By Maud Watson
It was three years ago when Rafael Nadal suffered a major upset at Roland Garros at the hands of Robin Soderling, announced he had knee problems, and then pulled out of Wimbledon, unable to defend his crown. Now it seems he’s been handed a very similar scenario in 2012. After a hard loss in the second round of Wimbledon, he’s once again battling knee problems that have inhibited his ability to prep for London, meaning that he will be unable to attempt to defend his singles gold medal and serve as flag bearer for Spain. But while this is a troubling immediate concern for Nadal, it also brings plenty of uncertainty to the bigger picture. It would be plain stupid to write Nadal off just yet. Things looked bleak in 2009 before he turned it around to put together a banner year in 2010. But he’s three years older now, more of the competition is starting to catch up, the knee problems are never going to go away, and his style of play is only going to increase the wear and tear on his joints. Champions are stubborn. They don’t like to change the playing styles that have brought them so much success. But at this juncture in his career – and another heartbreaking pullout – it might be time for Rafa to consider doing more re-tooling of his game.
Woman on a Mission
The US Open Series got underway last week at the Bank of the West Classic, and it was a familiar champion that was left holding the trophy aloft. Serena Williams has rarely played the week after winning a slam, but she made an exception this year as she jetted from the lawns of Wimbledon to sunny California to successfully defend her title in Stanford. Stanford marked the site of a lucrative summer campaign for Williams last season, and she’s no doubt hoping for more of the same in 2012. But pundits are guessing there was a little more driving Serena to compete the week after winning her fourteenth major than just looking to recapture some good vibes. If she can successfully defend the bulk of her points this summer, she’s in with a real chance to finish the year as the No. 1 ranked player in the world. It’s certainly an attainable goal given how frequently the top spot has changed hands, and the younger Williams already has the experience of knowing what it takes to get there. If she’s truly dedicated towards reaching the upper-most echelons of the game, it’s going to make for an interesting summer.
Back on Track
While Tipsarevic secured a title in Germany, Ferrer continued his best year with a win in Sweden, and Cilic thrilled the home crowd in Croatia, the biggest ATP stories came out of the grass court event in Newport. The winner, John Isner, is undoubtedly elated to notch a tournament win and perhaps get his season back on track. Newport served as a catalyst to a great summer for him the past, and after the slump he’s been in, a victory in the City by the Sea is just what the doctor ordered. If he’s once again able to use this as a springboard to pile up the wins and confidence throughout the summer, look for him to be a force to be reckoned with at the US Open. The finalist in Newport is also noteworthy. Lleyton Hewitt, who has undergone a number of surgeries and played very little in 2012, proved that he’s still got the moves, even on the challenging grass courts. Though he fell one match shy of garnering his first tournament win since 2010, it was an excellent effort by the two-time Grand Slam champion. Hard saying how much longer he’ll be competing at the top professional level, but if he can continue to find that vintage form that made him the youngest ever to finish a season ranked No. 1, he can still cause more than a few problems for the game’s best.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that hell has frozen over, but a big change is slated to come to the All England Club in 2015. After studying the facts and figures, the powers-at-be have decided to bump Wimbledon back a week, allowing players both a little more recovery time following Roland Garros and the opportunity to gain an extra week’s prep on grass. The event that may be most impacted by this change is the tiny 250 event in Newport, typically played the week after Wimbledon. Presumably, Newport may look to grab a spot before The Championships, but even if that occurs, the move could have a negative effect on its field. How many players will opt to travel to the States for a week on grass only to return to Europe for Wimbledon? And if Newport is allowed to remain after Wimbledon, will players be as willing to participate, or will they look to get straight onto the hard courts in preparation for the US Open? But the potential woes of Newport aside, this is great news for tennis overall. It should lead to less grumbling and hopefully ensure even higher quality grass court tennis.
Assuming the Helm
In what is probably a welcomed change by many of the French WTA Players, two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo has been named the new French Fed Cup captain. She replaces Nicolas Escude, who has been involved in a drawn out controversy concerning leaving top French player Marion Bartoli off the team due to her coaching arrangement with her father. As one of the most successful French players in recent decades, she brings a wealth of experience to the table – experience and guidance from which many of France’s fledgling talents could benefit. Smart move by the FFT, and hopefully the move pays dividends in the near future.