Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Winners, Losers to Begin 2014 US Open Series
August is one of the biggest months for the ATP and WTA tours, as they begin the U.S. Open Series that includes the Rogers Cup, the Western and Southern Open at Cincinnati and the U.S. Open.
This past week, we learned more about the chances for players such as Serena Williams and Milos Raonic. Unfortunately, it also spelled doom for superstars Rafael Nadal and Li Na who face bigger questions in the months ahead.
There were other terrific stories this past week, including the mighty Belgian David Goffin and his 20-match winning streak. Canadians are rising as they get set to host the Rogers Cup and its rather lopsided draw. And just what is Caroline Wozniacki planning on doing in New York on November 2? We will break down her tough road to this accomplishment without worrying if this will affect her regular job.
All of this and more in this week's "Winners and Losers" column where we examine the unusual, disappointing and triumphant happenings in tennis.
Winner: Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki has had her fair share of headlines, but once again it's something besides tennis. The former No. 1 announced that she will be running the New York Marathon in November. Nobody can say that she is not running away from new challenges and, in this case, running into one of the most legendary endurance tests in sports.
The interesting thing is that athletes who play other professional sports rarely embark on such challenges during their playing career. Does this mean Wozniacki is not so committed to tennis?
A marathon is 26.2 miles, but it often takes many months to prepare. Wozniacki is counting on three months.
The training for a first-time marathoner typically requires someone her age to build a base of at least one year of distance running.
Then, the runner would be in position to follow an 18- to 24-week schedule, designed to progressively build the runner's stamina and get her legs into stronger shape, especially to endure the cramping and fatigue that often strikes marathoners in the final 10 kilometers of the race.
Wozniacki is a world-class athlete who not only trains with a lot of lateral footwork and conditioning but says she runs "30-40 minutes a day," per Mary Pilon of The New York Times. However, she will need to build up her mileage by October with a couple of weeks at 40-50 miles of training, if she wants a decent finish. She will likely face a lot of leg fatigue and remedies like ice baths.
What kind of finishing time can we expect from Wozniacki? Typically, women will run a marathon somewhere between four and four-and-a-half hours.
Excellent female marathoners, capable of qualifying for the Boston Marathon every April, need to qualify according to the following chart on the Boston Athletic Association's website. Wozniacki would need to run three hours and 35 minutes, which is very unlikely given her time frame, notwithstanding her athleticism.
Prediction? The training could be harder than she expects. It's not that she is incapable, but it is a very different kind of training than tennis. Hopefully she does not let this affect her tennis success. I'm going to say that she finishes with a time of 4:11:05. Just an estimate, mind you.
Loser: Rafael Nadal
This probably will not be the last commentary about Rafael Nadal's injuries, but we already questioned if his right wrist injury and other inevitable setbacks will lead to adjustments in his playing schedule as he ages.
What we do know is that Nadal will lose 2,000 points in the ATP Rankings by not defending his titles at Toronto and Cincinnati. Obviously, this is not what Nadal wanted, so there was certainly no upside to the timing of this injury and the lack of competitive preparation it will cost him to defend his U.S. Open title.
He has also likely lost any chance to end the year as the No. 1 player, which Novak Djokovic should win in a landslide.
If there is any hope, it's that Nadal has often come back strong from injuries. Maybe he will recover quicker than the 2-3 weeks he is supposed to abstain from swinging a racket. Maybe he gains enough time to play at his best when the U.S. Open begins August 25.
It's going to be a tough ask, but Nadal might be the one player who can pull it off.
Winner: David Goffin
David Goffin's first ATP tour title was a win for hard work and perseverance. The 23-year-old Belgian won the Kitzbuhel Cup in Austria 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 over young Dominic Thiem.
This was more than just a title. Goffin has been on a tear, winning three ATP Challengers titles and Kitzbuhel as part of his current 20-match win streak in the past month. He will also move up 30 points in the ATP Rankings to land at No. 48.
Goffin is a pleasing player to watch and possesses underrated talent. His all-court skills, backhand and return game are bigger than his 5'11" frame, and he is a thinker who maximizes his shots and percentages. He proved this early in the tournament by knocking off No. 1 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber and then capping off his title by defeating the home country's favorite young star.
Maybe his wrist injury, slump and fading results are in the rearview mirror. His golden trophy at Kitzhubel deserves our own Golden Breadstick award.
Loser: Li Na
Since her successful dream of capturing the Australian Open title, Li Na has had difficulties building on her success. She was considered a possible candidate to go after Serena Williams' No. 1 ranking, but a gradual decline, coaching change and right knee injury have taken away her momentum.
This week it was reported by SI.com that Li's right knee injury will sideline her from the big tournaments at Montreal, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open.
It's bitter news for the 32-year-old Li, who may feel that she lost an opportunity to challenge for the No. 1 ranking, especially with the struggles that Serena has previously had this year.
For now, all she can do is get healthy and target a return with the Far East swing in autumn.
Winner: Serena Williams
Watch out, WTA, Serena Williams could be back.
Serena won her fourth title of the year by defeating Angelique Kerber 7-6(1), 6-3 at Stanford for the Bank of the West championship. It was a well-earned victory that saw her come back after a 5-1 first-set deficit.
The bigger picture is important for Serena's chances to defend her U.S. Open title. There are familiar foes such as Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic and fading Agnieszka Radwanska, but injuries have also hampered Victoria Azarenka and derailed Li Na.
The challenges could best come from youngsters such as rejuvenated Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard.
But as usual, her chances to win bigger trophies could depend on her own health, fitness and endurance. She always has the power and mentality to win, but she will need youthful energy. At least this week was a step forward once again.
Loser: John Isner
In the grand scheme of tennis, it's probably of little consequence that John Isner was defeated in his first match at the Citi Open in Washington D.C. by No. 68-ranked Steve Johnson.
What followed later was more bizarre and perhaps would have been better left unsaid. Isner was not happy about being assigned to play on a grandstand court:
"I didn’t like playing out there. I thought it was [expletive],” Isner said to the press, via The Washington Post. "I just didn’t think I deserved to play there. Simple as that."
Isner was also rankled that other higher-ranked seeds were given the feature court, because, as The Associated Press reported (via Chris Chase of USA Today), international TV outlets made their pitch to prefer matches with Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. Each of those players was matched up with other Americans.
A couple of things to note about Isner. First, he has had a history of complaining about conditions. Last year at the U.S. Open, he was "disappointed" that New York fans cheered for his opponent, Gael Monfils.
In February 2013, Isner complained about the Brazilian fans who supported their Davis Cup representative Thomaz Bellucci in Jacksonville, Florida. Isner lost the five-set match and was called a "crier" by the Brazilian captain, Joao Zwetsch.
OK, so Isner's rabbit ears or sensitivity about getting preferential treatment on home soil probably does not go over too well with most people. But is all of this just background noise, or should a lesser court really be a legitimate beef for a player who relies first and last on his big serving? (He split two tiebreakers with Johnson.)
Organizers will always move players around according to what will enhance their product and ratings. This is part of the way to collect a bigger purse for the players as well, and they will certainly promote their top or most charismatic stars.
At least Isner is consistent with noticing who should get court preferences, as he voiced his view for the 2014 French Open's opening round with defending champion Rafael Nadal assigned to Suzanne Lenglen, the second-show court at Roland Garros:
"That's really bizarre. I mean, how many times does the guy have to win the tournament to be able to have his first match on Chatrier?"
Isner, the arbiter of fairness might be eyeing a post-tennis career as a tournament director or judge. For now, his timing is bad, and he will be judiciously awarded the Burnt Bagel award.
Winner: Milos Raonic
While Isner was miserably completing his three-set defeat to Johnson, Canadian Milos Raonic had the feature court at the Citi Open to defeat American Jack Sock. It turned out that the organizers had it right. Raonic went on to win all of his matches and clinch the title against fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-1, 6-4.
Raonic will move past Berdych for the No. 5 spot in the ATP Rankings, at least until the results of the Canada Open are determined. There, Raonic will be defending 600 runner-up points. For now, this is another huge step forward for the big-serving Wimbledon semifinalist, and it could catapult him to bigger wins ahead on the faster surfaces that end 2014.
Is he a contender at the U.S. Open? Can he get in and win the WTF tournament on fast indoor courts?
He will be a player to watch at Toronto this upcoming week. Winning adds exposure.
Loser: Uneven Draw at Toronto
Tennis draws are not always going to produce the even symmetry and balance for a bracket the way it did at Rome's Italian Open. But this week's Rogers Cup does seem a little top-heavy.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has a tough opening match against either Radek Stepanek or Gael Monfils. Both opponents possess a lot of aggressive tennis talent and athleticism, dangerous for any one match.
Djokovic could also potentially face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray (if Murray can get by a tough opener against Santiago Giraldo or Nick Kyrgios) and Stanislas Wawrinka or Grigor Dimitrov before a possible final against Roger Federer.
If Djokovic's bracket is meat and potatoes, No. 2 seed Roger Federer has a bracket with cake and frosting. He should have little trouble with erratic Jerzy Janowicz, and his toughest possible match could be with Marin Cilic. Then it might be David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych or Milos Raonic.
But most of this might not matter anyway. Draws have a way of thinning out potential death brackets, and unexpected surprises come with overlooked opponents.
The power might be in the top of the bracket, but it also means several tough, interesting matches for viewers throughout the week. And of course Federer will be a nice comeback story after missing last year's Rogers Cup competition in Montreal.
Winner: Canada Open 2007
The ATP field was quite different in 2007, but familiar champions were ruling the world. Or at least this is a partial explanation going into the 2007 Canada Open.
A look back will show that Novak Djokovic was seeded No. 3, but that was only after his first real surge up the rankings. In March, No. 12 seed Djokovic got to his first Masters 1000 final, at Indian Wells, but lost to Nadal.
He won the Miami Masters as the No. 10 seed, his first Masters title.
And then Djokovic became a semifinalist at the French Open and Wimbledon. The Serbian was for real.
August saw him storm into Canada and defeat Federer 7-6(2), 2-6, 7-6(2) for the Rogers Cup. It was his first-ever win against Federer and came after huge wins over Andy Roddick and Nadal. Federer told BBC Sport, "He is definitely one of the best players in the world and he deserved to win."
But Federer would perhaps learn a thing or two about his new young rival. He went on to defeat young Djokovic in the U.S. Open in straight sets for his fourth of five straight titles in New York. It would also cap the last of Federer's three-majors seasons.