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Thursday, February 14th, 2013
In Seinfeld, George Costanza famously proclaimed ‘the Summer of George’. I’m no Larry David, but I now proclaim February as ‘the Month of Milos’.
Less than two weeks ago, Raonic had one of the most significant wins of his career as he helped advance Canada to their first ever Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal.
It’s no coincidence that Raonic played well on the indoor hard court in Vancouver. The court was made for big serving Canuck – it was fast, and that mixed with the favorable conditions of playing indoors, made his serve even scarier than it already is.
“Everything is good,” Raonic said during a quick trip home to Toronto before he left for San Jose. “The Australian Open didn’t start out well, but really finished out well. [I] had a good weekend in Davis Cup. I’m feeling confident.”
Raonic’s schedule couldn’t be planned out any better as he is now going from the indoor hard court in Vancouver, to the familiar indoor hard courts in San Jose.
In 2011, Raonic won his first career ATP title in San Jose on a centre court that is usually used as centre ice. Fittingly enough, Raonic was given his trophy along with a San Jose Sharks jersey and a maple leaf shaped bottle of maple syrup. Obviously. What else are you supposed to give a Canadian tennis champ?
Two years later and Raonic is looking to win his third San Jose title and fourth career ATP title.
Raonic is at a career high ranking of no. 13 in the world and is the number one seed in San Jose. But his path to the title won’t be easy. Raonic may have to meet Sam Querrey in the semis (Milos is 0-2 against Querrey) and he could face John Isner in the final (who Raonic lost to in the Rogers Cup quarterfinals last August).
After San Jose, Raonic heads straight to Memphis where he’s reached back-to-back finals. Remember the 2011 final?
“Hopefully [I do] better than a final in Memphis again,” Raonic said with a smile. “That would be kind of disappointing three times in a row.”
Everyone is waiting for Raonic to notch a Big Four win at a big tournament. He’s just at the doorstep of the Top 10. If he can continue his good play through the indoor hard court swing, he’ll be more confident headed into the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami next month. For a young player like Raonic, confidence can do wonders.
Remember, you heard it here first – February is the Month of Milos.
Monday, January 28th, 2013
We’re witnessing the Golden Age of men’s tennis and it may never be this good again. Enjoy it.
Since 2004, we’ve been spoiled. In nine years, only two players have won a Grand Slam other than Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.
Starting in 2005, it was Roger Federer who was unstoppable, reaching ten consecutive Grand Slam finals. Then, we were treated to the Federer – Nadal rivalry, which has included some of the most memorable tennis matches of all time (2008 Wimbledon anyone?).
But then the Big Two became the Big Four. Youngsters Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray inched their way into the club.
In 2008, Novak Djokovic won his first Slam after beating Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open final. It took Murray a little longer to officially join the Big Four, capturing his first Major at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Combined, the Big Four have 35 Major titles. That’s pure dominance.
With a record 17 Grand Slam titles, many have wondered how many more Slams Federer would have by now if Nadal hadn’t played in the same era. Would Murray have more than one Major if Djokovic wasn’t around? There’s no simple answer.
The Big Four have made each other better. Each year the gap between the Big Four and the rest of the tour widens. The elusive club continues to get fitter, stronger, more efficient and simply better every year. They play at a different level than the rest. They’ve changed the game forever.
Sure, players like Stan Wawrinka can force Djokovic to a five setter every once in a while. But consistently? No way. Even when the Big Four aren’t at their best, they’re still better than most.
“I am trying to do my best every match,” David Ferrer admitted after his semifinal loss to Djokovic in Melbourne. “But I know [the Big Four] are better than me. What can I do?”
He can’t do much. Ferrer is one of the hardest working, skilled players on the ATP tour. But he’s never won a Grand Slam. In order to win a Slam, he’d likely have to beat two of the top four. As the past decade as taught us, that’s nearly impossible.
So whenever the Big Four meet in a Slam final, soak it in. Luckily for us, some of the greatest players of all time are playing in the same generation.
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
What the heck is a Madison Keys? Is that a new hip band I don’t know about? Maybe a cool vacation spot in Florida? Nope.
Madison Keys is a 17-year-old American tennis player who had us all scratching our heads late Wednesday night as the teenager routed 30th ranked Tamira Paszek 6-2, 6-1 in just fifty-six minutes to advance to the third round of the Australian Open. Not impressed yet? Well, she also hit six aces, won 86% of her first serve points, and hit 23 winners.
17-years-old. I know I already said it, but I just thought I’d remind you that she’s 17-years-old. 17-years old. Okay, I’m done.
Now that her age is established, this will blow your mind – believe it or not, Keys was only 14-years-old when she won her first WTA match. That same year, she beat Serena Williams in a World TeamTennis match just weeks after Serena won Wimbledon. Wowza.
With her powerful groundstrokes and serve that averages about 173 kph, it’s nearly impossible to think that Keys won’t be a champion and star on the WTA tour. It’s one thing to have all that power, but at such a young age, Keys is managing to harness that power and dictate her points. If you have a strong serve on the WTA tour, you’ll be feared – just look at Serena.
Keys started 2013 ranked no. 149, but has moved up to 105th in the world in just two weeks. In the Australian Open warm-up tournament in Sydney, Keys beat two top 50 players (Lucie Safarova and Jie Zheng) to reach the quarterfinals where she fell to 2011 French Open champion Li Na, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Keys didn’t fall quietly.
In the next round Keys will face world no. 5, Angelique Kerber. Based on rankings alone, Kerber is the obvious favourite. But this match won’t be that simple. With her power and momentum, Keys could easily win. If I was Kerber, I’d be scared.
So while she may not look like much of a teenager out on the court, remember, she’s still just a senior in high school.
When asked by Wilson what her New Years Resolution was she responded: “I will keep my room cleaner and be nicer to my sisters….(that was for my mom). For real, my biggest resolution is to finish up my senior year with good grades.”
She might want to add a trip to the round of sixteen at the Australian Open to that list.
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
That’s how long ATP players have between the end of a point and when they serve to begin the next point.
In the past, 25 seconds was the norm, but it was rarely enforced and players would get a warning before any penalty was given (if it was given at all).
Welcome to a stricter 2013.
In September, the ATP Board approved a change in the time violation penalty so that players would be given a warning and penalized the first time they went over 25 seconds. For all subsequent time violations, it would be considered a fault and the receiver would win the point. This became the new rule when the clock struck midnight on January 1st, ringing in 2013.
Well, we’re only a couple days into the New Year and the rule is already causing problems for players.
In Doha, veteran Feliciano Lopez complained to the umpire after he was called for a time violation in his straight sets, first round upset at the hands of Lukasz Kubot. Is that why he lost the match? Not entirely, but the violation clearly frustrated him.
After Lopez’s loss, fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Pablo Andujar took to Twitter in Spanish and complained about the time violation that Lopez faced.
The same thing happened to Gael Monfils, who tends to take his time between points to towel off. In his second round 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win over Philipp Kohlschriber in Doha, Monfils was given a time violation in the second set. Monfils complained to the umpire, saying “I’m black, so I sweat a lot” as an excuse for why he had to towel off between each service point. After the violation, Monfils found himself down a double break, and lost the set 2-6. The time violation can really upset a player’s mental game.
For some players, the new time violation rule won’t be cause for concern. Players like Roger Federer and Bernard Tomic are both typically very quick between points, which sometimes throws off their opponents.
While the time violation is 25 seconds for all ATP events, players only have 20 seconds between points at Grand Slams.
In the past, time violations have rarely been enforced at Grand Slams, but if that changes at the Australian Open, get ready to hear a lot of complaining from the players.
Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Remember your final year of High School? You and your classmates ruled the school – you were the oldest kids, and the ones whom the rest of the school looked up to. But after graduation, whether you went to College, University, or out into the working world, you were brought back down to earth. You went from being the old and wise one to the little youngin just looking to survive.
That’s where 18-year-old Filip Peliwo finds himself.
After reaching all four Junior Grand Slam finals this year and winning the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, Peliwo finished the year as the No. 1 Junior and was named ITF Junior World Champion. Not too shabby.
Granted, Peliwo had a career year, but he’s no longer a junior. Peliwo is now on the pro circuit where his junior success doesn’t matter.
Peliwo is just a boy – a boy who now has to compete against men.
To be successful on the ATP World Tour you need to have more than just a wicked serve or killer forehand. You need both mental and physical strength to carry you through the grueling schedule.
At 18-years-old, Peliwo is a talented player, but he’ll have trouble winning on tour with his small physique.
In today’s ATP Top 10, only three players are 25-years-old or younger. Gone are the days where an 18-year-old can win a Grand Slam. The last ATP player to do that was Rafael Nadal. Even Canadian Milos Raonic, the youngest player in the ATP top 20 (at 21-years-old) only found success after a few years on the professional circuit.
In order to win the big tournaments, you need to be a talented, fit, and flexible machine. Even the most talented players, like Novak Djokovic, only reached their full potential after diet and fitness changes.
Peliwo is a bright and exciting Canadian talent. Is he guaranteed success on the ATP tour? No. And even if he finds it, it will take a few years. But it sure will be fun to watch.
Friday, November 16th, 2012
Tonight Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Agnieszka Radwanska will join Thornhill’s Milos Raonic in the Face-Off at the Air Canada Centre.
Leading up to the event, the four stars held a press conference in downtown Toronto. Unlike the usual, serious press conferences, this one was full of laughs, mostly between besties Serena Williams and Andy Roddick. And yes, I just referred to them as besties. To be fair, Serena called Roddick her “bestest” on Twitter.
Here are some gems from this morning:
Roddick on His Retirement:
“What kind of shape am I in right now? Round is a shape. I had a very detailed retirement plan and I feel that I’ve met every aspect of it. A lot of golf, a lot of carbs, a lot of fried food, and some booze, occasionally. I’ve been completely committed and the results have shown.”
Serena on Playing Her First Professional Match in Canada:
“I think it was in the 1950s.”
Serena and Roddick on Playing Mixed Doubles Tonight:
Andy: “I couldn’t convince Serena to play with me when I was actually good. Now that I suck she’s all about it. I’m just glad that I don’t have to return her serve. That would have been embarrassing for all parties involved…except for her.”
Serena: “We were supposed to play in Australia – but it didn’t work out. Andy was tired.”
Serena’s CN Tower Experience
Serena: “I’m afraid of heights but for whatever reason I decided to go to the CN Tower. I thought – ‘I can do it, I can do it’! The minute I went up the elevator, when you go to the top, I panicked. I got out of the elevator and I was huddled in a corner shaking and I couldn’t be consoled. I remember I bought all kinds of candies and carbs and cakes and I started shoving them in my mouth…”
Andy: “That sounds like retirement.”
Serena: “And then my friend had to come get me and then people came and they escorted me down cause I completely panicked I had a complete panic attack. And I was outside cause they have benches outside the CN Tower and I was laying down on the bench….”
Andy: “You just made that up.”
Serena: “No I swear [I didn’t], I promise. My heart was beating; I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Heights aren’t for me. I realized, you know what, I’m going to definitely stick to the ground.”
Let’s hope these two besties – now I can’t stop saying besties – make a comedy album. And because I just came up with that idea, I expect to collect royalties.
Thursday, November 1st, 2012
The tennis season is way too long.
Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking:
‘How can any sports season be too long?’
‘Heck, I wish the NHL and NFL season’s were a whole year.’
‘What is this girl saying? She must be crazy.’
Stay with me.
For eleven months of the year, professional tennis players travel thousands of kilometres, to compete in dozens of tournaments with little to no break.
“The schedule is crazy,” Rafael Nadal said at last year’s U.S. Open. “It’s crazy now, it was crazy before and it will still be crazy next year. You can’t make your body go to the limit for the whole year. It’s just not possible.”
Nadal has struggled with injuries his entire career and his body hasn’t been able to keep up with the demanding schedule. This year, Nadal hasn’t played since he was upset in the second round of Wimbledon due to a knee injury.
“It’s impossible to be here playing like what I did the last five years, playing a lot of matches and being all the time 100 percent without problems,” Nadal said three years ago in Shanghai.
Nadal had no choice but to skip half of the season in order to get healthy.
“It’s ridiculous to think that you have a professional sport that doesn’t have a legitimate offseason to rest, get healthy, and then train,” Andy Roddick said before his retirement.
When the top players are injured or tired, everyone suffers.
The Paris Masters is the final ATP 1000 event of the year. It’s supposed to be one of the most competitive, exciting tournaments on the ATP schedule. Well, unfortunately for tennis fans no Big Four player made it past the third round.
Roger Federer skipped the tournament due to fatigue, Nadal is injured, Andy Murray lost in the third round and Novak Djokovic was upset in the second round. It was the first time since March 2010 that Djokovic had lost that early in a Masters tournament.
You don’t see these weird results early in the season. Why? Cause the players aren’t tired then; they’re tired now.
But it’s not just the players who get tired after eleven months of tennis – the fans’ do too. Between the Grand Slams, Masters events, 500 and 250 events, there is a tournament almost every week. Who can keep up?
Some people, however, do benefit from the long season – the lower ranked players. Players trying to fight their way into the top 100, need to play dozens of tournaments in order to improve their ranking and make a living.
Despite all the complaints, don’t expect changes anytime soon – the eleven-month season is here to stay.
Thursday, November 1st, 2012
Tennis can be a lonely sport.
In the span of less than twelve months, a WTA player can travel to 32 countries, going from tournament to tournament with little time off to see family and friends. And just when the whirlwind season is over, you hop on a plane and start all over again.
As romantic as the professional tennis lifestyle may sound, it can be difficult to handle, especially for young players.
In 2011, Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino was one of the fastest rising stars on the WTA tour, reaching a career high ranking of no. 38. But in March 2012, the 21-year-old decided to take a break. A decision like that takes guts.
“It was definitely a difficult decision to take some time off,” Marino said. “I was at the point where my body was telling me that I need a break.”
At the time of her sabbatical, Marino also admitted to having mental fatigue, so she hopped on a plane from her training base in Montreal and headed home to Vancouver.
For four months Marino didn’t pick up her tennis racket. For a professional player, four months off the court is unheard of.
“I wanted to connect with my friends and family more,” Marino said.
Now, just three months after returning to the court, Marino is making her comeback.
“I’m really, really happy,” Marino said. “Mentally, I’m feeling very good. I feel like [the break] is playing off. “
So after seven months away from the professional game, what has changed?
“I think I have a really good network of friends and family back home now,” Marino says. “They’re very supportive. Knowing I have that support group there will help me in the long run.”
In order to help her game on the court, Marino had to work on her life off the court.
“More things in my life off court [have changed],” Marino said. “Having friends outside of tennis who have different interests keep me humble. Getting more used to being around my family more, seeing my dog and the cat, silly stuff like that – the simple things [has helped me].”
But now Marino faces challenges on the court as she makes her comeback. As opposed to playing the bigger WTA tournaments that Marino is used to, she’s playing the smaller ITF tournaments to dust off the rust and boost her ranking.
At last week’s ITF event in South Carolina, Marino had to qualify and win eight matches to win the first title of her comeback.
“I was a little rusty,” Marino admitted. “Just getting all those matches in made all the difference.”
Marino’s goal is to qualify for January’s Australian Open and hopefully pick up some wild card entries into WTA tournaments early next year.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” Marino said. “I’m really looking forward to next year and I’ll take it as it comes.”
With her killer forehand, huge serve, and new attitude, Marino is a player to watch in 2013.
Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
In 1995, Milos Raonic was a four-year-old boy, not yet old enough to read, let alone hold a tennis racquet.
Meanwhile, 6000km away, Spanish tennis player Galo Blanco was starting his professional tennis career on the ATP World Tour.
Fast-forward seventeen years and Blanco and Raonic are a match made in tennis heaven.
In the fall of 2010, Raonic was a 19-year-old kid ranked no. 230 in the world. Sure, he had a big serve, but the rest of his game needed a lot of improvement.
That’s when Raonic began working with Blanco for a three-week trial period, and the Spaniard quickly became the Canuck’s permanent coach.
“My [first] impression [of Milos] was that he was a boy with a lot of potential,” Blanco said of their first meeting. “With a 19-year-old kid you can work on a lot of things.”
Raonic and Blanco were on the same page from the start.
“I liked what [Galo] believed – what I needed to do to make the next step [in my career] and where he felt I could be and when,” Raonic said.
Just a few short months after they began working together, Raonic broke onto the ATP scene when he reached the fourth round of the Australian Open. Now, two years after their partnership began, Raonic has won three ATP titles and he’s ranked a career high no. 14 in the world. Not too shabby.
Before he began his coaching career, Blanco had a successful pro career of his own, reaching a career high ranking of no. 40 in the world and even beating Raonic’s childhood idol Pete Sampras in the 2001 French Open second round. Blanco has a lot of experience both on and off the court that he can share with Raonic.
“It’s obvious that if I make Milos play the same way I used to, I wouldn’t be doing my job,” Blanco said. “I can teach him how to push through more and try to instill the Spanish mentality which in tennis is try to be better every day, and to achieve this means you have to work more and more everyday and don’t ever get satisfied.”
In the past decade, Spain has been a tennis powerhouse, breeding stars like Feliciano Lopez (who Blanco used to coach), Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, and oh yeah, some guy named Rafael Nadal (I hear he’s pretty good). The Spaniards know how to develop tennis stars – even when it’s a Canadian kid from Montenegro.
“[With] Spain being the best breeding ground for tennis players the last 10 years, it was not a difficult choice to move into that competitive atmosphere,” Raonic said. “I think the best thing about their atmosphere is their openness and willingness to help each other out.”
Raonic trains out of Barcelona and he regularly practices and spends time with the Spanish players. But the one Spaniard he spends the most time with is Blanco.
On the court, Raonic says that he and Blanco “keep it all business,” but off court they’re good friends and almost like family.
“Since I started with him [in 2010] I always told [Milos] I wanted to be his coach on the tennis court but his friend outside,” Blanco said. “We share a lot of things. We spend almost 24 hours a day together and at the end of the day, if you are always the tennis coach, the relationship can burn quickly. Milos…could be my little brother and I always will fight for him [and] give him whatever he needs.”
As good as he now is, Raonic still needs a lot more work, but that’s an exciting challenge for Blanco.
“I don’t think there’s a number one thing [we need] to work on,” Blanco said. “There are a lot of specifics and all of them [are] very important. That’s what will make him that good. He is already 14 in the rankings and he has a lot of room to improve.”
They may be two years into this journey, but Blanco and Raonic are just getting started.
Saturday, October 13th, 2012
When Victoria Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title at this year’s Australian Open, she was in the midst of a 26 game winning streak – the best start to a women’s season in fifteen years.
Finally, I thought we had a clear no. 1 player in the women’s game. Well, not so fast. Azarenka went on a six-month title drought and just snapped out of it after winning the China Open.
If you’ve been a fan of men’s tennis in the past seven years, you’re extremely lucky.
You’ve witnessed Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, in his prime.
You’ve witnessed one of the greatest rivalries in sport between Federer and Rafael Nadal. Oh yeah, and you’ve seen the rise of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
We’ve been spoiled. The talent and competitiveness in the men’s game in the past decade has been incredible and the women’s game hasn’t been able to keep up.
Gone are the days when Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles consistently dominated the WTA. In the past decade, the women’s game has been waiting for a clear star and an exciting rivalry.
Sure, we’ve had Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova, but all of them, for different reasons, have been inconsistent.
Remember when Dinara Safina was world no. 1? No? Exactly.
Some might argue that the Big Four have dominated the men’s game for too long – I disagree. Sure, since May 2005 only one player other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray has won a Grand Slam – but why is that a bad thing? The Big Four have raised the level of play in the ATP and they’ve popularized the sport worldwide.
But women’s tennis is headed in the right direction. Serena Williams’ comeback season included a Wimbledon title, Olympic Gold, and a U.S. Open championship. If she stays healthy, she’ll stay at the top of the game.
But in order to popularize the women’s game, players like Azarenka, Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska need to be more consistent and start up some memorable rivalries.