LADIES AND CHILDREN FIRST
The women's semifinals have already been played and the championship match set, between #6 seed and former champ Petra Kvitova and #13 seed and fast rising star, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. If your math is good, you can deduce that the top five women's players have all been shown the door: these include superstars Serena Williams, who has suffered an immense let-down after her dominant 2013 and Maria Sharapova who just won the French Open. Of course, as Maria has said about Wimbledon: grass is for cows.
The first finalist, Kvitova is a brilliant, flashy, dynamic player, but inconsistent.
Bouchard is nothing less than the future of tennis. Like Kvitova, she's aggressive, but she plays smart, tactical tennis, within her limits. She won the the Wimbledon Girls title in 2012, the WTA's newcomer of the year award for 2013, and she is already becoming the dominant story of this year: semifinalist at Oz (on hard courts), semifinalist at the French Open (on clay) and now, finalist at Wimbledon (grass). Bouchard is also intense: she shows very little joy in what she's accomplished, hardly even satisfaction. She is hungry, big time. She expects to be champion, and she expects it like yesterday.
In her semi-finals today, Bouchard beat Simona Halep handily. Halep has been another meteoric riser on the women's side, and came in here ranked #3. I expect these two to be fighting for slams for the next few years.
Watch the Wimbledon women finals Saturday to get in on the ground floor of what could be an epic career for Genie Bouchard.
Here is a clip of Bouchard, not at Wimbledon, but smiling on court:
It's raining, men!
When rain delays forced a LOADED roster of men's stars and up and comers to play a compressed schedule this week, we were treated to two days of historic, dramatic and intense action.
First, the great Rafael Nadal, world #1 and two-time champ, was dropped in the Round of 16 by Australian TEEN Nick Kyrgios. I've been hearing about Kyrgios, a Boys champ here, for a few months but hadn't seen his awesome power until this week. He blasted Rafa off the court, with 37 aces. Rafa fought gamely. Perhaps no one else could have done as well as he did the way Kyrgios was playing, but it seemed throughout it was going to be a losing battle. Kyrgios was absolutely untroubled by Rafa's serve, and could absolutely bully his second serve in a way I've only seen Novak at his best do. 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 for Nick. For years, we've wondered if the age of the teen star in men's tennis was over. The newcomers challenging are already 22, 23 years old. I thought maybe tennis was just too physical now for a teenager, but Kyrgios showed that some teenagers have the physicality early. Ironically, the last true teen superstar was Rafa, ten years ago.
But life is cruel. A star one day, gone the next. In the quarters, Kyrgios drew Milos Raonic, formerly known as Another Game For, now The Other Canuck. This round, it was Kyrgios on the other side of an unstoppable force. Don't believe the hype that Kyrgios suffered a big let-down. He played well, but somehow Milos was able to get a read on his serve- he broke Kyrgios four times. Milos' serve was just untouchable. This was a heavyweight slobberknocker. Imagine Robin Soderling vs Thomas Berdych, in their primes, but being 5 or 7 years younger, quicker and more athletic. I'm sure these ace-fests will get boring, like Ivanisevic-Sampras in the '90's, but for this week it was ripping tennis. We're going to see a lot of these two doing this. This week, Raonic took it, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6.
On the same day, Milos' Young Gun rival Grigor Dmitrov took out a completely flat Andy Murray- the defending champ and one of the favourites to win the cup.
So we get not one but two Next Gen stars breaking through, with the old guard waiting for them. Federer gets Raonic (Fed took out Stan Wawrinka in 4) and Dmitrov gets Novak (who took 5 sets to take out Marin Cilic).
Fed vs Milos
First of all, I love both semifinals. Great Old vs New match-ups with a former champ in each side, some great rivalries in the making, contrasts of styles. Plus, there are two main grass tournaments before Wimbledon, Halle and Queens, and the winners of each of those are on opposite sides. So there is balance in the Force.
Its just been a great Wimbledon all-round! But this one should be a treat. Milos is playing unstoppable tennis right now. His serve is huge and impossible to read. He plays smart and is just incredibly powerful.
But Fed is Fed. He moves better than anybody, perhaps EVER, on grass. His serve is also dangerous, and its clicking. His shotmaking was a level below Wawrinka's, but he still got the win. I'll take Fed in five tough sets.
Novak v Dmitrov
Dmitrov has been saddled with the nickname Baby Fed because of the versatility and fluidity of his game. Now he's earning a name of his own. Novak is looking very good though. Dmitrov says he's not approaching this match with fear, which I take to mean he is approaching this match with fear. I think Novak will break his will after a tough first two sets. I take Novak in four.
Novak vs Fed? A championship for the ages. I think this will be Fed's, and I think it will likely be his last Slam.
The take home message
Winning Slams just got a whole lot harder for the old guard on BOTH sides: Halep and Bouchard now stand in Serena and Maria's paths, joining a returning Azarenka.
But for the men, I think the change is bigger. I am hereby declaring the Era of the Big Four (Federer, Rafa, Novak and the midget of the group, Andy Murray) OVER. "What?" you say. "You just called for a Novak/ Fed finals! Are you an idiot?"
Fed and Novak will hold them off this time. But think back over the last 5 years of Slams, and you'll see that 3 of the 4 semi-finalists have been there an OUTRAGEOUS number of times. 4 out of 4 have been in the semi-slots repeatedly. I think those days are over. Rafa and Novak aren't going to roll over for the new kids, but think how hard it is for Fed and Murray to get a whiff at a Slam with Rafa and Novak there. How much harder will it be when Milos, Dmitrov, Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Kyrgios can take any top guy down?
This bears repeating. Write this down. These are the names to remember now:
Stan Wawrinka (old, suddenly a contender)
Milos Raonic (youngish)
Grigor Dmitrov (youngish)
Kei Nishikori (youngish)
Nick Kyrgios (teen)
For the next couple years, we'll be seeing these guys in Slam semis and finals, along with Novak and Rafa, and MAYBE Murray and Fed.
This has been, and will be, an era-transitioning Slam. And just wait- if Dmitrov and Raonic win their matches, it will be the clearest generational hand-off I've ever seen.
Wimbledon always covers Canada Day, but it doesn't always celebrate it. This year, with the ascendance of Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic, Wimbledon tastes like maple syrup.
The Australian Open men's semis are set.
On the side Djokovic was hailed as owning before a ball was played, Stan Wawrinka (the current #1 Swiss) and Tomas Berdych emerged and will play tonight, assuring a rare fresh face in the finals.
On the other, Rafa took care of young Grigor Dmitrov in four sets, and Federer took out Andy Murray the same length.
So, another Rafa-Federer Slam match. Its been years since Fed has beaten Rafa at a Slam.
If you'd have asked me about this match a week ago, I would have picked Rafa in an instant. Now I'm not so sure. Here are four reasons Federer could pull off the upset. Now, I ain't saying he WILL pull off the upset, I'm saying, if you're looking for hope, here are straws to cling to:
1) New coach: Stefan Edberg has joined Federer's camp. All they need is to add Gustavo Kuerten and they'd have my all-time-favourite triumvirate. At first, I doubted this would mean much, especially early on. But Federer seems sharper and more aggressive around the net and smarter, in his tactics-- Edberg's fortes as a player. It just feels like Edberg has given Federer a dose of confidence and focus that he needed.
2) New racquet: For years Federer has had one of the smallest, least advanced racquets on tour. Last year, as he slid into irrelevance in the Slam competition, he had an aborted trial with a larger frame. Now, he's trying again. Often, a player can take a YEAR to adjust to a new racquet, yet here Federer is playing much sharper, and without the countless shanks of the last two years.
3)Fed says he's healthy. Well, Fed always says he's healthy, then admits to injuries at some point in the aftermath. This time he really seems to mean it, and his speed and explosiveness seem to testify in his favour.
4) Rada's blisters. If you watched the last two rounds, you've seen Rafa's racquet hand taped, to protect a blister in his palm. Against Nishikori, Rafa played brilliantly and said afterwards that the blister didn't hurt at all, although the tape dulled his feel some. Against Dmitrov it was clear the blister was in his way. Rafa holds the racquet very low. The butt sits right in his palm, on the blister. It was clear all match that Rafa wasn't serving well; he gave away one game with three double faults. Dmitrov, though, is a lousy returner. He had some of the worst return numbers in the tournament. he could do nothing with Rafa's diminished serve. Federer surely will do better. If Rafa's blisters return, Fed could eat up his serve.
The Beauty Bowl: A New Girlfriend of Tennis Vagabond is Crowned
What a day for tennis!
First the brilliant Bouchard/ Ivanovic match, then an intense five set upset of Stan Wawrinka over three-peat champion Novak Djokovic. Incredible stuff from Stan. He’s always had the firepower, but only now does he have the physical and mental stamina to hang with the superstars. I think he will be a force in the game this year, he could easily jump into the Tsonga/ Del Potro/ Berdych spoiler realm, possibly leap over them (poor Ferrer, I never give him credit in these lists, but I just don’t believe he’s a danger to the Big Four in Slams).
For Those Just Joining Our Program
In the "light" side of the draw, Djokovic had all but been given the Finals spot when the draw was announced, as only Ferrer, Berdych and Wawrinka stood in his way. Contrast with the other side, boasting Rafa, Federer, Murray, Tsonga and Del Potra (plus all four Young Guns: Raonic, Dmitrov, Nishikori and Tomic).
So Wawrinka and Berydich have emerged as semifinalists from the Novak half. On the Death Side, tonight Rafa takes on Grigor Dmitrov (who had already taken out Raonic), and Andy Murray gets his first real test since back surgery against Federer who, under the watchful eye of Stefan Edberg, demolished the Jo Wil Tsonga Threat.
On the women's side, Ivanovic had already played Giant Killer of the tournament, eliminating the Great Feared One, giving Sharapova and Azarenka a huge boost-- until Sharapova too got bounced.
Don’t make too much of Novak’s loss. He is so strong mentally now, he has developed an equanimity about the game like Rafa and Fed, he can put a loss behind him. As often as not, one of the big four falls before the semis. There’s often one surprise and three known quantities. This year, because of Ferrer’s bumping Fed to the Death Half, we have two non-Big Four semifinalists (Wawrinka, and Berdych who overcame Ferrer), but so far, still, only one Big Four has fallen to a non-Big-Four. So in that respect, the Open is still ‘on serve’.
*“When he’s playing his best he’s better than me for sure, I was trying to focus on playing really aggressive.”
Very kind comment from Wawrinka.
*Djokovic’s post-match reaction was extremely sportsmanlike and gentlemanly, giving Stan smiles, hugs and the time for a few words at the net. Boucquets for Nole!
Stan is a veteran player whose time has come. Bouchard is a teen taking the tour by storm. She has never won a WTA event, and now she's in a Slam semi agains a former Slam champ, Na Li. I’m excited for Bouchard. The women's scene was already getting more dramatic, as a top tier of Azarenka, Sharapova and Li had established themselves as bridesmaids to Serena's perpetual star role. Bouchard is crashing the party. She showed amazing game last night, and after the way she’s thrashed two straight opponents in the third set, like Stan, she’s giving notice that she has the physical and mental stamina of the best.
Here's the end of this monumental battle (the clip loops, you can stop watching when Stan wins):
The heat is the story so far. Frankie "Dancer" Dancevic passed out on court. Carline Wozniacki's water bottle melted. Announcers are dropping facts that players who slip must get up right away or the rubberized court surface will melt to their skin and burn them.
Meanwhile, in the action, Novak Djokovic last night looked like a five time Oz champion. He was up 6-0, 2-0 in the afternoon heat before dropping a game, and back to mortal levels.
The Popsicle too, did not melt in the heat, as Vasek Pospisil ended his 4-setter against Matthew Ebden in very impressive fashion to earn his first ever third round at a Slam.
When they're showing a big name match, and its boring, they'll actually switch to a better match with lesser known players. Case in point tonight, Federer's snoozer pre-empted for the Nishikori/ Matosevic five-setter.