Canadian Dabrowski elected to WTA Player Council

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – There has been a changing of the guard on the WTA Tour Player Council.

Tennis.Life has learned that two former Grand Slam champions, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka, will not return after their spots came up for re-election during Wimbledon.

Replacing Williams and Azarenka will be younger Americans Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens as top-20 player representatives.

Meanwhile, Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski will be on the Council for the first time.

The 27-year-old was elected to the spot that had been occupied by fellow top doubles player Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2018 and 2019, that of players outside the top 20 who are full WTA Tour members.

Donna Vekic of Croatia was elected to the spot (players ranked between No. 20 and No. 50) held by the retired Lucie Safarova.

And Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic was voted into the No. 51 – No. 100 spot, which had been held by American Julia Boserup from 2017-2019. Boserup, as well, announced her retirement this year.

Three players with another year to go

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Johanna Konta remain as top-20 representatives, with another to run in their mandate.

So does American Kristie Ahn, who represents players outside the top 100 (a non-voting position).

Dabrowski has been involved in the politics of tennis – notably this year, when she met with the International Tennis Federation more than once regarding the issues around the disastrously-revamped ITF Tour.

She cares – a lot. And she has a lot to offer. No doubt she’ll be a terrific asset to the player council.

WTA Rankings Report – April 8, 2019

With the hangover real after the Sunshine Double, a lot of top players began an early spring break.

Still, Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber, Kiki Bertens, Garbiñe Muguruza, Madison Keys and others took to the courts in Charleston and Monterrey to try to put a few ranking points in the bank before the “official” start of the clay season.

For the Europeans, especially, the two events were near enough to Miami that one more week before going home wasn’t a bad idea.

The events in Lugano, Switzerland and Bogotá, Colombia this week have not been as fortunate.

The big winners were Madison Keys, who won her first Volvo Car Open after seven consecutive trips there, in impressive fashion over Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

And Garbiñe Muguruza, who was defending her Monterrey title, got through in the final against an injured Victoria Azarenka, who retired in the second set.

ON THE UPSWING

Madison Keys (USA): No. 18 —————> No. 14 (Hopefully the big win on the American clay will propel Keys to success on the real stuff in the coming weeks).

Belinda Bencic (SUI): No. 21 —————> No. 20 (For the second time in three weeks, the 22-year-old squeezes into the top 20. She had been outside it since Aug. 8, 2016).

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): No. 31 —————> No. 29 (Back into the top 30, the Latvian is the top seed in Bogota this week. She could get top 25 with the title although we’re a little concerned about what will happen to her serve at 8,500 feet).

Petra Martic (CRO): No. 53 —————> No. 40 (The former No. 31 – earlier this year – had a good week in Charleston).

Maria Sakkari (GRE): No. 50 —————> No. 44

Victoria Azarenka (BLR): No. 67 —————> No. 60 (A great effort in Monterrey – until she couldn’t really go in the final. It was a costly calf injury – a win over Muguruza would have put her threads away from the top 50).

Jessica Pegula (USA): No. 81 —————> No. 74 (Another career high for the 25-year-old American)

 Kaia Kanepi (EST): No. 82 —————> No. 75

Laura Siegemund (GER): No. 104 —————> No. 99 (It’s been a long road back from injury for the 31-year-old German, who’s back in the top 100 for the first time in a year. She was down as low as No. 358 just before last year’s French Open).

Karolina Muchova (CZE): No. 109 —————> No. 102 (We’re big fans of this 22-year-old, all-court player from the Czech Republic whose slow, steady progress lands her at another career high this week).

Nicole Gibbs (USA): No. 124 —————> No. 113 (Makes the final on the ITF Circuit in Palm Harbor, Florida).

Danka Kovinic (MNE): No. 175—————> No. 141 (The 24-year-old, whose career high of No. 46 came in 2016, made the semis in Palm Harbor).

Barbora Krejcikova (CZE): No. 225 —————> No. 156 (The No. 2 doubles player in the world wins the ITF in Florida – in singles).

Lauren Davis (USA): No. 184—————> No. 159

ON THE DOWNSWING

Kiki Bertens (NED): No. 6 —————> No. 7 (She didn’t defend her Charleston title, but the collateral damage wasn’t too bad at all).

Julia Goerges (GER): No. 15 —————> No. 18

Alizé Cornet (FRA): No. 49 —————> No. 54

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): No. 76 —————> No. 77

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU): No. 69 —————> No. 82

Kristyna Pliskova (CZE): No. 93 —————> No. 101

Bernarda Pera (USA): No. 89 —————> No. 107

Timea Babos (HUN): No. 106 —————> No. 142 (The 25-year-old is far too good to settle for being a doubles specialist (her peak was No. 25 in Sept. 2016).  But losing in the first round in Monterrey after reaching the final a year ago is a tough blow).

Fanny Stollar (HUN): No. 126 —————> No. 146

Sachia Vickery (USA): No. 134 —————> No. 148

Rebecca Marino (CAN): No. 201 —————> No. 204 (The outlook will be brighter when the points from her final at the 25K in Japan go up next week. But she’s also defending 62 points in another 25K in Japan this week).

Leylah Annie Fernandez (CAN): No. 389 —————> No. 376 (A career high for the 16-year-old after reaching the QFs of a 25K in Australia two weeks ago).

Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN): No. 401 —————> No. 387 (The doubles star gets back into the top 400 after winning a round at the Florida ITF. Her problem is getting enough opportunities to play singles).

(Screenshot: WTA TV)

For the complete WTA Rankings picture, click here.

Keys finds … keys to victory in Charleston

Madison Keys took home a … lotta keys from the place she says feels like home.

The 24-year-old was given the key to the city of Charleston.

She also earned the keys to a new Volvo as the American wrapped up an impressive week at the Volvo Car Open with the title.

Keys also found the … keys to winning once again.

She blasted 54 winners in defeating Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the final.

And with it, she won her first career title on the clay – even if it was the American version.

But the turning point may well have come in the quarterfinals, when she defeated her self-described best friend on Tour, Sloane Stephens.

Those two had met at the 2017 US Open final and in the 2018 French Open semifinals. But the younger Keys hadn’t even sniffed a set.

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Stephens was stone faced after losing to her friend Keys. But when she got to the net, she managed a smile, a hug – and a joke. It was a big match for both. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

This match, though not deep into a major, seemed to be a fairly significant moment for both Americans.

Both have spent the season searching for form, riding the coaching carousel and trying to establish a foundation for the busy spring and summer. Both have big results to defend in Paris.

But Keys stayed the course against Stephens in beating her for the first time. And she was commanding against Monica Puig in the semifinals.

On Sunday, she stared down her 0-2 career record against Wozniacki in a powerhouse effort that showcased why so many have been waiting for years for her to go on a tear.

The “new coach” effect

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Keys hugs new/old coach Todero after winning Charleston. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

Keys has had a difficult time settling on a coach in recent years. That, and some wrist issues, have not helped her. Reaching the US Open final in 2017 was supposed to be the moment when she took the final step, right to the top of the game.

It didn’t happen.

The American began the season with countryman Jim Madrigal on board. Madrigal had been working with Tennys Sandgren.

But even by WTA standards, that was short-lived.

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A blistered toe was the only thing Keys struggled with during her win Sunday. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

She arrived in Charleston with a new coach in her corner. It was news we broke on Tennis.Life last Sunday.

For whatever reason, there seemed to be very little press about that coming out of Charleston. (Or about Stephens’s temporary and tentative coaching arrangement, for that matter). 

But it was fairly significant news, not only because the first weeks with a new coach often bring a bump of energy.

And in this case, with Juan Todero, it was a face, an approach that Keys was familiar with from their work together during her early days on the circuit.

If there’s one theme to be picked up on Keys’s bucket list for her coaches, it’s comfort and familiarity. Perhaps that’s why the relationship with Lindsay Davenport was so fruitful.

Madison Keys back with Juan Todero

“It was a really good first week for my coach and I. Hopefully we can keep this up. Kind of a high bar,” Keys said during the trophy ceremony.

A turning point

If there was a moment this one seemed to turn in an hour-long, extremely tight first set, it was when Keys, on her first set point in the first-set tiebreak, hit a backhand down the line.

She thought she had it.

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Keys celebrates – briefly – when she thought she had the first-set tiebreak won. But she had a second chance, and made good on it. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

She didn’t have it.

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Oh NOES! Just long with the backhand down the line after a tremendous point. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

Next point, another set point (but on Wozniacki’s serve), she didn’t hesitate in hitting the very same shot. But this time, from a much more balanced position.

And she made it.

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After hitting the backhand down the she had just missed on the first set point, Keys celebrates winning the first-set tiebreak. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

The second set was more of a formality, as Keys just took over.

A coaching bump for Wozniacki, too

Wozniacki, who even joked after the match about her lack of love for clay, gave a shutout to her mentor for the week, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.

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Francesca Schiavone shared her clay-court savvy with Wozniacki this week – and who could argue it didn’t help? Not Wozniacki. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

“I feel like although my love for clay hasn’t always been there, this week has been very enjoyable. So hopefully, more good to come,” she said.

This was the seventh consecutive trip to Charleston for Keys, who has had some great efforts and some early exits. 

She lost to eventual champion Kiki Bertens in the semifinals last year. And in 2015, she lost to Angelique Kerber in the final.

As the impressive crowd rose to applaud her during the ceremony, she stood there with a beatific smile on her face, just soaking it all in.

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Keys basked in the appreciation from her “new” hometown of Charleston – she now has the key to the city. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

“The support I have from everyone in the stands means the world to me. Every time I come, I feel like I’m at home,” she said. “I’d also like to sway thank you to Volvo – my new favourite car.”

For Wozniacki, it was visit No. 6. She has one title (in 2011), two finals, a semifinal and two quarterfinals to show for it. Not too bad.

Keys moves up four spots to No. 14 with the win, while Wozniacki moves up one spot, to No. 12.

Madison Keys back with Juan Todero

As undeniably talented as American Madison Keys is, one big struggle over the last few years has been finding one coach, and sticking with him (or her).

And as the 24-year-old arrives in Charleston for the Volvo Open, what was once old is new again.

Tennis.Life’s intel on the ground in Charleston reports that Keys has reunited with Juan Todero.

The Argentine worked with her (along with Jay Gooding) in 2013 and 2014 when he was with the USTA, and got her into the top 40.

The coaching carousel began before the 2015 season.

Keys began working with former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport and her husband Jon Leach. 

Todero

It seemed to work beautifully. But Davenport, who has a number of things on her plate – not the least of which is four kids – could not commit to being a full-time coach.

Coaching merry-go-round begins

Keys began 2016 with Jesse Levine. But, suddenly, before the clay-court season, Levine was replaced by Thomas Hogstedt. She reached the year-end finals in Singapore that year. 

In 2017, Davenport was back, as Keys returned after having wrist surgery. Then, later on, she added Dieter Kindlmann, who lasted about a year.

That year, she reached the US Open singles final. 

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Kindlmann, who had worked with Maria Sharapova, lasted about a year with Keys.

The 2018 season was, for the most part, coachless.

There was a brief period during which the Aussie David Taylor was on board. But Keys used the resources of the USTA, including Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi and head of women’s tennis Ola Malmqvist.

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Former USTA head of women’s tennis (now head of coaching) Ola Malmqvist was on the practice court with Keys at last year’s French Open, before the (brief) presence of Aussie coach David Taylor. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

At the start of this season, Keys was working with Jim Madrigal, who had been on board the previous year when Keys’s countryman Tennys Sandgren made his big breakthrough.

Madison Keys picks coach for 2019

Keys beat Elise Mertens in the third round of the Australian Open before falling to Elina Svitolina in three sets in the round of 16.

She lost her first match at Indian Wells to Mona Barthel.

By Miami, it was Rinaldi who was out for the coaching consults. But Keys lost her opening match to Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a see-saw match that saw her come back from the brink in the second set – only to fall in three.

Coaching merry-go-round for Todero

Todero had been on board Team Keys in 2014, when the (then) 19-year-old won her first Premier-level title at Eastbourne.

He left the USTA to join Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig at the start of 2015, and was with her when she won the Olympic gold medal in Rio in 2016.

But the man they call “Nacho” found himself without a player when Puig, with whom he had worked for four years, went in another direction for 2019.

Puig took on the team formerly known as “Team Sloane”, after Stephens kind of lit her support group on fire at the end of the 2019 season.

Kamau Murray joins Team Puig

Puig now has former Stephens coach Kamau Murray and associate coach Othmane Garma on board.

Stephens is still coachless.

Got that straight?

And we’re still in March.

The No. 8 seed, Keys has a first-round bye in Charleston. She will play the winner of Natalia Vikhlyantseva and Tatjana Maria in the second round, and is on track to perhaps face Stephens in the quarterfinals.

It would be a rematch of their 2017 US Open final, and their 2018 French Open semifinal.

One and done for Keys at Indian Wells (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Finally, American Madison Keys is 100 per cent healthy.

Now, she has to shake off the rustiness from having played so little tennis and get back to winning.

That didn’t happen Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open, as Keys went down to a solid Mona Barthel, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. It was a second-round match, but the first for the 24-year-old Keys after a first-round bye.

This is just the second tournament of the season for Keys, who lost in the round of 16 at the Australian Open. She also played two Fed Cup matches against Australia, winning one and losing the other to Ashleigh Barty.

But then, she took a pass on the tournaments in the Middle East.

Keys made the semifinals at the French Open and the semifinals again at the US Open last year. But she didn’t play much tennis after that. 

She retired in her second match in Wuhan, China last September against Angelique Kerber – already down 6-0, 4-1 when she pulled the plug. She also withdrew from Beijing after winning her first-round match.

She reappeared in early November to play the second-tier Tour final in Zhuhai. But then she didn’t play any warmup events before the first major of the year in Melbourne.

No momentum since 2016

In her post-match interview, Keys said that she hadn’t been able to get any momentum in her career since … all the way back in 2016. 

She has posted some impressive results – especially at majors – during that time span. But that’s an extended period, at a young age, to have sort of stalled in a career that very much seemed to have an upward trajectory.

Healthy now, she hopes she can finally start stringing matches and tournaments together.

Keys lost her first match at Indian Wells a year ago, to the (then) surprising Danielle Collins. So she won’t lose any ground from her current ranking of No. 17. But she won’t make up any, either.

She’ll be in the same situation at the next top in Miami, where after a first round bye she retired in the second set of her match against Victoria Azarenka last year.

Keys bounced back after that, reaching the semifinals in Charleston.

Here’s some of what she said Saturday.

Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 17, 2019

Madison Keys (USA), 24

As American Madison Keys turns 24, it feels like a bit of a crossroads time in her career.

She’s no longer the “up-and-coming young American”. And she’s already reached a Grand Slam final at the 2017 US Open as well as three other major semifinals.

Only Wimbledon is missing to complete the “Final Four” Slam.

Keys also has been in the top 10, reaching her career high of No. 7 in Oct. 2016.

And yet … it kind of feels as though she’s in a bit of a holding pattern, which probably hasn’t been helped by a number of injuries.

None of them have been so severe as to keep her off the court for extended periods of time. But it’s been more than enough to quash her momentum on numerous occasions. 

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Keys back in her junior days, wrapped up. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The American came on the scene four years ago on a similar timetable as the one-year-older Genie Bouchard the previous year and countrywoman Sloane Stephens the year before that, with a big semi-final result at the Australian Open.

The addition of Lindsay Davenport as coach in 2015 – first on a consulting basis but then, along with Davenport’s husband Jon Leach, more of a full-time commitment, looked to be successful at times.

But Davenport has a lot of commitments – she has her television job, is a wife and mother of four, and also plays the legends’ events at the majors.birthdays

After that, Keys went with Jesse Levine, the congenial Canadian-American whose elbow wasn’t going to allow him to keep playing on the ATP Tour. She also added experienced trainer Scott Byrnes. 

But that arrangement didn’t last that long. After that, Davenport returned, and Keys was also getting help from the USTA staff.

This season, she has Jim Madrigal (who had been the coach of Tennys Sandgren) in her corner.

Keys was beaten by Elina Svitolina in the fourth round of the Australian Open in a see-saw match. She played Fed Cup in Asheville, NC last week, beating Kim Birrell but losing 6-4, 6-1 to Ashleigh Barty as the U.S. dropped the tie and will now face a relegation playoff.

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Keys and Madrigal, so far, have just one official tournament in their new collaboration – the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The American had a “tread-water” season in 2018. She began it at No. 19, and finished at No. 17.

But she withdrew from the Premier 5 event in Dubai this week, and isn’t scheduled to play again until Indian Wells – with just one tournament under her belt in 2019.

She lost her opening matches at both Indian Wells and Miami a year ago. So it’s a great opportunity to pick up some big-time ranking points.

Cara Black (ZIM), 40

Black turned pro when Keys was … two years old.

She looked to be a pretty big deal coming out of the juniors, from a talented family from Zimbabwe that included older brothers, ATP Tour veterans Wayne and Byron.

She was the year-end No. 1 junior in 1997 during a not-overly-deep period when several players who would become Grand Slam champions were still very young. Black lost to Justine Henin at the junior US Open warmup tournament in Montreal in 1997, then won the U.S. Open (Henin lost in the quarters to the more obscure Jackie Trail).

Black also won Junior Wimbledon. And then she reached the final of the junior French Open (beating Francesca Schiavone in the first round, a 13-year-old Kim Clijsters in the second round, before losing to Henin).

She was around a looong time, and might still be best known for this viral video.

It was old hat for Black; she showed off those skills back when she was just 16.

Her first ITF pro match was in her native Harare 27 years ago – as it happened, she lost to future doubles partner Liezel Huber (then Horn) in the first round.

But it turned out she was a bit too much of a shrimp to stand up to the increasing number of giants out there – perhaps one era too late, as women’s tennis was being taken over by the power hitters.

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Black on the practice court at the Australian Open with the Rodionova sisters – quite pregnant with her first child. Lachlan turns seven in April.(Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She’s listed at 5-foot 5 3/4. But that’s probably on skates.

Whenever they put in fractions, you know they’re pushing the limit.

Black won one career title in singles, and reached a career high of No. 31.

But she was a spectacular doubles player, earning the bulk of her more than $7.7 million in earnings that way.

Even later in her career, when even the women’s doubles game because more of a slugfest, her great hand and brilliant anticipation served her well.

For several productive years, she partnered up with the former South African Huber, now an American.

They had their moments, such as when Huber threatened to sue her when, after she was off much of a season recuperating from a knee injury.

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Huber dished the dirt in a blog she used to write on the USTA website. It’s since disappeared, but we’ve resurrected a quote.

“At last year’s U.S. Open, where we lost to Venus and Serena, things started to get way from us. She wasn’t playing the big points well and getting nervous. The same thing happened at the WTA Championships and in Australia. It didn’t matter how well I played, she just couldn’t seem to bring her best tennis in the finals and in important matches.

“It got worse and worse as this year went on. At the Paris Indoors, she got a nose a bleed and had to pull out of the final. Because she was the one with the injury, I was given more ranking points than her so when we got to Dubai. I was ranked ahead of her individually and then her husband told me that Cara wouldn’t be motivated to go on court if she wasn’t No. 1 anymore.

“Then they asked me to give back all my rankings points so we could be even, which would also mean I would have to give back my prize money. To make a long story short, our communication got worse and worse and finally we ended our partnership in Miami. We hugged and told each other that whenever one of us felt that she wanted to get back together, she could call the other and we could try it again. But she’s not talking to me any more so I don’t think that is going to happen.”

(Don’t you wish the players would still be that … out there about things?)

Black teamed up with Rennae Stubbs and things went so well, she decided to keep that going and push Huber to the sidelines.

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Black puts it where Genie Bouchard ain’t during a doubles match a the Australian Open in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

They worked that out for – awhile. Probably mostly because they made a nice living together.

The pair won 10 tournaments in 2008 (including the Tour championships), but only one Grand Slam (the 2008 U.S. Open).

Black had been an Aussie Open short of the mixed doubles Grand Slam, until she won it in 2012 with Leander Paes.

She won the 2008 U.S. Open mixed with Paes, and the 2004 Wimbledon and 2002 French Open with brother Wayne.

Things with Huber soured again. Their last event was Miami in 2010, and after that, Black played with a village of partners.

After 2011 Wimbledon, Black took a sabbatical, for obvious reasons (see above photo) We figured she was done.

But no.

Black-Zheng
Black and Saisai Zheng at the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She came back and was playing great, teaming with Sania Mirza. In 2015, at age 36, she was ranked No. 4.  

The partnership with Mirza ended, and the Indian star (a new mother herself), went onto great things with Martina Hingis. 

Black’s last match came at Wimbledon in 2015, when she reached he quarterfinals with American Lisa Raymond. They lost 8-6 in the third set to Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, the No. 2 seeds who lost in the finals to … Hingis an Mirza.

Amir Hadad (ISR), 41

Picture19 7 2 Tennis birthdays Feb. 17, 2012This fellow is one of our underground favorites.

If you ran into Hadad on the streets, there’s no way you’d have guessed “tennis player” if someone asked you what he did for a living.

He’s still listed on the ATP Tour website as being six feet … 195 pounds.

Which just goes to show you they come in all shapes in sizes.

Hadad has a twin brother named … Hemi.

He did get to No. 180 in singles and No. 87 in doubles in 2003.  And he played Davis Cup as far back as 1998.

Haded played a regular doubles schedule on the Challenger circuit after Israel met Sweden in the Davis Cup in March, 2010. And then he called it a day. 

Notably, he was in the middle of a fairly significant political flap back in 2002, when his doubles partnership with the still-active Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan caused a lot of waves.

The Israeli federation was supportive. But Qureshi was issued an “official condemnation” by the Pakistani Sports Board for playing with an Israeli.

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.

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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

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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.

Americans in Paris face big tests Monday

PARIS – The draw decreed that friends and countrywomen Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, who met in the U.S. women’s singles final nine months ago, cannot repeat that in Paris.

But they could meet in the semis.

And that in itself would be a tremendous accomplishment on (the non-European players’ mantra) their “least-favorite surface”.

But as impressive as their runs have already been, Stephens and Keys face absorbing tests Sunday.

They play lower-ranked but very much in-form players. And for both, they are first-time meetings.

tests

The “unpronounceable” opponent

The bottom half of the women’s singles draw is a land of opportunity for someone. Will the Americans seize the day?

Keys defeated a pair of Americans (Sachia Vickery, Caroline Dolehide) – both younger and less accomplished – fairly routinely in the first two rounds. On Friday, Keys found herself up against the equally hard-hitting Japanese player Naomi Osaka, the Indian Wells champion.

It could have been a battle royale. But on this day, Osaka was not up to the task early and Keys was on a roll – at least initially. She wavered a little in closing it out, and Osaka made much more of a contest of it. But in the end, she was through.

“Even seeing how she raised her level in the second set was, you know, a lot different from the last time we played each other, so you can tell that she’s definitely getting better and better and making smarter decisions. So I think luckily I’m still a little bit older, so pulled out the veteran moves today,” Keys said of Osaka.

“I feel like her attitude was really great today and I never really saw her get overly down on herself. More than anything, I think she just played really smart at times.”

House call for Dr. Buzarnescu

On Sunday, Keys faces a completely different challenge in No. 31 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania.

Buzarnescu’s back story is one of early promise, bottomless struggle, and second acts. She rose to the top of the juniors in a quality era; the draws of her tournaments back then are sprinkled with mentions of Radwanska, Wozniacki, Azarenka, Cibulkova and others.

But her body betrayed her for a decade. A shoulder injury right as she was transitioning from the juniors the pros put her out, cost her some sponsorships just when she needed the help. And two surgeries on her left knee cost her multiple years, during which time she worked to earn a PhD.

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It’s been a long, hard road to the French Open fourth round for Buzarnescu (seen here during last year’s Wimbledon qualifying). (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She managed to keep going  financially by playing professional interclub matches in various countries.  And if you look at her match record, she was literally playing almost every week. She went from the Australian Open qualifying last January right to the lowest-level pro events in Turkey for weeks on end after that.

And then, a twist in the tale, per the New York Times. Last spring, playing team matches in the Netherlands, the pain in the knee was suddenly … gone. She was ranked just inside the top 400 then. She finished 2017 ranked No. 56.

And on Friday, she upset one of the pre-tournament favorites, No. 4 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, in straight sets.

Into the unknown for Keys

At 30, this is only Buzarnescu’s second visit to Paris. She lost in the second round of qualifying once before, all the way back in 2012. In her debut, she is seeded and on a roll.

For Keys, the challenges come with Buzarnescu’s leftyness, and with the unknown quantity that she is. Not surprisingly, the two have never faced each other. They are seven years apart in age, and Keys hasn’t set foot in the ITF circuit since she was 17 years old.

“I have not played — I don’t know how to pronounce her last name so I won’t say it. I’m going to rely on my lovely coaches to help me out there and give me a game plan, and then just going to go out and hopefully execute it well,” Keys said. “I know that she’s seeded and I always see her name. I just haven’t been able to watch any of her matches. That’s more what I mean when I say I don’t know her. It’s also kind of refreshing and nice to play someone you have never played before.”

A victory would put her in the quarterfinals for the first time in Paris, against either No. 26 Barbora Strycova, or unseeded Yulia Putintseva.

That’s the section of the draw that contained defending champion Jelena Ostapenko and No. 9 seed Venus Williams, both of whom exited in the first round.

So it’s a great opportunity.

Stephens escapes against Giorgi

There were some breathtaking rallies during Stephens’s third-round match against Camila Giorgi on Saturday, a high-octane encounter that had been postponed 24 hours by rain late on Friday.

And somehow, the US Open champion survived. She was down a break early in the third set. Giorgi served for the match twice – at 5-4, and 6-5 – only to be broken. Stephens sneaked out the last two games, and the match.

Her match Sunday won’t be quite as hard-hitting, but she will face a very in-form player in Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.

As with Keys, Stephens isn’t overly familiar with her opponent. In this case, as well, it will be a first career meeting.

“I don’t think I have ever played her, so I think it will be a good match. Obviously she had a good win today (against Petra Kvitova). … Looking forward to it, and obviously playing fourth round of a Grand Slam is always a good opportunity,” Stephens said.

“Not much, just what I have seen in the last couple of weeks being in Europe and seeing her have some good results. Yeah, basically that. Just what I have seen in the last couple weeks.”

Kontaveit an in-form player

Both Kontaveit and Stephens were top-five juniors. But they were three years apart – practically a generation in junior tennis.

Kontaveit went 9-3 through Stuttgart, Madrid and Miami. She defeated Venus Williams twice. And on each occasion, she lost to the eventual champion: Karolina Pliskova in Stuttgart, Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Elina Svitolina in Rome.

Stephens did not have the same kind of clay-court campaign leading up to the French Open, as she played Fed Cup and also caught her breath after winning a big title in Miami, near the area in which she grew up. But if there’s an advantage she has over Kontaveit, it’s that she knows now how to peak at a major.

There is no advantage for either player in terms of the short turnaround. Both their third-round matches were postponed in the late going Friday evening, and both played them Saturday. And both had good tests.

If Stephens can win, she would play the winner between No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki and No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina.

And after reaching the round of 16 four straight years from 2012-15, and again this year, it would be a new career best-effort in Paris.

Contenders Kvitova and Keys make the third round

PARIS – Do you have a pick on the women’s side in this French Open?

The oddsmakers have installed Elina Svitolina as the favorite to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.

She’s followed closely by Simona Halep to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.

Tied for third? 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza and … Petra Kvitova.

They’re ahead of former champions Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

American Madison Keys stands at 50-1, after which you can probably draw the line at the possibles.

Kvitova

Wide-open field

With reigning champion Jelena Ostapenko already eliminated, with Williams and Sharapova unknown quantities at this stage, and with Halep and Svitolina untested in terms of holding up the big trophy, why not Kvitova to go deep?

And while we’re at it, why not Keys?

The two rolled to the third round on Thursday with fairly routine wins over Lara Arruabarrena and Caroline Dolehide, respectively.

“I don’t think I have any secret. I just worked pretty hard to get ready physically. Not only for the clay. It’s been already from the offseason. But obviously on the clay it’s a little bit different, and I had a great preparation, as well,” Kvitova said. “I wasn’t injured, so I really could go for it. So far it’s really working well.”

A year ago, Kvitova was just returning to play, making her season debut after rehabbing her left hand after that frightening home invasion.

She didn’t expect much. But she had set it as a return goal and, at least, could get in some big-time match play before her favorite grass season.

A year later, she’s feeling very good.

Back in 2012, Kvitova reached the semifinals in Paris, losing to eventual champion Maria Sharapova. 

Up and down for Keys

The American had good runs at the Australian Open and Charleston. But there have been some gaps in her resumé.

And off the court, she’s not as settled with her team as she could be. 

Keys let day-to-day coach Dieter Kindlmann go a while back, after less than a year. And “super-coach” Lindsay Davenport couldn’t arrive in Paris to fully go through her preparation with her.

As late as Saturday, she was still being helped by USTA head of women’s tennis Ola Malmqvist.

Here are the two “K”s practicing together last Saturday.

“We split up after Madrid, so I did Rome just with fitness trainer and physio, and I had the (USTA) head of women’s tennis, Ola, helping out, because Lindsay couldn’t come until Saturday,” Keys said after her first-round win.

“I’m obviously looking to fill that position, but I didn’t want to rush anything and pick someone just because. I feel like it’s always stable before here, so why not try something different. Who knows? … I enjoy someone who feels confident with what they’re saying. I always enjoy someone who’s very knowledgeable and can relate to me, but is a little more more relaxed and calm.  Uptight just makes me more anxious.”

The American’s best effort in Paris was the fourth round, two years ago. But with the title up for grabs, she’s certainly capable.

The tough work begins

Of the two, Keys’s road is arguably a little tougher.

She’s in the top half of the bottom half – the area Ostapenko and Venus Williams vacated in the first round. But she’s not in that section.

All four seeds in her section – No. 4 Svitolina, No. 31 Mihaela Buzarnescu and, next up for Keys, dangerous No. 21 Naomi Osaka – have made it to the third round.

Whomever gets through that section will, at worst, have No. 26 seed Barbora Strycova as a quarterfinal opponent.

Kvitova

Keys has two wins on big occasions – at Indian Wells and at the US Open – over Osaka. But both came on a hard court.

Kvitova, the No. 8 seed, runs into the in-form No. 25 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the third round. And  then perhaps US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

She is 2-0 against Konteveit, having beaten her in three tough sets in Madrid earlier this month.

Looming next for the Czech could be No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 14 Daria Kasatkina.