Few first-round blockbusters … except Venus v Coco

ADELAIDE, Australia – You always hope for some must-see TV (or must-see live in person) matches in the first two days of a Grand Slam.

But after the men’s and women’s singles draws were revealed Thursday evening in Melbourne, the upshot is that the draws seem fairly well distributed with few early upset possibilities.

Until, of course, they actually play the matches.

EXCEPT ONE: Coco Gauff will meet Venus Williams in the first round.

End quote.

The two met in the first round of Wimbledon this year – kicking off a long period of Coco-Mania that has ebbed and flowed since then.

If Gauff was abashed by that victory, she may not be now. And Williams, who had planned to play during the Australian summer, has not.

Her last match was a three-set loss to Rebecca Peterson in the first round of a WTA event in Tianjin more than three months ago.

Another American, Frances Tiafoe, finds himself up against it as he tries to defend a quarterfinal result with a first-round meeting against … No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Osaka, Serena a final-eight clash

On the women’s side, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are in the same quarter. Which is most unfortunate. But both would have to get there for there to be an epic second-week clash.

Here are the four quarters of the 2020 Australian Open women’s draw

draw

draw

draw draw

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Barty vs. [7] Kvitova

[3] Osaka vs. [8] Williams

[4] Halep vs. [6] Bencic

[2] Pliskova vs. [5] Svitolina

draw
Defending champion Naomi Osaka chats during the Australian Open draw ceremony Thursday in Melbourne (AO – YouTube)

Men’s draw kind to Canadians

On the men’s side, the burning question in this era is about which two of the big three will end up in the same half.

For this Australian Open, it’s Djokovic and Federer who take the honours.

Despite a tough first round against Jan-Lennard Struff, it’s hard to see Djokovic being beaten by anyone in his section until he (potentially) comes to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal may not have a “Big Three”, but he has some challenges. He could face good friend Pablo Carreño Busta in the third round, and either Karen Khachanov or Nick Kyrgios in the fourth.

Thiem, Monfils and Auger-Aliassime are all in his quarter.

The worst-case scenario for the Canadian men in the draw is actually the best case: it would be Vasek Pospisil facing Félix Auger-Aliassime

But only in the third round. Which means both would reach the third round.

Pospisil gets Ivo Karlovic to start; Auger-Aliassime gets a qualifier.

draw

The quarter with Daniil Medvedev and the struggling Alexander Zverev also has Stan Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the in-form Andrey Rublev.draw

Uncle Roger and the kids

Federer has some young guns in his section – the surging Hubert Hurkacz as the No. 31 seed, and then possibly Denis Shapovalov – or Jannik Sinner, in the fourth round.

Matteo Berrettini, who is coming into this Australian Open pretty cold, is the other top seed in his quarter.

draw draw  

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.

Four No. 1s – all in a row in Toronto (video)

TORONTO – If you got to the Rogers Cup early enough – and it seems not that of the fans do, even on a holiday Monday – you were in for a treat.

Not one, not two, not three – but former world No. 1 practicing side by side on the four main practice courts.

Right in front was Venus Williams. Next to her, sister Serena.

Then Karolina Pliskova, who was practicing with Elina Svitolina.

And on the end, the one closest to where the fans who didn’t have posh privileges could watch, was the most recent of them at the top spot, Naomi Osaka.

Osaka and Pliskova both have a shot at regaining the No. 1 spot in the rankings, depending on how things shake out this week in Toronto.

Here’s what it looked like.

And here’s Pliskova doing All-Access media stuff on Sunday, talking about Simona Halep winning Wimbledon, among other topics.

The sisters get together for a hit

WIMBLEDON – Venus and Serena (no last names needed) don’t practice together that often at tournaments.

Most of the time, they both get their business done early morning, often on adjacent courts, with their own teams.

And, let’s be fair, there haven’t been that many opportunities in the last year and a half because Serena hasn’t even played very much.

But it seems to happen at Wimbledon.

And on Friday, it did. We’re told they also plan to practice together on Saturday.

Here’s what it looked like.

Here they were a year ago – almost to the day.

And here are a couple of photos from back in 2010, when your Tennis.Life correspondent got off the plane and went straight to the AELTC – and these were the first two players we saw.

Venus

Serena in the toughest of tough quarters

Serena was a finalist here a year ago in her first Wimbledon back after giving birth to daughter Olympia.

So she is defending a whole lot of points.

She also hasn’t played since a rather desultory third-round loss to Sofia Kenin in the third round of the French Open.

Williams had murmured a little about maybe taking a wild card into a grass prep event. But in the end, she didn’t do it.

The section of the draw has seven qualifiers, two lucky losers and one wild card. So you’d think – cake, right? Except for the rest of the quarter.

Barty, Vekic, former champs Muguruza and Kerber, Georges, Bencic, and even Sharapova are in this section, which begins play Tuesday.

So Williams’ first-round opponent is good draw luck: qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone of Italy.

Gatto-Monticone is ranked No. 162. That’s fine, except that it’s close to her career-best ranking. And she’ll be … 32 in November. Her career earnings of just over $300,000 are about $88.5 million less than Williams has earned.

Gatto-Monticone already had a good tournament just getting through qualies. She came back from  losing the first set twice – including against Océane Dodin in the final round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It’s the Italian’s first Wimbledon main draw. And it’s only her second career Grand Slam main draw after she qualified in Paris last month, and took Kenin to three sets in the first round.

(Two rounds later, Kenin beat Serena in straight sets. So that’s about the only connection between them).

After that, it gets a little complicated. Maybe Julia Goerges in the third round. Perhaps Kerber – in a rematch of last year’s final – in the round of 16. And all that with Barty, Muguruza or Bencic as a possible quarterfinal opponent.

Venus gets high-profile May-December opener

For her part, unseeded Venus is in the very bottom quarter of the draw, the one anchored by No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka.

But her opener is a fascinating one – technically, a March-June encounter.

She’ll play countrywoman Coco Gauff, who qualified this week after receiving a wild card. 

“Countrywoman” is a stretch, as Gauff is 15. Venus is 39. 

Who’s looking forward to that one?

There are some big hitters in this section (Tomljanovic, Azarenka, Sabalenka, Giorgi) but not many proven champions.

It’s hard to know what kind of form Venus is in – she took a wild card into the Birmingham grass event, and lost in the quarters to Barty.

But if she gets past the first one, she could get the big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka next. And then, maybe, Madison Keys, with Simona Halep looming before reaching Osaka-Wozniacki territory.

It’s tough. But it’s not as tough a road as her sister has.

After one match, Serena out of Rome

It was like déja vu for Serena Williams, back to the last time she played tennis.

At the Miami Open two months ago, the 37-year-old met Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in her opening match. She won it – and then pulled out of the tournament before she was to face Qiang Wang in the next round.

On Monday in Rome, Williams defeated Peterson again. And Tuesday, the day before she was due to meet sister Venus in the second round, she pulled out of the tournament – again.

The culprit is the same left knee. It’s not the first time she’s had an issue with that knee over her long career. But at this stage, it’s definitely more of a concern.

The Italian Open is only Williams’s fourth tournament of the season. And she still has only completed one.

The American lost 7-5 in the third set to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. You remember that one; after upsetting No. 1 Simona Halep in the previous round, she was up 5-1 in the third set and had four match points before Pliskova came all the way back. 

And even that one wasn’t straightforward, after Williams rolled her ankle late in the match.

Ankle, viral illness, knee – and knee

At Indian Wells, a viral illness led to “dizziness and extreme fatigue”, and Williams retired early in the second set of her match against Garbiñe Muguruza after a hard-fought victory over Victoria Azarenka in her opener.

Then, Miami. And now, this.

Here’s the statement provided by the tournament.

“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee. I will miss the fans and competition at one of my favorite tournaments.

“I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”

Williams seemed in very good spirits during an interview with the Tennis Channel after her first-round win. Turns out, she’s a better actress than we think.

She said she felt “good, really good”. And that she wasn’t sure how she was going to feel, because she “didn’t have a lot of time to get myself together.”

The spirit is willing, the body less so

Of course, if Williams could only get through one match after a two-month break, it’s hard to see how another two weeks will measurably improve her chances to make a serious run in Paris. But hope springs eternal.

It’s ironic that, earlier in their careers, the Williams played relatively little compared to other players. And some of that was because of outside interests – and because they were so good, they didn’t have to play a huge number of weeks to keep winning.

But now, in the twilight of her career and after returning from maternity leave, Serena Williams says she really wants to play. But her body isn’t letting her.

Sister Venus, who needed over three hours and nine match points to defeat Elise Mertens in her own first-round match Monday, thus gets a walkover to the third round.

She’ll play the winner between No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens and Johanna Konta.

Who’s in a great mood? Venus is (video)

(Update: even though she lost 6-3, 6-3 to Simona Halep Monday, there’s a good chance she might STILL be in a good mood!)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Tape jobs notwithstanding, 38-year-old Venus Williams is into the fourth round of the Miami Open.

She’ll play No. 2 seed Simona Halep later Monday afternoon.

Williams, unseeded, hasn’t dropped a set in three matches.

She upset seeds Carla Suárez Navarro and Daria Kasatkina in straights.

Williams and Halep have split their six previous encounters.

Whatever is going on in her life, she seems in an ebullient mood this week in Miami.

She did allude, obliquely, to life being pretty good at the moment. So that means it’s probably … great at the moment.

Even Williams’s press conferences, normally an exercise in … (Well, there are a few adjectives that could be inserted here, but let’s just say that they are trying exercises at best), have been pleasant. 

Almost edifying.

Happy Venus

Williams had her first experience on the Grandstand here, and loved it. And expounded upon it.

She also did the mixed zone in lieu of a press conference. Which had to be a new experience for her outside those she would have done at the Olympics.

Here’s what that looked like.

And here’s Williams after that victory over Kasatkina, looking ahead to the Halep match. That one was a regular press conference format.

Whatever it is, let’s hope it keeps up!

 

Venus hits the practice court (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Venus Williams’s ranking actually dropped seven spots on Monday, from No. 36 to No. 43.

She went all the way to the semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open last year, including a 6-3, 6-4 win over her returning sister Serena in the third round.

This year, she went to the quarters, losing to Angelique Kerber but beating Petra Kvitova in a great comeback win in the second round.

That’s the direct consequence of her current ranking – that she’ll be unseeded, and potentially meet top-ranked players early in draws.

But that’s really not what it’s about for Williams, at 38. She want to play, when she wants to play, and where she wants to play.

(As an aside, the black and white EleVen kit she’s wearing for her first-round match against Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia is top-notch).

Friendly draw for Venus

The seeds in Williams’s draw are very Venus-friendly, as No. 14 Daria Kasatkina and No. 24 Carla Suárez Navarro have really had a tough time of it so far in 2019.

Williams has a quarter-final to defend in Miami. And without those points, she would drop below 1,000 points and close to being out of the top 60.

That has implications, obviously, in terms of playing the big Premier Mandatories. But in her case, probably not much of a concern.

The early moments of her match against qualifier Dalila Jakupovic were not that promising. In addition to a big tape on her right knee. She only broke 90 mph with her serve once in her first four service games.

Here she is doing a lot of work on her slice backhand Wednesday in Miami.

Situation normal: Venus and Serena at IW (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Venus and and Serena Williams will never forget why they didn’t come to the BNP Paribas Open for nearly 15 years.

No one is likely to, any time soon.

But now that they made the decision to return – first Serena in 2015, then her sister a year later – it all just seems so … normal.

The sisters met up and chatted on adjoining courts Tuesday, with Venus having already practiced inside Stadium 1.

During perhaps the longest-ever ankle tape job (more than 20 minutes), the sisters gabbed. And then, as Serena went through her paces with hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins, they took another little break later, as Venus headed off to the rest of her day.

The moments when you see the two together at tournaments are fairly rare. They don’t practice together on site much. And while both prefer early-morning practice slots, they often follow each other.

It’s just a reminder about how the very best, most incredible thing about their legacy is their unbreakable bond, their sisterhood.

It’s hard to even fathom having two champions of such stature in the same family. And for them to be competitive when they meet on court, to have one surpass the other, but to have never have et it affect their sisterhood, is a life lesson for all.

Here’s what it looked like. 

As you can see, there were people packed into every available spot within even a long-distance view of the sisters. 

Enjoy the pics and videos. Who knows how many more times we’ll see it.

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). 

#TBT – Rebecca Marino’s Slam debut

After Canadian Rebecca Marino’s impressive return this year, after five years away, she should be in Australia in January to play in her first Grand Slam tournament since … the 2013 Australian Open.

Marino’s ranking was down to No. 426 at that point, and she lost 6-3, 6-0 to Shuai Peng in the first round.

A month later, after losing in the first round in Memphis, she was out of the game until returning earlier this year.

It’s been a huge effort that began at the lowest levels of the ITF Futures circuit.

And in the opportunities we’ve had to watch her, it brought bank memories of some of the great matches she’s played, and why she was in the top 40 despite the struggles that became public a few years later.

Grand Slam debut in NYC

Marino

Marino’s first attempt at qualifying for a Grand Slam level was the 2009 US Open, when she was 18. She lost in the second round to Vesna Dolonc of Serbia.

Then, in 2010, she lost in the first round of qualifying at each of the first three Grand Slams. 

In the first round of the Australian Open, the 19-year-old was beaten 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 to Angelique Kerber. (Whatever happened to her, anyway?)

But it was coming along. At the home-country Rogers Cup in August, Marino reached the final round of qualifying, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova.

And then, in New York, it came together.

Marino was ranked No. 179 going in.

She was barely tested in winning three qualifying rounds, the last over countrywoman Sharon Fichman, to reach her first Grand Slam main draw.

There, she played Ksenia Pervak, a feisty Russian.

(We managed to rescue some video from an old Photobucket account. It didn’t survive that well, and luckily now that we shoot for TV the videography skills have improved. But it’s still fun to see).

Marino won 7-5 in the third set.

And that’s when she first began to open some eyes.

Big time on Ashe vs. Venus

Her second-round match game against Venus Williams, on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The big time.

While Williams won it, 7-6 (3), 6-3, Marino gave as good as she got. And her serve and big forehand definitely got her noticed.

After that, she went on a roll.

Marino reached the quarterfinals at the Quebec City WTA upsetting Marion Bartoli in the second round. And then she ruled on the fall women’s pro circuit.

Marino won the Saguenay Challenger. Look at the list of conquests.

Then she followed that up with wins at the Kansas City and Troy (AL) Challengers.  After that, she reached the semifinals at the Toronto Challenger, where she defeated Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals.

By the time the season was over, Marino was one spot out of the top 100.

When she arrived at the 2011 Australian Open, the Canadian was straight into the main draw. And she played a crazy-good match against Francesca Schiavone in the second round, which she lost 9-7 in the third set on a steamy hot day.

In 2019, she’ll be back again.

What a great story.

Here are some pics.