Wimbledon might’ve wrapped up today but there’s a lot of tennis left in this year’s calendar. After a clay-stint in Europe (featuring only 4 WTA and ATP Top10 players combined), both tours are going to move on to the US hard courts at the end of July and stay in North America until the final slam of the year will have concluded in 9 1/2 weeks’ time. Here are 9 1/2 questions/storylines on the WTA/ATP tour worth keeping an eye on.
– 1: What will Serena do?
This situation better never get a repeat. (sport1.de)
A lot of eyes will rather certainly be on Ms. Serena Williams (and mine will also be on Coach Patrick “Mastermind” Mouratoglou). Even though she won half of the non-slam tournaments she appeared in this year (Brisbane, Miami and Rome), her slam results have been sub-par and her most recent appearance at Wimbledon has raised more question marks surrounding the phenom that is Serena than there have been in a long while. Serena hasn’t looked like the all-conquering champion she was throughout 2013 and has complained about hitting a wall physically and mentally on various occasions but her doubles performance on the second Tuesday at Wimbledon was a real cause for concern not just regarding the tennis player but Serena the human. Several naysayers claim it was all show, officials stated it was a viral illness but most reactions were somewhere inbetween perplexion and worry.
Serena is one of the few Top10 players to have committed to a clay event in July and she’ll look to defend her title in Swedish Båstad in a week. It’s fair to assume that more people will pay attention to the otherwise relatively low-key event than in previous year. And lest we forget – Serena has a whopping 3520 points to defend in North America. Serena doesn’t have anything left to prove to anymore – but unless she stockpiles another title or two and makes a deep run (that is SF or better) media and public alike will brand her 2014 a let-down.
– 2: Will Novak Djokovic start rolling?
Fresh off of his first Grand Slam since the 2013 Australian Open and reclaiming the #1 in the rankings, Djokovic will be eager to carry the momentum over to his cherished hard courts. If he has a decent sense of self-awareness, he’ll know he won Wimbledon 2014 without having played his absolute best tennis – and on the surface where has the least footing. Djokovic as well as Nadal and Federer won’t return to competition before August – but he will get married to his fiancé Jelena Ristic this month. Considering how well Djokovic performed in Indian Wells and Miami earlier this year, he’ll have an awful lot going for himself going into US Open Hardcourt swing. No one should be surprised if he ends up with another Masters 1000 title and another Slam in his pocket.
Djokovic with the 2nd Ananas of his career (newindianexpress.com)
– 3: To which lengths will the US press and media go to semi-adopt Bouchard and Raonic as their own?
Bouchard has had a breakout year, particularly with her consistency at slams, and Raonic has made it into his first Slam QF at Roland Garros and improved on that by making it to the SFs in Wimbledon. What with no US man or woman having made it beyond the 4th round at a slam this year, e.g. ESPN’s Chris McKendry has already declared that Canada is close enough to the US to adopt Bouchard and to a lesser extent Raonic as one of their own.
It will be interesting to see how the broader US mediascape will react to the 2 young Canadians if the results of their own countrymen and -women remain somewhat underwhelming throughout August (*) and it’ll be equally fascinating to witness how the WTA will continue to try and ride the wave of Geniemania.
(*) as pointed out to me by @jokelley_tennis on twitter I’ve been a little short on words here: I don’t think the US women had a particularly *bad* grass season, in fact Vandeweghe and Keys had a pretty good one, Duval did great at the French and Venus played the match of the tournament against Kvitova last fortnight but the general expectation from public and media alike will be that at least one woman makes a deep run at the US Open – and that hasn’t happened all that often this year.
– 4: Will Azarenka have an encouraging end to a frustrating year?
2014 has been difficult for Azarenka. She already looked out of sorts at the end of 2013, going 1-4 after her loss to Serena in the US Open finals but the man with the hammer truly hit home with a niggling foot injury that basically made her miss the five months between Australia and the grass season. Azarenka has since come back and lost a tight three set match in the 1st round of Eastbourne and the 2nd round of Wimbledon (to Giorgi and Jovanovski respectively) but considering her lengthy absence she competed well in both of those matches. However, her ranking has slipped down to #10 and during the US Open Hard Court swing she’ll have finals in Carlsbad, New York and the title in Cincy to defend (2620 of her 3812 points). We’ve had a similar “Top10-watch” with Sharapova during the clay season and Azarenka faces an even more difficult task. If Azarenka comes out of this inside the Top15 (and if she feels healthy I’m convinced that’s within her reach) she’ll have done well and I wouldn’t put it past her to power her way though #WTAsia and finish the year in the Top10. But this summer – going to be a tough one for the Belarussian.
– 5: Can the young guys back it up?
Raonic might’ve lost to Federer in straight sets in the semis but will climb to a career high of #6 in the rankings. (thestar.com)
Kyrgios had a breakthrough performance at Wimbledon and Dimitrov as well as Raonic had career best performances at slams at Wimbledon. The question is – will they be able to back it up and will others such as Vesely (who also had a solid Wimbledon) and Thiem (who looked rather lost on the grass) be able to surge up the rankings further and manage to move in closer on the more established names on tour? Will Jack Sock be able to transfer any of his doubles success into singles? Can Donald *sleeper pick* Young pick up where he left of in Paris rather than where he slowed down in London? Questions over questions but personally think that Raonic and Thiem will have the most convincing results and I expect Thiem to come close to entering the Top40 by August. But it will probably be newest member of the Top10 Dimitrov who’ll receive the most attention from the press and media (outside of Canada) in their quest to transform him into a “pop culture figure” (I see you LZ) *insert eyeroll*.
– 6: Kvitova wins Wimbledon again – but will she be able to carry the momentum across the pond unlike in 2011?
Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon 2014. And pretty emphatically at that. Pam Shriver was absolutely on the money that Kvitova’s victory and the manner in which she blazed through the finals was reminiscent of current and former grass court greats such as Serena, Venus, Steffi and Martina. It was a 55 minute masterclass from the Czech. The question is – will she be able to take it in her stride and not consider it a “duty” to win every match and tournament she competes in (2011 Kvitova thoughts) but rather acknowledge it as the confidence boost that she has the weapons to win against anyone if she produces her best tennis?
I’m a little bit on the fence but that’s because with Kvitova a solid US Open series with QFs and maybe a SF in all three big events (Montreal, Cincy and the US Open) should be considered as a good result for her – expecting her to romp home multiple titles in the next 2 months would be overly optimistic. The loud and “crowdy” events in North America are at the opposite spectrum from where the Czech feels at home but the quiet yet steely confidence she displayed throughout this fortnight were a good sign that Kvitova won’t be as rattled and overwhelmed by the success as 3 years ago. With her Wimbledon title she has effectively neutralised most of the points she has to defend for the rest of the season and can just give it a good swing (hopefully not into the stands). And should she remain healthy, that’s a dangerous prospect for the rest of the WTA.
– 7: Which players deserve the “You in danger, girl!” gifs?
Yep: Serena and Vika have a lot of points to defend and some question marks next to them but let’s focus on some other people.
I’m looking at you, Richard Gasquet, John Isner, Vasek Pospisil and Sorana Cirstea. Until the US Open Isner will be facing a serious crunch-time week in Cincy. He’s currently sitting at #12 with 2690 points. 650 points will come off before Cincy. 600 points will come off IN Cincy. If Isner doesn’t come up with the goods during the next 6 weeks he’ll have a nasty little eye opening moment when he finds himself outside the Top20 for the US Open seedings.
Richard Gasquet has had a rotten year with back issues until he hit the grass in Eastbourne and made his first finals. He then outgasquet himself by failing to convert one of 9 match points against Kyrgios and has semi-finals points to defend in New York. Fortunately for him, he didn’t do a lot between Wimbledon and US Open 2013 and considering he is going to play Bogota/Atlanta/Washington/Montreal on the trot, there’s a chance he might be able to cushion the blow in advance.
Where the wild Richies live. #tenfeetbehindthebaseline
Pospisil has had a similar year to Gasquet with a bad back and has almost half of his points to defend with his Challenger win in Vancouver and SF appearance in Montreal last year (460 in total) – hence it only makes sense that he’s playing the exact same schedule as Gasquet. Maybe his Wimbledon doubles titles will give him a bit of a confidence boost in advance.
Cirstea had a banner week in Canada last year, thumping her way through the draw and it wasn’t until she met Serena in the final that her run came to an end. Unfortunately, other than a good Fed Cup weekend this year hasn’t been a lot to write home about for her. Cirstea’s ranking in the Top30 is currently kept afloat mostly by her 620 points from her finals in Toronto. But boy oh boy, things won’t be pretty if the next few weeks are turning out to be as sour as the rest of the year.
– 8: Will the WTA continue its 2014 theme of “The draw will implode – somewhere!”
It has been a slightly weird year on the WTA-Tour since Wimblegeddon 2013 threw the tennis world somewhat off-axis. All of the last four slam winners make perfect sense (Serena in New York, Li Na in Melbourne, Sharapova in Paris and Kvitova this weekend) – all these players won on surfaces/at Slams where they feel at home. And yet… Azarenka’s highest ranked opponents on her way to the finals were (2013)-Ivanovic and Cornet. Kvitova and Li won their slams without having to play a single woman ranked inside the Top10 and haven’t notched up a Top10 win this entire season and Sharapova’s only Top10 opponent was Simona Halep in a spectacular Roland Garros final. It’s certainly true when people say “you only have to beat the player infront of you and if the draw around crumbles, so be it!” – and yet the WTA has felt a little weird at slams lately where the draws *have* always busted. Some of the bigger premier events have help up pretty well (e.g. Miami/Madrid) whereas others have been slightly chaotic:
I was happy for Pennetta (who played a great tournament and defeated the top and 2nd seed!) but Indian Wells, you felt like a wacky one this year. (espn.go.com)
It’s going to be interesting to see how the WTA plays out during the course of the US Open series and whether the current Top10 women will be able to bring back some order or whether we’ll see more of the same in the next few weeks. A fatigued Serena and a hot-and-cold-blowing Li as top seeds might not bode that well for the order-option tho. It says something when the greatest beacon of stability in the Top5 might be recent arrival Simona Halep.
– 9: Can the rest of the ATP tour close the gap to the Top2?
Let’s put the Top4 myth at rest for the next few weeks. This isn’t because I’m so disrespectful (…) but rather because the #2 in the rankings (Nadal) has twice as many points next to his name as Federer, who’s number three. Federer had a fantastic fortnight at Wimbledon but his return of serve let him down time and time again against Djokovic, only being allowed 1 breakpoint throughout the first 3 matches. Murray has slipped down to #10 in the rankings after his QF exit in London after a bad day against Dimitov but he doesn’t have many points to defend throughout this summer, much like Federer who won’t do the European clay court swing after the experiment went decidedly awry in 2013. The only *other* two slam champions of the last 9 years being Del Potro who’s still out with his wrist injury and Wawrinka, who has performed reasonably well given how grass is his worst surface but he has still gone big or gone home relatively often this year. I’d be surprised if any of the other guys in the Top10 made a leap big enough to endager Djokovic and Nadal at the top or vice versa if the two of them played bad enough to allow it to happen. Both guys are just the two most consistent performers across the year and I’d be shocked if it was any different over the course of the next two months or so. However, Nadal has a ton of points to defend over the course of the next few months (4000, he won Montreal, Cincy and New York back to back to back in 2013) and there might be a window of opportunity for Federer to close the gap a little if he makes use of being seeded better again. Will Federer overtake either? No – but he can set himself up nicely for the rest of the year at the very least.
– 9 1/2: Li Na and Carlos Rodriguez split:
It’ll be interesting to see how Li does without having Rodriguez in her corner who has been asked back to the academy in Beijing (where they’ll still train when she is in China according to Eisenbud). Li has it in her to produce great tennis but Rodriguez has certainly help shape her game over the past 2 years. Eisenbud and Rodriguez are apparently looking into finding a new coach and I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the reasons for one of Ben Rothenberg’s last tweets from Wimbledon today:
Hope you all recover well from Wimbledon and enjoy the journey through the clay in Europe, the hard courts in Merica and – of course – the BAKU SLAM.