Tough road for Williams sisters as BNP Paribas Open women’s draw announced

Serena Williams, seeded 10th, could open her BNP Paribas Open campaign against Victoria Azarenka in a rematch of the 2016 finals, and possibly face former No. 1 Garbine Muguruzu in the third round.

By Leighton Ginn

Serena Williams will have a tough road in the BNP Paribas Open with possible matchups against former No. 1 players in the world in her first two matches.

Her sister Venus won’t have much of a cake walk either.

The BNP Paribas Open announced its women’s draw on Monday, and the road to the title.

Serena, who won the BNP Paribas Open title in 1999 and 2001, is the 10th seed and will have bye in the first round. In the 96- player draw, the top 32 players have a first-round bye.

To open her tournament, Serena could face Victoria Azarena in a rematch of the 2016 final, which Azarenka won 6-4, 6-4. It’s also a match up of two of the more high-profile working mothers on the tour.

Azarenka will face Vera Lapko in the first-round.

If Serena gets past Azarenka, she could face former No. 1 Garbine Muguruza, who is seeded 20th.

Serena has a 3-2 record against Muguruza.

Muguruza won their last matchup, beating Serena 7-5, 6-4 in the 2016 French Open final to claim her first major title. Muguruza also claimed the 2017 Wimbledon title when she beat Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0.

Venus Williams is unseeded and will play a first-round match against the dangerous Andrea Petkovic. They have split their four career matches, with Petkovic beating Venus in the Stanford tournament in 2014,

If Venus survives her opening match, she will then have to face third-seed Petra Kvitova, who is coming off a finals appearance at the Australian Open.

A two-time Wimbledon champion, Kvitova has a 4-2 record over Venus.

Leighton Ginn, who has covered the BNP Paribas Open for two decades, will be working with iHub Radio during the tournament. iHub will be live from 1-3 p.m. weekdays. You can go to http://www.ihubradio.com to listen or find it on the Tune In app.

Venus Williams gets first win at BNP Paribas Open in 16 years, talks moving forward and being understanding

 

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By Leighton Ginn

INDIAN WELLS — The victory was a long-time coming for Venus Williams and came with a lot of drama.

Williams rallied from a 1-6, 1-4 deficit and fought off three match points in the second set to beat former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic for her first victory at the BNP Paribas Open since 2001.

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In 2001, Williams withdrew from her semifinal match against Serena Williams minutes before the prime-time showdown. During the finals, Serena was booed throughout, and much of it was also directed at Venus and her father Richard, who were in their court-side box.

It wasn’t until 2015 when Serena returned to Indian Wells, and Venus followed suit last year.

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However, Venus lost her opening match, which made Saturday’s victory her first in Indian Wells in 16 years.

“It was nice to get a win here after so very long. It’s very rewarding,”  Williams said. “The past is the past, but I’m happy that I was able to move forward and everyone was able to move forward. I had so much support today.”

Early on, it didn’t look like Williams would get her victory at Indian Wells as she was down 4-1 in the second and had to fight off three match points in the set.

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One match point haunted Jankovic. Williams was up at the net, creating an opportunity to end the match.

“I was supposed to play that cross forehand and the match would be over,” Jankovic said. “But I played down the line right to her and she made the volley winner. It was a big mistake on that match point, but this is sports. What can I do? I made bad choices, bad mistakes when it was most important. That is all.

“Overall, I had my chances, I had everything under control and I let it slip away. I got a little nervous and I made bad errors.”

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During the post-match press conference, Williams was asked about a variety of topics, including her thoughts on the controversial ending at last year’s tournament.

Tournament director Raymond Moore had made unfortunate comments about women’s players owing the men and they should get on their knees. Days later, Moore resigned his position amid the firestorm it created. Moore still works at the tournament.

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Venus Williams said she didn’t want to dwell on the event and was willing to move on.

“If I wasn’t willing to move on, I wouldn’t be back in Indian Wells. It’s no good to hang on to things,” Williams said. “The tournament really is a huge supporter of women’s tennis and a huge supporter of men’s tennis and just tennis in general. The women love playing here.

“I was happy that the tournament did stand for equality and low tolerance of inequality. I think sometimes people make mistakes. He probably didn’t intend — you don’t wake up in the morning and say that this is going to happen. I don’t think that’s how he was planning his morning. Sometimes things happen, and we all should understand that everyone can have a bad day, and we all can just get better.”

 

 

Serena could meet Venus in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open, if they survive interesting opening matches

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By Leighton Ginn

INDIAN WELLS — When the women’s main draw was announced Monday afternoon at the BNP Paribas Open, the dream match up was closer to a possibility.

World No. 1 Serena Williams and her older sister Venus, who is the 12th seed, were on opposite sides of the bracket, which means they could meet in the finals of a tournament that simultaneously launched their careers and had one of their most uncomfortable moments.

To get to the finals, both Serena and Venus will have difficult matches early. The top 32 seeds at the BNP Paribas Open have byes in the first round.

Serena could face Olympic champion Monica Puig in the second round. Venus’ early matches could be tougher, as she could face two-time finalist and 2010 champion Jelena Jankovic in the second round. If she can get past Jankovic, she could face Coco Vandeweghe in a rematch of their Australian Open semifinal.

The defending champion is Victoria Azarenka, but she will not defend her title as she gave birth to her first child in December. Last year, she defeated Serena Williams in the finals.

Serena Williams is a two-time champion at the BNP Paribas Open, but hasn’t won the title since 2001. After the 2001 tournament, Serena and Venus refused to return to Indian Wells after an incident during the 2001 final, where Serena was booed throughout the match.

In the 2001 semifinals, Serena was supposed to play Venus, but Venus pulled out of her match minutes before the nationally televised match because of a knee injury.

Serena returned to Indian Wells two years ago, while Venus returned last year. Serena’s 1999 title at Indian Wells was her first big title. Later that year, Serena would win her first Grand Slam title, the U.S. Open.

 

 

 

 

Serena Williams has been so good that we take her greatness for granted

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By Leighton Ginn

We tend to forget Serena Williams is dominating the sport of tennis while on the brink of 35, out classing the swarm of talented millennials.

We tend to forget Serena Williams is doing things never seen on a tennis court. No player in the sport has the blend of power and finesse that she has.

We tend to forget that Serena Williams have beaten many of the sports all-time greats from various generations.

What we do know is that Serena Williams is the most dominating force the sport has ever seen, and we all set the bar extremely high. Sometimes it seems unrealistic what we expect from Serena Williams until we see how much she dominates the sports, beating players who were toddlers when she launched her career.

So when Williams captured Wimbledon for her 22nd Grand Slam title to tie Steffi Graf for the Open era record, it was almost ho-hum. Or maybe people shared my unfair opinion about it — It’s about time.

Williams fans will say we are unfair and we don’t appreciate what we see.

I do.

Williams has dominated the game like no other.

No other player has had two “Serena Slams,” or winning all four major titles at once.

No other player has dominated the sport like Williams.

So I expect a lot, because I’m sure everyone expects a lot.

Williams is so great, it would be a shame if she didn’t have the numbers to back it up.

She needed to win 22, or that makes it harder to proclaim her as the greatest ever.

You can argue Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever, but when he falls short of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, then it’s no longer a valid argument.

The fact of the matter is, Williams has been that good, and she should have been better. Her numbers should have been grander.

Unfair expectations for other players, but reasonable for Williams.

Why is it reasonable?

Williams is just that good.

It’s time to talk about Novak Djokovic as one of the greatest ever in tennis

By Leighton Ginn

After winning the French Open, it’s time to put Novak Djokovic into the conversation of the greatest players ever in tennis whether you want to or not.

His resume at this point in his career is just stellar.

  • Third man to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles in one year, joining Rod Laver, who did it twice in 1962 and ’69, and Don Budge in ’38
  • One of eight men to have the career Grand Slam, which was also accomplished by Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Roy Emerson and Fred Perry.
  • Djokovic’s 12 major titles ties him with Roy Emerson. He only trails Federer (17), Nadal (14) and Pete Sampras (14).

There are some other intangibles to consider with Djokovic.

Only Djokovic and Laver won their Grand Slams in the open era, which began in 1968.

Am I the only one surprised at the lack of hype over Novak Djokovic’s possible Nole Slam?

Djokovic came of age during the Golden Age of tennis with Federer and Nadal, the two winningest players in tennis when it comes to major titles. And they’re still playing … well, when healthy.

It’s funny how underplayed Djokovic is. He isn’t embraced as Federer and Nadal. It seems like Djokovic’s four straight majors snuck up on people, where there was a lot of hoopla with Serena Williams with the same accomplishment last year.

But his results are hard to overlook.

Many of his major titles have come by having to beat Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray — all certain Hall of Famers.

It has become a much deeper debate on who is the greatest of all time.

But if Djokovic continues to play at this high level, he could put an end to the debate.

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Achieving the Nole Slam gives Djokovic an argument point over Federer and Nadal since they never won four in a row. And neither has all-time greats like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, etc.

If Djokovic completes the classic Grand Slam, it would be an epic achievement. He would only be No. 2 in terms of total major wins, but a Grand Slam in the Open era would give him a huge edge.

Right now, Djokovic has won five of the past six major titles. If Djokovic wins the next two, he would tie Don Budge for most consecutive Grand Slam titles with six. Remember, Budge’s came in the amateur era of 1937-38.

Djokovic would have to be the favorite to win Wimbledon and the US Open as of now. And there’s also the Olympics, which could give him a Golden Slam.

That’s not to say Djokovic doesn’t have some tough oppositions. Andy Murray has been challenging Djokovic in several finals and is one of the best on clay. Stan Wawrinka can be dangerous at the US Open, and Federer and Nadal will always be dangerous even if they are both coming off injuries.

But accept it. Djokovic is an all-time great who has a chance to become the greatest in a short amount of time.

 

 

 

Thoughts on the 2016 women’s final at the Australian Open

 

 

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Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

Angelique Kerber’s victory in the final was a surprise, and it might be the best thing to happen for the WTA Tour.

This is not to take anything away from Serena Williams. She had an amazing run last year and a very impressive run this year.

But the problem is that no one has risen to the level of Williams. In fact, I think the gap between her and the rest of the WTA is at its greatest in Williams’ long career.

There’s no player on the tour that is looked upon as equal, or a very dangerous threat to beat Williams.

Early in her career, there was her sister Venus, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and later, it was Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

Today, the top player is Maria Sharapova, but she hasn’t come close to beating Williams. No one has been any closer.

I will also argue that last year Williams didn’t play her best. At the French Open, she was generally ill, and at Wimbledon, she struggled with nerves and had several three-set matches.

So having a new face who beat Williams playing at a high level offers potential for the tour.

Serena Williams’ loss might be the most disappointing in tennis history

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

It is rare air to get a whiff at completing the Grand Slam, but Serena Williams coming within three sets of completing the historic milestone might be the most heartbreaking of losses.

Williams saw her Grand Slam dreams come to an end when she was upset by the unseeded Roberta Vinci 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, which also saw Williams have an early break in the third set.

Twice, Williams has won four consecutive majors, including this year, which she’s dubbed the Serena Slam. But the true Grand Slam is winning all four in the same year, starting with the Australian Open and ending with the US Open. The last person to do it was Steffi Graf in 1988, a year where she also won the Olympic gold medal.

Had Williams won, she would have joined the exclusive sorority of Graf, Margaret Court (1970) and Maureen Connelly (1953) as the only females to do it in women’s tennis. On the men’s side, only Rod Laver (1962, ’69) and Don Budge (1938) did it.

Completing the true Grand Slam would have been an indisputable fact when people argue who the greatest tennis players ever were. This is why in some circles, Laver is still considered the greatest tennis player, because he’s the only player in history to complete the Grand Slam twice and the only male player to do it on the Open era.

Because Williams didn’t complete the Grand Slam, Graf and Court are the only females to complete the Grand Slam in the Open era, and Graf is the only one to do it on three different surfaces.

Who comes that close to a Grand Slam and loses it by three sets? That will be a tough one to swallow for Williams, who was so close from a historic achievement.

Williams has tried to talk down the significance of the Grand Slam, but judging by her brief post-match press conference, it disappointed her more than she wanted to let on.

Everything was set up for Williams as she would not have had to face a top-10 player in the US Open to the title. It was tailor made for Williams to complete the Slam.

Now everyone wants to make out that this is a huge upset in the ranks of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, Villanova beating Georgetown in the NCAA final or the US Olympic hockey team beating the Russians. And maybe it is, as Vinci was only ranked 43rd coming into the US Open and never made it this far in a major.

But here’s a few things to consider as well: Williams has a habit of losing to unlikely players in big tournaments.

Since the start of 2012, Serena Williams has lost eight times in major tournaments, and the highest-ranked player she lost to was No. 14 Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open.

Her other losses have come to No. 56 Ekaterine Makarova in the fourth round of the 2012 Australian Open, No. 111 Virginie Razzano in the first round of the 2012 French Open, No. 25 Sloan Stephens in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open, No. 24 Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round of the 2013 Wimbledon, No. 35 Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the 2014 French Open, No. 24 Alize Cornet in the third round of Wimbledon. Vinci is ranked 43rd heading into this year’s US Open.

There is another perception of Williams that appears to be misleading. While Williams has completed her second “Serena Slam,” winning four consecutive majors, she has been anything but dominant.

In the Serena Slam from 2002-03, Williams lost four sets. This year, Williams lost five sets in the French Open alone, and a total of nine during the Serena Slam. At the US Open, Williams lost four sets (one of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, one to Venus Williams and two to Vinci).

It has been an exceptional year for Williams, but not as dominant as she can be.

The first Serena Slam was so much more impressive if you look at the depth of the women’s game, particularly at the top. During the 2002-03 Serena Slam, Williams defeated the likes of sister Venus in all four finals, but also Hall of Fame players Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce, Amelie Mauresmo, Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters. Another Hall of Fame player in that era was Justine Henin, who ended Williams’ Grand Slam winning streak in the semifinals of the 2003 French Open.

During this Serena Slam, Williams only beat three players ranked in the top-10, and two of those wins were against Sharapova.

What made this Serena Slam so remarkable is that Williams did it on grit. She was big in the big moments, to pull out some amazing wins. And to do it at 33-years old (actually 32 at last year’s US Open which started the Serena Slam), that is a pretty remarkable outcome and a tribute to her longevity.

But coming into the semifinals against two players she had never lost to, and up a break in that third set against Vinci, this might be a loss that Williams will never be able to forget.

Give Serena a Grand bonus, and other US Open thoughts

Here are some random thoughts after two days at the US Open

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

GIVE THE WOMAN A BONUS: There was plenty of talk about how Maria Sharapova has more in endorsements than Serena Williams. Here’s something to Williams’ sponsors: Give her a bonus.

Williams has completed the Serena Slam for the second time in her career, and a calendar Slam would make her the first one since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Certainly that’s worth a bonus from her sponsors, such as Gatorade, Nike and Wilson.

Actually, of the seven tennis players on Forbes’ list of highest paid athletes, Williams was seventh with $13 million.

For all the publicity and positive attention Williams has generated, a bonus is in order to close the gap.

BTW, when I say Grand bonus, I mean much more than $1,000. Don’t be cheap guys.

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AGE-OLD QUESTION: Little talk of Federer and Serena’s age: A couple of years ago, the convention was that things went downhill quickly when you hit 28 and your days of winning major titles are over.

So here we have Roger Federer at 34 and Serena Williams, who will turn 34 later this month, as two of the favorites to win the US Open titles.

Federer is No. 2 in the world in what many would consider a golden age in men’s tennis. If Federer wins the title, he would be the third oldest male to win a major.

Williams could become the oldest player to complete the Grand Slam and oldest woman to win a major singles title.

MAYBE BIG FOUR SHOULD BE FAB FIVE: For the longest time, men’s tennis has been defined by the Big Four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. But what about Stan Wawrinka?

After the French Open, he has as many major titles as Murray with two. And he’s the only one this year to beat Djokovic in a major. If it weren’t for Wawrinka, Djokovic himself would be going for the Grand Slam with Serena.

Wawrinka has won both his majors in the past two years, and were considered big upsets. Maybe we need to look at Wawrinka much differently.

Drake, are you sure you want to date Serena Williams now?

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

It’s a tricky thing, dating a tennis player.

The latest It celebrity couple is now Serena Williams and the hip hop artist Drake.

For weeks, Williams and Drake were trying to play down anything was going on with them. And Williams even used the dreaded F word to describe Drake — friend.

Then they were caught making out in a restaurant by TMZ.

Drake might think he’s the Godfather of Love, but he might become another thing — scapegoat.

Williams is about to embark on a historic achievement in her Hall of Fame career. With a US Open victory, she will complete the Grand Slam, or winning tennis’ four major titles in the same season.

This year, Williams has been incredibly dominant. She played through sickness in her toughest major, the French Open, and still won the title.

The US Open is Williams’ best major. If she doesn’t win, guess who might get the blame.

It’s not as if Williams wasn’t going to get enough media attention in Flushing Meadows when the US Open begins next Monday. Now that she’s dating Drake, there will be even more attention on her. Will it be enough to derail her bid? Drake better hope not.

Blaming a tennis player’s significant other is not unusual. Remember when Brooke Shields dated and then married Andre Agassi? In 1997, Agassi’s career hit a low point as he dropped to 141 in the world. About the time Agassi and Shields finally called it quits, Agassi had a career revival, starting with his 1999 French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam. Agassi would then become the No. 1 ranked player at the end of the year to snap Pete Sampras’ streak of six consecutive years as the top-ranked player.

It’s not fair, and it might not even be accurate to say Shields was Agassi’s downfall. But that comes with the territory and it can be a terrible distraction.

Belinda Bencic is the real deal, not just because she beat Serena Williams

Caroline Wozniacki plays Belinda Bencic in a third round match on Stadium 3 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California on Monday, March 16, 2015. (Photo by Grace Donnelly/BNP Paribas Open)

Caroline Wozniacki plays Belinda Bencic in a third round match on Stadium 3 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California on Monday, March 16, 2015.
(Photo by Grace Donnelly/BNP Paribas Open)

Probably the first time many people heard of 18-year-old Belinda Bencic was last week when she upset No. 1 Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

Some of the ESPN talk shows thought it was more about Williams and she wouldn’t be so fortunate if they meet again at the US Open.

They might be right, but they shouldn’t write off Bencic without knowing something about her.

Bencic made a splash in March, when she upset former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open. Wozniacki had reached the US Open final six months earlier. What made the victory even more impressive is that Wozniacki had double-bageled her in Istanbul in their previous meeting.

What was impressive about Bencic is she didn’t lead a 6-0, 6-0 loss derail her. She’s continued to rise. Now she’s No. 12 and could go up even higher by the US Open.

Here’s a look back at the story I wrote for the BNP Paribas Open website on Bencic. http://www.bnpparibasopen.com/en/media-and-news/news/2015/03/16/bencic-upsets-wozniacki

At the Rogers Cup, Bencic had to defeat six top-25 players to win the title: No. 25 Eugenie Bouchard in the first round, No. 5 Wozniacki in the second, No. 24 Sabine Lisicki in the third round, No. 6 Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round and then No. 3 Simona Halep in the final.

Last year, Bencic reached the quarterfinals of the US Open, which helped her win the WTA Newcomer of the Year award.

In 2013, Bencic won the Wimbledon and French Open girls junior titles.

A Swiss player, Bencic is getting help from Melanie Molitor, the mother of Martina Hingis. And the Swiss players are having quite a year. Timea Bacsinszky has had quite a comeback year this season.

But Bencic has proven she is the future of the WTA. The way she’s playing, the future could be now.