Elbows, wrists, back – it’s all happening

No body part is being spared in the final month of the WTA and ATP Tour seasons.

Within 24 hours, three top players have been affected – by three different areas.

For David Goffin, it’s bad enough that he has ended his season.

And No. 1 Simona Halep might not be far behind.

Goffin, a Belgian would have been the star attraction in the Antwerp ATP tournament.

But his right elbow injury has or will cost him Tokyo, Shanghai, Antwerp, Basel and Paris as he contemplated a late run to quality for the ATP Tour finals.

Goffin stands 13th in the live rankings for London. But with two Masters 1000s and two 500s still on his schedule, he had to think he’d have a shot, if healthy.

The diagnosis is a bone bruise. Goffin wrote on social media that it would take at least a month to heal. And so he has to call it a year.

That’s going to deal a blow to Goffin’s ranking, as he had been defending titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, Basel, Paris and the final at the ATP Tour finals. He will surely drop out of the top 20.

It’s not the only bum elbow to emerge this week.

Earlier this week, during his first-round match, Canadian Milos Raonic had some treatment in the left elbow area. Although he has gone on to win his first two matches in Tokyo leaning more heavily on his perfectly adequate slice backhand.

elbow
Raonic, who pulled out of a public practice with Stan Wawrinka the Sunday before Tokyo started, has gotten through two rounds. But he’s on elbow watch.

Earlier this year, it was a bad elbow that compromised the first half of Nick Kyrgios’s season.

Ostapenko wrist since before Seoul

For Jelena Ostapenko, a left elbow issue contributed to an embarrassing double bagel at the hands of Qiang Wang in Beijing Tuesday.

It was the first 6-0, 6-0 drubbing the 21-year-old Latvian has ever suffered – even going back to her junior days at the ITF level.

At 0-6, 0-5, having signalled she needed the trainer on the previous changeover, Ostapenko had some treatment on the elbow before Wang readied to serve for the match. It was, obviously, much too late by then.

elbow
Ostapenko came on court with her left wrist taped. It didn’t appear, outwardly to affect the power of her shots. But it’s an injury that has been getting worse through the Asian swing.

The elbow would not have physically affected the serve and the forehand, both just as problematic in a fairly disastrous outcome. But it would have been on her mind. 

Ostapenko said afterwards that she started feeling it back home in Latvia, the week before the tournament in Seoul two weeks ago. The original diagnosis was inflammation, and Ostapenko has been on “very strong painkillers”.

She continued to play, through, through Seoul and a first-round singles loss and two doubles matches in Wuhan, and then first-round win in Beijing over Magdalena Rybarikova.

“I feel it already since a couple of weeks. I thought it was going to be better. Unfortunately today in the warmup, I already started to feel it … After Seoul it got much worse. Unfortunately now I’m feeling it a lot. I couldn’t really play my game because of my wrist also.” Ostapenko told the media in Beijing.

She came into the press conference with a brace on her left arm.

“I thought maybe during the match, when I get warm, it will be better. And I was trying to play until the last point because I really don’t like those retirements during the match,” she added. “Once you go on court, you probably have to complete the match.”

On the hopeful side, Ostapenko has not yet officially withdrawn from a planned participation in the Hong Kong tournament next week.

The list of players who have been compromised by wrist injuries over the last few years need not be reiterated here.

Back woes sideline Halep

For Simona Halep, the back issue that first flared up in Wuhan went from muscle to bone and made it impossible for her to continue during her first-round match against qualifier Ons Jabeur in Beijing.

After losing the first set 6-1, she had to stop.

“The muscle is better, the muscle of the back. But now I started to feel (Saturday) in the bones. All body was really contracted. I couldn’t play,” Halep told the Beijing media after the retirement. 

She said she felt it in the practice before the match, and from the get-go in the match.

And when the Romanian returned home to have an MRI, the news wasn’t great.

Halep announced she has a herniated disc. 

Halep had no more tournaments scheduled before the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.

But she has less than three weeks to heal up, and make another trip down to Asia to try to compete. It seems optimistic, at best.

Halep hasn’t won a match since defeating Aryna Sabalenka in the Cincinnati semifinal in mid-August.

She had a great run on the US Open leadup, winning Montreal and reaching that Cincinnati final. But she became the first No. 1 to lose in the first round during the Open era, falling to Kaia Kanepi.

2018 us open – Day 6 preview

NEW YORK – There was plenty of drama of the marathon variety on Friday, as 2017 finalists Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson prevailed over much younger rivals.

The men’s drama on Saturday, as the third rounds conclude, could be of a very different kind.

No. 2 seed Roger Federer takes on a player who has been a dangerous opponent for him in the past, in No. 30 seed Nick Kyrgios of Australia.

Kyrgios, who might well have found himself out in the second round, but for a just-in-time attitude adjustment, will face Federer for the first time in a best-of-five set format.

The three previous matches between the two – one on hard, one on grass, and one on clay – have all gone the distance. They have played nine sets; there have been tiebreaks in eight of them. And Federer has won the last two.

Day 6
“That’s 75 degrees in good old Fahrenheit. Perfect tennis weather – for a change)

“I definitely know that I won’t be the favorite, the crowd favorite here. So I go into that match with zero expectation. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kyrgios said after pulling out his second-round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Kyrgios often refers to Federer at the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). So we know where he stands in that mock debate.

Asked what three weapons Federer has that are the most dangerous, he answered thus:

“I think his slice return, his chip return, is the best the game has ever seen. There has never been a better chip return ever. I think if you took that shot away, he wouldn’t be as good because he neutralizes big serves as well. He turns it into pretty much instant offense,” Kyrgios said.

“His serve and first shot unbelievable, very unpredictable. And he’s unbelievably efficient. Never gets tired, doesn’t seem like it. His movements are so efficient. He’s just, yeah, those would be the three things. He’s efficient, serve and first ball, and chip return.”

Another mercurial opponent for the Fed

As for Federer, he’ll be playing a talented but highly unpredictable opponent for the second straight match, after defeating France’s Benoit Paire in straight sets in the second round.

He didn’t drop a set against lefty Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round, either. But you’d have to consider this a pretty good draw through the first few days for him.

Federer hasn’t won the US Open in 10 years, which is right around the time people were starting to “retire” him.

A decade on, Federer looking for another Open win (pics)

Other men’s matches to watch

No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic is hardly under radar. But he has hardly had a bump-free road to his third round match against No. 26 seed Richard Gasquet Saturday night.

Djokovic dropped a set to both Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the first round, and Tennys Sandgren in the second round. He has had his share of tetchy moments with crowd control and his own play – even in practice.

At one point during his hit with Stan Wawrinka last week, Djokovic got so angry at two missed smashes in a row, he reared back and catapulted a ball into the mostly deserted stands inside Arthur Ashe Stadium as hard as he possibly could. Seriously – full swing.

Except… the stands weren’t empty.

One man was sitting there, right on the trajectory of the ball. Had the ball not ricocheted off a seat a few rows in front of the man, it might well have been a direct hit. As it was, the fellow was a bit shook, and less than impressed.

(Wawrinka was just as cranky with the heat that day. But when he smacked a ball, he did it against the backstop on the court, When it bounced back, he was the only one in harm’s way).

But let’s not forget, the heat has been a real bear until the temperatures finally dropped Friday. Tempers have been pretty frayed.

Ostapenko vs. Sharapova – hard-hitting battle

Jelena Ostapenko is a fairly limited player still, who does a couple of things notably well. But you always figure she will get beaten by an opponent who is willing to step right in and feast on that vulnerable second serve.

It’s amazing how few of the women do, though. Most are so uncomfortable with the part of the court they need to be in to do that, they’d rather sit back and wait for the ball to come to them. That, of course, allows Ostapenko to escape punishment on that shot. And her second shot after the return is ridiculously good.

But if there’s a player who’s aggressive enough on the return to do it, it’s Maria Sharapova. She’s built a career on it.

The two have met only once, in the quarterfinals of Rome earlier this year. And it was a battle royale.

“It was a really long, physical match. It was our first ever meeting. So it was a chance to see and feel each other’s game. I was really impressed by her game,” Sharapova said. “She’s young and fearless, comes out swinging. She’s a Grand Slam champion, so that speaks for itself. And she’s got that experience in Grand Slams already. I think she likes the matchup of playing against me. Both quite aggressive players. But I do, as well.”

Ostapenko had all sorts of issues with American Taylor Townsend before closing out her second-round victory. Sharapova had some concerning red flags of her own in a win over Sorana Cirstea of Romania that ended in the early hours of Friday morning. She won it in straight sets. But it was not pretty, and the serve was a major struggle. The Russian was uncharacteristically agitated on the court, for reasons that also included the tough, humid conditions.

Kvitova v. Sabalenka – ditto

Aryna Sabalenka, the 20-year-old from Belarus, is the on-form player coming into the US Open after a great hard-court summer.

Will it stop in the third round on Saturday, against No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova?

The two met in the second round of Miami back in March. Kvitova pulled that one out in three sets.

But Sabalenka is an exponentially better, more confident player less than six months down the road.

 

There is Serena – and then there are the rest

WIMBLEDON – There is no way of knowing if Serena Williams’s path to the Wimbledon women’s singles final might have been interrupted along the way, had so many of the top players in the women’s game not been shocked out of the tournament so early this year.

But the way she has been playing, who’s to say she might not be standing in the exact same spot?

Williams didn’t have to face Elina Svitolina, or Madison Keys, or Coco Vandeweghe, or Caroline Wozniacki. The high seeds and big servers that looked to be obstacles when the draw was revealed two weeks ago, fell by the wayside before they got to her.

But in defeating No. 13 seed Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-4 on a day when the much-improved German shows few signs of succumbing to first-time Slam semifinalist nerves, the 36-year-old mom made a statement.

She’s here to win it, in only her fourth tournament back after pregnancy, childbirth and a host of complications in the aftermath.

And it feels like every day, with every match, she’s getting fitter and better.

Favorite or underdog? Serena can’t decide

the restWilliams is the favorite to win the tournament. And some had her as the favorite even before it began. The lady herself is allowing herself to be impressed with what she’s accomplished so far.

“It’s like, ‘C’mon guys, this is pretty awesome’. To hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s a favorite. Like, the last 16 months, I’ve played four tournaments, and was carrying another human half that time. It’s interesting,” she said. “But when I wasn’t a favorite, I was kind of upset about that. It’s like, ‘C’mon, what can make me happy?’ Have to figure out which I prefer.”

There was a different look about Williams when she headed out to Court 9 to warmup for her match, around 11:30 a.m.

It all looked fairly typical. Williams had on a skirt, as she usually does during a pre-match warmup to better simulate what she wears during matches. She didn’t take any volleys, which is typical.

She was silent – as was everyone on her team – save for a few instructions to hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins. 

But Williams barely missed. She hit the ball much harder than she often does, and the sound coming off the racket would have intimidated any opponent, had she been nearby to hear it.

That’s what she took to the match court. And despite a hiccup when she served for the match – with new balls, no less – she was nearly flawless.

Pulled out her very best – again

“I don’t know what I expected from this tournament. I just expected to win a match, then win the next match. Whenever I go out there, I just try to win my match. That’s literally all I do,” Williams said. 

“I don’t know what my toughest match was. I mean, obviously against Camila (Giorgi), she played really, really well. She pushed me and won the first set against me. But today was tough, as well. Like, I think every match has its challenges. I don’t think any of them have been easy. Each one I have to kind of adjust to.”

the rest

Goerges said she was proud that Williams had to pull out her best to beat her. 

“Overall I think she knew how to win that match by her experience, and I didn’t have that stage in my career yet. I’m looking forward to getting there another time and getting more experience,” she said. “But overall I’m not frustrated about the way I hit. I think that she steps up her game. Yeah, it’s a big word, which is ‘respect’ towards me that she brings her “A” game in a lot of important moments.”

Kerber stands in the way of No. 8

the rest

Of all the possible opponents who managed to scratch their way into the second week, perhaps Angelique Kerber is the most prepared, on form and experience, to take Williams on.

the restKerber easily dismissed first-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko in the first semifinal.

The 6-3, 6-3 score probably makes it seem closer than it was; Kerber was a willing and able accomplice in Ostapenko’s mission to defeat herself with errors.

It was just the right tactic, although not that many players have the tools to execute it.

Still, it was a great tournament for Ostapenko, as it was for Goerges.

The last time Williams played Wimbledon, in 2016, she also faced Kerber. The American won it, but it was a tight, competitive final.

Williams was all the more motivated because the two had squared off in the Australian Open final less than six months before.

And in that one, it was Kerber who won in three sets to earn her first career Grand Slam title.

Attacking that second serve

What we remember most about that Australian Open final was how Williams was looking in the warmup to practice attacking what was, then, Kerber’s biggest weakness: her second serve.

Then-hitting partner Robbye Poole tried with all his might. But he couldn’t duplicate the feebleness of Kerber’s second delivery.

And, in the end, that was a big key to Kerber’s victory. Williams just wasn’t able to give that second serve the pummelling it deserved. And that allowed Kerber to hold serve a bit more easily than she should have.

Ironically, Kerber’s second serve is a lot better, 2 1/2 years later. So is the rest of her game. But even if she has become a much better attacker, she will still need to rely on her defense if she wants to defeat Williams on Saturday.

“She’s always going out there to win the matches. I think it doesn’t matter against who she is playing. She’s trying to (play) like she played the years before where she won the big matches. Now for sure she had a lot of big confidence, especially after the matches she won here already,” Kerber said of Williams.

“She knows the feeling to (go) out on this stage where you are in the finals, especially here. She won here I don’t know how many times. … Yeah, she’s a fighter. She’s a champion. That’s why she is there where she is now.”

Serena Williams and the Amen Corner in Wimbledon semis

WIMBLEDON  – It is most definitely not the semifinal lineup most expected.

But you bet against Serena Williams at your peril.

The top 10 women in the world dropped out of Wimbledon, one by one.

Most dropped out in the very early going.

Maybe they wanted it too much. If there’s anything that unifies tennis players, it’s how much they love this tournament and how badly they want to win it.

(We’ll put a caveat there for the French and other players from clay-court nations at Roland Garros. But even they, generally speaking, seem to consider Wimbledon the wonderland of tennis, this magical place where everything is different and so civilized and wow, being Wimbledon champion would just be something else).

As the last four women standing take the stage, Williams is the lowest seed at No. 25.

And it is only by the grace of the All-England Club that she is seeded at all.

But as the last 10 days have gone by, Williams’s tennis has gotten better and better. And you can see her getting fitter practically by the day.

And the hunger is evident.

So it is Serena and the “Amen Corner” of the women’s draw – the No. 11, No. 12 and No. 13 seeds – who will vie for a spot in the final Saturday.

[11] Angelique Kerber (GER)
vs. [12] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 

Amen

They are nine years apart in age, and nine years apart in professional experience with Kerber having turned pro in 2003, Ostapenko in 2012.

But even though both have been around long enough, they have never met before. What a place for an introduction.

And so there are no priors with which to gauge how this match might go. But despite the baseline of both being relentless baseliners, it remains a match of intriguing contrasts.

Kerber, who is now rounding into form after a significant but understandable dip in form following her accomplished season in 2016, has added some oomph to her retrieving game.

Ostapenko is all oomph. The dynamic here is whether the German can retrieve enough balls to force Ostapenko into errors. As well, it’s about whether she can be more aggressive than she typically is on serve return – especially on second-serve return – to put pressure on Ostapenko’s superlative second shot.

Kerber’s second serve, if improved some, remains the most attackable part of her game. There are no questions about whether Ostapenko will give that shot what it deserves. 

[25] Serena Williams (USA)
vs. [13] Julia Goerges (GER)

At 29, and in her 15th year as a pro, Georges has known ups and downs.

After being in the top 20 all the way back in 2012, she finished outside the top 50 four straight seasons until last year. And this year, she put her toes in the waters of the top 10 for the first time in her career.

Williams and Goerges met for the first time just a month ago at the French Open, after not having played each other since 2011.

In only her third tournament back and her first in more than two months, Williams posted a surprisingly routine 6-3, 6-4 win. The only down side to that win was that it was the match in which Williams injured her pectoral muscle.

That forced her out of her next scheduled match, against Maria Sharapova.

The Unlikely Eight look for Wimbledon SF spots

WIMBLEDON – The women’s game is unpredictable these days.

That’s a reality, although the reasons for it depend on your point of view.

It could be parity, and a general rise in overall level that makes more upsets possible. It could also be a corollary to that – that there are numerous very good players, without many true champions in the game at the moment.

With the absence of an indisputable champion in Serena Williams for close to a year and a half, the contrast with the rest of the field is stark.

Perhaps so many of the women wanted to win Wimbledon so badly, their nerves got the better of them, in some cases.

Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a combination of a few factors, here we are.

Draw doesn’t shake out as planned

Here is what the women’s singles quarterfinals looked like on paper, when the draw came out.

We bear in mind that Williams, seeded No. 25, was always a dangerous wild card. Victoria Azarenka, another former No. 1 who has Grand Slam titles on her resumé, also looked to do some damage.

unlikely

But with the top 10 seeds all long gone – many in shocking fashion – here are the matchups Tuesday.

There were injury concerns with Williams after the French Open, where she pulled out before a scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury. But as she has played her way into form during the fortnight, who would bet against her reaching the final now?

But first, a stern test against an inscrutable opponent in the Italian Giorgi.

Williams is 3-0 against Giorgi. Their last meeting came in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, Giorgi has fallen down the rankings and picked herself right back up.

She plays the same game against everyone she plays. So Williams knows what she’s going to get.

Unseeded Cibulkova lets racket do the talking

unlikely

There was a fair bit of pushback from Cibulkova before the tournament.

Wimbledon’s decision to award Williams a seed meant Cibulkova, who would have been seeded No. 32, ended up unseeded and therefore vulnerable to a tough early draw.

The Slovak ended up with a friendly draw – in terms of the seeds she faced. Cibulkova defeated No. 22 Johanna Konta, who has been struggling. Then she upset No. 15 Elise Mertens, who was never really considered a serious contender and also has been struggling some in 2016.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep was eliminated by Hsieh Su-Wei. And then Cibulkova defeated Hsieh.

Now, she faces 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian had the “worst” happen in Paris, where she lost in the first round in defense of her title. But with that rather heavy rock having fallen off her back, she is having a great Wimbledon.

“In this tournament, she seems to be in the right mood. Yeah, she’s playing aggressive. She’s playing with no fear. She just going for it,” Cibulkova said of Ostapenko.

Williams – Ostapenko final?

Despite all the bigger names in the women’s game (other than Williams) being out long ago, there is one rather appealing potential final matchup that could still happen.

unlikely
Serena v Ostapenko in the final? Could happen.

And that is with no disrespect meant to the others, all fine players but with much lower profiles with the more casual tennis and sports fans.

Ostapenko has had a good draw: wild card Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko (who upset Maria Sharapova), and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round)

The way has, in part, been cleared for her. And she has taken full advantage of it.

Can you picture a Serena vs. Ostapenko women’s singles final?

They have never met; Ostapenko’s rise came while Williams was off on maternity leave.

It would be a heck of an introduction on Saturday.

Of course, that likely means the final will be Cibulkova vs. Julia Goerges.

Because that’s the kind of Wimbledon it’s been.

Coaching musical chairs as Schaap joins Team ‘Penko

When the tennis world descends upon Wimbledon, there are going to be several new coach-player pairings to look out for.

And on the women’s side, it’s truly a game of musical chairs.

Just weeks after Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit announced she was moving from Glenn Schaap to a three-month trial with Brit Nigel Sears, Schaap already has a new gig.

Tennis.Life has learned that the 50-year-old from the Netherlands, who also has worked with top-five players Dinara Safina, Nadia Petrova and Jelena Dokic during his career, has joined Team Jelena Ostapenko on a trial basis.

And, after Ostapenko ended things with another veteran coach, Aussie David Taylor, Taylor moved on to American Madison Keys.

There had been talk a few weeks ago that this would happen, never officially confirmed. but the Taylor-Keys pairing is reportedly already in London and practicing in preparation for Wimbledon.

After a long run with Samantha Stosur, Taylor worked with Naomi Osaka last year.

Schaap
Taylor and Ostapenko seemed congenial enough a few months ago at Indian Wells, but he was gone by May. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Not a secure gig

Ostapenko won the French Open last year but was shocked in the first round this time around. She has yet to settle on a solid, permanent coaching situation in her young career even if her mother, who is a tennis coach, is always on hand.

Taylor joined Team ‘Penko in Australia. But he didn’t last four months.

A year ago, Anabel Medina Garrigues was on board as the Latvian took Paris, but she didn’t return in 2018.

Coaching carousel continues as Ostapenko, Taylor part

New coach for Sock

Schaap
Sock has been scuffling mightily so far in 2018. Perhaps the addition of Knowles for Wimbledon might settle things down. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Keys and Ostapenko are not the only ones who will have a new voice in their ear at the third Grand Slam of the season.

American Jack Sock, who wrapped up 2017 in such impressive fashion but who has struggled to an incredible degree in 2018, also has a new consultant, is on board.

Mark Knowles, who joined Team Raonic last year at this time, after Raonic parted ways with Richard Krajicek, is on board.

Sock took late entry into Eastbourne this week. And with wild cards already attributed to Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, he’s the top seed in the qualifying.

Sock had long worked with Troy Hahn and, recently, with former USTA head of men’s tennis Jay Berger.

Fish in Sock’s corner in Houston

But Berger has a new gig at a club in Florida, and the 25-year-old American has been scrambling a bit on that end.

Schaap
Keys had two coaches at the beginning of 2018 – and then none – as the amiable Taylor comes on board. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Surprisingly, it’s not an unusual time of the season for coaching changes to happen.

A year ago at this time, there were also a lot of new faces.

Meanwhile, Canadian Genie Bouchard, whose own coaching situation has been rather rambunctious the last few years, should have veteran sage Robert Lansdorp with her as she plays her first-ever Wimbledon qualifying next week.

Lansdorp, 80, has been with Bouchard in Europe through practice at the Mouratoglou Academy, through to her attempt to qualify at the WTA event in Birmingham last weekend.

Coaching carousel continues as Ostapenko, Taylor part

PARIS – The first coaching change of the fortnight came when Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit parted ways with coach Glenn Schaap right in the middle of the French Open.

It turns out it wasn’t the only one.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland Garros champion who went out in the first round this year, has split with amiable Aussie coach David Taylor.

Tennis.Life is told it’s unrelated to the early exit but is a mutual split. Their agreement ran through the French Open, and they’re parting ways.

Already, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim has written that Taylor will become Madison Keys’s new coach, although that has yet to be confirmed officially.

It was announced during the French Open that Lindsay Davenport, who has been part of Team Keys on and off for the last several years, has stepped aside as Keys’s main coach.

And earlier in the clay-court season, Keys parted ways with another coach, Dieter Kindlmann.

The American has spent the last few weeks basically flying solo, and you can’t argue the very good result in Paris.

Ostapenko’s coaching crew

Ostapenko, who turned 21 Friday, has gone through some personnel over the last year.

The Latvian had Spanish Fed Cup captain Anabel Medina Garrigues in her corner a year ago, and the two combined to capture Ostapenko’s first Grand Slam title in Paris.

It was always presented as a short-term gig. But Medina was there through the season.

Reports were she wanted some sort of guaranteed situation and, when that wasn’t forthcoming, decided to accept the Spanish Fed Cup position instead.

Since then, the 35-year-old has returned to the court in doubles, finally healthy after struggling with a shoulder injury for 2 1/2 years.

As well, last summer, Ostapenko briefly had longtime WTA Tour physical trainer Scott Byrnes working with her.

That didn’t last long. Byrnes began working with Genie Bouchard a few months ago.

Five-month stint

Taylor came on board at the beginning of 2018, although it was only for a certain number of weeks, and he didn’t actually, physically join Team Ostapenko until the Australian Open.

In between coaches, Ostapenko has had hitting partner/coach Andis Juska there.

Ostapenko

And, of course, there is her original coach, mother Jeļena Jakovļeva.

What’s next? No doubt there will be another coach in place during this key part of the season with Wimbledon, the big U.S. hard-court tournaments and the US Open coming up.

Ostapenko will fall out of the top 10 with the early exit in Paris, down to No. 12.

She’s not entered in any grass-court events until the week before Wimbledon, at Eastbourne.

Keys will make her grass-court debut next week in Birmingham.

Speedy, steady Stephens wins Miami Open

MIAMI, Fla. – To pick apart the weaknesses in French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko’s game, you need a few specific skills.

You have to be consistent, and willing to change up the pace and spin to throw off her rhythm.

You have to be fast, to run down enough laser shots to lure her into going for a little too much. And you have to be aggressive on serve return, to make the 20-year-old Latvian pay for those 66 mile-an-hour serves that beg to be punished.

Most of all, you have to be able to shake off the large numbers of winners that she will hit, win or lose, hot or not.

American Sloane Stephens, herself a Grand Slam champion at the US Open last summer, did all of those things.

She hit just six winners, and made a lot of errors. But she exposed the holes in Ostapenko’s game with her legs and her patience, winning the Miami Open final 7-6 (5), 6-1 Saturday.

“I knew that I was just going to have to run a lot of balls down. The way that she plays is she has a very aggressive style, and sometimes you can’t outhit her or outrun her. You just kind of have to accept that she’s going to hit some really great shots. I think that’s what I did best today,” Stephens said.

“When she was hitting great shots, I just was, like, Too good, and moved on. I think that’s what helped me kind of get through that breaker. I just accepted that some good shots were going to be hit and just didn’t harp on it too much.”

It is the second-biggest title of Stephens’s career after the momentum win in New York. Both have come on American soil. In fact, four of Stephens’s six titles have come in the U.S. She won in Charleston in 2016 and in Washington, D.C. in 2015.

Notably, Stephens has made six finals in her career – and won the title every time.

Too many errors, not enough winners

Ostapenko hit 25 winners. But she made 48 unforced errors – 29 in the first set alone, more than enough to give Stephens the set just on her errors alone. 

She’s always going to make errors. But if the winners number approaches the errors number, Ostapenko is in her comfort zone. On this day, she was not.

“I’m playing the worst tennis ever,” Ostapenko moaned to coach David Taylor when he came out for an on-court consult with his charge already down a set and 4-1. Actually, she was not. Stephens simply had the tools to disarm her.

The Latvian was very gracious at the net afterwards, and in her trophy presentation speech. For her, the months after the French Open title have featured some bumps in the road.

But at this Miami Open, Ostapenko defeated No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina and No. 9 Petra Kvitova in straight sets. And she won all five tiebreaks she played. She also withstood a hearty challenge from American qualifier Danielle Collins in the semifinals.

The inexperienced Collins was somewhat of a gift draw at that stage of the tournament. But she had momentum on her side, and even had a set point against Ostapenko in the first set.

“Comparing to the other matches I watched her play this week, she was moving really well. She was changing the pace. She was serving sometimes kick, sometimes going for it. I think she’s a great player,” Ostapenko said.

“Sometimes I was going aggressive when I didn’t have to. In the first set it was working pretty well. Then some moments I think I was  – I stepped a little bit back. I had to step forward, like, in the court to play the balls in the court so take away time from her, which I didn’t, so probably that’s why I lost the match.”

Finally in the top 10

Stephens, who needed some time after that US Open win six months ago to rest, process, get healthy and reload, certainly wasn’t ready in Australia two months ago. But she hould find this title gives her wings going into the meaty part of the schedule.

“I made sure after Australia I got in the best shape possible. I really just focused on myself and made sure that I was the best version of me,” she sad. ‘Whatever people said, whatever, it is what it is, but now I’m here and I have this beautiful trophy, and no one will ever be able to take that away from me, so I’m just going to walk with my head high and, you know, embrace it.”

Stephens will need wings, given her predilection for home soil. But at the same time, she has everything to gain. The 25-year-old didn’t even start playing until Wimbledon last year, after foot surgery. She has just 11 computer ranking points to defend until the Rogers Cup in Montreal, in August.

There’s a fair gap between No. 10 and the top players; for example, she’s more than 1,000 points behind No. 8 Venus Williams. But there is a move to be made, and Stephens’s game can translate well to clay.

She has played the French Open five times, and four times she reached the round of 16. Each time, she lost to a player who was no worse than the No. 6 seed. And all four of those players were either former French Open champions or finalists.

Next up, the Volvo Car Open

Ostapenko hasn’t entered any events until Stuttgart, the last week of April.

But Stephens will immediately head to Charleston, where she won the tournament (and the Volvo) the last time she played it in 2016.

As the No. 4 seed, Stephens will have a first-round bye, and a few days to regroup. She’ll meet the winner of a match between Bernarda Pera and Jana Cepelova in the second round.

Now, of course, the US Open champion will arrive in Mercedes, as the brand’s new ambassador. 

(Screenshots from WTATV)

Ostapenko through to Miami final

MIAMI, Fla. – A reigning Grand Slam champion smacked down American Danielle Collins’s sky-high dreams Thursday night.

And so 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia will meet another reigning Grand Slam champ, US Open titleholder Sloane Stephens, in a rather unexpected Miami Open final Saturday.

“I saw the match yesterday against Venus, many down-the-lines from the backhand side, so I was expecting a very tough match,” Ostapenko said in her on-court interview after a 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory.

The first set alone took exactly one hour.

“She had a set point in the first set, but I was fighting very hard, and I think it helped me a lot,” Ostapenko said.

Ostapenko dry spell finally broken

The out-of-nowhere French Open title last June was a hard act to follow in the intervening months.

Ostapenko survived a nail-biter she probably should have lost to Canadian qualifier Françoise Abanda in the second round at Wimbledon on her way to a very respectable quarterfinal finish there a month after her French Open run.

And she teamed up with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski to win the doubles title in Qatar last month.

OstapenkoBut Ostapenko’s only other career singles title was at a lower-level WTA tournament in Seoul, Korea last fall.

The rankings of the players she defeated in that event hovered between No. 71 and No. 155.

So reaching the final in Miami is a confidence builder.

It also will buffet her ranking against the potential carnage of an early loss at Roland Garros, when she returns to defend her title.

“Of course I was working on my mentality more, because I need my confidence and to be more consistent,” she said. “Because sometimes I was playing one match amazing, the next one not that great. Now, I’m playing more consistent.”

Having Aussie coach David Taylor in her corner for this swing, even with a surprisingly early loss to Belinda Bencic at Indian Wells, has seemed to be a major plus. 

Ostapenko

Taylor is offered sound advice on the coaching consults. And better still, Ostapenko is reactive, interactive and seemingly receptive.

Career-high ranking with a win Saturday

Ostapenko
Still a career-kickstarting run for Collins, who can leave the ITF circuit behind with her her new ranking status.

If she can defeat Stephens, the Latvian would rise to a career-best No. 4 in the rankings.

Stephens finally jumped into the top 10 this week, for the first time in her career. Win or lose, she will check in at No. 9.

The final will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. – the last women’s final at the Key Biscayne site before the tournament moves inland for 2019.

It may be not a minute too soon.

Ostapenko and Collins got a late start, and it was midnight by the time they finished. An issue with one of the big lighting standards delayed the men’s quarterfinal match played before theirs.

Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric were about an hour and 15 minutes late getting started (Zverev prevailed, 6-4, 6-4). Collins and Ostapenko didn’t start until 10 p.m.

(Screenshots from WTATV)

Long shot Collins to meet Ostapenko

MIAMI, Fla. – The Miami Open women’s event kicked off with Japan’s Naomi Osaka knocking off her all-time favorite player, Serena Williams.

Fast-forward a week, and Williams’s big sister Venus suffered the same fate in the quarterfinals.

Venus had little left in bowing out to Danielle Collins in a shocker, a 6-2, 6-3 win in which the neophyte broke the Williams serve four times.

March has been Collins’s “Hello, world” month with her efforts at Indian Wells, and now in Miami, a few hours’ drive from her hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I think all young American girls idolize and look up to Venus and Serena. You know, growing up I watched so many of their matches, and I could really relate to them, just their upbringing. I didn’t have an easy upbringing. I didn’t come from a super-wealthy family, and I wasn’t at the country club every day playing in the little tennis camps with the other little kids. A lot of times I was at public courts playing against adults and asking people to play with me,” Collins said. “I think they kind of went through the same thing, and so that really resonates with me a lot.”

Collins takes it step by step

Collins is one of a rare breed that not only went to college and played tennis – but graduated, with a degree in media studies from the University of Virginia.

She was ranked No. 162 going into the Australian Open in January, where she lost in the final of qualifying after not having played a warmup event.

Collins earned about $65,000 in 2017 in raising her ranking from No. 299. That doesn’t even come close to covering expenses.

But since returning to home soil she has capitalized on the opportunities she has created for herself.

First, Collins won one of the new Oracle Challengers, in Newport Beach, Calif. in late January. She earned $24,000 for the title. But more importantly, she gave herself a big leg up on the chance to earn a wild card into the Indian Wells singles main draw. The best American finisher in the two new events would win it. And in reaching the quarterfinals of the second leg, the week before the main event, she clinched it.

Collins
Collins received her Indian Wells main-draw credential in a ceremony with tournament director Tommy Haas during the Challenger event. She got to the fourth round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Best-dressed in Miami

Collins took that, and turned it into a fourth-round effort. She defeated Madison Keys along the way, before losing to Carla Suárez Navarro.

In Miami, Collins did it the hard way. With no wild card, she fought her way through the two rounds of qualifying. And then, she fought through a trio of three-setters (against Coco Vandeweghe, Donna Vekic and Monica Puig) to get to Venus.

(On an unrelated note, a player who comes to a big tournament wearing a fresh-looking Lulu Lemon outfit for the first round is thinking big. That company should immediately sign Collins up as an ambassador and pelt her with free gear. She looks like a younger version of the legions of tennis-club ladies for whom Lulu Lemon is the clothing of choice).

Collins
If you can’t be best, be best-dressed. But so far, Collins also has played her best tennis in Miami. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She has gone 18-3, and already has earned more at the Miami Open alone than she had in her entire professional career up to this week. It’s a game-changer.

Williams less than gracious

In the quarterfinals Wednesday night, Collins’s 37-year-old opponent was clearly diminished by several marathon matches coming in. She played her worst match of the Indian Wells – Miami swing. And she wasn’t too gracious afterwards. 

Williams lost to Daria Kasatkina in the Indian Wells semifinal in a hugely entertaining match that went nearly three hours. The young Russian played creative, lights-out tennis. But Williams couldn’t give the 20-year-old a lick of credit. Rather, she attributed the defeat to the number of errors she herself had made.

Venus didn’t have much more to say about Collins, although she did greet her with a gracious smile at the net when it was over.

“It was unlucky for me. I don’t think it was my best night of tennis, but, I mean, there wasn’t a shot she couldn’t make. So that was just, you know, of course one of those days,” Williams said. “I mean, she played very well and aggressively, and she went for every shot and it landed. I mean, there’s going to be some days where they don’t land, but that wasn’t today.”

But that’s just one side of the court. As much as Venus visibly did struggle, Collins was charting new territory.

She was in a pressure-packed situation, at a major event, playing before the biggest gathering of friends and family she had ever enjoyed. And she was on television, and in a stadium filled with people. Not to mention she was playing a legend. And it was windy.

It was the biggest match of her professional career so far. And Collins’ ability to keep her composure, to barely stutter as she went on to a straight-sets victory, was the most impressive part of the win.

And it will serve her well going forward.

Miami result a game-changer

Collins’ ranking will be just outside the top 50 on Monday even if she loses in the semifinals. If she beats Jelena Ostapenko, she would be somewhere around No. 35.

That effort ensures she’ll be straight into all the Grand Slam events, and be close to being straight in to all the other big tournaments of the season. There’s some guaranteed income attached to that – some $200,000 even if she loses in the first round of the majors alone.

And that means, if she’s as smart as she says she is, she will have the means to invest in herself to become an even better player.

It’s a long way from the courts in Roehampton last June, when she lost in straight sets in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying to 21-year-old Rebecca Sramkova of Slovakia, ranked No. 152 to her No. 164.

Bollettieri, the guardian angel

Collins’ college degree and public-parks story will get a lot of play over the next few days and weeks. But with her, as with so many players who get to the pro level, there were breaks.

In her case, it was Nick Bollettieri. The legendary tennis guru saw her ability and gave her an opportunity she couldn’t afford, to train at the IMG Academy at age 15. She parlayed that into a full ride at the University of Virginia.

It was the only move at the time, because Collins was hardly a standout junior. She never came close to the junior Slam level; her career high junior ranking was … No. 430.

Other than one great run at a low-level ITF event, she played little at the national or international level. Her only appearances came via wild cards, such as the two she received for the Eddie Herr, which was hosted at her home academy.

Focus on education

Collins took the college opportunity and time and used it to become a better player, one who could compete at the world level. And unlike most of the players who go the college route, she didn’t spent her summers and school breaks playing ITF tournaments.

Even after she won the NCAAs the first time in 2014 (she won them again in 2016), she didn’t do the expected and turn pro.

“I didn’t really have second thoughts, to be honest, because, you know, it cost over $50,000 a year when you’re out of state to go to University of Virginia, and I was really happy going to college and being on a team and being in the classroom, and I really wanted to get a degree.” she said. “I knew when I was going to go to college I was going to finish it out.”

The fact that Collins had so little junior and pro experience before setting out as a full-time pro a year and a half ago makes her results this year even more astonishing. She still hasn’t even been graced with a mug shot on the ITF website.

Between Feb. 2012 and May 2016 – more than four years – she played just two pro events. Actually, make that two pro matches.

Collins received wild cards into the qualifying in New Haven and the main draw at the US Open in 2014 by virtue of being the NCAA singles champion. She lost to Su-Wei Hsieh in New Haven, and took Simona Halep to three sets in the first round of the US Open.

After that, she didn’t play a pro event for nearly two more years.

Whether the American can take that next step, and compete against the best in the world week after week after week, is what she’ll find out about herself in the coming months. Because she will now have those opportunities.

Early meeting with Ostapenko

Interestingly, when Collins did play girls who are now near the top of the WTA rankings as a junior, she fared well.

Collins first played the Eddie Herr in 2009, shortly before she turned 16. She won three qualifying rounds and then met 15-year-old Daria Gavrilova, currently ranked No. 26.

She lost in a third-set tiebreak.

Two years later, a week short of 18, Collins met a precocious 14-year-old from Latvia in the first round of that same event.

Despite her tender years, Ostapenko’s junior ranking was already high enough that she was straight into the draw, while Collins needed another wild card.

Collins won, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

(Photos from the 2011 Eddie Herr courtesy of Colette Lewis/Zoo Tennis)

She doesn’t remember much.

“We were on a clay court. We had a lot of long points. I won the match. So that’s all I can really remember, to be honest,” she said.

The two have not met since.

As Ostapenko was winning the French Open early last June, Collins also was winning a title. Except hers was a $25,000 ITF event in Bethany Beach, Delaware.

They will play late tonight in Miami for the chance to reach the finals of one of the biggest tournaments of the season, outside the Grand Slams.