Nishikori’s new coach is a “Beast”

After an 11-year relationship with coach Dante Bottini ended this year, Kei Nishikori has turned to a very familiar face as he takes on the next phase of his career.

The Japanese star turns 30 just as the 2020 seasons begins.

And longtime Tour player – and fellow IMG Academy regular – Max Mirnyi will be his new coach.

Mirnyi, 42, retired as a player just over a year ago after a long career during which he reached No. 1 in doubles and earned 53 titles.

But earlier on, he also was a fine singles player. The Minsk, Belarus native reached No. 18 in the world back in 2003.

And he’s someone Nishikori has practically grown up with at the IMG Academy.

Mirnyi
The addition of Mirnyi will keep Nishikori’s off-season routine exactly as it is. Mirnyi, like Nishikori, lives right near the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

A longtime Sarasota, Fla. native, Mirnyi also trained at the academy for years.

Somewhere after his retirement, The Beast turned into a munchkin. (ATP Tour website)

So it should be an easy transition.

And after a career during which Nishikori has been one of the rare players not to hop on the coaching carousel, that comfort level makes it easy for the two to begin work and settle in quickly.

Nishikori is recovering from a procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow.

The injury made for a tough 2019 season, although he expects to be reach for the ATP Cup in a little over a month.

Mirnyi
After 11 years with Bottini (seen here with the rest of Team Nishikori at the IMG Academy a year ago), the Japanese star has turned to Max Mirnyi as he hits the 3-0 mark and tries to return to form in 2020. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Mirnyi, nicknamed “The Beast” because of his huge stature (despite his bio on the ATP Tour site, above), has long been considered one of the brightest men in tennis, and a stand-up human being.

He has a degree in International Law from Belarus State University.

And he has served as a goodwill ambassador to the UN in Belarus, as well as being involved with UNICEF and children’s rights.

According to the Kyodo News, longtime mentor Michael Chang will remain on board. Chang has never been a full-time coach, but has travelled to the bigger events to offer advice and support.

He and Bottini appeared to make the “coaching tandem” set up work like a charm.

Mirnyi one of many coaching changes

Mirnyi
A year ago, Kyle Edmund was working with Fredrik Rosengren at the IMG Academy. Twelve months alter, Rosengren is in Dubai with Karen Khachanov. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The cast of characters at the IMG Academy this off-season is going to have a significantly different look than it did a year ago when Tennis.Life stopped in.

Then, Brit Kyle Edmund was going through the paces with Fredrik Rosengren.

A year later, Rosengren is part of Team Karen Khachanov.

And instead of being in Florida, he’s in Dubai.

Rosengren and Edmund parted ways shortly after that pre-season training block.

In February, Rosengren announced he was retiring from the tour to spend more time with his family.

Mirnyi
Khachanov, who was in the top 10 earlier this year, is training with Rosengren in Dubai. (Khachanov Instagram)

The two had been together a year and a half.

Edmund reaching his career-high ranking during that period.

The 2019 season was a major struggle for the Brit after that, although he rallied to finish it well. But last month, Edmund had said he was “open to a reunion” with Rosengren.

That won’t happen now. Khachanov’s Instagram announcement mentioned that he will continue to work with his day-to-day coach, Vedran Martic.

So perhaps a more part-time arrangement is what convinced Rosengren to get back to the grind.

Mugu back with Conchi

On the women’s side, Garbiñe Muguruza has gone back to a happy place, in the wake of her parting with longtime coach Sam Sumyk.

Muguruza, who like Nishikori is managed by IMG’s Olivier Van Lindonk, will work with former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez in 2020.

Martinez was on board in 2017 when Muguruza won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. But unlike Nishikori’s situation with Bottini and Chang, the two-coach setup with Martinez and Sumyk didn’t appear to flow quite as smoothly.

And by March 2018, Martinez was out of the picture. After that, she worked with Karolina Pliskova.

A walk on the ATP side for Pliskova

Meanwhile, Pliskova went over to the “other side” – i.e., the ATP Tour, to recruit her new coach.

She chose Dani Vallverdu, who began his coaching career as a hitting partner/coach with longtime friend Andy Murray.

Mirnyi
Dani Vallverdu will be getting his first taste of the WTA Tour as he will work with Karolina Pliskova in 2020. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Since then, Vallverdu has worked with Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka.

Dimitrov splits with coach Vallverdu

“Karolína is a great player and I’m looking forward to working with her to help her reach her goals. WTA is something new for me, but I like challenges,” Vallverdu said in a statement on Pliskova’s website.

Pliskova also has added Olga Savchuk, a 32-year-old former doubles player from Belarus who retired at the 2018 US Open. 

Savchuk has also proved impressive in her first steps as a television commentator – in English, no less. She was with Pliskova in Zhengzhou this fall, where the Czech won the title.

Savchuk, who had a long career in singles and doubles, is a popular figure on the women’s tour and will join Team Pliskova in 2020 on an official basis. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

More new-old faces for 2020

The coaching carousel always has been in constant motion during off-seasons.

But this year, it feels as though it has sort of started to spin all season long as players become increasingly impatient for quick results.

In other news, Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva has hired former ATP Tour player (and current Russian Fed Cup captain) Igor Andreev as her personal coach.

Simona Halep will reunite with longtime coach Darren Cahill in 2020. But the two began the new season a little early, as the Aussie was back in the saddle at the WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen.

Halep and Cahill to get band back together for ’20

Promising young American Amanda Anisimova got a jump on the competition for those same, few, familiar faces when she pulled off the biggest coup so far.

The 18-year-old is working with longtime Justin Henin and Li Na coach Carlos Rodriguez in the off-season and at least through the Australian summer. Unless they truly don’t click, the association will become permanent.

New coach for Anisimova: Carlos Rodriguez

The coaching flavour of the month, Sascha Bajin, went from Naomi Osaka to start the season, to Kristina Mladenovic – and now, to promising Ukraine teenager Dayana Yastremska.

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Angelique Kerber, who’s had quite the coaching carousel all on her own the last few years, split with Rainer Schuettler and announced last week that she had hired Dieter Kindlmann (who has worked with Maria Sharapova) as her new coach.

Marion Bartoli and Jelena Ostapenko, who had an energizing run through the final part of the WTA Tour season indoors in Europe, will extend their collaboration into 2020.

Some scheduling issues remain, as Bartoli has broadcasting commitments. But their association was a big hit.

Old friends Marion Bartoli and Jelena Ostapenko formed a really positive partnership in the waning weeks of the 2019 WTA Tour season. (Screenshot: WTAtv).

Julia Goerges announced Jens Gerlach as her new coach last month.

More news to come on the coaching front

So things are falling into place, slowly but surely.

But there are several players out there who appear to be looking for coaches, but who still have not officially announced any moves.

(If we’ve missed any news – Tweet at us and we’ll add it).

-Naomi Osaka

-Fabio Fognini

-Grigor Dimitrov

-Stan Wawrinka announced the end of his association with Yannick Fattebert, who was with him during the period when Magnus Norman was off the tour and remained a co-coach.

-Kyle Edmund had worked with fellow Brit Mark Hilton after Rosengren departed. But Hilton has joined Team Dan Evans. He looked to be set, on a planned trial run with experienced coach Franco Davin (Gaston Gaudio, Juan Martin del Potro, most recently Fabio Fognini).  But Davin appears to be working with the relatively obscure Ecuadorian Emilio Gomez this off-season. So … to be determined. 

-Kristina Mladenovic

Surprise IW quarterfinalist Andreescu dreaming big

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Bianca Andreescu has had a lot of “Wow, did that actually happen?” moments in 2019.

She began the season beating Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams – both Grand Slam champions and former No. 1s – in her opening tournament.

But making the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open – a Premier Mandatory event, one step below the majors – was not on the radar.

And yet, the 18-year-old has made it look easy. From the outside, at least.

A 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 18 seed Qiang Wang of China puts her in the final eight, to play No. 20 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain Wednesday afternoon.

Andreescu has already defeated No. 32 seed Dominika Cibulkova and former top-30 player Irina-Camelia Begu on the way. If there’s a thread between those three impressive wins, is that Andreescu’s opponents were not playing the tennis they played when they have been at their very best.

That is true of Muguruza as well. The former French Open and Wimbledon champion has been a shadow of her former championship self in the last couple of years.

Here’s how Andreescu vs. Wang looked on Tuesday.

Muguruza getting back her best form?

The Spanish No. 1’s ranking hasn’t dropped precipitously. But she has had some bad losses – some cringe-worthy on-court coaching consults, and some injuries here and there.

Who knows what might have happened, had Muguruza faced a Serena Williams who was 100 per cent healthy in the round? 

For all we know, Andreescu might have had an opportunity to share the stadium court with the greatest of all time. But the victory gave Muguruza wings, in a sense. And she was able to back it up with a comeback win over No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens in the fourth round.

Muguruza has only beaten one top-20 player over the last 12 months. That’s hard to believe, but it also means that as she has remained a seeded player more often than not, she’s not gotten to the pointy end of the bigger tournaments. That player was then-No. 11 Anastasija Sevastova, last October in Zhuhai. 

In this tournament, she has beaten top-10 players back to back. 

So the narrative of how the biggest match of Andreescu’s career is going to go will very much be dictated by which version of Muguruza shows up to play.

Andreescu had nothing but praise for Muguruza, while still feeling she has a shot.

WTA Rankings Report – Oct. 22, 2018

It was the last week of the WTA Tour’s regular season, with only the Tour Finals and the Zhuhai event to come.

So much of the focus was on who would make it to Singapore, and who would fall just short.

But if you were zoned in on that, you missed a motherlode of great tennis in Moscow and Luxembourg.

The effort put forth by the majority of the players in the final gasp of a long season was truly impressive – notably by Belinda Bencic, Dayana Yastremska, Genie Bouchard and Daria Kasatkina.

Meanwhile, this is that awkward rankings week when the WTA drops all the points earned in both Singapore and Zhuhai – before the events are even played.

It hurts last year’s champions – notably, Caroline Wozniacki drops. And Julia Goerges, who won in Luxembourg last week, drops from No. 9 to No. 14 because her points from winning Zhuhai a year ago were lopped off.

This was notably the week, in 2014, when Bouchard rose to her career-best No. 5 – for a week, before wrapping up the season at No. 7.

ON THE UPSWING

Angelique Kerber (GER): No. 3 ——–> No. 2 (The dropping of Wozniacki’s 2017 Singapore points allows the German to move up to No. 2)

Petra Kvitova (CZE): No. 7 ——–> No. 5

Sloane Stephens (USA): No. 8 ——–> No. 6

rankingsDaria Kasatkina (RUS): No. 14 ——–> No. 10 (A great effort to win her home-country tournament – and a quick flight to Singapore to be an alternate, and the Russian is back in the top 10).

Aryna Sabalenka (BLR): No. 15 ——–> No. 12 (She didn’t even play last week, but moves up three spots. Nice work if you can get it, but it mostly has to do with Singapore drops from Garcia, Ostapenko, Venus Williams and Muguruza).

Elise Mertens (BEL): No. 16 ——–> No. 13

Serena Williams (USA): No. 17 ——–> No. 15

Madison Keys (USA): No. 19 ——–> No. 16 (She’s planning a return for a finale in Zhuhai after injuring her knee in Asia).

Camila Giorgi (ITA): No. 28 ——–> No. 26 (Despite pulling out Luxembourg after winning Linz, the Italian reaches a career high).

Belinda Bencic (SUI): No. 47 ——–> No. 37 (From the qualifying to the final in Luxembourg, Bencic still has tournaments lined up this year).

Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS): No. 46 ——–> No. 43 (Consider the comeback from shoulder surgery complete, as the 25-year-old Croat turned Aussie reaches a career best).

Saisai Zheng (CHN): No. 57 ——–> No. 47 (She’s playing doubles at a $25K in China this week, with an obscure player from Hong Kong. Yup, we don’t know why, either).

rankingsDayana Yastremska (UKR): No. 66 ——–> No. 60 (It’s been a great final kick for the 18-year-old from Ukraine, one of those late-season revelations whose life, schedule and level of expectation will rise as 2019 dawns).

Ons Jabeur (TUN): No. 101 ——–> No. 62 (The talented Tunisian reached the Moscow final, and a career high. Her rise from No. 88 at beginning of the season doesn’t seem like a huge leap, but the leaps in her game have been impressive).

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): No. 108 ——–> No. 88 (After a tough slog in Slam qualifying this season, Bouchard’s semifinal in effort puts her out of harm’s way, finally).

Margarita Gasparyan (RUS): No. 124 ——–> No. 109 (It’s been a long road back from injury, but the Russian with the one-handed backhand can see the top 100 from there).

Vera Zvonareva (RUS): No. 161 ——–> No. 124 (A great effort in Moscow out of the qualifying).

ON THE DOWNSWING

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): No. 2 ——–> No. 3

Karolina Pliskova (CZE): No. 5 ——–> No. 8

rankingsJulia Goerges (GEO): No. 9 ——–> No. 14 (Her 2017 Zhuhai points drop off, and so does she despite a win in Luxembourg. But she can get them back next week).

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP): No. 13 ——–> No. 17 (It’s been a forgettable season for the Spaniard).

Caroline Garcia (FRA): No. 12 ——–> No. 18

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): No. 18 ——–> No. 21 (The Latvian drops out of the top 20 for the first time since she went from No. 47 to No. 12 by winning the French Open in 2017).

Venus Williams (USA): No. 22 ——–> No. 40 (Last year’s Singapore points are gone, closing out a 2018 for Williams that had a whole lot to live up to after last season, but sort of fizzled out. Williams’s ranking is the lowest it’s been since Feb. 2015; she began the season at No. 5).

Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK): No. 39 ——–> No. 51

Monica Puig (PUR): No. 41 ——–> No. 54

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU): No. 53 ——–> No. 66

rankingsCoco Vandeweghe (USA): No. 55 ——–> No. 101 (Ouch, as the 440 points for reaching last year’s Zhuhai final drop off. The American drops out of the top 100 for the first time since March 2014. Just over a year ago, she reached her career best and jumped into the top 10. A lingering ankle injury has crushed the second half of her season). 

Sara Errani (ITA): No. 92 ——–> No. 103 (Out of the top 100, and still out for awhile with a doping suspension).

Elena Vesnina (RUS): No. 117 ——–> No. 135 (The Russian is decorating the nursery).

Natalia Vikhlyantseva (RUS): No. 109 ——–> No. 152 (The Russian qualified and lost in the first round of Moscow last year, which doesn’t seem like a huge result to defend. But it’s a tight section of the rankings.

Carina Witthoeft (GER): No. 100 ——–> No. 168 (The German has drawn comparisons to Maria Sharapova at times – from far, you might do a double-take. But after winning Luxembourg a year ago, and losing in the first round this year, she cost herself a chance at the Australian Open main draw). 

Serena vs. Roger highlights Hopman Cup

We’re still nearly three months away.

But the launch of the 2019 Hopman Cup already has targeted the big day: New Year’s Day 2019.

That’s when Team Switzerland takes on Team USA.

And that means that two of the best of all time, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, will square off on court in mixed doubles.

Those are two pretty big gets for the exhibition event, which could well be in its final edition if the new ATP team event starts up, as planned, in 2020.

So if this is the finale, that’s quite a way to go.

Federer will again team up with Belinda Bencic to defend their 2018 title. Williams will pair with young countryman Frances Tiafoe, making his first appearance.

Hopman

Young, attractive field

If the field appears, at first glance, to lack a little star power (having those two legends is already enough), tournament director Paul Kilderry did point out that it includes four Grand Slam singles champions (Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are the others), three top-10 players (Federer, Zverev, Kerber) and eight top-20 players.

Already announced was the new “it” tennis couple from Greece, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.

From Great Britain, no Andy Murray or Johanna Konta. Instead, they’ll have the duo of Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulte – an impossibly good-looking combo.

With Muguruza will be … David Ferrer. And you thought the 36-year-old, currently ranked No. 147 and playing a Challenger in Monterrey, was done? Apparently not.

You’d have to think, if he’s going all the way Down Under, that Ferrer plans to play one more Australian Open as well. Perhaps that’s why he’s still out there on the Challenger circuit this week, trying to squeeze into the Melbourne main draw.

Hopman
The 2017 finalists, Switzerland and Germany, return intact this year.

Barty and Ebden for Australia

Hopman
The teaming of brother-sister combo Marat Safin and Dinara Safina was long-awaited in 2009. But big brother celebrated the pairing a little early in a Moscow bar, before heading down to Perth. LEGEND.

Our thinking was that the most glam matchup for the home team would have been the off-field couple, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.

It’s always an extra bit of fun when real-life couples play mixed doubles together.

Absent that, they’ve come up with top Aussie woman Ashleigh Barty and 30-year-old Matthew Ebden, who’s ranked fourth in the country behind Kyrgios, young Alex de Minaur and John Millman.

The French team of Lucas Pouille and Alizé Cornet, who won the event in 2014 with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are in the field.

Kerber and Zverev, last year’s finalists, also team up again and have by far the best combined ranking in the field.

Draws already done

To be able to start promoting Serena vs. the Fed, you had to have the round-robin draw done.

And so it is. Looks like Group B is the tougher group. But only one of those tandems can make the final.

Hopman

Dec. 29 kickoff with the Greeks

The schedule is here. The proceedings kick off with Great Britain vs. Greece on Saturday, Dec. 29 (coming up before you know it).

There is no session on New Year’s Eve evening or on New Year’s Day. The event always has a pretty fantastic New Year’s Eve party – and they definitely have the field to gussy it up.  (Remember when Marat Safin showed up after a rough night back home in Moscow, his face all bruised up?)

Hopman
The Maui Jim pair will team up in Perth, a farewell tour for the 36-year-old Ferrer. (Photo: Madrid Open)

The USA vs. Switzerland tussle will be New Year’s night.

New this year at the event, it’s free kids’ ticket day for all day sessions.

You hope this isn’t really, truly the last-ever Hopman Cup. The event has been around since 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s (!!!) Helena Sukova and Miloslav Mecir defeated Australia’s (!!) … Hana Mandlikova and Pat Cash in the final.

(Mandlikova’s Aussie citizenship didn’t last nearly as long as the event).

Here’s their history roll, with some classic pics.

It’s built up a lovely tradition. And the players seem to have a blast playing it. No doubt this year they’ll have a lovely tribute to Lucy Hopman, the wife of the legendary Aussie coach for whom the event is named. Hopman passed away during the US Open, at the age of 98.

A Florida resident, she made it to Perth every year until 2018, when she was 94.

Progress …

Haggerty-approved

If you wanted to hear from ITF president David Haggerty – the Hopman Cup is under the ITF umbrella – here is his requisite press release quote.

“We are delighted once again to see such a strong entry for the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup, the ITF’s mixed team competition, at the start of the new tennis season. The ITF team competitions, which also include Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, give players a special opportunity to represent their countries, one that they value long after their playing days are over,” Haggerty said.

“Hopman Cup also offers fans a unique chance to see some of the game’s biggest names team up to play mixed doubles, which remain some of the most popular matches of the week. I would like to recognize our title sponsor Mastercard, and all the other sponsors and partners who continue to support the Hopman Cup.”

Looks like he got ALL the sponsors covered there. As one does.

Greek dynamic duo heats up Hopman Cup

Already, the season-opening Hopman Cup could count on the return of both Team Switzerland and Team Germany.

And in a timely bit of news, the exhibition event held in Perth, Australia the first week of January (it officially begins Dec. 29, 2018) confirmed a new – and very hot – team.

Rogers Cup finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas will team up with countrywoman Maria Sakkari for the first time Down Under.

Tsitsipas was all over the tennis news last week as he defeated four consecutive top-10 players in Toronto, before losing in the final to No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

His ranking leaped up to No. 15.

Sakkari, a few years older than Tsitsipas as 23, stands at a career-best No. 31 in the rankings this week.

The appealing duo should prove to be a huge crowd favorite in Perth.

Also announced Wednesday is the return of Team Spain, with Garbiñe Muguruza and a fellow we weren’t sure we’d be seeing in 2019 – David Ferrer.

Greek

(They didn’t make him any younger with the work on that promotional banner).

They join two teams already confirmed back in June.

Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic will return, as will Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber of Germany, this year’s runners-up.

Wimbledon ’18: Women’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – How to even begin to project a possible champion on the women’s side, when four of the top eight seeds have yet to even reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal in their careers?

That’s why predictions are a fool’s game, although it can be fun to be wrong as long as you can laugh at yourself, and weren’t foolish enough to wager on the outcome.

The only two former Wimbledon champions among the two eight are reigning queen Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, who won it twice. They are also the only two to even reach the final.

One player (No. 1 Simona Halep) made a semifinal. Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia have never gone past the fourth round. Sloane Stephens has made one quarterfinal, and big-serving Karolina Pliskova has lost in the second round five straight years.

Meanwhile, there are three former champions (Venus, Serena and Maria Sharapova) and three former finalists (Angelique Kerber, Genie Bouchard, Vera Zvonareva) outside that group.

Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur all have Grand Slam titles on their resumés.

So what to make of it? 

Let’s dive in.

Potential third-round matchups

With Serena Williams, Sharapova and others seeded in the 20s, the big-time clashes will start early.

*[1] Simona Halep vs. [30] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
*[15] Elise Mertens  vs. [22] Johanna Konta
*[12] Jelena Ostapenko vs. [24] Maria Sharapova 
[8] Petra Kvitova vs. [26] Daria Gavrilova

*[3] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. [26] Anett Kontaveit
*[14] Daria Kasatkina vs. [17] Ashleigh Barty
[11] Angelique Kerber vs. [18] Naomi Osaka
[6] Caroline Garcia vs. [27] Carla Suárez Navarro

*[7] Karolina Pliskova vs. [29] Mihaela Buzarnescu
*[9] Venus Williams vs. [20] Kiki Bertens
*[13] Julia Goerges vs. [23] Barbora Strycova
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [31] Shuai Zhang

*[5] Elina Svitolina vs. [25] Serena Williams
*[10] Madison Keys vs. [19] Magdalena Rybarikova
[16] Coco Vandeweghe vs. [21] Anastasia Sevastova
*[2] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [32] Agnieszka Radwanska

In 11 of those 16 matchups, the lower seed has at least a decent chance to pull off the upset (those with asterisks).

That, of course, assumes all of them go according to form and make their seeding through the first two rounds.

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Simona Halep vs. [8] Petra Kvitova (or Sharapova)
[3] Garbiñe Muguruza (or Barty) vs. [6] Caroline Garcia (or Kerber)
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [7] Karolina Pliskova (or Azarenka, or Venus)
[2] Caroline Wozniacki (or Radwanska, or Vandeweghe) vs. [5] Elina Svitolina (or Serena, or Keys)

See? There’s just no way

First-round matchups to watch

[12] Angelique Kerber (GER) vs. [Q] Vera Zvonareva (RUS)

These two are only a little more than three years apart, and both are former Wimbledon finalists. But surprisingly enough, they have never met.

Zvonareva had been off the Tour for awhile, as she married and had a baby. And that coincided with the period where Kerber rose to the top of the game. But still, it wasn’t as though Kerber was playing low-level ITFs when Zvonareva was around.

This will be the 2010 finalist’s first Wimbledon in four years.

[Q] Genie Bouchard (CAN) vs. [WC] Gabriella Taylor (GBR)

After toughing out three victories as she took part in qualifying for the first time, Bouchard ended up with a very kind draw for her first-round match.

Taylor, a 20-year-old ranked No. 182, won her first two matches on grass this season in Surbiton. She defeated countrywoman Heather Watson and Hungary’s Fanny Stollar back to back. Since then, she has lost three consecutive first-rounders.

Taylor defeated Bouchard’s countrywoman, Katherine Sebov, in the first round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She played the junior Wimbledon event three times, and the women’s qualifying event four times. But this will be Taylor’s first Grand Slam main draw – of any kind.

[18] Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. Monica Niculescu (ROU)

Niculescu, 30, has one fourth-round effort at Wimbledon on her resumé. That was 2015, and it’s one only two occasions where she has made the second week of a Grand Slam (the other was the US Open in 2011).

Her iconoclastic, funky game of slices and net rushes could frustrate the hard-hitting Osaka on grass. Or the Japanese player could just swipe it away. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

analysis

Niculescu’s problem is that she has very little play since Miami, and only one grass-court match, this week at an ITF event in Southsea.

Osaka’s problem may be an abdominal injury. She played Nottingham and Birmingham, but retired in her second-round match there against Dalila Jakupovic.

[6] Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Belinda Bencic (SUI)

Bencic is still only 21. But doesn’t it seems as though she’s already lived four tennis lifetimes?

The former No. 7 clawed her way back to a decent ranking when she returned from injury in September of 2017. In fact, she won 15 straight matches (with the loss of only one set) at the 125K and ITF level to close out the season.

And then she went to Hopman Cup and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Osaka and Coco Vandeweghe (and all four of her mixed doubles matches with her scrub partner Roger Federer).

But since then, she’s not won two matches in a row. And she retired early in the second set of her last match, against a 25-year-old ranked No. 281.

We spotted Bencic out at the qualifying supporting her friend Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, so she’s still the same fabulous person she ever was.

Garcia has never done particularly well at Wimbledon, even though she’s such a great athlete you’d think she could do well on any surface. So it’s an opportunity for both.

[10] Madison Keys (USA) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

These two are good pals, both having spent time training down in Boca Raton, Fla. They teamed up for doubles at the Australian Open a couple of years ago. And Keys has even played mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Tomljanovic’s boyfriend, Nick Kyrgios.

analysis

It’s what Mary Carillo would call “Big Babe Tennis”, with both hitting hard, and both actually being able to serve.

Tomljanovic is slowly getting her big serve back after shoulder surgery. But that’s a tough first-rounder for both.

The Serena factor

After all that discussion and debate, Serena Williams ended up seeded No. 25.

That means that in her first Wimbledon in two years, she cannot meet any of the top eight seeds until the third round.

But as previously discussed, there are plenty of trap doors in the draw before then – some of them more dangerous than many of the top eight.

In this case, the first round is an “ease your way in” one against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus. But the rest of Serena’s section isn’t half bad, with the very vulnerable Elina Svitolina her potential third-round opponent.

After that, she could be looking at Keys in the fourth round. But that’s if she gets there. Williams developed a pectoral muscle injury at the French Open, doing double-duty in singles and doubles despite not having played in two months.

Venus and Serena are not playing doubles at Wimbledon.

Former top 20 Ana Konjuh returns (video)

PARIS – Five years ago, 15-year-old Ana Konjuh held virtually every big junior title there was.

She won the Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr in Dec. 2012 (actually, she was still 14 then).

She won the Australian Open juniors weeks later over Katerina Siniakova in the final (and also teamed up with Canadian Carol Zhao to win the doubles). 

Konjuh reached the semis in both singles and doubles in the French Open juniors, and the singles semis at Wimbledon.

And she capped off her junior career with a US Open junior title, during which she defeated reigning French Open (adult version) champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, and American CiCi Bellis in the third round.

Those were fairly lofty credentials to bring to a pro career. By the time she was 19, last July, she hit the top 20 for a week and spent the entire season in the top 50.

And then, she disappeared.

Well, Konjuh is back for this French Open, after rehab following a second elbow surgery.

Out of the top 100

Konjuh missed four months after the first elbow surgery, which came shortly after she began her pro career after the Australian Open in 2014. She was just 16.

After last year’s US Open, she had a second surgery.

The Croat tried to come back in January; clearly, she wanted to play the Australian Open. But after a brief outing at a tuneup event in Brisbane, she fell off the charts again.

Her name appeared on plenty of entry lists. But she always ended up withdrawing. This time, she stuck.

Tough first round

Konjuh doesn’t have an easy one in her return to the courts. She faces No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

To that end (purely coincidentally, no doubt), she played practice sets with Suárez Navarro’s countrywoman Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday.

It seemed definitely a random pairing. And if there was one takeaway from it, it’s that nearly all the points were pretty short.

Konjuh is definitely the epitome of today’s “aggressive player”. Which, in essence means that she can hit a lot of winners, but also cough up a lot of unforced errors.

She coughed up a bushel on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Muguruza is looking for a return to form.

The 24-year-old  won one match in Miami, and none in Indian Wells before running the table at a smaller event in Monterrey, Mexico in early April.

Her clay-court season has been less than inspiring. She retired in her first match in Stuttgart, lost in the third round in Madrid and lost a third-set tiebreak to Daria Gavrilova in her first match in Rome. That one was a bit of a shocker.

(Let’s note, though, that Muguruza is ranked No. 3 in the world. It’s not like she’s having a terrible life).

The Spaniard shocked the tennis world in 2016 when she defeated Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final.

(If you thought the frost in the air during Muguruza’s on-court consults with coach Sam Sumyk was limited to those brief encounters, you can see on this video that she pretty much ignores him – except when she’s arguing with him – as he’s non-stop coaching his butt off on the practice court. Brrr…..)

Muguruza has a tough opening match as well.

She faces another former champion in Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Kuznetsova has started up slowly after missing months because of a wrist issue. But one thing she does know how to do is win in Paris.

Who else is back?

Konjuh and Belinda Bencic, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012. They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Belinda Bencic is back

The former No. 7, still just 21, has been out since Indian Wells.

Trivia: Bencic and Konjuh, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012 when Konjuh was 14, and Bencic just turned 15.

They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend.

That’s quite a crop of four players to track, in terms of the ups and downs of their careers.

Bencic has played just three tournaments this season, a year that began with so much promise when she upset Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open.

The Swiss player had battled back at the end of 2017, after missing nearly six months after wrist surgery and watching her ranking fall out of the top 300. This year, it was a foot injury. And Bencic has had periodic back problems.

Between the two of them, they could start a franchise.

Bencic got the best draw of all. She’ll meet qualifier Deborah Chiesa of Italy, Chiesa is a year older than Bencic, but currently ranked a career best No. 163. 

This is not only Chiesa’s first main-draw appearance in Paris, it’s her first appearance in Paris – period – since she made the doubles draw in the junior girls’ event five years ago.

Conchita Martinez out of Team Garbiñe

MIAMI, Fla. – As announced on her Twitter feed Wednesday, Conchita Martinez’s collaboration with world No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza is over.

Muguruza was ousted by No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens Monday in Miami, in the fourth round.

In retrospect, after Stephens gave up even fewer games (three) in the next round to Angelique Kerber, it certainly doesn’t seem like a bad loss, to the reigning US Open champion.

Muguruza lost her opening match at Indian Wells, in a shocker to qualifier Sachia Vickery.

“She has decided to go back working full-time (alone) with her coach. Like always it was great to work these past tournaments with her. I wish her and the rest of the team the best for the rest of year,” Martinez wrote.

Good Middle-East swing

Martinez was with Muguruza in Doha and Dubai last month. Muguruza reached the final in Doha and the semifinals in Dubai, narrowly losing (she was up a set, and lost a second-set tiebreak 13-11) to Daria Kasatkina.

“I think she’s a very calm person. And she has a lot of experience. This is not easy to find and it isn’t easy also to be in this difficult competitive environment and to get along with somebody very good,” Muguruza told the media in Doha before the Middle East swing.

“I feel I have an amazing team and I think I have one of the best coaches in the tour, which is Sam (Sumyk). And now [I have] also some experience that is going to help me, ‘the Conchita mind’. So yeah, I think it’s good.”

Garbiñe

The two first worked together last summer at Wimbledon, in the absence of full-time coach Sam Sumyk, who was at home awaiting the birth of his first child with wife Meilen Tu, a former player turned agent.

Muguruza won it, her second Grand Slam title.

Martinez acted as an additional mind, a complement to Sumyk – except when Muguruza’s regular coach wasn’t on site, when she would assume the reins.

It’s not unusual for players these days to have that tag-team approach, although it’s far less common on the women’s side because the WTA players, in general, don’t want to invest the money in additional coaching.

Muguruza’s next tournament is a small event in Monterrey, Mexico next week. She and Magdalena Rybarikova (No. 19) are the only two players ranked in the top 35 on the entry list.

It’s pretty clear there’s a whole lot going on behind the scenes.

Another early Brisbane exit for Muguruza

If nothing else, Brisbane is most definitely not Garbiñe Muguruza’s happy place.

And it’s even less so after the world No. 2 had to retire Tuesday.

Muguruza went into a full-body cramp while up a break in the third set against Krunic in her first official match of the season. It’s awful to watch a player suffering through that, and it takes some time for the body to recover.

Last year, Muguruza retired in the first set of her semifinal against Alizé Cornet, because of the right thigh that was so often wrapped tightly in 2017.

In 2016, she retired after the first game of the second set of her first match, against Varvara Lepchenko, with a left foot injury.

In 2015, she never even made it, pulling out before the tournament began with an ankle injury.

Muguruza isn’t a player who suffers cramps very often. Conditions in Brisbane Tuesday were extremely tough, even if there’s a roof atop Pat Rafter Arena to shield the players from the extreme sun.

There appeared to be no heat-rule break after the second set. At the very least, if there was, neither player took advantage of it.

“I felt in trouble in the second set when I was 2-0 up. “I start to feel my calves were cramping. I continued to think that with the match they might go away, but then they were increasing, increasing. And then I had a lot of part of my body cramping,” Muguruza told the media in Brisbane. “I cannot believe it. I don’t know. It’s a shame because I always come here excited the first tournament, and this one was bad luck, I guess.”

Short time to acclimate

Channel 7 commentator Sam Smith was straightforward in her assessment of Muguruza’s preparation. Smith said the conditions are so extreme, that players need at least a week to acclimate upon their arrival Down Under.  

Leaving from Los Angeles, Muguruza cut it a little close. And the situation was exacerbated by an issue with her Qantas flight on Tuesday night. The plane had to return to L.A. after two hours in the air because of a fuel issue. So Muguruza was delayed another 24 hours; she arrived only early Friday morning.

By early in the second set, Muguruza was clearly compromised. Up a set and 5-2 in the second set, her struggles allowed the always-game Krunic to catch up and sneak out the set.

By the end of that set, things were happening.

The ballkids handed Muguruza a bottle of water that was … frozen solid. So that was a high point.

Muguruza
Asking for water, Muguruza got a block of ice instead. Oops! (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

And then she changed her top, right on court, after dropping the second set. That’s something you don’t see that often. Most players use the one change-of-attire break they’re allowed to have a good think back in the locker room.

Muguruza
Muguruza decided to go for the quick on-court change, rather than hit the locker room after the second set. (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

Blisters, cramps – the whole nine yards

After that, Muguruza called out the trainer to have the one spot on her foot that didn’t already have tape on it, because of an apparent blister.

Muguruza
There was only one little slot available on Muguruza’s right foot for some tape, and she filled it. (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

Then, after going up 2-0 and before she served at 2-1, she called out coach Sam Sumyk for a coaching consult.

The interchanges between the two in the past often have been testy, borderline disrespectful.  Certainly, they are rarely pleasant to watch, which was the whole point of the on-court coaching addition to the “entertainment experience.”

With the new season, not much has changed between the two.

Sumyk: “We can’t keep fighting, if we keep complaining every point.”

Muguruza: “I’m cramping in the two quads – the two calves. I cannot complain?”

Sumyk: “No, not right now. Later, after the match. You complain to me if you want.”

Muguruza
“We can’t keep fighting, if we keep complaining every point.”” (Screenshot: WTATV.com)

After that edifying exchange, Muguruza went out and won the first point. Then she missed her first serve, and paused a couple of times to shake out her legs before hitting the second serve.

Krunic’s ball hit the line, but Muguruza just stopped playing as her right hand began to cramp.

The chair umpire, quickly realizing what was happening, called for the trainer at that point.

Muguruza won the next point with a forehand and gestured to her box. 

At 30-15, she made her first serve – and then the all-over cramps hit. You could see the nasty-looking bulge in her right calf.

And it was over.

No. 1 no longer in play for Muguruza

The loss means Muguruza cannot aspire to being the No. 1-ranked player and the No. 1 seed at the Australian Open. 

That honor could belong to current No. 1 Simona Halep (who will cement it if she defeats Ying-Ying Duan in Shenzhen Wednesday).

Or, Caroline Wozniacki can shock everyone by winning the tournament in Auckland.

(Screenshots from WTATV.com)

Plane issue delays Muguruza’s Oz arrival

Garbiñe Muguruza had already in the air, aboard her Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia for two hours Tuesday night.

Then, the plane turned around and headed back to L.A.

And so the world No. 2 now won’t arrive Down Under to start her 2018 campaign until the wee hours of Friday morning.

On the plus side, the top two seeds in the women’s event at the Brisbane International have first-round byes.

So the Spaniard may not have to play until Wednesday. That should give her enough time to acclimate.

But it’s not a great way to start a season.

Tennis.Life is told that the passengers on the flight, which originally was to leave Tuesday night around 11:30 p.m. PST and arrive in Brisbane around 7 a.m. Thursday morning, weren’t given much more information than anyone else.

The plane, an old 747, reportedly was losing fuel; luckily they were able to land safely back at LAX and go at it again, about 19 hours later.

It left LAX just after 6 p.m. PST Wednesday night, and is due to land at 1:11 a.m. Friday morning.

Christian Harrison also on board

Also on the flight with Muguruza are coach Sam Sumyk and the rest of her team.

Christian Harrison is on the longest trip of his life, starting with an aborted flight to Brisbane on Tuesday night. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As well, we’re told American Christian Harrison, the younger brother of Ryan Harrison, also was on that flight.

Harrison’s trip will some way to go even when he arrives in Brisbane.

The 23-year-old is entered in the challenger in Noumea, New Caledonia (a French island).

So he will still have to get to Sydney,and then take another two hour, 45-minute flight to Noumea after that.

Harrison hasn’t travelled outside North America more than a handful of times in his entire tennis life. And much of that came when he was a very young junior, 8-9 years ago. 

This is by far the longest trip he’s ever taken as a tennis player. On the plus side, he’s the next one into the Australian Open qualifying. So the long voyage should have a happy ending.