have a player who is suffering quite a lot. He was in agony. It was tough. I told him that tennis is important, but health matters more than tennis in this case, because I want him to be out of his bad patch.”

The Argentine, who will play No. 1 seed Andy Murray in the third round, wasn’t feeling all that great himself. 

He had treatment for a groin injury earlier in the match, and the anti-inflammatories still hadn’t quite kicked in when Almagro made the point moot – at least for this day.

“It happened to me when I was at 3-1 or 4-2 (in the first set). I had to hit the ball with my backhand, and I was wrong-footed. And I felt pain on the groin and lost some mobility. I won the set very quickly,” del Potro said. “In the second set, had to call the doctor so that I could get some anti-inflammatories, and I hoped that the anti-inflammatories could be effective. All of a sudden, he suffered pain on his knee.”

Del Potro said the groin situation is nothing new.

“I know I have one day and a half to feel better. It’s an old problem for me, so my physio knows how to treat that. But I will see,” he said. “Hopefully I can be in good shape, because I would like to play 100 per cent in the third round, and I’m feeling good with my game at this moment. But I need to be in good shape, as well.”

 

Genie Bouchard will play the French Open

Save

ROLAND GARROS – In Genie Bouchard’s mind, the mind of a professional athlete who wants to compete, it was always a “go”.

But only in the last 24 hours or so was there much belief that the 23-year-old Canadian would indeed take the court for her first round at the French Open as she deals with a Grade 2 ankle sprain suffered last week in Nürnberg, Germany.

The injury forced her to pull out of that tournament.

“There’s no magic powder or special things you can do, it’s just time and treatment. Of course it’s always frustrating, but it happens, and it’s part of being a professional athlete,” Bouchard said Saturday, as she officially confirmed her participation. “I tried not to be negative about it, and just take it day by day.”

The injury occurred on a routine run for a drop shot. And Bouchard said the condition of the court was largely responsible for what happened. Indeed, Germany’s Laura Siegemund injured her knee on the very same court a few days later, and was forced to pull out of the French Open.

On Wednesday, Bouchard stood virtually still on the court as tennis balls were fed right into her wheelhouse. By Thursday morning, she was moving a little but still pulled up a little lame a few times. By Thursday afternoon, she hit a few volleys and overheads.

Friday morning, Bouchard almost looked ready to pull the plug; she appeared that discouraged. But by that afternoon, her movement was already better as she played practice games with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia.

Saturday morning during a practice with Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, it was better still.

Here’s what it looked like.

“I started with balls being fed to me, without movement and slowly I added movement, normal progression. The ankle is stable, so that’s a good thing,” Bouchard said. “In my head it was always yes. But I was taking it day by day this week in practice to really see. I think the last two days we had more confidence that I’d be able to play.”

That the women’s singles draw is wide open this year is an understatement. You would almost give Victoria Azarenka, who made a surprise appearance on Court Philippe-Chatrier Saturday during Kid’s Day and plans to return from maternity leave in just over two weeks, a legit shot at making the second week.

Bouchard, who plays No. 72 Risa Ozaki of Japan in the first round, isn’t thinking big picture at the moment.

“I’m just happy to play the tournament. I really wasn’t sure a week ago that I could play. So for me it’s already a victory. What’ll happen, I don’t know. But for sure, lots of players in the draw have a good chance,” she said.

will play
Bouchard beat Ozaki twice in the juniors (seen here after their 2012 Oz Open quarter-final) and once in the pros, and has a 3-0 record. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The Canadian’s half of the draw will play its first-round matches on Monday and Tuesday. With 12 of the matches to be scheduled Monday and the remaining 20 on Tuesday, she had a better-than-even chance of getting the latest start possible.

First-round play on both the men’s and women’s side begins Sunday.

As well, Bouchard made a request for a Tuesday start. Don’t ask, don’t get, right? Whether it was random luck or her request being granted, she will play Tuesday. And that gives her three more days to continue her progress.

Bouchard played Ozaki, who is a month younger, in the juniors on two occasions and won in straight sets. The last time came in the 2012 Australian Open quarter-finals.

More recently, the Canadian had a tough time with her Japanese opponent at Indian Wells last year. Ozaki began that first-round match well, got a lot of balls back into court. Bouchard had to recover from a set deficit to win.

The match wasn’t without its drama.

Here’s what she had to say after the victory.

Same game plan

The Canadian won’t want to be engaging in any long rallies, with the ankle one false move away from ending it all. But she said she won’t change her game plan.

“I think that in the match I won’t think about that. That’s what I’ve done my whole career. Usually I don’t feel much of anything during a match anyway, because of adrenaline and being concentrated on the match and nothing else, “ she said. “So I don’t want to change my game because of that.

“I’ll go, and play my game 100 per cent, and after that I’ll see if there’s anything I have to manage with my ankle.”

Would she have played, had it not been a Grand Slam tournament?

Tough question.

“But I think so. It’s feeling better and better,” she said. “I always want to play. It’s difficult for me not to play.”

For Petra Kvitova, a major victory

Save

ROLAND GARROS – Petra Kvitova practiced at Roland Garros Thursday.

And after what the 27-year-old Czech went through at the hands of a stranger who invaded her apartment last December, this alone was a major victory.

If she gets on court at the French Open for her first-round match, which appears to be the plan, that will be another victory. And then, it will be just about tennis again. Finally.

The 27-year-old Czech was hopeful a month ago that she could make it back from surgery to repair the ligaments in her fingers in time for the French Open. It seemed optimistic at the time, more of a motivational tool to keep her going during all the tough rehab.

But she made it. Whether or not she’ll be in good enough health to win a round, or more, is almost beside the point at this point.

Here are some exclusive Tennis.Life shots from Kvitova’s first practice in Paris Thursday. She practiced with fellow Czech lefty Lucie Safarova, then hit some more with coach Jiri Vanek.

Friday press conference to confirm

Kvitova will have a press conference Friday amid all the top players who will have their media availabilities, after the men’s and women’s singles draws are made at noon. 

From the looks of things on Thursday, it may be all systems go. 

As well-liked as she is, there could well be inappropriate press applause when Kvitova enters the room. Under these exceptional circumstances, it’s unlikely anyone will have any sort of issue with it.

Despite not having played all season in the aftermath of the attack, Kvitova remains ranked No. 14. So she will be seeded. And that will offer her a potentially easier first-round match than might have been the case if she were just floating around the draw.

Simona Halep – will the ankle be ready?

Save

ROLAND GARROS – The women’s side in these days leading up to Sunday’s French Open start is all about the case of the sprained ankles.

The most crucial one, with all due respect to Genie Bouchard, is that of Simona Halep.

With her title in Madrid, and the finals appearance in Rome that was sabotaged by the ankle sprain, she’s clearly a favorite to take the title on form.

The big question is whether the ankle will allow Halep to win her first career Grand Slam title.

Halep was out on Court Suzanne Lenglen Thursday. If we had to rank them, we’d have to say Halep’s ankle is in better shape than that of Bouchard. That’s based on the extent to which the Romanian was moving, which was at a slightly more aggressive level.

She wasn’t pushing it hard, though. 

Here’s what she looked like out there.

Two practices for Bouchard as she tests ankle

Save

ROLAND GARROS – On the positive side, Genie Bouchard moved a whole lot more on her injured right ankle Thursday than she did in a practice session Wednesday.

On the so-so side, she still didn’t move much as she continues to deal with an injured right ankle.

And it was also clear to see that any false, unexpected move brought a quick cringe and a hop. Luckily, there weren’t too many of those in two practice sessions Thursday. Bouchard was careful. But she’s a long way from 100 per cent.

The morning session took place at the Annexe, a small club with four clay courts across the rue d’Auteuil and through the southern part of the Bois de Boulogne.

It’s not accessible to the public or much of the media (most of the practice courts aren’t – bucking the trend at most tournaments these days. They say it’s all about the “tranquility of the players.” But that’s a story for another day).

Those four courts in the upper right-hand corner are a charming little club in the Bois de Boulogne that is used for extra practice courts during Roland Garros.

With a sparring partner, Bouchard hit forehands and backhands and did some serves and returns.

She hit the entire hour. Well – nearly the entire hour.

There was a 10-minute period late in the session that was taken up with a long discussion involving coach Thomas Högstedt and trainer Cassiano Costa.

But then she got right back to it.

Second afternoon session

Two hours later, Bouchard was back on the practice court. This time, it was Court 12, in the area of the Roland Garros site behind Court Suzanne Lenglen.

There were qualifying matches going on all around. There were lineups to get into all of the nearby courts where there is controlled access. But no more than two dozen people were watching her for most of the hour.

This time, Bouchard moved even more. She also hit volleys and a few overheads. And again, she practiced for the full hour.

Here are some pics from both sessions.

By the afternoon, Bouchard’s chiropractor/physio from Montreal had arrived, and was on court with her. The same chiro traveled with Bouchard for periods in the latter half of 2014, including the WTA Tour finals in Singapore.

No doubt the Canadian wanted someone who knows her, and her body, to oversee things. The Canadian is in a race against the clock to try to play the second Grand Slam of the season.

The women’s singles draw will be made Friday morning. At this point, it seems Bouchard will be in it. But it remains impossible to really predict whether or not she will end up taking the court for her first-round match.

No doubt the revealing of her first opponent may have an effect on things. But maybe not. The biggest challenge will be trying to step up the pace exponentially to match intensity, without having a setback that could impact the grass-court season.

Ankle issue may keep Halep out of RG

Save

ROLAND GARROS – Genie Bouchard isn’t the only player whose presence at this year’s French Open is in doubt because of an ankle injury.

Simona Halep, the form player coming in after a title in Madrid and a final in Rome, also is a big question mark.

On her Instagram, the Romanian says the doctors tell her she is “50-50” after tearing a ligament in her ankle. Halep took a tumble during the final against Elina Svitolina. Although she kept playing, it was clear she had suffered an injury.

She arrived in Paris early for treatment, as did Bouchard, who turned her ankle during a practice session in Nürnberg. She had to withdraw from the tournament on Monday.

No details on the grade of Halep’s ankle sprain, or what the exact definition of “torn” is. But Halep said there was improvement since Sunday.

Halep

For Bouchard, there reportedly hasn’t been much improvement in the last few days.

Bouchard

Unless things take a turn for the worse, it’s likely both will wait until the last minute to make a final decision. 

Kvitova to announce Friday

Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova will hold a press conference Friday. She will announce whether she will participate in this year’s French Open.

Kvitova had all the ligaments in the fingers of her left hand (her hitting hand) damaged after a terrifying home invasion last December. She had surgery and was optimistic she would be back for Wimbledon. She was hopeful, perhaps on the wishful-thinking side, that she might be able to play in Paris.

The players who are seeded fairly high in the French Open qualifying, who manage to get through their second-round matches, certainly are going to be watching this attentively. There look to be several lucky-loser spots opening up in the main draw in the next few days.