Top Moments From Rome with Picks…

On we march toward the French Open. With only two weeks left to work-out the kinks in their clay games, players are drawn into another combined tournament. Internazionali BNL D’Italia, Rome Open is an outdoor clay event, Premier 5/Masters 1000.

Last year, Murray wrestled the title from Djokovic 6-3, 6-3 and Serena tempered Madison Keys’ pace to win 7-5, 6-3. Well none of these players are at the same place with their games this year.

The ATP draw is great for Murray and has him meeting Raonic in the quarterfinals if he can get by A. Zeverev. Wawrinka and Murray are likely to meet in the semifinals, if Wawrinka can get by Cilic. On the bottom of the draw, energy-bunny Thiem and Nadal will battle for the semifinal. The same can be said for Nishikori and Djokovic if they can get by Del Potro and Kyrgios.

The WTA draw is yet another opportunity for a player to fill the vacuum Serena has left. On the top half, Kerber has a tough draw. She has to get through Sharapova in the round of 16, only to meet Halep in the quarterfinals. If Keys can get through Kutnetsova in the round of 16 and Cibulkova in the quarterfinals, she’ll meet Halep in the Semis. I’m looking forward to a Konta/Venus match in the round of 16 and Venus/Muguruza in the quarterfinal. On the bottom of the draw, Pliskova if healthy, has a manageable run to the semis.

Picks This Week:

  • Murray and Nadal in the final with Nadal taking the title… He has yet to lose a clay title this season. He is on the path for his tenth French Open.
  • Pliskova can take this title. Halep will be on fumes by the final if she gets pass Keys and though a Venus/Pliskova semi would be enthralling, if it goes to three sets, I am doubtful Venus will be able to play her game for more than two hours. Nevertheless, here’s hoping Venus’ tennis IQ bridges the gap. Venus for the title!

This Week’s Top Moments:

10. Are retirements like deaths, coming in threes? Well after fourteen years Argentina’s Juan Monaco has announced his retirement. The thiry-three year old journeyman accumulated a career high-ranking of #10, nine titles and eight million dollars.

Juan  Monaco Retirement.png

9. The wildcard debacle continues. Maria Sharapova, Deborah Chiesea and Sara Errani were granted the much sought after free entry, but the retiring and ever engaging Francesca Shiavonne was not. Chiesea fell to Tsurenko 5-7, 2-6 and Errani to Cornet 3-6, 4-6! Of course Sharapova got through McHale 6-4, 6-2. The tours and these players’ teams have learned nothing from Young, Harrison and the like who abused wildcards to their own detriment. Of course, wildcards have their place in the sport, but it is generally abused in tennis. This should make us appreciate qualifiers even more. Those players who put in the hard work to secure their rankings. This week qualifiers included: Petkovic, Kontaveit, Bellis, Gavrilova, Vekic, Ostapenko, Barthel and Wang.

8. On a day when Fabio whipped Murray 6-2, 6-4 and Djokovic worked hard to defeat qualifier Bedene 7-6(2), 6-2, the world exploded around Maria Sharapova. Before she took the court, The French Open organizers, via Facebook, announced that they would not grant  the two-time champion a wildcard.

There can be a wildcard for the return from injuries – there cannot be a wildcard for the return from doping. I’m very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans. They might be very disappointed, she might be very disappointed, but it’s my responsibility, my mission, to protect the high standards of the game played without any doubt on the result. –French Tennis Federation chief Bernard Giudicelli Ferrandini 

7. Sharapova retired in the third set, after a medical time out requiring her to leave the court to wrap her upper left thigh. Lucic Baroni moved on 6-4, 4-6, 2-1 and will take on either No.1 Angelique Kerber or qualifier Anett Kontaveit in round three. With her retirement, she is limited to qualifying draw at Wimbledon. Hopefully, she is fit enough to play next week as she has been granted a wildcard into Strasbourg and Nurnberger. She has also been granted a wildcard into Birmingham with a two year agreement. Also, playing qualifying at Wilmington should not label her as classy or legendary.

6. While players are reportedly approving of Ferrandini’s decision, Tennis Channel and WTA CEO Steve Simon commentators are shocked and displeased with French Open Organizers’ wildcard decision. Sharapova skipped her post match press conference and it took a day for her and her agency to respond, indicating a level of shock or disbelieve.

5. Like Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber is having a difficult year which she is hoping to turn around miraculously at the French Open. Her round two Kontaveit match gave her a lot to consider with a 6-4, 6-0 defeat. At 19/11, she has not won a title yet this year as she has yet to exhibit the game she had last year when she won two slams. What can Murray and Kerber do between now and the French Open to recapture their forms? Maybe they need to release their entire teams like Djokovic. 🙂

4. Last year I wrote Fan Series: The Veil of Integrity and Transparency where I bemoan the tennis journalism or the lack thereof.  Now the quarterly magazine Racquet aims to change this. In “There’s Almost No Journalism in Tennis” Joseph Licterman interviews  Caitlin Thompson, publisher of Racquet magazine. While Thompson’s aims are just, the price (annual $84) and target demographic ( Wes Anderson–Bjorn Borg aesthetic) for the magazine makes it exclusionary like the good old sport it wants so desperately to save.

While Racquet has been praised in publications such as The New York Times’ T Magazine and Monocle, it’s been more of a challenge to break through to the tennis world, Thompson said. “I thought we would be less of a hit in the indie magazine scene and more of a hit in the tennis scene,” Thompson said. “What that makes me think is that the tennis scene still doesn’t understand us and the indie magazine scene wants us to go even further. It’s changed our strategy a lot, which is to say: bigger, bolder, more thorough.”

3. For a Tennis Channel commentator to say, during the Nadal/Sock match that they do not have the rights to WTA matches because they were given to a network that is virtually invisible in America is disingenuous and clearly inaccurate. All reports point to the WTA choosing beIN to establish a viable contract with a network, implying that TC was unwilling or unable to pay the WTA for the rights. While, the WTA has had misstep after misstep in selling and promoting its product, TC has consistently used WTA matches as filler for the ATP programming short changing the players, fans and the tour.

2. Did you ever have opposite day in school? This was the day we loosened-up and saw teachers and staff differently as we all wore crazy outfits in an attempt to do something no one would expect: pants as tops, mix matched shoes… Today (Friday) was opposite day in Rome. First Nadal’s lost to Thiem 6-4, 6-3 shocking everyone who hasn’t been watching the youngster’s game. Then Isner defeated Cilic. Yes, American John Isner 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(2). Color me surprised when Djokovic demolished Thiem’s game in less than one hour 6-1, 6-0. He certainly seems to have found his game.

This was followed by Svitolina taking out Pliskova, just when talk was hitting peak status for her French Open run given her clay season thus far. Her serve let her down, but her opponent was unstoppable… Then there was Venus my emotional pick for the tournament. She sailed through the tournament like she had turned back father time, besting Shevodena and Tsurenko in two sets and Konta in three. She met major resistance in Muguruza who refused to add to Venus’ devastating H2H against her, which was already at 3-0. The Spaniard got off to a quick start and took the first set 2-6 before Venus got aggressive and consistent to take the second 6-3, but in the third set Muguruza dug her heels in, raised her play and took the set 2-6. But I was shocked when Muguruza retired after five games giving Svitolina the match in twenty-two minutes, setting-up the final between Svitolina and Halep.

1. What is wrong with Muguruza? She has not been able to recapture her game with any consistency since her grand slam win last year. She seems fragile and unsure of herself and her game. This is not the confident player who took it to Serena last year.  Her dependence on coach Sam Sumyk seems to be unhealthy.  Maybe a psychologist or some time away from the game is in order…

Check Out:

  • Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep surfed the waves of self-belief in Madrid. A must-read from the Steve Tignor 
  • A prudent Federer opts out of  the French Open and his coach Severin Lüthi, comments.
  • Angelique Kerber is back on top: She retakes the WTA No. 1 ranking.
  • The rule changes will be trialled at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan this November.
  • Retired doubles specialist Eric Butorac gave a great Tedx talk, “Don’t Dream Big” at TEDx Binghamton University. In a short and memorable speech he shares how not dreaming big helped him achieve his goals and build an interesting life. This is a gift every graduate should open time and again!
  • Japanese tennis player Junn Mitsuhashi (27) has been banned for life and fined US$50,000 after being found guilty of breaches of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.
  • Serena and Venus Williams donated a million dollars to the American Tennis Association, the oldest African-American sporting organization in the U.S., which will build a new facility in south Florida. The first inductee into the ATA’s new Hall of Fame will be Richard Williams.
  • Sharapova continues to dominate the headlines. In yet another puff piece, “The (Re)Selling of Maria Sharapova” Sarah Nicole Prickett’s intent is clear even if her objectivity isn’t. Most importantly, she miscalculates her audience, tennis fans casual or fanatic.

Generally speaking, another thing hard for casual observers to see is the big deal with “doping,” given how many Oscar-winning actors get liquored up for nude scenes or sobbing close-ups, how many award-winning graduates of Ivy League colleges take Ritalin, how many beauty-pageant winners take weight-loss pills.

Winners This Week:

  • Elina Svitolina defeated Simona Halep 6-4, 5-7, 1-6.
  • New doubles team Hingis and Chan got their second title 7-5, 7-6(4) over Makarova/Vesnina.
  • Alexander Zverev”Sascha” secured his first Masters 1000 against Djokovic 6-4, 6-3.
  • Veterans Herbert/Mahut took out Dodig/Granollers 6-4, 4-6, 3-10.

Next Week 5/21:

  • Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open (Geneva/Outdoor Clay/250)
  • Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon (Lyon/Outdoor Clay/250)
  • Internationaux de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France/Outdoor Clay/International)
  • NÜRNBERGER VERSICHERUNGS CUP 2017 (Nurnberger, Germany/Outdoor Clay/International)

What were your top tennis moments this week?

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