by Maud Watson
That’s pretty much all a stunned Swiss team could do after a shocking loss to the United States in Davis Cup play last weekend (and if the damage control Federer was rightfully forced to do following that loss is any indication, they couldn’t even explain the defeat diplomatically). There were many factors that contributed to the upset, but first and foremost was the inspired play by the United States under the cunning captaincy of Jim Courier. The American squad comprised of Fish, Isner, Harrison and Mike Bryan was a talented group, but up against a Swiss team that included Federer, playing in Switzerland, and on clay, it was to be an uphill battle for the red, white and blue. But boy did they deliver. Then there was the subpar play of Wawrinka, who appeared to struggle with the pressure. Federer was also at fault, as he seemed pressed at times. His backhand, especially on the return, proved a real liability, particularly in the doubles. Finally, there was the surface itself. Never mind that both teams found it nearly unplayable. They shouldn’t have played on clay in the first place. With the possible exception of Spain, countries need to chuck out the conventional wisdom that it’s best to play the U.S. on the red dirt. In this case, an indoor hard court similar to the World Tour Finals would have been best. It would have eliminated many of the high backhands Federer had to field, plus there would have been the confidence he would have felt on that surface after the way he finished 2011. That assurance likely would have rubbed off on Wawrinka, and then the whole weekend might have been different. But hindsight is 20/20. Hats off the Americans for some fine play, and it’s back to the drawing board for the Swiss.
Whether she is aware of it or not, Caroline Wozniacki is at a crucial point in her career. Playing in Doha in her first match since losing in the Aussie Open and the No. 1 ranking in the process, she not only suffered defeat to Safarova, she did so after holding three match points. Safarova is no slouch, and she’s proven her ability to beat the game’s top stars on multiple occasions. But this was still a bad loss for Wozniacki. This was a match that wasn’t in her hands, and it was ultimately Safarova’s willingness to take risks and control the situation that allowed her to snatch victory away from her Danish opponent. This should be a wakeup call to Wozniacki that she needs to be looking to beef up her game and add more offense. She’s still No. 4, and even by women’s tennis standards, she’s still young. There’s still time to change. But she’s not going to turn it around by being obstinate and keeping only her father as coach and acting relatively indifferent to these losses. Without changes, losses like the one to Safarova are only going to pile up, and pretty soon, she may just find herself on the outside of the Top 10 looking in.
Last year, audiences saw a woman by the name of Angelique Kerber make a Cinderella run to reach the semifinals of the US Open, where she lost in three sets to the eventual champion, Sam Stosur. But in 2012, Kerber is playing some great tennis, showing that run to the semis of the US Open was a precursor of what was to come. She surprised Sharapova en route to the final last week in Paris, before breaking some hearts by defeating native Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the final. She needs to continue to work on her fitness and consistency, but with her big strokes, fighting spirit, and the unpredictable nature of the women’s tour, there’s definitely room for her in the upper echelons of the game.
As is par for the course, injuries continue to plague the top players. Gael Monfils has pulled out of both San Jose and Memphis citing a right knee injury. Unfortunately for Monfils, with the way he plays, these injuries are apt to only grow in number and severity as his career progresses. Andy Roddick is also nursing a hamstring injury and a freshly hurt ankle, which nearly cost him his match against qualifier Kudla in San Jose. As a player who is used to being at the top and not particularly known for his patience, this latest setback will be one more test as Roddick thinks about how much longer he wants to go through the grind and stay on tour. Spare a thought for Tommy Robredo also, who appeared to have his game back on track early last season before suffering a severe leg injury at Indian Wells. The Spaniard played only a handful of matches after that and will now be undergoing leg surgery. He hopes to be back for the spring clay court season. On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters has already opted to pull out of Indian Wells, citing an ankle injury. Her case is a little suspect given the way she played on a bum ankle in Australia and the fact that Indian Wells is still a few weeks away, but the Belgian’s history of injuries is well-documented. In her case, it wouldn’t be shocking to see her pull the plug immediately following the Olympics, as she hobbles across the finish line of her career.
The USTA has signed a new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines to be the title sponsor of the US Open Series and the official airline of the US Open. Sponsorship dollars are a major plus, especially since the US Open Series has helped increase tennis viewership throughout the summer hard court season. But this is just one piece of the puzzle to helping the USTA solve the problems that have plagued them the last few years. They are going to have to look into making other changes and improvements if they wish to keep players, fans, television carriers, and all sponsors happy.
(photo © Getty Images)