Shot-clock, doubles changes for ATP in 2019

With the new tennis season just a few weeks away, the ATP (no longer World) Tour will have more changes than just the snappy new logo.

Tennis.life has learned that the most notable one is that the 25-second shot clock will now be mandatory at all Masters 1000 level tournaments.

That goes for main draw and qualifying matches, on all match courts.

The shot clock is recommended for the lower-level tournaments as well. But it won’t be mandatory. That will change in 2020, when it will be required equipment at all ATP Tour events.

Doubles changes also instituted

The doubles players have been lobbying for some changes for awhile now. And they’re getting their wish in 2019 as all Masters 1000 tournaments will have 32-team draws.

Until now, only the expanded Indian Wells and Miami Open had full 32-team draws. The remainder of the Masters 1000s had 24-player draws – i.e., the eight seeded teams had first-round byes.

There will be three wild-card teams allowed per tournament, up from two currently, regardless of draw size.

In return, the doubles players will make themselves available for more off-court events to promote the tournaments.

Among those are pro-am and additional sponsor activities. These are things that already happen to some extent, at some tournaments. And it’s definitely not a new idea.

But the main addition – this is an interesting one – a “Doubles Only” court.

The biggest different with this court, if the tournaments choose to implement it, is that the court could be branded differently to make it stand out and attract attention on its own.

And, notably, there will be free crowd moment on that court. 

Which you have to think is a test of how that might go in the bigger picture.

US Open Series test passes

The tournaments leading up to this year’s US Open tried out the shot clock this year. 

As much talk as there is about it, it’s one of those things that sort of went unnoticed the vast majority of the time.

There’s no mention of the “shortened” warmup – i.e. the frantic race to get to the coin toss as soon as the players get on court, with little opportunity to refrigerate special sports drinks or even put the wristbands on right side up.

So let’s hope that’s for … later.

The end for Mirnyi, Schnyder and Jovanovic

At this time of the year, players who toiled late into November are on the beach somewhere (usually, not exclusively, the Maldives).

But those who wrapped things up a bit earlier are already back into training for the 2019 season.

So for those in the twilight of their careers, it’s decision time about whether they can – want to – go through the grind one more time.

For longtime doubles star Max Mirnyi, 41, the answer was no.

It’s been a very tough choice to make considering that the game of tennis has been my life ever since I can remember myself. I am absolutely thrilled to have had a chance to enjoy this game for so long!” Mirnyi said in a statement.

“While competing for myself or representing my country I have always treated my profession with the highest honour and respect, worked at it as hard as I could and now, stepping away from the game, I have no regrets and feel nothing but joy. I have achieved far beyond what a little boy from Minsk, Belarus could dream about at the beginning of the road.”

Belarus’s statement is a document full of evidence about just how much of a village it takes to make a successful professional tennis player.

Solid singles to brilliant doubles

Before Mirnyi was a doubles specialist, he was a very good singles player, reaching the top 20 back in 2003 with one career title, in Rotterdam that year.

But it was in doubles that he found a lasting home. Even in 2018, which turned out to be his final season, he was more than competitive. With Philipp Oswald of Austria, he won two titles – on an indoor hard court at the New York Open, and on red clay in Houston in April.

They were titles No. 51 and No. 52 of his career. And among those Mirnyi thanks are the (exactly!) 100 doubles partners with whom he teamed up professionally through a 25-year career.

Oswald and Mirnyi also reached two finals: to open the season in Auckland, and to close out Mirnyi’s ATP Tour career in Moscow in October.

His final match was in Davis Cup, in late October against Slovakia.

Mirnyi won the French Open men’s doubles four times (twice with the just-retired Daniel Nestor, twice with Jonas Bjorkman) and the US Open men’s doubles twice (with Lleyton Hewitt and Mahesh Bhupathi).

He also won the 2007 US Open mixed doubles with a young Azarenka, and again in 2013 with Andrea Hlavackova. He won the mixed at Wimbledon in 1998 with Serena Williams, His mixed partners have included Williams, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova (with whom he shares an agent), Anna Kournikova and Genie Bouchard.

A multi-faceted Mirnyi life

While he did this, Mirnyi also completed his law degree in 2008. As well, he married and had four children, now ranging in age between four and 13. Mirnyi also has been a UN AIDS ambassador, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, the vice-president of the Belarus federation, 

Mirnyi relocated to Bradenton, Fla. to train at the Bollettieri academy in 1992 – and never left.

He was the flagbearer for his country at the Olympics in London in 2012, and won gold in mixed doubles (breaking British hearts) with countrywoman Victoria Azarenka over Andy Murray and Laura Robson.

 

Comeback too tough for Jovanovski

After a long time out of the game with wrist and shoulder surgeries, 26-year-old Bojana Jovanovski (who added “Petrovic” during her injury break when she got married) came back to try it again in 2018.

It turns out her body just couldn’t withstand the training needed to get back to the level she was capable of. And so on Wednesday, she reluctantly announced her retirement.

“After a lot of thinking and numerous injuries and operations it was very hard for me to make a final decision, I am still very passionate about tennis and competing but my body can not follow. Since I can no longer train and play the way I used to, give my best and fulfill all professional goals I had no other option,” Jovanovski Petrovic wrote on Facebook.

“So far I dedicated all my life to tennis, training and competition, did my best as a player and achieved great results. Maybe I did not achieved the maximum of my potential but I’m not unhappy,” she added. “Tennis has given me a lot and enriched my life. I had a chance to travel the world, meet people and make friends for life. In the future tennis will remain a big part of my life. I’m not leaving for good and without a plan.”

The Serb’s first order of business is to finish her psychology degree, and then look to coaching. 

Return in 2018

Jovanovski Petrovic was ranked in the top 80 six consecutive seasons, with a peak at No. 32 in 2014, before the injuries hit.

After losing in the first round of the 2016 French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska, Jovanovski Petrovic didn’t play again until the first round of qualifying at the WTA Tour event in St. Petersburg in Feb. 2018.

She played sporadically after that (although she did play the full grass-court season). Her final match was a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Sabine Lisicki in the qualifying in Tianjin, China in September. Lisicki, a former Wimbledon finalist, has been dealing with her own injury issues and is out of the top 200.

Schnyder’s Part II also done

Mirnyi

Another player who was gone for a significant period of time and returned was Patty Schnyder.

MirnyiSchnyder, who turns 40 in a few weeks, retired after the 2011 French Open – and even got the big, awkward official ceremony at the end of that season at the WTA Tour Finals.

She reached No. 7 in singles, and also was a top-20 doubles player and a three-time Olympian.

The new mom returned in July, 2015 in small events in Europe. And in her fourth tournament back, she went from the qualifying to the title at a $10,000 ITF in Prague. Later that season, she went from the qualifying to the final at a $25,000 ITF in Bangkok, beating former top-30 player Kaia Kanepi in the final.

Back to the WTA Tour

In April, 2016, she made her first return appearance on the WTA Tour with a wild card in the Charleston qualifying. (Other than a pair of wild cards into her home-country WTA event in Gstaad, Schnyder effected this comeback largely on her own).

By Aug. 2017, her ranking back near the top 200, she returned to the Grand Slam level for the first time, losing in the second round of US Open qualifying.

The return of Zvonareva and Schnyder (photos)

Schnyder got as high as No. 139 this June. And at the US Open, she won three rounds in qualifying, and got to face old foe Maria Sharapova in the first round of the main draw.

Sharapova and Schnyder had met eight times before, going all the way back to 2004. But while Sharapova led the head-to-head 7-1, that was a deceiving stat. Six of the eight meetings went three sets – and even the two straight-sets Sharapova victories were 7-5, 7-5, and 7-5, 6-4.

Schnyder gave Sharapova all she could handle in the second set of a 6-2, 7-6 (6) defeat.

Ends it with a comeback victory

Her last Tour match was a loss to Varvara Lepchenko in Luxembourg in October.

But her final competitive match was a victory, as Schnyder won in the French Interclubs last Wednesday for Mihaela Buzarnescu’s team, St-Dié-des-Vosges.

It was, perfectly, an impressive comeback. Schnyder beat Spain’s Laura Pous-Tio 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-2.

But with her ranking back down to No. 279, it was going to be another season of grinding down at the lower levels. As she turned 40, as she put it, it was time to try something new.

Struggling in singles, Sock doubles … up

NEW YORK – Assuming he’s healthy, which it appears he is, American Jack Sock is having a crisis of confidence in singles.

He’s still in the top 20 – for now. And in fact, he’ll move up one spot to No. 17 on Monday after meekly going out in the second round of the US Open singles.

But he is salvaging his season in a major way, as the best possible substitute Mike Bryan could have asked for after his twin Bob underwent hip surgery.

Sock and Bryan are the US Open men’s doubles champions, after defeating No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the final Friday.

“I think this was the best match we have played together, and we picked a good time to do it. You know, Jack hit some monstrous forehands. I think our average speed on shots was 84 (mph), and I’m hitting the ball in the 60s. Who’s the guy that’s bringing that up? It’s Jack. He had one at 111,” Bryan said.

They add that trophy to the one they won just two months ago, at Wimbledon. It’s the first time in 15 years that the same pair has won both.

“I tend to smile a lot more in doubles than singles and tend to put a lot less pressure on myself, for sure. And I think, as my coach is making fun of me back here, if I could translate that maybe over to singles and maybe have somewhat of that same mentality of playing loose and just enjoying, you know, every moment of it, then hopefully I can accomplish some of these things in singles,” Sock said.

“But I know the level I can play. I showed a lot of it last year. I think it’s just going to keep taking the team effort with the guys I have around me, and they are keeping me positive, keeping me motivated; I’m doing a lot of the right things. As long as I keep doing that, as I keep saying, it’s very close. And I was happy to at least get a win here and not keep the losing streak going, so I’ll take that, as well, confidence going forward and get ready for the fall.”

Oldest ever, but forever young

At 40, Mike Bryan is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam doubles title. That’s a record he could conceivably keep breaking as he expects Bob back for 2019. He also is the oldest-ever No. 1-ranked doubles player. Ditto.

For Sock, it’s a new career high in doubles at No. 2. His previous high was No. 6, back in May 2015 when he was still playing regularly with Canadian Vasek Pospisil (the two won Wimbledon together in 2014).

He began the season at No. 39, playing doubles somewhat regularly but always having it take a back seat to his singles career.

After just five tournaments together, they will rocket to No. 4 in the team rankings and will make the year-end Tour Finals in London. They are the defacto No. 3 team, as the actual No. 3s are the Bryan twins.

It is the sixth US Open doubles title for Mike, with the first five (obviously) coming with brother Bob. And it is his 120th career title.

It also puts him at the top of the list, in terms of Grand Slam doubles titles in the open era. He began 2018 tied with his brother at 16, one behind John Newcombe. Now, he stands alone.

“I think it comes down to playing the big matches well. Jack is a big match player. He always plays his best. He’s done it through his junior career. I don’t think you have lost a Grand Slam final. So he steps up when it really matters. When we lost in Cincinnati, he was, like, ‘We’re Grand Slam players’. I’m, like, ‘All right. Let’s see what we got.’

“He showed it today. He just played amazing. You know, it wasn’t easy early. At Wimbledon we struggled, had some long matches, down match points. I was still adjusting to the deuce court and to his style of play. He plays a different brand that I have never seen on my side before. So now it feels comfortable,” he added. “It’s just a blast. I mean, from the locker room, from practices, to winning these trophies, it’s just been a great ride.”

Best in the world? Nestor thinks so

The legendary Daniel Nestor said recently that Jack Sock was the best doubles player in the world. Why, Nestor was asked? Because he can win with anyone.

Mike Bryan, of course, is not anyone. But Sock played the ad side while Mike, who almost always plays the ad side with lefty Bob playing the deuce side (except, back in the day, when they wanted to change things up during a period they had a ton of trouble beating Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), moved over.

Sock now has 13 titles. Four came with Pospisil, two with John Isner and now two with Bryan. He also has earned trophies with Nick Kyrgios, Nicholas Monroe, James Blake, Marcel Granollers and … Jackson Withrow.

“I was talking to my team and coach, especially, and I was not planning on playing doubles at Wimbledon. But after, you know, the unfortunate injury with Bob, obviously I talked to him a little bit and I said, If there’s a chance Mike contacts me, what would you say about that? I think that’s a special circumstance and occasion,” Sock said. “My coach said, ‘He’s the one guy I’d let you play with if he calls you or texts you.’ Soon after, I got the call or the text, you know, and a very quick yes from me.”

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

choices

If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

choices
Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

choices

They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.

When the French win in France: kissing and flossing

PARIS – It’s just such a blast when a French player wins at Roland Garros, you wish it happened all the time.

But it’s rare in singles. And it had happened just twice in doubles before Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert made it happen Saturday.

The pair, who won the 2015 US Open and again the following summer at Wimbledon, defeated the best team in the world right now, No. 2 seed Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 6-2, 7-6 (4) to earn their first Roland Garros title.

Let the kissing and flossing commence (all screenshots from FranceTV).

First you kiss your partner (multiple times; it’s very French).

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Then, you wait for your son.

This is six-year-old Nathanaël. French television had a “Nat Cam”, spying him nearly beside himself in the stands as his dad and Herbert closed in on victory, and then tracking his sprint across the court into his dad’s waiting arms.

“For two days, he’d been telling me, ‘How am I going to get on the court?’ I knew he was going to find a way if he saw us win,” Mahut said. “It’s those two or three minutes, when you win, that you share with Pierre-Hugues, and then my son arrived on court … honestly, I am overjoyed today. I don’t think I can ever feel something stronger than this.”

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And then, more kisses.

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“Go and give Oncle Pierre-Hugues a kiss, baby.”
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“OMG, dude, you got me right on the lips!”
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“Did you guys see that? He got me right on the lips!”

Mahut told the story of his son being inconsolable, after Mahut and Herbert lost in the first round of Monte Carlo.

Herbert assured Nathanaël that they would win Roland Garros – which had Mahut freaking out a little bit.

“I told him not to make promises he couldn’t keep because it’s going to be pretty rough at home. He remembers everything,” Mahut said. “But a month later, we have the championship trophy.”

And some dancing …

 And then, of course, there was flossing.

When Mahut and Herbert went up to the France TV studios for a pre-final interview, Mahut promised there would be dancing if they won.

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There was Herbert blowing kisses to the camera.

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And then – the best kiss: kissing the trophy.

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After that, a spontaneous singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise along with the crowd.

(The French players sing their anthem more expressively than just about anyone. Plus, it’s a great anthem. And when there’s a big crowd joining in, it’s enough to give you chills. But it’s best that you just go with the emotion and not really understand the lyrics, because the lyrics are pretty gruesome).

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A rough semifinal

For awhile, during the pair’s semifinal match, it was hardly certain they could even take the court for the final.

Herbert nailed Mahut in the ear with a forehand, and he went down in a heap.

“It was really painful,  maybe you couldn’t see in on the court. My ear hurt, my head hurt, and when the fans applauded I wanted to bang my head against the wall,” Mahut said Friday.

When he left the court – unable to even walk in a straight lineº to see the doctor in the locker room, he didn’t think he could continue.

Mahut had the ear examined Friday morning. There’s a slight hole in the ear drum, and a slight loss of hearing. He said the doctor assured him he would be back to normal – in three to four weeks.

During the semi, he had a few balance issues. And he heard whistling, buzzing in the ear. “The stress of the match was secondary, it hurt so much,” he said. “I just freed up, and the tennis got a lot easier.”

Other than the slight loss of hearing, and some pain, things were better in the final. No whistling, no buzzing, no loss of balance. But the exhaustion of the effort showed on his face after it was over.

Early heartbreaks

France

Mahut had been in this position before.

Mahut credited partner Michaël Llodra for being a rock when he couldn’t control his emotions in the wake of the loss in the 2013 French Open doubles final.

In 2013, he reached the French Open final with another Frenchman, lefty Michaël Llodra. They led Bob and Mike Bryan 4-2 in the third set tiebreak – but lost. 

“That was really painful in 2013. I thought it was my only chance to win Roland Garros. Thanks to Pierre-Hugues, here we are five years later, with a smile,” Mahut said in the post-match press conference.

“Emotion is so hard to relate. What we experienced on match point and the two or three minutes that followed, as soon as we try to explain it, it’s already too late. It’s almost indescribable. It’s pure joy.”

The two have had some bumps in the road, notably at the end of 2017 and the start of this season in the wake of some Davis Cup drama. “Because we’re close, because we love each other, we managed to overcome those moments and we responded in the best possible way this week, I think,” Mahut said.

At the 2015 Australian Open, Mahut and Herbert reached their first Slam doubles final. For Mahut, it was a final 15 years in the making.

But Herbert was in no shape to complete. And he was completely devastated.

Saturday night, they could put all that behind them, and celebrate with at least some of the record 110 guests they invited to the match.

Photos: Venus keeps dubs skills sharp

PARIS – Her sister has some singles duties to attend to on Saturday in the late afternoon/early evening.

But Venus Williams, eliminated from the singles in the first round, could still keep her doubles skills honed in her absence.

Williams was on a practice court at the neighbouring Club Jean Bouin, along with hitting partner Jermaine Jenkins.

Her partner was her assistant of two years, Zebe Haupt, who played as a junior in his native Australia.

A little impromptu mixed doubles, to keep things sharp.

Here’s what it looked like. (We’d have shot video, but only television rights holders are allowed to shoot, as of the start of the main draw last Sunday).

Serena vs. Goerges

Little sister has to deal with No. 11 seed Julia Goerges of Germany in her third-round singles.

Surprisingly, the two have not met in nearly seven years, since the Rogers Cup in 2011. They also played here in Paris, in the second round of the 2010 French Open (Williams won both; the clay matchup went 6-1, 6-1).

The winner will play …. get this … Maria Sharapova in the round of 16. 

Serena and Venus – together again

PARIS – It has been a couple of years since Venus and Serena Williams teamed up for doubles at a Grand Slam.

That came at Wimbledon in 2016. And they won the title.

They are back this year at the French Open, despite Venus Williams’ disappointing first-round loss in doubles.

And after shaking off some rust in the first set of their first-round match match against Japanese mighty mites Shuko Aoyama and Miyu Kato, they prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to advance.

In actual, real terms, that two-year absence isn’t that long. Serena Williams had only played one major since then. That was the 2017 Australian Open. And since she was playing doubles all on her own, with little Olympia, that actually would have been triples and therefore unfair.

Outstanding finals ratio

The sisterly pair has 22 titles together, including 14 majors (six at Wimbledon) and three Olympic golds.

Perhaps even more impressive, they have those 22 titles in 23 finals. In other words, only one time, once they reached the final, did they fail to take home the champions’ trophy. 

That came all the way back in 1999, in San Diego. They lost to Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu.

Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

They have won the French Open doubles title twice. In 1999, they defeated Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova in the final. In 2010, they beat Katarina Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke (who are both still playing, albeit with different partners).

Here are some pics of the sisters in action together through the years.

Can they do it again?

You kind of figure the sisters can do anything they set their mind to.

But of course, life is different now.

Williams has a tough second-round singles match against No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty Thursday. And when and if she loses in singles, it’s hard to know whether she will want to stick around the tournament just to play doubles.

As well, Venus will have to pick up her game. While Serena was roaring and intense and all over their first-round match, Venus had trouble keeping the unforced errors down.

(The size differential between the sisters and their Japanese opponents was substantial – FranceTV)

That was even more important, given she was playing the ad side.

Their next match will be between the winner of savvy veterans Sara Errani and Kirsten Flipkens, and a young French wild card team.

Their third-round match could be the No. 3 seeds, Andreja Klepac and Maria José Martinez Sánchez.

U.S. Miami Open “sweep” first since 1985

The last time there was an American sweep at the Miami Open, it wasn’t even the Miami Open.

It was the first-ever edition of the tournament, then called the Lipton International Players Championship, and played north up Interstate 95 at the Laver resort in Delray Beach Fla.

That was 33 years ago, back in 1985. 

Now, a caveat: the 2018 Miami Open champions’ roster wasn’t 100 per cent American.

John Isner won the men’s singles, Sloane Stephens the women’s singles. The Bryan brothers won the men’s doubles. And Coco Vandeweghe teamed up with the one outlier, Aussie Ashleigh Barty, to take the women’s doubles.

Back in 1985, the Americans did even better. All the singles finalists were American, as well as three of the four women’s doubles finalists.

And, there was a bonus trophy.

In 1985, the Lipton was part of the “Grand Prix Tour”. It wasn’t even the ATP Tour yet, although the ATP itself, as a players’ association, was formed in 1973.

The women’s event was part of the “Virginia Slims World Championship Series” which didn’t run on the regular calendar year, but March to March. Back then, it was the WITA (Women’s International Tennis Association).

That was back when cigarette sponsorship was something that helped women’s tennis to become what it is today – probably saved it – not the evil thing it is now.

Total prize money for all five events was $1.8 million.

This year, the singles champions took home $1.34 million – each.

Two weeks, full fields, best-of-five

From the Miami Open website:

1985: Field at Laver’s International Tennis Resort includes 128 men and women in singles, 64 doubles teams for men and women, and mixed doubles. Tournament format is the same as the four Grand Slams. It is the first time in 56 years that a new, two-week tournament is launched. Martina Navratilova and Tim Mayotte capture singles titles before ABC-TV cameras. Navratilova-Evert women’s final is first sellout. Attendance for two weeks: 125,817, exceeding any golf or tennis event ever held in Florida.

Men’s singles

United States Tim Mayotte defeated United States Scott Davis 4–6, 4–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4

The win by Mayotte was the the first of 12 titles, and the biggest of his career, no doubt.

Women’s singles

United States Martina Navratilova defeated United States Chris Evert-Lloyd 6–2, 6–4

Evert was Lloyd then, still married to first husband John Lloyd.

It was the 101st title of Navratilova’s career. And it was the 63rd meeting between the two, out of 80. 

 

Evert had just broken a streak of 13 consecutive Navratilova victories at the Virginia Slims of Florida (ironically, held at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne that year). Navratilova put that right, and went 11-6 for the last part of their rivalry.

Men’s doubles

United States Paul Annacone / South Africa Christo van Rensburg defeated United States Sherwood Stewart / Australia Kim Warwick 7–5, 7–5, 6–4

It was only the second title of Annacone’s stellar doubles career. He went on to win 14 – including his only major, the Australian Open, at the end of that season.

Note that the final was best-of-five sets.

Women’s doubles

United States Gigi Fernández / United States Martina Navratilova defeated United States Kathy Jordan / Czechoslovakia Hana Mandlíková 7-6 (4), 6–2

It was the first title of Fernández’s career. She was still just 20, and would go on to win 69, including 17 majors (all but one of them in the 1990s).

For Navratilova, it was the 202nd career combined title. 

And that wasn’t all.

The 1985 Lipton Championships also featured … mixed doubles.

Wouldn’t it be the greatest if they brought it back – particularly at Indian Wells, where the schedule after Monday seems bereft and where a lot of players willingly stick around to practice before they head to Miami?

Mixed doubles

Switzerland Heinz Günthardt / United States Martina Navratilova defeated United States Mike Bauer / France Catherine Tanvier 6–2, 6–2

So Navratilova pulled off the triple: singles, women’s doubles and mixed.

There’s almost a 100 per cent chance that no one will ever pull this off at a joint WTA/ATP Tour event. Ever again.

(Information from Wikipedia)

Tearful finale closes Crandon Park

Much bandwidth was taken up chronicling the final match at Crandon Park, before the Miami Open moves to its new home in the middle of the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot next year.

But John Isner vs. Alexander Zverev was not, in fact, the real finale.

Much of the crowd had left, and the media on hand busy elsewhere. But the last match of an era was the women’s doubles final.

And while it wasn’t much of a match, it ended on a touching, emotional note.

Californian Coco Vandeweghe helped make it an American sweep, as she teamed up with Aussie Ashleigh Barty to defeat the No. 6 seeds, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, 6-2, 6-1, to win the Premier Mandatory title.

Trophies and tears

But there was a delay before the trophy ceremony. Krejcikova was being looked by the tournament physician as she sat on the sidelines, as Vandeweghe was cracking jokes at her partner.

The 22-year-old from Brno had fallen victim to a virus which didn’t help her tennis, to be sure.

But during the trophy ceremony, she shared her emotions on another matter entirely.

Krejcikova had been coached by fellow Bruno native Jana Novotna. The former Wimbledon champion died of cancer last November, and Krejikova paid tribute to her late mentor.

“I apologize – I was batting with some virus since Friday, all yesterday I was lying in my bed. I stepped out today and tried my best, but I couldn’t do my best performance, I’m really sorry,” Krejcikova told the crowd, tears in her eyes. “My coach, Hana, unfortunately not here any more, she passed away last year. I’m happy I had a chance to meet her. She is the (reason why) I am here today. So thank you so much.”

Biggest career moment

Krejcikova put on as happy a face as she could for the group photos. And even if she paced back and forth, balanced from one leg to the other during the speeches, clearly struggling, she hung in there for the entire thing.

She has one career singles final, in Nürnberg, Germany last year. And her first career doubles title came in 2015 in Quebec City, with Mandy Minella.

But the Miami Open final was by far the biggest moment of Krejcikova’s career, a tribute to her late coach if she and Siniakova could have pulled it off. How devastated she must have been to not be able to give a full effort – win or lose.

As it was, Krejcikova and Siniakova had seemed down and out. They played three crazy matches in the three rounds leading up to the final. That included a rather unlikely late-night comeback against the Chan sisters in the quarterfinals.

They also came back from a set down to defeat Elise Mertens and Demi Schuurs, 11-9 in the match tiebreak, in the semis.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, who teamed up to win the junior girls’ doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open five years ago, find themselves at No. 4 in the race to the year-end finals in Singapore.

They’re just a few points behind Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski and YiFan Xu of China, who stand at No. 3.

(Screenshots from WTATV)

As their doubles gen bows out, Bryans take Miami

MIAMI, Fla. – Mike and Bob Bryan, the No. 1 doubles team on the ATP Tour for 438 weeks, the year-end No. 1s for 10 consecutive years, have had a major dry spell by their standards.

But somehow, you knew they weren’t done yet.

As the twins turn 40 at the end of this month, they captured their biggest title in nearly two years, winning the Miami Open for the fifth time.

And, combined with their run to the final at Indian Wells, they had their best “Sunshine Double” run since 2013 and 2014, when they won both, back-to-back.

Tied for 15th in the rankings when they hit the U.S. circuit, they will be tied for seventh in the rankings on Monday. And they will be a solid No. 2 in the race for the ATP Tour Finals.

“I’m really proud of the way we’re playing, how we’ve turned it around from a fairly rough last year. We’re building every week. I feel like we’re gaining momentum, and I’m very optimistic going into the clay-court season. And I think we’re playing with a lot of joy now, and it’s showing in our results,” Bob Bryan said after the 4-6, 7-6 (5), [10-4] win over young guns Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Rublev and Khachanov are 41 – combined.

Comeback against the Russian kids

It wasn’t the brothers’ only comeback of the tournament.

They looked down and out against Daniell and Inglot in the first round. They looked done against Klaasen and Venus in the quarterfinals before winning the match 10-8 in the match tiebreak. 

The 2017 season was a tough one for the Bryans, who won the Masters 1000 in Rome in May of 2016, but managed just two small titles in the intervening two years, in Eastbourne on grass and in Atlanta last summer.

Mike Bryan’s marriage to Lucille Williams ended during that period, after less than five years. So there was a lot going on.

From 2013 through 2015, the brothers won 14 Masters 1000 titles, 

They were experimenting with various rackets after being with Prince forever, as Mike Bryan dealt with an ongoing arm issue. Last summer in Washington, D.C., Mike was playing with a Wilson, while Bob continued on with Prince.

Bryans

At the moment, they’re back on the same page, playing with Babolat.

“It’s a big honour and a pleasure to play with the best doubles players in history, and to have a great fight, and I think people enjoyed the match,” Rublev said during the trophy ceremony. “They are the best. That’s it.”

The last of a generation

Here’s a look at the doubles rankings, six years ago this week.

Longevity is a given in men’s doubles, as the top players in recent years have always skewed older than the top singles players even if the singles roster also has gotten more … seasoned.

But of the 10 players atop the rankings, three of the four youngest (Bhupathi, Llodra and Fyrstenberg) already have retired.

The rest play on. But all have seen their rankings tumble. Some are picking up partners week to week, looking to see where they can get into the bigger events.

That’s one huge advantage of playing with your twin. The chances that you’re going to break up are pretty slim.

Here’s an update on the rest – four of whom are also former No. 1s. And put into context, it tells you that even if the Bryans aren’t putting up the numbers they once were, their results are still impressive.

Max Mirnyi (BLR)

Age: 40
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 51
Current ranking: 40
2018 won-loss record: 7-5
2018 partners: Philipp Oswald, Ryan Harrison
Best 2018 result: New York Open title
Miami result: 1st rd

Daniel Nestor (CAN)

Age: 45
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 91
Current ranking: 74
2018 won-loss record: 3-9
2018 partners: Marcelo Demoliner, Steve Johnson, Denis Istomin, Florin Mergea, Neal Skupski, Robert Lindstedt, Jonathan Erlich, Donald Young, Philipp Oswald.
Best result: Auckland QF
Miami result: 1st rd

Nenad Zimonjic (SRB)

Age: 41
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 54
Current ranking: 61
2018 won-loss record: 0-6
2018 partners: Kyle Edmund, Marcel Granollers, Andrey Rublev, Viktor Troicki, Florin Mergea, 
Best result: Seven first-round losses
Miami result: 1st rd

Leander Paes (IND)

Age: 44
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 54
Current ranking: 45
2018 won-loss record: 5-6
2018 partners: Jamie Cerretani, Purav Raja, Joe Salisbury, 
Best result: Dubai final
Miami result: DNP

Rohan Bopanna (IND)

Age: 38
Career-high ranking: 3
Career titles: 17
Current ranking: 20
2018 won-loss record: 7-7
2018 partners: Édouard Roger-Vasselin
Best result: Sydney, Marseille SFs
Miami result: 2nd rd

Marcin Matkowski (POL)

Age: 37
Career-high ranking: 7
Career titles: 17
Current ranking:  47
2018 won-loss record: 5-6
2018 partners: Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi 
Best result: Australian Open quarterfinal
Miami result: 1st rd

The Bryan brothers’ last major was the 2014 US Open.

Can they make a run at one this year?  Why not. The expanded Miami draw meant five match wins to take the title. A Grand Slam is just one more round.