Archive for August, 2011
Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
Venus Williams has withdrawn from the U.S. Open prior to her much-anticipated second round match against Sabine Lisicki.
Due to illness and injury, Venus has only played 10 matches this year. She retired in the third round of the Australian Open, lost in the fourth round at Wimbledon and she pulled out of the Rogers Cup in Toronto after opening weekend due to a virus.
Now her illness is no longer a mystery as Venus announced that she’s been diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, which she describes as “an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are dry eyes and mouth, joint pain, swelling and stiffness, and prolonged fatigue. Risk factors of the syndrome include rheumatic disease such as arthritis or lupus.
“I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon,” Venus admitted.
But at 31 years old, with an incurable but treatable syndrome and frequent injuries, I wonder how much resilience Venus has left. I don’t think she’ll be on tour much longer.
Although Venus won her opening round match at Flushing Meadows decisively, 6-4, 6-3 against Vesna Dolonts, if she isn’t able to stay healthy she doesn’t have a chance on tour. Her mind may want to continue to play the game, but in this case, her body may decide her fate. I expect her to retire no later than next year.
Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
The U.S. Open has officially begun. So what does that mean? Well…
- It’s the unofficial end of summer (sorry kids).
- Every night for the next two weeks you can watch great night matches on TV (better clear your calendars).
- It’s unlike any Slam: it’s loud, it’s bright, and of all the Slams, it’s the least modest; it screams for attention.
In the morning, hundreds of tennis fans hop onto NYC’s 7 Train for a 45-minute ride to the Mets-Willets Point stop. Along the way, subway passengers become quick friends, comparing their U.S. Open stories, some of them sharing their memories from years past, while others wait in anticipation for their first visit.
Once they arrive at the Open, fans don’t follow the usual tennis etiquette. The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is far away from the friendly and quiet courts of Wimbledon where spectators “shush” each other between points. Fans in New York are under the impression that they can be as rowdy during a tennis match as they can be during a college basketball game.
As Rafael Nadal admitted in his autobiography, Rafa, you never know when your concentration will be interrupted due to a screaming fan or even, a fight in the stands. The U.S. Open is a spectacle, and that’s what makes it great.
When the evening session ends and Arthur Ashe Stadium empties out, the grounds fill up and Frank Sinatra’s voice echoes through the loud speaker as New York, New York sends the fans on their way. The atmosphere feels more like Disney World than a sporting event.
So while you watch the incredible tennis these next two weeks, try and appreciate the atmosphere that can be felt whether you’re in NYC or just watching from your couch at home.
Saturday, August 27th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
Four Canadians have made it to the U.S. Open main draw.
Frank Dancevic, Vasek Pospisil and Aleksandra Wozniak all qualified to join Rebecca Marino in the last Slam of the season.
Here is a look at their opening round matches:
Wozniak vs. Christina McHale: McHale upset Caroline Wozniacki in the second round in Cincinnati and made it to the quarterfinal this week in New Haven.
Dancevic vs. Marsel Ilhan: Ilhan made it to the 2nd round of this year’s French Open.
Marino vs. Gisela Dulko: Dulko is ranked 58th in the world, reached the 4th round of the French this year, and reached the 4th round of the U.S. Open in 2009.
Pospisil vs. Lukas Rosol: Rosol made it to the 3rd round of this year’s French Open.
For Pospisil, this will be his first Grand Slam main draw appearance. After starting the season ranked 340th, Pospisil has had a successful year, reaching a career high no. 145 and winning two ITF Futures titles.
Earlier this month, Pospisil gained attention in Montreal after pushing his idol, Roger Federer, in the Rogers Cup second round. Despite losing to the 16-time Grand Slam champ 5-7, 3-6, Pospisil made a name for himself.
“I’d like to see Pospisil a little bit [more],” Jim Courier admitted at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. “He seems like he’s a comer. He looked like he played Federer in a pretty close match. That bodes well when you have two young players [in Milos Raonic and Pospisil], coming up, pushing each other like that. It can be good.”
The Australian Open was Milos Raonic’s coming out party. Unfortunately, due to hip surgery during the summer, Raonic won’t be competing in the U.S. Open. But perhaps Raonic’s absence will leave room for his Davis Cup partner to have his own coming out party. Don’t count Pospisil out.
Thursday, August 25th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
When Rafael Nadal steps out onto centre court, he looks more like a warrior preparing for battle than a tennis player preparing for a match.
With his brown mop tucked tightly into his neatly folded Nike bandana, he jumps up and down, his face like that of a poker player, totally focused, never willing to give his opponent a tell, and as he sprints from the net to the baseline after the coin flip, the crowd bursts with energy.
But in Nadal’s new autobiography, Rafa, we learn of a man who is the opposite of Rafa the tennis player, but rather, the sensitive, fearful, quiet, homesick Mallorcan who is always surrounded by family.
If you follow Rafa on Twitter (@RafaelNadal) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/Nadal), you catch a glimpse of the ‘aw gee shucks’ personality of a man who seems more like a polite, shy teenager than a multimillionaire star athlete. In updates to his fans, Rafa never brags, but rather shares pictures of himself grocery shopping or stuck at the airport because of a delay. No private jet for this athlete; he’d feel too uncomfortable.
In his autobiography (co-authored by John Carlin) you understand what makes up the ‘real Nadal’: his modest, family-first upbringing and his Uncle (coach) Toni who has always instilled in Rafa that the tennis star is ‘nothing special.’
If you’re a Rafa fan, or just a tennis fan, you’ll enjoy this book. No, it’s not as exciting nor as revealing as Andre Agassi’s Open, but then again, neither is Rafa. It’s a special book because Rafa reveals the inner workings of his mind during a match, most notably his famous 2008 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer. It’s rare to get this perspective on a player who is still at the top of his game.
As a sneak peek, here are a few facts you’ll learn in Rafa:
- He is afraid of the dark
- He’ll always give you an autograph, but, if you don’t ask politely you won’t get a smile
- Uncle Toni has always insisted that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are more naturally skilled tennis players than his nephew
- Despite public opinion, Uncle Toni didn’t make Rafa play left handed but rather, Rafa decided that on his own
- Rafa’s long time girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello, never wishes to follow Rafa on tour as she thinks it would strain their relationship and she has her own, full-time job at home in Palma, Mallorca
- He is extremely protective of his younger sister, Maribel, and he texts her multiple times a day
- His game plan against Federer is always the same: hit high to his backhand
Rafa’s not the favourite going into the U.S. Open, but even if he was, he’d never consider himself as such.
Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
It’s no great surprise that Milos Raonic has withdrawn from the U.S. Open.
After sustaining a hip injury in the second round of Wimbledon, Milos had to undergo surgery. Despite his hip now being fully healed, he still needs to get back in shape, and there is no urgency to return to the tour. He has nothing to defend at the U.S. Open.
On Tuesday’s Prime Time Sports, Milos admitted that he and his team decided the U.S. Open was not a realistic place to return because, like all Grand Slams, it’s the best of five sets. If you’re not fit (which Milos is not) you aren’t going to last very long on the hard courts for three hour (plus) matches.
“I don’t want to come back 80, 90%,” Milos told Prime Time Sports. “I want to come back 100%. I want the injury to be behind me.”
Milos has been practicing for about a month now and I saw him hit at the Rexall Centre during the Rogers Cup just two weeks ago. He seemed to be favouring his injured hip, and he tired easily, taking breaks frequently to deliberate with his coaches.
His strokes were strong and at times, he seemed to hit with 100% power, but his lateral movement was slow. Milos admits that his time off has given him time to “create new habits,” one of those habits being efficient movement.
As a tall player on tour, the majority of the time your opponents will be faster than you are. Many ‘big men’ players such as John Isner or Ivo Karlovic look lumbering and awkward moving across the baseline. In comparison, Milos doesn’t look awkward on court, but to succeed, he still needs his movements to be sharper and more efficient in order to keep up with his shorter, faster opponents.
Improved fitness and mobility have been the key to Novak Djokovic’s successful 2011 season. Djokovic used to tire easily, especially in the heat, and he would often struggle to get to shots he can now return as winners.
“[Djokovic is] probably the one that moves the most efficiently,” Milos described. “He is the one I look at a lot, and [fitness is] one of the things I’ve been really working on a lot.”
At 20 years old, Milos has youth and time on his side. Milos and his team are wisely using this time off not only for rehab, but to add to Milos’ repertoire so he comes back stronger, and more dangerous.
Milos is set to return to competitive play mid September in Davis Cup action against Israel.
Saturday, August 13th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
Saturday wasn’t a bad day for Samantha Stosur. Not only did she book a spot into the Rogers Cup final, but she also broke back into the top 10 after defeating No. 13, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in the Rogers Cup semis.
“I think that [the] benchmark is the top 10, and then you make it top 5, and then obviously from there you never know what’s possible,” Stosur admits. “But, yeah, I definitely was very excited when I broke the top 10 for the first time.”
Stosur has only played once before at the Rogers Cup, and made it to the quarters.
“I think doing well here, it’s fantastic,” Stosur smiles. “These are the big events. When you’ve got a field like what we’ve had here this week with the top 25 playing, and, you know, the size of the tournament and everything, I think to do well here is fantastic.”
In Sunday’s final, Stosur will take on 13 Grand Slam champ, Serena Williams.
“You’ve got fantastic champions [like Serena] and then others, you know, that win lots of matches and win lots of finals, as well,” Stosur acknowledges. “But I think the icing on the cake is definitely winning the Grand Slams.”
Both players use their strength to their advantage, so it’ll be a battle from the baseline in Sunday’s final.
“You know, I have played some really tough opponents in finals and I haven’t gone out and lost all those matches, so I’m not too concerned about my record in finals,” Stosur explains.
Despite Serena returning from a year off due to health issues, she’s looked strong and confident, winning a title in Stanford two weeks ago.
“[Serena is] obviously one of the best players ever in the women’s sport,” Stosur admits. “You know, she’s a great champion. And for her to have that layoff, and then obviously it’s only her fourth tournament back, she’s already won an event and done well, it’s full credit to her.”
It’s Serena’s match to lose.
Saturday, August 13th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
Serena Williams wanders the halls of the Rexall Centre with a ‘Hello Kitty’ children’s backpack hanging off her shoulder. Looking more like a big kid heading to 2nd period, Serena’s pink backpack may be the least intimidating thing about her.
Serena is tough, strong, honest, aggressive, and some would dare say, argumentative. But it’s that full package that leaves crowds in awe when she steps onto the court. And at a tournament where attendance seems to be low, the Rogers Cup in Toronto needs her star power.
No, Serena is not the fastest on tour, the most creative with her shot selection or the healthiest, but she has something that no other WTA player seems to have: the ability to ‘turn it on’ whenever she needs to.
Serena appears to save her energy during matches, and hits with whatever strength will just get her by her opponents. But in some instances, much like Roger Federer, it is as if Serena says, ‘okay, enough of the practice, time to really play,’ and she quickly takes control.
In her 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, quarterfinal win against Lucie Safarova, Serena pushed the Czech to deuce at 2-2 in the 3rd. Sure enough, Serena saw her moment, her energy spiked and her shots became much more aggressive and stronger. Serena broke Safarova and took control of the match.
In a post-match interview, Serena admitted that there was a time in the match when she thought she should start trying harder.
“I don’t know if it was turn it on…I just think it was more about this is another level [of play],” Serena explained. “…Taking my game to another level, and not remaining on the same platform [as my opponent was key].”
But to ‘turn on’ her game as she matures, Serena won’t be able to rely upon endless reserves of strength. Instead, she’ll have to develop her fitness.
“I just decided if I can be fit, that can be a new level in my game, because I’ve always been- I think- a halfway decent player,” Serena reflected. “So I thought, ‘OK, what haven’t I done? I’ve never really been fit.’ I’m still not super fit.”
It seems that if Serena wants to win a match, she can and it’s hers to lose. Perhaps that’s the fun of watching her, as at any moment she’ll say ‘enough is enough’ and just simply flick the switch and ‘turn it on’.
Friday, August 12th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
Her grunts have been measured at 95 decibels and they’re louder than a busy intersection. Her shrieks last 1.7 seconds so she’s not even finished grunting by the time her opponent receives the ball. She fist pumps after nearly every point she wins, and she’s never afraid to talk back to an umpire. Who is she? She’s Victoria Azarenka, No. 4 in the world and arguably, one of the most intense women on tour…maybe a little too intense.
“Grunting is one thing but the shrill sound that you hear with players nowadays and especially [when] they get louder when they hit a winner, that’s the thing I observe as a player,” 18 time Grand Slam singles champ, Chris Evert, complained to AFP. “It comes before they hit the shot. That’s the first thing you hear and you are thrown off guard as a player and then before you know, the ball gets past you.”
Unfortunately, Azarenka’s grunting has gotten more attention than her play. At Wimbledon, where Azarenka reached her first Slam singles semifinal, spectators and officials complained that the shrieks were annoying and disruptive. Azarenka, however, told Tennis.com that grunting couldn’t be controlled any more than…snoring…
“My dad and a lot of men, they snore, right?” Azarenka explained. “But they’re not conscious about it. And you ask them every time, ‘Damn it, you were snoring the whole night.’ And they’re like, ‘Really?’ And you say, ‘Yeah’. And they can’t change it.” I’m no doctor, but something in that explanation doesn’t add up…
In Azarenka’s third round match against fellow grunter, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, John Zibin, a ball boy for the match, exclaimed, “I have a headache right now, [the match] was so loud!”
While Azarenka’s grunts, fist pumps, and bursts of anger may annoy and offend some, her strong personality seems to excite the crowd in a McEnroe-esque kind of way.
In her third round match alone, Azarenka verbally abused the umpire twice, even though she won the match decisively, 6-1, 6-2. But that’s what is appreciated by the fans: the fact that even when she’s cruising, the intensity remains.
And Azarenka has been cruising in Toronto, dropping only three games in two matches. Yet with that success, she seems to go unnoticed, despite being one of only 4 top 16 players remaining in the draw. She’s won 7 WTA singles titles, but she has yet to prove that she can individually win on the big stage.
In the quarters on Friday, Azarenka will face world No. 135th, Galiana Voskoboeva, who upset Maria Sharapova in straight sets. If Azarenka wants to be noticed for her tennis as opposed to her grunts and commanding personality, she needs to prove what others have not this week, that the top players can go deep in a tournament, and perhaps even win.
Thursday, August 11th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
“I think this is the best victory of my life,” 22nd ranked Roberta Vinci laughed after her 6-4, 7-5 win over Caroline Wozniacki. For the top player in the world, however, this match was nothing more than a disappointment.
“You know, today was definitely not the best match, and I didn’t get a chance to really get any rhythm,” Wozniacki explained. “It was very difficult, first with the wind but also the way that Vinci was playing.”
After losing the first set 4-6, Wozniacki lead 5-1 in the 2nd until her serve and defense fell apart. “I probably should have taken my serve straightaway, but then I came up against the wind for the next two games and it was pretty difficult on the other side,” Wozniacki admitted.
Wozniacki also had difficulty with Vinci’s slice backhand, a stroke that few players constantly use. “She likes to break the opponent’s rhythm,” Wozniacki explained. “She’s slicing the ball. It’s tough…you need to really get under it, and then she tries to go in with the forehand.”
Despite her success in Montreal, the defending champ has never won a match in Toronto. Although Wozniacki holds a strong lead in the rankings and has won five titles this year, she is one of the few No. 1 players to never win a Slam, and she’s reminded of this constantly.
“To be honest I don’t really think about [the criticism],” Wozniacki said. “I think about myself. It is an individual sport. No matter what you do there will always be people talking.”
Wozniacki hasn’t been consistent and she hasn’t proven that she can win on a big stage. As the No. 1 player in the world Wozniacki needs to prove her worth, and until she does so, the criticism will remain, and fairly so.
Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
By Caroline Cameron
When you have a milestone birthday, you usually don’t want to be reminded of how old you are. Roger Federer turned the big 3-0 on Monday, and on Tuesday, the bright-eyed Vasek Pospisil eagerly announced that Federer has been his idol since “I was 12 or 13. It was when he won his first Slam and he’s been my favourite player ever since.” Pospisil is 21-years-old. Don’t worry Federer, they say 30 is the new 20…
The 155th ranked Canadian had a lot to be excited about, however, after he upset world no. 22, Juan Ignacio Chela 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to book a spot in the second round against none other than Roger Federer.
“He’s the greatest player of all time,” Pospisil explained. “Never going to be easy when you’re playing the best player of all time. But, I mean, I’m just looking forward to it.”
Pospisil has never played his idol, but he warmed up with the Fed Express at the 2008 Australian Open. Quite simply, Wednesday’s second round match will be a dream for the Canuck, and don’t think that Pospisil didn’t check the draw to see that this match could be a reality.
“It helped me [to know that I could face Federer], to be honest,” Pospisil admits. “A little bit [of] extra motivation. But you know, because he’s been an idol since I was a little kid, I felt like I had a good chance to win today [against Chela], so I really wanted to come through. So I was able to dig deep. With that for sure in the back of my mind, it probably helped me.”
Pospisil has had an impressive year leading up to the Rogers Cup. He started the year ranked No. 340 and has already reached his career high No. 155 after two ITF Futures wins in Changwon and most recently, in Saskatoon.
Although many fans may best remember Pospisil as Milos Raonic’s partner in last year’s Rogers Cup doubles match against Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, perhaps on Wednesday he’ll be known as the kid who beat Federer. Hey, someone has to cheer for the underdog.