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.

Madison Keys has successful return at BNP Paribas Open following surgery

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.”

 

 

Madison Keys has successful return at BNP Paribas Open following surgery

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By Leighton Ginn

INDIAN WELLS — American Madison Keys returned from surgery for a left wrist injury she first suffered in 2015 and she said the emotions got to her when she walked onto the BNP Paribas Open.

“Walking out there today, I almost started crying. It’s just so great to be back,” said Keys, who defeated Mariana Duque-Marino 6-1, 7-5 to advance to the third round. ” We do get to do what we love. I think that’s really special, and I think sometimes we get really caught up in the winning and the losing and rankings and all of that. And at the end of the day, we get to play a sport that we love for our jobs, and just this whole time has made me realize how truly blessed I am to be able to do that.”

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Keys said she suffered the injury at the US Open in 2015, but it wasn’t until last year’s Wimbledon when she realized she would need surgery. However, Keys was having a breakthrough year, so putting the brakes on her season was a tough decision.

“So the original plan was, Okay, after US Open, get it done, be ready for Australian Open,” Keys said. ” And then after US Open, there was the race to Singapore. To me, there is no way you’re going to get me off of a tennis court right now. Then it was, okay, we’re going to do everything we can to get to Singapore. And then, if you don’t make Singapore, we’ll call it there.”

Rafael Nadal not quite his jovial self in return to the BNP Paribas Open

Keys did reach the WTA Championship, the year-end event that features the world’s top eight players, by rising to No. 7 in the rankings. She went 1-2 in the round-robin portion of the tournament. By the time Keys got home at the end of October, she had surgery days later.

Because she delayed her surgery, she had to sit out the Australian Open, where she had her career breakthrough performance by reaching the semifinals in 2015.

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“Hopefully that doesn’t happen again,” Keys said about missing the season-opening Australian swing. “Missing that was really tough. And to be completely honest, I didn’t watch much of it. But more than anything, it just made me want to come back to the court as quick as possible.”

Her victory on Saturday improved her career record at the BNP Paribas Open to 4-4. She will face Naomi Osaka in the third round. Osaka defeated Shuai Zhang 6-4, 6-2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rafael Nadal not quite his jovial self in return to the BNP Paribas Open

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By Leighton Ginn

The Rafael Nadal seen Friday night during his pre-BNP Paribas Open press conference was a little different from what we’ve seen from the Spanish superstar over the previous years.

Always charming and self-deprecating, the Nadal on Friday seemed a little surly. He was professional, and thoughtful in his answers as he always is. But there was a little salt to his responses that is common for other people, but can be jolting coming from Nadal.

It was Nadal’s first time back in the U.S. since his surprising run to the Australian Open final after years of various injuries. And he produced a classic battle against Roger Federer that people can’t stop talking about.

“We talked enough. I almost don’t forget about it,” Nadal said, which in the past he would deliver with a self-deprecating tone, but this night had an edgy tone.

It is the first time where media in America could ask Nadal about his Uncle Toni, the figure who has coached and directed his career. Uncle Toni announced he would no longer coaching Nadal following this year.

That announcement came with tremendous speculation.

“Well, I talked enough about that, too, no?” Nadal said tersely to start off his answer.

But Nadal did elaborate on his answers and gave his typically positive responses.

On the Australian Open run, Nadal added, “It was a great moment for the promotion of our sport. It was important because (there were) a lot of expectation about this match. For me, personally, to be part of it was great again. For sure I want to win, but overall I felt happy to be back on a big match like this.”

Nadal and Federer will go down as perhaps the greatest rivalry in this sport, and many feel the Australian Open will be a signature moment. Federer rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the fifth set for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory, increasing the Swiss star’s record haul to 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

“(It) was a moment that we will remember. I think is something that gonna be part of the history of our sport,” Nadal said. “I enjoyed the match, and I think the fans, too. So was a great moment.”

As for his Uncle Toni, there seemed to be a bit of a tightrope. With Toni guiding him, Nadal went on to win 14 Grand Slam titles, tied for second most with Pete Sampras. At Roland Garros, Nadal would become the King of Clay as he won nine titles in 10 years.

It was Uncle Toni that started Nadal and shaped him as a player.

“First thing, I played tennis because of him,” Nadal said. “If not, (I) would never play tennis. Will play football. That’s what I was doing when I was a kid, too.

“I practiced with him, only with him, until 12 years old. A big part of my success is because of his help. And like a person, it’s always when you spend a lot of hours with one person and it’s part of your family have an impact in your personality or in your education.

“It’s obvious that Toni had a big impact in all of the things that happened to me in terms of education and in terms of tennis, too.”

Nadal returns to the BNP Paribas Open, where he has gone 48-9 and won the title three times (2007, ’09, ’13). And the conditions at Indian Wells suits Nadal, as the hard courts are typically slower than others across the tour.

However, Nadal did hit why he might not have seem like himself, admitting he has been battling illness.

“I was a little bit sick two days, so I couldn’t practice for two days,” Nadal said at the end of the press conference. ” I start to practicing yesterday for the first time. Today, I practiced again and today I have doubles.

“But is obvious that when you get sick you lose a little bit of the power for a couple of days. So I hope to recover myself good and feel myself ready to compete at the highest level possible. I know I am playing (against)  Guillermo Garcia or Guido Pella (in Sunday’s second round), and that’s all what I can say now.”

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Why do some people think Serena Williams career is over after the year she’s had?

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Watching the ESPN talk shows and many were ready to declare Serena Williams’ career over, or she might not win another major, etc.

It always seems to happen to all the great players when they suffer an upset loss and they are over 30-something.

Williams lost her semifinal match to Karolina Pliskova, who is No. 11 in the world and might have the biggest weapons on the WTA Tour, outside the Williams sisters.

But the overanalyzing of Williams began soon after the match.

So here’s my take on a few of the issues.

  1. HER DAYS OF DOMINATION ARE OVER: When the new rankings come out Monday, Williams will be No. 2 behind Angelique Kerber. This year, Williams reached the finals of the Australian, French and Wimbledon and the semifinals of the US Open. She won Wimbledon. And ask yourself, is there a player on the WTA Tour you would make a favorite over Williams? Kerber will be No. 1, but I still don’t think I would favor her over Williams just yet.
  2. WILLIAMS’ BEST DAYS ARE BEHIND HER: I felt this last year, when she completed the Serena Slam for the second time. Williams is not the same player she has been, but to her credit, she has evolved her game. She’s gone from intimidating power player to more of a cerebral assassin. What hasn’t changed is Williams’ fierce competitive nature. On the WTA Tour, no player really has elevated to Williams level, and the ones who have haven’t maintained it until Kerber. But it remains to see how long Kerber can keep up this level, and if some other players can rise.
  3. AGE HAS TO CATCH UP WITH HER: Williams turns 35 later this month, which is old for tennis players. Her shoulder hurt was an issue in the Rio Olympics and now her knee was giving her problems. This could be the most legitimate threat to her career. But for right now, we don’t know the extent of these injuries. But Williams says she plays for the majors, so we could easily see her take the rest of the year and relinquish the year-end No. 1 ranking to Kerber, rather than chase her. Williams has proven she doesn’t need a good seed to win a tournament, so she could lighten her schedule and still contend for majors.

In tennis, there is this desire to declare someone’s career over prematurely. When Pete Sampras went on a two-year slump, they thought he was done until he won the US Open. People thought Roger Federer was through last year because he hadn’t won a major since the 2012 Wimbledon, but he was No. 2 in the world and reached the finals of the US Open and Wimbledon.

We don’t always know when it’s over for a great player. But there should be real evidence. Although there will be a change at the top, Williams is still at the top of the tour.

Unless there’s something more, I anticipate Williams will be back next year contending for major titles and the No. 1 ranking.

 

 

 

Could Novak Djokovic lose out on Player of the Year honors in a year he completes the Grand Slam?

 

In a year where Novak Djokovic became the first player to win all four Grand Slam titles, there is a possibility that he could lose out on Player of the Year honors.

It’s unlikely, but plausible.

What makes is plausible is the way Andy Murray is playing of late. If Murray captures the US Open, then he will have a stronger case.

Currently Murray has a Wimbledon title and reached the finals of the Australian and French Opens, both of which Djokovic won. Then you throw in the Olympic gold medal, that’s an incredibly strong year.

What might give Murray an edge is how Djokovic had done at Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Djokovic lost in the third round at the All England Club to No. 41 Sam Querrey and the first round in Rio, although he did lose to the eventual silver medalist in Juan Martin Del Potro, who is currently No. 141 in the rankings.

It’s been a draining year for Djokovic, who has played at a superior level for an incredibly long time. But since the award is for accomplishments since January, he could be leaving the door open for Murray.

It won’t be easy for Murray. He would have to win the US Open, and he has never won two majors in the same season (depending on how you rank an Olympic gold medal). And the US Open is the most grueling Slam.

Now if Murray does win the US Open, that might still not be enough to surpass Djokovic.

In Masters 1000 events, Djokovic has won four of six events. Murray has won just one, but did reach two finals.

How much the Masters 1000 events count into Player of the Year honors, I’m not sure, but these are significant tournaments.

And there is also the ATP finals in November. If Murray can win that, then people will have to look closely.

So US Open and ATP Finals titles, and with Djokovic still playing high-level tennis, is a huge mountain for Murray to climb.

But it is also possible.

 

Andy Roddick will have his New York moment in World Team Tennis

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By Leighton Ginn

 

When Andy Roddick makes his return to World Team Tennis for the 2016 season, it will be in a place he never played but in a state where he had his biggest moments.

Roddick will play for the New York Empire at Forrest Hills, the longtime home of the US Open, on Aug. 9. The next day, the Empire will travel to take on the Philadelphia Freedom which will complete the season for Roddick, who is also part of the WTT ownership group.

Playing in New York is the highlight for Roddick, given his history in the Empire State.

“I feel like I’ve grown up in front of New York,” Roddick said. “I played doubles there for the first time in a pro tournament when I was 15 to retiring there and playing my last match in 2012. I had the highest of highs, and lowest of lows.

“But I just love New York. The fans are so fair all the time. If you give them everything you have, they’re going to give you everything they have. Conversely, if you play like a schmuck, they’re going to let you know about it. I’ve always kind of appreciated the honesty of the New York sports fan.”

Roddick said he has always been a fan of the unique style of WTT, and is always happy to participate. He believes the pacing is what makes it so exciting for the fans.

“Everything is quicker, faster, more in-your-face,” Roddick said. “The one-set matches keep your attention, or demand your attention during the 2-3 hours. I always liked it. It feels like the players are more interactive based on the format. It’s something I enjoyed when playing.”

Roddick also attributes World Team Tennis to his progression as a professional, while the format also provides something exciting for the fans. So when he was approached about investing in the league, Roddick said it was a no brainer.

“Anytime you’re approached by someone on the iconic level of Billie Jean King, especially in the role she’s played and how important she’s been in the game of tennis, you always want to listen,” Roddick said. “We’ve had a great relationship for a long time. Her presence in this league and my memory of this league and the opportunity it gave me.

“I was 17 and had no ranking, kind of just trying to break through in the pro ranks when they let me play for the team in Boise, Idaho at the time. That experience of playing professionals day in and day out in a three-week sequence during the summer was a huge part of my development. It felt like something that was good to be apart of.”

 

Andy Roddick impressed with how far Novak Djokovic has come, but too early to rank him as GOAT

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By Leighton Ginn

Andy Roddick said when Novak Djokovic first burst into the consciousness of the ATP Tour, he wasn’t an obvious talent like he saw when contemporaries Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal debuted.

Yet if Djokovic can continue on the trend he is, he might go down as the greatest ever, surpassing both Federer and Nadal.

“I think with Novak, it’s a realistic conversation to have,” Roddick said on July 13 over the course of two conference calls to promote appearances at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 17 and World Team Tennis on Aug. 9-10. “And it’s a realistic question to ask, where you think he’ll fall in that line. It’s a complement to him that he’s forced his way into that conversation.”

For over a decade, Federer has been talked about as the greatest ever, and holds the record with 17 major singles title. Nadal is tied with Pete Sampras for second with 14. Djokovic is tied with Roy Emerson for fourth with 12.

Djokovic is 29 and playing the best tennis of his career. He had won all four majors consecutively until his upset loss to Sam Querrey in the third round of Wimbledon.

If Djokovic continues dominating the tour, five more majors is within the realm of possibility.

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

In comparison, Federer did reach the semifinals of Wimbledon, but has not won a major title since the 2012 Wimbledon. Nadal has struggled with injuries and hasn’t won a major title since the 2014 French Open.

But Roddick said it’s really hard to judge until Djokovic, Federer and Nadal complete their careers.

“It’s like comparing movies having not watched the last 20 percent of the great movies,” Roddick said. “Right now, if you look at the numbers, Roger is there and five slams (lead) is significant, but Novak is obviously trending. He’s the greatest right now.”

2013 Mylan World Team Tennis

July 13, 2013;Mylan World Team Tennis Springfield Lasers @ Orange County Breakers Andy Roddick (USA). Photo courtesy of CameraworkUSA.

 

Roddick is a contemporary with Federer, as they both won their first major titles in 2003, with Federer taking Wimbledon and Roddick the US Open, which would be his only major title. And Roddick, a mainstay in the top-10 throughout his career, also has a long history against Nadal and Djokovic.

Two years later, Nadal would come onto the scene and had an instant impact as a teenager in 2005.

Roddick said it was obvious from the start of both Federer and Nadal’s careers would be special.

“You look at Rafa and he’s a physical specimen, the weight of shot is amazing,” Roddick said. “You look at Roger  and the talent is instant to your eye. What he can do on a tennis court, and with the flare and the options he had on a tennis court, it created a little bit of jealousy.”

The first impression Roddick had of Djokovic was very different. While Djokovic was a promising young talent, Roddick saw enough weaknesses he could take advantage of.

“With Djokovic, I don’t think it was as obvious to the eye when he first came out, but he’s improved the most after the first four or five years of his career,” Roddick said. “To take something like his physical fitness, something I viewed as a weakness when I played him in 2008 and 09, he’s turned it into a bonafide strength for him now, which is a testament not only to his work ethic, but also to his ability to see what his weaknesses were.”

Roddick also points to Djokovic’s forehand, a shot that could be prone to errors in pressure situations earlier in his career. That’s not the case anymore, Roddick said.

“Early on, I knew I could go to that side and maybe get a couple of tight errors,” Roddick said. “With just little technical adjustments, now it’s a strength under pressure.

“I think his progress as a player is maybe the most obvious of those three guys. It’s really impressive what he’s become.”

Roddick said he got a chance to know Djokovic a little more during a trip to South Korea for an exhibition they were playing.

Djokovic approached Roddick to see if he would like to go early to hit and work off the jet lag.

Roddick agreed and showed up 30 minutes early. He didn’t see Djokovic in the locker room and was wondering if he would be late.

When Roddick walked to the court, he found Djokovic, who had arrived 30 minutes before Roddick and was in the middle of his stretching routine.

“I think it gives you a peak into why he is where he is right now,” Roddick said.

 

 

 

 

Andy Roddick returns to grass for first time since 2012 Olympics as he plays in Hall of Fame exhibition

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Andy Roddick shakes hands with former US Davis Cup teammate James Blake following a PowerShares match. Roddick and Blake will compete in the PowerShares event on July 17 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame prior to the men’s final.  Photo courtesy of PowerShares Series.

 

By Leighton Ginn

Andy Roddick said one of the appeals of playing in the International Tennis Hall of Fame exhibition on July 17 is the opportunity to return to his favorite surface, grass.

Roddick was a three-time finalist at the most storied grass-court tournament, Wimbledon. But Roddick has not played on the surface since the 2012 Olympics, which was held at the All England Club, the home of Wimbledon. A few weeks later, Roddick would retire from the tour, but continues playing on the seniors’ PowerShares Legends Series, which is part of the July 17 event in Newport, R.I.

PowerShares Series

“There’s not a lot of grass court tennis available for retired players,” Roddick joked during one of two conference calls on July 13. “Grass was my favorite surface to play on, so any excuse to get back on that court and play on grass is a win all the way around for me. I’m excited about it.”

Roddick will join James Blake, Mark Philippoussis and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Marat Safin in the exhibition. Joining Safin as an inductee will be Justine Henin. Two other honorees, Yvon Petra and Margaret Scriven, will be inducted posthumously.

It will be the first time Roddick will play in Newport, R.I., as he missed the ATP event during his career.

Although he never made it to Newport, Roddick is knowledgable of the history, which makes it appealing for him this weekend.

And grass is the perfect surface, as much of the history of tennis was played on grass.

It also helps that grass was one of the surfaces that suited Roddick’s game, featuring a rocket serve and power forehands.

“On some other surfaces, the slower surfaces, I had to make more adjustments than I did on grass,” Roddick said. “What I did well as a player translated well on grass, and it just made sense to me.”

Roddick’s shoes from his 2003 US Open title are on display in the museum. In the future, Roddick hopes more than his shoes will be displayed in the Hall of Fame.

In addition to his US Open title, Roddick was a former No. 1 and led the US to a Davis Cup title.

“That’s the goal of any tennis player because it’s the pinnacle achievement for what can happen to you post-career,” Roddick said. “I almost feel weird talking about it, because you feel undeserving when you look at the people who have been inducted. But it’s natural to think about. I certainly hope to be considered.”

 

 

 

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.