In the early stages of a draw as large as Indian Wells, more questions often are asked than answered as we learn just enough to know what we don’t know—and what we want to know. Here are twelve burning questions to ponder while the core of the tournament approaches.
1. Will Federer and Nadal meet for the first time in a year?
For the first time since their rivalry took flight, the archrivals did not clash on clay or grass last season. By placing them in the same quarter, the draw gods have done their best to ensure that they will meet at Indian Wells for the second straight year. Especially promising is Federer’s path, for only Ivan Dodig and the winner of Hewitt vs. Wawrinka stand between a Swiss star who looked crisp in his opening demolition of Denis Istomin. Nadal’s route looks generally benign as well on paper, but the surging Ernests Gulbis could pose a severe test if he can keep up the form that has carried him through his longest winning streak ever.
2. Will Azarenka and Wozniacki meet for the first time in two years?
The two BFFs last faced each other on this court in 2011, when Wozniacki held the #1 ranking and Azarenka faced serious questions about her physical and emotional durability. How times have changed since then. Now, Wozniacki must field questions about her continued relevance as a contender, while Azarenka has become the face of the WTA’s new generation (albeit not always the face that the WTA would want). What makes this potential quarterfinal between the last two Indian Wells champions intriguing is Wozniacki’s former control of their rivalry, which seemed not so much technical as psychological. Still undefeated this year, Vika looks nearly certain to reach that rendezvous if she can keep injuries at bay. Chronic nemesis Goerges still might intercept Caro, as might a revived Petrova.
3. Can Berdych take care of business?
As if the weakest quarter in the men’s draw needed to get any weaker, Kevin Anderson upset the only serious threat to the Czech in David Ferrer. With his route to the semifinals wide open, Berdych need not worry about anyone more dangerous than Gasquet. The Frenchman does happen to be rather dangerous at the moment, granted, since he has won two (small) titles this year and should prosper on the slow surface. But Berdych also has enjoyed a consistent season to date, so his superior weapons leave him in control of his own destiny.
4. Can Sharapova take care of business?
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino. Sara Errani. Marion Bartoli. None of these potential pre-semifinal opponents ever has defeated Sharapova, and only once has any of them threatened her. That occasion did come recently at last year’s US Open, when Bartoli won the first set before Maria stormed back. All the same, the 2006 champion should overwhelm the Spanish journeywoman in the fourth round and rely on her dominance over those rivals to reach a third straight semifinal in the desert. Even without her best form against a top-25 opponent, Suarez Navarro, she eased through in straight sets by—as usual—growing more aggressive rather than less when the match could have tilted in either direction.
5. Should Murray’s fans be concerned?
After an easy third-round assignment, the competition will get stiff for the Scot as Nishikori and Del Potro loom. With those obstacles ahead, Murray would have benefited from a strong and efficient start to the tournament, but he didn’t get it in a three-set scare against Evgeny Donskoy. While the Russian has plenty of talent and ambition, he is not the sort of player expected to trouble one of the Big Four. Anybody and everybody has troubled Murray here recently, though, for he dropped seven consecutive sets at Indian Wells between a 2010 quarterfinal and the first set of his opener here. Hangovers from Australian Open disappointment have hampered him emotionally in those appearances, so his body language will bear watching if more sustained adversity arises. That said, he matches up extremely well to Nishikori and Del Potro, neither of whom ever has defeated him on a hard court.
6. Should Radwanska’s fans be concerned?
The sun of Indian Wells usually has not shone brightly on Radwanska, usually more successful at the tournament’s sequel in Miami. But her draw looks more comfortable than it often does, or at least it did until she toiled for two and a half hours to suppress Sorana Cirstea in the third round. The type of player whom Radwanska tends to dismantle with ease, the erratic yet powerful Romanian hit through her surprisingly often considering the court speed and her defensive skills. Radwanska also twice failed to serve out the match in the third set once she had reversed the momentum, a strange lapse for someone who has established herself as a fine competitor over the last eighteen months. Her next two projected opponents, Kirilenko and Kvitova, have spelled trouble for her at significant events before.
7. Which Novak will show up?
This question would have sounded ridiculous a set and a half into what looked like a humiliating rout of Fabio Fognini. When Djokovic threw away the second set and did not immediately reassert himself in the third, some eyebrows raised over this extended lapse. Also suggesting competitive fatigue was a minor altercation over a time violation warning that he received. Djokovic is not nearly as dangerous a player when his head is not in the right place, and early signs of trouble historically have spelled trouble later in the draw. If the man who smoothly struck every shot in the book during the first set returns, however, he will remain the title favorite. Djokovic may have time to collect himself, for his next two opponents do not look intimidating, nor did quarterfinal foe Tsonga in his convoluted victory over Blake.
8. Which Petra will show up?
Always a woman of two sides, Kvitova brought her bad version to the Australian hard courts and her good version to the Persian Gulf. As remarkable as it sounds, the same woman who won two games from Cibulkova one month came within two games of knocking off Serena (and demolished Radwanska) the next. More of a lamb than a lion in March recently, Kvitova showed some of both extremes in a three-set victory over the pedestrian Govortsova and a third-round battle with a qualifier that nearly reached a third set as well. She can contend for the title as convincingly as anyone, especially with her past success against Azarenka, but every opponent whom she faces should enter that match knowing that they have a chance.
9. Can a former US Open champion prove himself (again)?
When he knocked off Nadal and Federer in succession to win the 2009 US Open, Del Potro looked like the next big thing for the ATP. He still could be, but the odds of his becoming one of his generation’s great champions grow slimmer with every season since his wrist surgery in which the Big Four and even players like Ferrer throttle him. One of the few men who has won a major but not a Masters 1000 tournament, Del Potro may need to walk before he can run. In the peaceful environment of Indian Wells, where he has produced strong results before, he should take heart from the early frailty displayed by Djokovic and Murray.
10. Can a former US Open champion prove herself (again)?
Compared to Stosur’s recent results, those of Del Potro look positively brilliant. The 2011 US Open champion has not won a title since that miraculous breakthrough against Serena, and winning a single match lay beyond her abilities early in 2013. Unlike most players who win a major, the Aussie drew no fresh confidence from her achievement. The good news is that she finally has strung together a few victories in her recent tournaments, and a commanding victory over Keys showed form that could prove good enough to carry her through the weakest quarter in the women’s draw. When she last faced Azarenka at the US Open, Stosur extended her to a third-set tiebreak. Who knows what could happen in a semifinal against her if she accumulates some momentum before then?
11. Who will be the last American man standing?
There are two candidates left at this stage: Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. Both find themselves uncomfortably close to Djokovic, never a good place to be. Fish is just grateful to have started to play matches again after his health scares, and anyone who believes that Querrey can become the next great American champion probably just clicked on an email from Nigeria. That said, the Californian deserves credit for surviving the elephantine serve of Ivo Karlovic, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles bearing the mantle of the top-ranked man from a nation frustrated with its tennis underachievement.
12. Who will be the last American woman standing?
Well, let’s take a look at the options. There’s Stephens and,…oh, she lost already? Anyway, there’s Keys, who…she’s gone too? Maybe Christina McHale with…hmm, Kirilenko came back? Time to do a Ctrl+F for USA on the women’s draw.
1 match. Jamie Hampton.
Enjoy the rest of the tournament, and feel free to suggest answers for questions 1-11 in the comments.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
“Last year, through the Dubai, Rotterdam and Indian Wells swing where I won all three, I didn’t get tested once. That shouldn’t be OK.”
At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Roger Federer once again shared his thoughts about doping and testing. He revealed that in 2012, there was a lack of frequent and consistent testing for doping whilst he was competing, despite having won three consecutive tournaments.
This week, the ITF (International Tennis Federation) have shared their plans for biological passports. They have been busy of late redesigning their Davis Cup and Fed Cup websites and their latest relaunch has been the official website of its Anti-Doping department.
The website aims to share detailed information on the Tennis Anti-Doping programme and it has uploaded many PDFs from recent years of blood testing which has been carried out on the athletes.
A summary of testing conducted under the 2012 ITF Tennis Anti-Doping Programme is now available on their website of all players who hold an ATP or WTA ranking. The results show the amount of times the athletes have been tested during the year whilst competing and also when they are out of competition. The results do not include samples collected during the London Olympics by the National Anti-Doping Organisations.
During 2012, the statistics show that a total of 1727 in-competition urine specimen samples were taken from male and female athletes and 124 specimens of blood.
Out of-competition testing was slightly lower with 271 specimens for urine and 63 for blood. Overall, 2185 total specimens were taken and it is interesting to see how consistently players were tested, particularly the higher ranked players. I have put together a table of results for the current top 20 ATP and WTA players.
ATP Top 20 Testing Summary
These are the sample testing results for the players ranked in the top 20 in the ATP rankings as of this week.
The samples are fairly consistent with Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Berdych, Del Potro, Tsonga. Tipsarevic, Gasquet, Cilic, Wawrinka and Seppi all tested on seven and above occasions, whilst the other players were largely tested four to six times.
The only exceptions are Rafael Nadal, who due to injury was not tested for in-competition as frequently and therefore has a higher out-of-competition sample compared to his colleagues. Milos Raonic was also tested on one to three in-competition occasions.
For further names of athletes and their testing summary, you can access the ITF anti-doping website here:
WTA Top 20 Testing Summary
These are the sample testing results for the players ranked in the top 20 in the WTA rankings as of this week.
Half of the WTA top 20 players were tested during competitions on seven or more occasions and surprisingly four out of the current top 5 have been tested fewer times than some of their counterparts. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Na Li have been tested on one to three occasions and four to six occasions respectively.
For further names of athletes and their testing summary, you can access the ITF anti-doping website here:
Over the next few years, expect the number of overall testing to rise, as the ITF have made it clear that they are going to increase the number of blood tests done each year under its anti-doping programme.
Federer was pleased by the announcement and said at the BNP Paribas Open:
“I think tennis has done a good job of trying everything to be as clean as possible but we are entering a new era. We have to do everything to ensure our tour is as clean as it possibly can be.”
By Maud Watson
Rafael Nadal couldn’t have asked for a better start in his return from injury. He picked up his second title in three tournaments with his win in Acapulco, and what an emphatic win it was, too. In his last two matches, he took out his fellow countrymen Almagro and Ferrer in straight sets, and the win over Ferrer in the final was particularly brutal. He was moving around the court like a jack rabbit, and, when the opportunity presented itself, appeared to be growing more and more confident in his ability to take the ball on and dictate the point. His impressive win in Mexico doesn’t suddenly make him the favorite for Roland Garros as some overzealous fans and analysts have suggested, but it’s clear by what we saw coming off his racquet last week that he’s already starting to resemble the Nadal of old. We’ll see how Nadal’s clay court success translates onto the hard courts at Indian Wells, but it’s safe to assume that even at this early stage in his comeback, he’s going to be a tough out on the dirt.
While Rafael Nadal was busy showing the tennis world he’s firmly in the thick of it, Novak Djokovic was busy showing everyone why he’s World No. 1 and has no intention of giving up his perch anytime soon. Playing in his first event since winning the Australian Open, Djokovic barely showed any signs of rust as he claimed his fourth Dubai title and second of 2013. He waltzed through the tournament without the loss of set, though he was pushed to a tiebreak on two occasions. His ability to raise his level just that little bit, however, is what separates him from the majority of the pack. He enters Indian Wells as the top favorite, and after bowing out last year to Isner in the semis, you can be certain he’s going to be extra hungry to reclaim that title and keep his perfect record for 2013 intact. It’s going to take something special to stop the Serb, because right now, he’s in a league of his own.
Apparently the governing bodies of tennis are capable of coming to a unanimous decision as evidenced by the news that the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slams are giving their full support to the new biological passport program that will take effect on both tours yet this year. The passport program also will come with more blood tests as well as an increased number of out-of-competition testing. This new endeavor will be made possible by the increased funding that all of the governing bodies have pledged to provide to the program. This will undoubtedly make the players happy as well as the fans. It’s important that tennis be able to back up the assumption that it is a clean sport, with the cheaters being more the exception than the norm. It’s encouraging to see how quickly everyone is moving on this, and with any luck, any nasty doping accusations leveled at the players will soon be a thing of the past.
Earlier this week, both Wozniacki and McIlroy, who have suffered some recent setbacks in their respective sports, came out to squelch rumors that they had ended their relationship. The takeaway from Wozniacki’s press conference, however, wasn’t her commentary regarding the status of her relationship with Rory, but rather her comments concerning where she is with her game. The Dane insisted that she wasn’t slumping due to the relationship and that she didn’t have a problem. She rationalized that “When you are No. 1, there is only one way and it’s down and you can’t go further up. I feel like I am playing well.” She’s living in a fantasy world if she thinks she’s playing well and that her trajectory as a former No. 1 is acceptable. She needs to take a look at players like Azarenka, Serena Williams, and Sharapova. All three women have been at t he top, but they continue to work to get back to the top and at least remain close to top to seize an opportunity to pounce when one is presented to them. They don’t frequently suffer shock losses and drop out of the Top 10 unless an injury or illness is the culprit. Someone needs to get a hold of Wozniacki and help her right the ship, because it’s clear she doesn’t have a realistic grasp of where she is with her game or her spot within the sport.
Head of the Class
Earlier this week, the International Tennis Hall of Fame named their incoming class for 2013, and it’s a pretty decent slate of inductees. The Class of 2013 is headed by the sole Recent Player Inductee, Martina Hingis. The Swiss Miss was one of the craftiest players to ever pick up a racquet. In addition to the numerous awards she received over the course of her career, she garnered 15 major titles. She still holds the record for being the youngest woman to ever win a major – winning the Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles in 1996 just three months shy of her 16th birthday – and she was also the youngest woman to reach the No. 1 singles ranking at 16-and-a-half years of age. Furthermore, she was one of those rare top players that excelled in both singles and doubles and is one of only five female players to have simultaneously held the No. 1 ranking in both. Hingis will be joined by Master Player Inductee, the great Australian Thelma Coyne-Long, whose induction is long overdue. Rounding out this year’s class in the Contributor category are three former players who have continued to serve the sport through providing television commentary and tournament administration. They are Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell, and Ion Tiriac. It’s a well-rounded and deserving class, and they should make for an enjoyable induction ceremony later this summer.
The BNP Paribas Open is just under way, and with all the recent tennis festivities including the BNP Paribas Showdowns and K-Swiss Desert Smash, tennis players have been preparing for Indian Wells in a variety of fun and entertaining ways. We’ll give you the full run down on Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Caroline Wozniacki, Mardy Fish, Jack Sock, Daniela Hantuchova and many more!
At the K-Swiss Desert Smash, Novak Djokovic practiced his victory celebration when he partnered up with actor Jeremy Piven, while also striking some Madonna-like poses during play.
Mardy Fish and Djokovic practiced their “hanging out” skills on-court to the delight of fans.
The Bryan Brothers and Sam Querrey played some tennis, while Fernando Verdasco attempted his best Ray Charles impression.
No tennis party would be complete nowadays without some RedFoo action, so Jack Sock, Paul Henri Mathieu and French DJ Bob Sinclair posed with RedFoo for some photos after playing.
Daniela Hantuchova stood uncomfortably with the Party Rock Crew during the K-Swiss Desert Smash Player’s Party arrivals. Standing through a unique photo-op like this should prepare her for ANY awkward battles on the tennis court this week.
Speaking of Hantuchova, she and Melanie Oudin helped with the women’s main draw ceremony at the BNP Paribas Open, while Tommy Robredo helped with the men’s draw. That’s some heavy lifting of giant tennis balls there!
On the East Coast in New York City, Juan Martin del Potro gave his arm muscles a workout as he hoisted the most adorable (and talented) little girl during the BNP Paribas Showdown. The pair teamed up to play a few entertaining points against Rafael Nadal and actor Ben Stiller. (Full video here.)
Meanwhile during the Hong Kong edition of the BNP Paribas Showdown, Caroline Wozniacki improved her footwork by dancing with a dragon and a ballboy.
In London, Johnny Marray practiced his mini-tennis skills in prep for the big stage at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Two days later after participating in the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York City, Azarenka took to the Indian Wells practice courts with her boyfriend RedFoo and chatted up a storm on the sidelines.
And last, but certainly not least, Andy Murray also hit the Indian Wells practice courts for some good preparations. We can now checkmark the “Prepare” from off his t-shirt and get ready to “Attack” and “Destroy” next!
Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!
First quarter: For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha. Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other. In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago. Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian. Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd. Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way. Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.
The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson. In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine. The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki. Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching. Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February. On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress. She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.
Second quarter: Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert. Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round. For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality. Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne. Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far. Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it. If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.
Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber. A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before. Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats. At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw. The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round. Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency. Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods. Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.
Third quarter: Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders. Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea. Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either. In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title. Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011. Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?
Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova. Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven. Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there. The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros. Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round. Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova. Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.
Fourth quarter: Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013? Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro. Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards. The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur. Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her. But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.
Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later). Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival. Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08. If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year. By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco. Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!
By Maud Watson
Caroline Wozniacki’s career hit another snag earlier this week when she was surprisingly bounced out of the Malaysian Open in her opening match by qualifier Wang Qiang. The loss completes a trio of disappointing weeks for the Dane, but being dismissed as top seed after holding a match point against a qualifier ranked 186 was definitely the bottom of the barrel for the former World No. 1. Wozniacki attributed the defeat to a lack of energy and focus, but there were apt to be other factors at work here, with the most likely culprit being a need to change coaches and subsequently revamp her approach to the game. She’s no longer spinning her wheels. She’s virtually stalled and in danger of going fully in reverse. She must take a page out of Radwanska’s book and commit to replacing her father with a new coach (and give that coach a fair trial run) and make adjustments to her game, or else she’s very likely to go by way of players like Safina and Jankovic. She has too much potential to let that happen, but that’s what’s going to unfold if she fails to get out of her own way.
Testing the Waters
Mardy Fish fans have reason to rejoice as the American announced that he is planning to make his return to tennis at the upcoming BNP Paribas Open after a six-month layoff due to heart issues. Fish has already twice had to postpone his return to competition, pulling out of both San Jose and Memphis, but his agent reports that Fish has been practicing and working out for three to four hours a day and feels confident about getting back out on the courts. If all goes well with his heart, Fish is optimistic that he’ll be able to play a full schedule for the remainder of 2013. Fingers crossed that this is the case. Not only would it be great for him personally, but with the recent struggles of John Isner, American tennis could use some good results from Mardy.
Asked and Answered
Or, at least plans are being formulated. After an increased amount of chatter from the players – including the Big 4 – asking that more measures be put in place to test for PEDs, the governing bodies of tennis seem to be preparing to take action to meet those demands. The slams and both tours announced their respective commitments to contribute more funding to the ITF anti-doping program, with reports coming out that Wimbledon and the US Open are set to double their annual contribution. The increased funding would mean that the ITF could soon look into providing more out-of-competition testing, blood testing, and possibly even funding a biological passport program. The bureaucratic machinery of tennis tends to move slowly, but it’s encouraging to see that matters on this particular front appear to be moving forward. It would be nice to squelch the baseless doping allegations that have hit tennis the last couple of years.
If there was one tournament victory last weekend that could potentially prove pivotal, it was Petra Kvitova’s win in Dubai. Granted, with Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova all absent, it wasn’t quite the star-studded field that had contested Doha a week earlier, but there was still plenty of talent in the pool vying for Dubai. In the end, it was Kvitova who built on her performance the previous week, all but taking the match out of the hands of her opposition by producing the kind of lights out tennis we know she’s capable of playing. The win couldn’t have come at a better time either with both Indian Wells and Miami looming. The Czech has historically struggled to produce her best at the big North American events (though she did manage a title in Montreal last summer), but with her victory last week, she should be feeling confident about her game irrespective of where she’s competing. The game needs her back at the top, and perhaps her run in Dubai will propel her to bigger and better things this coming spring.
On the heels of the news that the ATP Board of Directors approved the 2013 prize money distribution at Indian Wells comes word that BNP Paribas has extended its sponsorship of the prestigious event through 2018. At a time when a number of other tournaments are struggling to find title sponsors, this is welcomed news but by no means a surprise either. BNP Paribas began its sponsorship of Indian Wells in 2009, and in that time, it has seen the tournament blossom into an event that in various aspects, rivals the majors. Hopefully, with the continued support from BNP Paribas, we’re likely to continue to see the year’s first masters evolve and encourage other tournaments to follow suit.
While eight of the top ten men are active in the week before Indian Wells, only two of the top ten women have chosen live matches over practice sessions. Two clay tournaments in the Western Hemisphere accompany an Asian hard-court tournament as the last chance to reverse or extend momentum before the March mini-majors.
Acapulco: One of those two top-ten women playing this week, Errani hopes to begin repeating last year’s success on red clay while extending her success from reaching the Dubai final. Little about her section suggests that she should not, although she stumbled unexpectedly on clay against Lepchenko in Fed Cup. Considering that mishap, she might find Arantxa Rus a worthy test in the quarterfinals. Rus once upset Clijsters at Roland Garros and owns a lefty forehand smothered with topspin that cause damage on this surface. She might struggle to survive an all-Dutch encounter in the opening round against Kiki Bertens, though, who broke through to win her first career title at a clay tournament in Morocoo last year.
Gone early in Bogota, where she held the second seed, Alize Cornet will hope for a more productive week in a draw where she holds the third seed. The Frenchwoman lacks weapons to overpower her opponents but will find few in this section who can overpower her. The most notable name here (probably more notable than Cornet) belongs to the returning Flavia Pennetta, who got through one three-setter in Bogota before fading in a second. Tiny Lourdes Dominguez Lino hopes that this first-round opponent still needs to shake off more rust.
An odd sight it is to see an American, a Croat, and a Swede all playing on clay during a week with a hard-court tournament, and yet all of them occupy the same section in Acapulco. Perhaps more notable than Glatch or Larsson is Ajla Tomljanovic, a heavy hitter from a nation of heavy hitters who once looked like a sure rising star before recent setbacks. Facing this Croatian wildcard in the first round, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu knows better how to play on clay, as 2011 finals in Marbella and Budapest showed. Begu won her first career title last fall in Tashkent, which places her a notch above the other seed in this quarter. Spending most of her career at the ITF level, Romina Oprandi recorded a strong result in Beijing last fall.
Handed a wildcard to accompany her sixth seed, Schiavone searches for relevance after a long stretch in which she has struggled to string together victories. The sporadically intriguing Sesil Karatantcheva should pose a test less stern than second seed Suarez Navarro, who shares Schiavone’s affinity for the surface. Humiliated twice in one week at Dubai, where she lost resoundingly in both the singles and the doubles draws, the small Spaniard owns one of the loveliest one-handed backhands in the WTA since Henin’s retirement. Schiavone owns another, which should make their quarterfinal pleasant viewing for tennis purists.
Final: Errani vs. Begu
Florianopolis: In the first year of a new tournament, the presence of a marquee player always helps to establish its legitimacy. The outdoor hard courts at this Brazilian resort will welcome seven-time major champion and former #1 Venus Williams as the top seed, and her draw looks accommodating in its early stages. While young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza showed potential at the Australian Open, the American’s sternest challenge may come from a much older woman. Extending Venus deep into a third set at Wimbledon in 2011, Kimiko Date-Krumm could unsettle her fellow veteran with her clever angles and crisp net play, although her serve should fall prey to her opponent’s returning power.
In the quarter below lies Kirsten Flipkens, who lost early as the top seed in Memphis after reaching the second week of the Australian Open. Also a potential semifinal opponent for Venus, Caroline Garcia possesses much more potential than her current ranking of #165 would suggest. Unlike most of the counterpunchers in Florianopolis, she will not flinch from trading baseline missiles with the top seed should she earn the opportunity. Another young star in the eighth-seeded Annika Beck might produce an intriguing quarterfinal with Garcia.
Counterpunchers dominate the third quarter, bookended by Medina Garrigues and Chanelle Scheepers. When the two met at the Hopman Cup this year, endless rallies and endless service games characterized a match filled with breaks. The heavy serve of Timea Babos might intercept Scheepers in the second round, while Medina Garrigues could encounter some early resistance from the quirky Niculescu or Shahar Peer. With her best years well behind her, the Israeli continues to show her familiar grittiness in attempting to reclaim her relevance.
Midway through 2012, the second-seeded Shvedova climbed back into singles prominence by reaching the second week at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Starting with her three-set loss to Serena at the latter major, she has suffered a series of demoralizing setbacks in early rounds since then, often in tightly contested matches that hinged on a handful of points. Shvedova once led the WTA’s rankings for overall pace of shot, though, and her power might overwhelm those around her. Aligned to meet her in the quarterfinals is Kristina Mladenovic, the surprise semifinalist at the Paris Indoors who delivered the first signature win of her career there over Kvitova.
Final: Williams vs. Mladenovic
Kuala Lumpur: With a direct-entry cutoff even lower than Florianopolis, this tournament features only eight players in the top 100. Headlining the list, however, is a former #1 who still occupies the fringes of the top 10. After she produced solid results in the Middle East, reaching a quarterfinal in Doha and a semifinal in Dubai, Wozniacki should feel confident in her ability to secure a first title of 2013. Few of the names in her quarter will strike chords with most fans, although some might remember lefty Misaki Doi as the woman who upset Petra Martic in Melbourne before eating a Sharapova double bagel. Aussie lefty Casey Dellacqua sometimes can challenge higher-ranked foes but has struggled with injury too often to maintain consistency.
Doi’s highest-ranked compatriot, the double-fister Ayumi Morita holds the fourth seed in Kuala Lumpur. Like Wozniacki, she could face an Aussie in the quarterfinals, and, like Wozniacki, she should not find the test too severe. Although she has won the Australian Open wildcard playoff twice, Olivia Rogowska has stagnated over the past few years since winning a set from then -#1 Safina at the US Open. Evergreen veteran Eleni Daniilidou rounds out this section with one of the WTA’s more powerful one-handed backhands—and not much else.
Surely pleased to recruit another player of international familiarity beyond Wozniacki, Kuala Lumpur welcomes Pavlyuchenkova as a third-seeded wildcard entrant. The Russian often has excelled at this time of year, reaching the Indian Wells semifinals before and winning consecutive titles at the Monterrey tournament that has shifted after Miami. This year, Pavlyuchenkova has shown a little of her promising 2011 form by reaching the final in Brisbane to start the season and much more of her dismal 2012 form by dropping three straight matches thereafter. She could end her four-match losing streak here in a section filled with qualifiers. But yet another Aussie in Ashleigh Barty hopes to continue what so far has become an encouraging season for WTA future stars.
When not conversing on Twitter with our colleague David Kane, 16-year-old phenom Donna Vekic has compiled some notable results. Seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, she will look to build upon her final in Tashkent last year, a win over Hlavackova at the Australian Open, and a solid week in Fed Cup zonal play. Vekic does face a challenging first-round test in the powerful serve of American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but no match in her section looks unwinnable. While second seed and potential quarterfinal opponent Hsieh Su-wei won her first two titles last year, the late-blossoming star from Chinese Taipei still does not intimidate despite her presence in the top 25.
Final: Wozniacki vs. Pavlyuchenkova
(Actually, can we just combine these last two draws and have Venus play a super-final against Caro?)
Shifting down the Persian Gulf, eight of the top ten women move from Doha to Dubai for the only Premier tournament this week. In North and South America are two International tournaments on dramatically different surfaces. Here is the weekly look at what to expect in the WTA.
Dubai: Still the top seed despite her dethroning last week, Azarenka can collect valuable rankings points at a tournament from which she withdrew in 2012. She looked far sharper in Doha than she did for most of her title run in Melbourne, and once again she eyes a potential quarterfinal with Sara Errani. Although the Italian has rebounded well from a disastrous start to the season, she lacks any weapons with which to threaten Azarenka. Between them stands last year’s runner-up Julia Goerges, an enigma who seems destined to remain so despite her first-strike potential. If Sloane Stephens can upset Errani in the second round, meanwhile, a rematch of the Australian Open semifinal could loom in the quarterfinals. The top seed might expect a test from Cibulkova in the second round, since she lost to her at Roland Garros last year and needed a miraculous comeback to escape her in Miami. But Cibulkova injured her leg in Fed Cup a week ago and has faltered since reaching the Sydney final.
Having won just one match until Doha, Stosur bounced back somewhat by recording consecutive wins in that Premier Five field. The Aussie may face three straight lefties in Makarova, Lepchenko, and Kerber, the last of whom has the greatest reputation but the least momentum. While Makarova reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Lepchenko displayed her newfound confidence in upsetting both Errani and Vinci on clay in Fed Cup—a rare feat for an American. Vinci herself also stands in this section, from which someone unexpected could emerge. Azarenka need fear little from either Kerber or Stosur, both of whom she has defeated routinely in most of their previous meetings, so a semifinal anticlimax might beckon. Not that Doha didn’t produce a semifinal anticlimax from much more prestigious names.
Atop the third quarter stands the greatest enigma of all in Petra Kvitova, who won four straight matches between Fed Cup and Doha before nearly halting Serena’s bid for the #1 ranking. Considering how far she had sunk over the previous several months, unable to string together consecutive victories, that accomplishment marked an immense step forward. Kvitova can capitalize immediately on a similar surface in the section occupied by defending champion Radwanska. In contrast to last week, the Czech can outhit anyone whom she could face before the semifinals, so she will determine her own fate. If she implodes, however, Ivanovic could repeat her upset when they met in last year’s Fed Cup final before colliding with Radwanska for the third time this year. Also of note in this section is the all-wildcard meeting between rising stars Putintseva and Robson.
Breaking with her usual routine, Serena has committed to the Middle East hard courts without reserve by entering both Doha and Dubai. Whether she plays the latter event in a physical condition that looks less than promising may remain open to question until she takes the court. So strong is the draw that Serena could open against world #11 Bartoli, who owns a Wimbledon victory against her from 2011 but has not sustained that success. The eighth-seeded Wozniacki proved a small thorn in her side last year by defeating her in Miami and threatening her in Rome, so a quarterfinal could intrigue if the Dane can survive Safarova to get there and if Serena arrives at less than full strength.
Final: Azarenka vs. Kvitova
Memphis: Overshadowed a little by the accompanying ATP 500 tournament, this event has lacked star power for the last few years. Rather than Venus, Sharapova, or Davenport, the top seed in 2013 goes to Kirsten Flipkens, a player largely unknown in the United States. This disciple of Clijsters may deserve more attention than she has received, however, rallying to reach the second week of the Australian Open in January after surviving blood clots last spring. Former finalist Shahar Peer and 2011 champion Magdalena Rybarikova attempt to resurrect their careers by returning to the scene of past triumphs, but lefty Ksenia Pervak may offer the most credible challenge to Flipkens in this quarter.
Of greater note is the hard-serving German who holds the third seed and should thrive on a fast indoor court. Although Lisicki has struggled to find her form away from grass, she showed flickers of life by charging within a tiebreak of the Pattaya City title earlier this month. Kristina Mladenovic, a potential quarterfinal opponent, delivered a key statement in the same week at the Paris Indoors, where she upset Kvitova en route to the semifinals. Before then, though, this French teenager had displayed little hint of such promise, so one feels inclined to attribute that result more to the Czech’s frailty for now.
Part of an elite doubles team with compatriot Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka has excelled on surfaces where her powerful serve can shine. Like Lisicki, she should enjoy her week in Memphis amid a section of opponents who cannot outhit her from the baseline. Among them is the largely irrelevant Melanie Oudin, who surfaced last year to win her first career title before receding into anonymity again. Neither Oudin nor the fourth-seeded Heather Watson possesses significant first-strike power, so their counterpunching will leave them at a disadvantage on the indoor hard court. But Watson has improved her offense (together with her ranking) over the last few months and should relish the chance to take advantage of a friendly draw. Interestingly, Hradecka’s doubles partner Hlavackova could meet her in the quarterfinals if she can upset Watson.
Finishing runner-up to Sharapova here in 2010, Sofia Arvidsson holds the second seed in this yaer’s tournament as she eyes a potential quarterfinal against one of two Americans. While Chanelle Scheepers anchors the other side of the section, Jamie Hampton could build upon her impressive effort against Azarenka at the Australian Open to shine on home soil. Nor should one discount the massive serve of Coco Vandeweghe, which could compensate for her one-dimensionality here.
Final: Lisicki vs. Hradecka
Bogota: Like the ATP South American tournaments in February, this event offers clay specialists an opportunity to compile ranking points in a relatively unintimidating setting. Top seed and former #1 Jankovic fits that category, having reached multiple semifinals at Roland Garros during her peak years. She has not won a title in nearly three years, but a breakthrough could happen here. In her section stand Pauline Parmentier and Mariana Duque Marino, the latter of whom stunned Bogota audiences by winning the 2010 title here over Kerber. As her wildcard hints, she never quite vaulted from that triumph to anything more significant. Serious opposition to Jankovic might not arise until the semifinals, when she faces the aging Pennetta. Once a key part of her nation’s Fed Cup achievements, the Italian veteran won their most recent clay meeting and looks likely to ensure a rematch with nobody more notable than the tiny Dominguez Lino blocking her.
The lower half of the draw features a former Roland Garros champion in Schiavone and a French prodigy who nearly broke through several years ago before stagnating in Cornet. Testing the latter in a potential quarterfinal is Timea Babos, who won her first career title around this time last year with a promising serve. For Schiavone, the greatest resistance could come from lanky Dutch lefty Arantxa Rus. Known most for her success on clay, Rus won a match there from Clijsters and a set from Sharapova, exploiting the extra time that the surface allows for her sluggish footwork. Also of note in this half is Paula Ormaechea, a rising Argentine who probably ranks as the most notable women’s star expected from South America in the next generation. Can she step into Dulko’s shoes?
Final: Jankovic vs. Schiavone
Check back shortly for the companion preview on the three ATP tournaments this week in Marseille, Memphis, and Buenos Aires!
The WTA has had its share of infamous parents, particularly fathers, over the years. First there was Jim Pierce, Mary Pierce’s father, who was physically and mentally abusive to Mary for the majority of her formative years. In November of 1992, the ‘Jim Pierce rule’ passed, which stated a member of a player’s entourage, whether it be an agent, parent or coach, could be banned for his or her conduct. He was banned from all remaining events of the 1993 season due to violent behavior towards Mary at that year’s French Open.
Next came Marinko Lucic, father of Mirjana. Lucic, who made the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 at just 17, said her father started physically beating her at the tender age of five and also beat her mother and siblings. Years of physical and verbal abuse followed Lucic’s young career, until countryman Goran Ivanisevic saved the family and helped them move to the United States. Stefano Capriati was also alleged to have crossed the line with his daughter Jennifer and used the teenaged Capriati as the cash cow for her family.
Damir Dokic is perhaps the most infamous father in tennis history due to a variety of off-court incidents; he accused the Australian Open organizers of fixing the draw against his daughter in 2001, complained about the price of food at the US Open and was kicked out of Wimbledon for being drunk and disorderly. In June 2009, Damir was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison for threatening the Australian ambassador to Serbia; he and Jelena reconciled in 2011, ending their eight-year feud. Arsalan Rezai, whose daughter Aravane seemed poised to be a contender on the WTA after winning Madrid in 2010, was indefinitely banned from the WTA after a violent incident with Aravane and her boyfriend at the 2011 Australian Open. The incident has had a profound effect on the Frenchwoman, who has slipped to near No. 200 in the WTA rankings.
While Piotr Wozniacki has not approached these extremely abusive levels, he’s become a tennis villain in his own right. Much like Yuri Sharapov before him, Piotr has been the one constant in Caroline’s tennis career, perhaps to a fault. Over the past few years, Caroline has been criticized just as much for Piotr’s domineering presence in on-court coaching visits as she has for her defensive game style or “Slamless No. 1” status. Many have called for Caroline to fire her father as coach and employ someone who knows the game better to try and help her win her maiden Slam title.
When the Wozniackis hired Ricardo Sanchez in early 2012, it seemed as though she had turned a corner; however, this coaching relationship latest all of two months, and Sanchez later stated that it was impossible to coach Caroline under Piotr’s influence. Both father and daughter have insisted to the press that their system is the best system for Caroline.
On Thursday in Doha, Caroline argued with chair umpire Julie Kjendlie over a phantom ‘out’ call during her match with Mona Barthel. Piotr felt the need to join in from the stands, and the scene became a circus when a WTA official came to confront him.
As a spectator, Piotr has no right to argue his daughter’s case or strike up any sort of conversation with the chair umpire or other officials from the stands, and Kjendlie should never have engaged him. Players have no right to claim hindrance based on calls from the crowd, and as the linesman signaled the ball in with his hands, it should have been ruled a clean winner and Barthel’s point. Kjendlie was in the midst of explaining this to Caroline when Piotr got involved. Following his tirade, she proceeded to change her ruling and ordered the point to be replayed.
Was Kjendlie ‘bullied’ into doing so? Maybe. Nonetheless, she should’ve stood her ground here; the first rule of umpiring is stick to your guns, no matter what. But that doesn’t, even for a second, excuse Piotr’s behavior.
Maria Sharapova finally put Yuri in the backseat after winning the Australian Open in 2008. After firing her father as coach and hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski as coach in July 2011, Wozniacki’s friend and rival Agnieszka Radwanska finally reached the next level; she peaked at World No. 2, reached the Wimbledon final in 2012 and has cemented her status as a top-five player. Marion Bartoli, who recently settled her rift with the French Tennis Federation and was named to the Fed Cup team for the first time since 2004, stated that her father will no longer be coaching her, ending the other high-profile WTA father-daughter coaching relationship.
It can’t be denied that Wozniacki reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis under her father’s tutelage. However, his on-court episodes have become more and more frequent following Caroline’s slide down the rankings. If other players can ‘put on the big girl pants’ and take control of their own careers, why can’t Caroline?
Because she doesn’t want to. At the end of the day, Caroline is an adult; if she wanted to end the coaching relationship with her father, she would’ve done so already.
Formerly riddled with upsets and surprise semifinalists, WTA draws grew relatively predictable in 2012 as a small group of women won virtually every marquee tournament. That trend continued when Azarenka defended her Australian Open crown after several young stars rose and fell. In Doha, more of the familiar suspects look likely to shine. Read a preview of the draw, quarter by quarter.
First quarter: Just as she did in Melbourne, Azarenka may need to defend her title to retain her #1 ranking with the second-ranked Serena Williams anchoring the opposite half of the draw. Also like the Australian Open, the medium-speed hard courts in Doha suit the top seed’s style more than any other surface, and one must feel sanguine about her semifinal hopes in this weak section. Several of the women surrounding her played Fed Cup over the past weekend, when most looked pedestrian at best against modest competition. Although she upset Azarenka once and nearly twice in 2012, Cibulkova extended a discouraging span that started with her double bagel in the Sydney final by retiring on the verge of victory in Fed Cup. Bojana Jovanovski and Daniela Hantuchova collaborated on a hideous comedy of errors this Saturday, while the sixth-seeded Errani faces the challenge of transitioning from the clay of the Italy-USA tie. This section could implode quickly, which might open a door for the rising Laura Robson to build on her Australian upset of Kvitova.
Second quarter: Two women of Polish descent bookend a section that contains two former #1s who have sunk outside the top 10. Having withdrawn from Fed Cup with a shoulder injury, Ivanovic remained in the Doha draw as she hopes to erase the memories of a first-round upset in Pattaya City, where she held the top seed. The Serb likely would collide with Australian Open nemesis Radwanska as early as the third round, however, so she may gain little more from Doha than she did last year. An all-German encounter beckons at the base of the quarter between the last two Paris Indoors champions: the fifth-seeded Kerber and Mona Barthel. Meeting the winner in the same round as the projected Ivanovic-Radwanska clash is world #11 Wozniacki, who fell just short of an Australian Open quarterfinal in a promising end to an otherwise miserable January. Kerber stifled her on multiple surfaces last year, though, while struggling to solve Radwanska’s consistency.
Third quarter: A 2008 champion at this tournament, the third-seeded Sharapova eyes a comfortable start to the tournament against a qualifier or wildcard. Rolling through Melbourne until her competition stiffened suddenly, she may find an opponent worthy of her steel in Sloane Stephens, although her fellow Australian Open semifinalist withdrew from Fed Cup this weekend. Looming on the opposite side is an encore of the 2011 Melbourne marathon between Kuznetsova and Schiavone, separated just by a qualifier and the dormant Bartoli (also a Fed Cup absentee). The Russian returned to relevance with an outstanding January considering the sub-50 ranking with which she started it before reaching quarterfinals at Sydney and the Australian Open. Her athleticism and rising confidence should serve her well against the Schiavone-Bartoli winner and against the eighth-seeded Stosur in the following round. Still struggling to regain her rhythm after ankle surgery during the offseason, the Aussie probably cannot defend her runner-up points in the vicinity of two multiple-major champions from Russia.
Fourth quarter: Among the questions looming over this tournament is the health of Serena Williams, the prohibitive favorite in Melbourne until multiple injuries overtook her. Serena probably would not participate in an event like Doha unless she felt confident in her condition, however, so one should take her entry at face value for now. As she has reminded rivals over the last several months, few can break her serve on a non-clay surface when she is healthy, and she should overpower clay specialists in the early rounds like Medina Garrigues and Vinci. Of greater suspense is the identity of the woman who will emerge from the section occupied by Kvitova, who clings to the seventh seed in a manner far from convincing. Although playing a Fed Cup tie on home soil may have boosted her spirits, she has not strung together victories at a WTA tournament since last August. Often troubled by the task of defeating a compatriot, she could meet Fed Cup teammate Safarova in the third round. Before then, Beijing nemesis Suarez Navarro lurks in a challenge for her consistency. And Russian veteran Nadia Petrova adds an entertaining mixture of power and petulance to a section full of fiery personalities.
Come back on Friday to read a semifinal preview!