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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

If Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon, there’s no good reason for him to play the Olympics

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By Leighton Ginn

There’s no question that Novak Djokovic is a very patriotic person and cherishes representing his beloved Serbia whenever he can.

So the Olympics will be a huge goal for him.

But if I was advising him, I’d tell him to ditch Rio, especially if he wins Wimbledon.

More history on hand for Novak Djokovic as he heads into Wimbledon

The obvious reason is Djokovic will be one victory away from achieving the calendar-year Grand Slam, which has only been accomplished by two male players. He would be the first since Rod Laver in 1969.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

There’s no question that Djokovic’s heart is to compete in Rio and represent his country. In Djokovic’s previous two Olympics, he’s won a bronze in Beijing and didn’t medal in England, having lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze medal match.

I’m sure he’s driven to win the gold, and he will be the overwhelming favorite. If Djokovic doesn’t play this year, he’ll be 33 by the time the next Olympics roll around, so the consequence could very well be never winning a gold medal.

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

At the French Open, Djokovic said it would be “unthinkable” to cancel the Olympics. But Djokovic was answering the question about the Zika virus, which is a good reason to avoid Rio.

This was before Djokovic won the French, to put him halfway to the Grand Slam. If Djokovic wins Wimbledon, then he should pull out of Rio immediately. I’m sure when he made his “unthinkable” comments, he wasn’t taking into consideration he would have a shot at the Grand Slam.

Naturally, Djokovic is a competitor. As well as he’s playing, he could do something only Steffi Graf has done, which is complete the Golden Slam if he could win the gold medal.

Keep this in mind with Graf. The Olympics came after the US Open, so there were no scheduling conflicts. And the Olympics was more an afterthought anyways.

Djokovic would have two weeks following the end of the Olympics and the start of the US Open.

It’s doable.

But you also have to consider that Djokovic will have the physical mileage of reaching the finals in just about every tournament he plays. Then you throw in the mental toll from the pressure he will face at each tournament.

The US Open is the toughest Grand Slam on the calendar and it comes at the end of a season, and the whole season is a grind already.

I’d have Djokovic look at the Golden State Warriors. They went after the regular-season record and set it at 73-9. A great accomplishment and a feather in their caps.

But they didn’t achieve their ultimate goal of winning the NBA title.

Kind of makes that 73-9 record an afterthought. And assistant coach Luke Walton admitted that going after the record took a toll on the players as they ran out of gas. And many of the pundits were speculating about it anyways.

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Now let’s get back to the Zika issue.

This is a major health risk. Djokovic has a chance to become the greatest ever.

You heard me, the greatest ever.

Zika is no joke and many athletes are struggling about going.

These are athletes who have spent their whole life training for the Olympics, which is the defining moment of various sports.

For tennis, it’s really just another tournament.

So Nole, just say no to the Olympics if you win Wimbledon.

 

 

 

 

More history on hand for Novak Djokovic as he heads into Wimbledon

 

By Leighton Ginn

As Novak Djokovic returns to the All England Lawn Tennis club, the world’s No. 1 men’s tennis player will have another historic opportunity.

By winning the French Open, Djokovic became the first player to win four consecutive majors since Rod Laver completed the Grand Slam in 1969.

If Djokovic wins a third-consecutive Wimbledon title, he will have won five consecutive major titles. That’s something that has never been done by a man in the open era.

The only man to win five consecutive major titles was Don Budge from 1937-38 when he won six consecutive titles, including becoming the first man to complete the Grand Slam.

If Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon, there’s no good reason for him to play the Olympics

However, Wimbledon won’t be easy.

You can never count out Roger Federer, who has won seven titles at Wimbledon, tying him with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw for most titles.

And Andy Murray will be tough to beat. When it comes to tennis, Murray is the United Kingdom’s favorite son and would have a huge home-court advantage.

Murray’s only two major titles have come against Djokovic, and both were historic. Murray’s 2012 US Open title was the first by a British man since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray then won the Wimbledon title in 2013, the first win by a male Brit in the country’s greatest tournament since Perry in ’36.

Murray comes into Wimbledon reunited with Ivan Lendl, the man who led him to the US Open and Wimbledon titles.

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

While Djokovic is the greatest returner in the game, all the big servers have a puncher’s chance on the grass of Wimbledon.

And Djokovic will also have to deal with the mounting pressure that comes with his historic achievement of winning four consecutive majors.

Only time will tell if Garbine Muguruza will be the next great thing or next flameout

How someone deals with mounting pressure can be hard to gauge. Serena Williams will likely go down as the grestest women’s player of all time, yet despite her dominating play this year, she’s struggled in the final of the Australian and French opens.

And she’s admitted it’s been nerves.

Could that happen with Djokovic? Hasn’t bothered him yet.

And if Djokovic has shown us anything, it’s that he’s up for any challenge.

 

Only time will tell if Garbine Muguruza will be the next great thing or next flameout

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By Leighton Ginn

If your name is not Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka, odds are you are not a player built to last.

There’s a long list of one-Slam wonders who do nothing to follow-up on their success. And there are others who are flash in the pans who can’t muster up any more than 15 minutes of fame.

That brings us to the case of Garbine Muguruza, the powerful Spanish star who captured the French Open title by beating Williams in the finals. She avenged a loss to Williams in the Wimbledon finals in 2015.

It sounds like the makings of a possible rivalry for Williams, who at times looks light years ahead of the rest of the players on the WTA Tour, even though she hasn’t won either of the first two majors.

Muguruza is only 22 and has shown to be incredibly streaky. She’s lost her opening matches in four tournaments this year, Mallorca in her first match since winning the French. It was her home country and on grass, where she was in the Wimbledon final a year ago.

This is becoming a familiar trend.

Much like Muguruza, Kerber upset Williams in the Australian Open final to start the year. After that victory, Kerber would lose five opening round matches.

Going into Wimbledon, Muguruza is No. 2 and Kerber is No. 4.

And there were other players who were getting hot, but didn’t win a major, such as Caroline Wozniacki and Genie Bouchard.

There are a few two-time Slam winners like Samantha Stosur and Petra Kvitova.

What gives?

There’s a few theories.

  1. The women’s field lacks elite players. Serena is in a class by herself. Azarenka has lacked the consistency in her comeback. Kvitova can’t match her Wimbledon success.
  2. Too much too soon. Once a player wins a major, the demands come quick. Kerber didn’t say no too much and found herself stretched thin and now is trying to regain her form. Muguruza, who many want to be the next It Girl, probably is facing the same kind of suffocating demand.
  3. Girls can’t adjust to having a target on their backs. One you have a Grand Slam title to your credit, no one will ever sleep on you, so the gimme’s become fewer.

So why should we care? Well, Serena Williams is closer to the end of her career. She’s still dominant, but how much longer can she go?

When Williams retires, who will carry the baton?

Unless she wins her appeal, Sharapova won’t be back for a while.

Azarenka has shown signs of getting back on top, but hasn’t done it yet.

Who else can carry the tour?

Hopefully at Wimbledon, someone will emerge to start the next era.

And for right now, Muguruza is the latest, greatest hope.

 

 

 

 

 

ITF would rather look tough than fair in punishing Maria Sharapova

 

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By Leighton Ginn

The ITF, the same organization that dropped a case believing a kiss caused a positive drug test result, has decided to ban Maria Sharapova for two years for continuing to use meldonium after it was added to the banned list this year.

Meldonium was a drug Sharapova had been taking for years, but it was only added to the banned list at the start of this year.

Failing to check on the banned substance list, Sharapova continued to take the drug, which she said was to address a health issue with her heart.

Two years seems like a long time for a clerical issue.

According to a BBC report, Sharapova claimed the ITF was seeking a four-year ban.

Here’s the problem. I don’t think the ITF  has any consistency on how it determines and enforces issues with performance enhancing.

Richard Gasquet had tested positive for cocaine in 2009, but that was immediately dropped because they believed the French star’s story that he got the drug into his system from missing a girl in a Miami nightclub.

I guess in the eyes of the ITF, that’s more believable.

The ITF did agree that Sharapova didn’t take the drug for performance enhancing and it was more an issue of neglect. That’s two years?

To me, it seems like the ITF gave Sharapova a harsh sentence to give this false impression that it’s tough on drugs.

Sharapova did deserve some kind of punishment. Her neglect is unprofessional. But two years for using the drug illegally for a few weeks? And was it really performance enhancing?

By the timetable Sharapova had provided, she took the drug after she won her first major title, beating Serena Williams in the finals of Wimbledon.

Since taking the drug, Sharapova had never beaten Williams.

A year would have been on the harsh end, but that’s fairly reasonable to get the message across. ITF decided to double down and go over the top.

Better to look tough than fair.

And the ITF should look into other issues of performance enhancing that are legal, but should be questioned.

Rafael Nadal has been very open with the fact he’s been using stem cells to deal with a back issue that has hampered his career. It’s perfectly legal.

But I had a friend who had suffered a stroke years ago. He was trying to get stem cell treatments to improve his condition. Because stem cells are banned in the US, he had to go to Russia.

I’m not claiming that Nadal is doing anything shady or illegal. But his status as an elite player and because of the amounts of money he’s earned, he’s allowed to get treatment that I doubt players outside of the top-10 are afforded. It’s treatment that could change the direction of a player’s career.

I saw a lot of stories, but never heard if the ITF looked into it.

Then there is the case of Simona Halep, who had breast reduction surgery at 17. Like Nadal, she was open about the procedure and said it has helped her reach as high as No. 2 in the world.

I don’t knock Halep for undergoing the procedure, because she also described it as a quality of life issue. But it’s pretty clear it helped her on the court.

If the ITF really is concerned with the credibility of the sport, it really has a lot to look at. Instead, as with this Sharapova case, it looked like they arbitrarily look at a case and enters a ruling that might help its image.

That is not helping tennis.

 

 

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.