French Open women’s preview: Can Azarenka regain her momentum

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By Leighton Ginn

More than every, women’s tennis needs a rivalry to hang its hat on, and maybe the Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka can resume on the highest level.

Unfortunately, it will come a little too early. If Williams and Azarenka play to form, they would meet in the quarterfinals.

But it’s a matchup that needs to happen.

Williams will go down as the best ever, with a career that spanned many generations. She might not be playing at her best, but Williams has still maintained a very high level despite not being pushed much.

Azarenka is one of the few fearless women on the tour who can not only beat Williams, but maintain a high level consistently.

The last few years, Azarenka has been hampered by injuries and her return has been slow. At the BNP Paribas Open, Azarenka showed she was back when she beat Williams in the finals. She followed that up with a title in Miami, claiming the two biggest tournaments in the spring.

But then came the clay, and Azarenka was hampered by back problems in Madrid and Rome, but she’s since declared herself pain-free.

Even if she is healthy, the French Open is tough for Azarenka, who has a 21-9 record in the main draw at Roland Garros and her best showing was the semifinals in 2013.

Going 2-2 on outdoor clay just doesn’t seem like enough matches for Azarenka.

But there’s been some positives that could work in her favor. Last year, Azarenka pushed Williams to three sets in the third round. Missing this year is Maria Sharapova, who reached three consecutive French Open finals before falling in the fourth round last year.

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And it’s a small consolation, but Williams has failed to win a title in her last two majors. This year, she’s showed signs of failing to finish tournaments, falling in the Australian Open final as well as the BNP Paribas Open.

But Williams did win Rome and should carry that momentum into Roland Garros. But the question does remain with Williams and her nerves, which have bothered her of late.

If Williams does get past Azarenka, she will have other tough challenges, including Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in a possible semifinal matchup.

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However, Kerber has lost her opening matches four times since the Australian Open, although she did claim an indoor clay title in Stuttgart.

Two of those opening-match losses came in the key warmup tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

Last year’s French Open finalist, Lucie Safarova, has struggled this year, losing in the first round of her first five tournaments this year before taking the title in Prague, an outdoor clay tournament.

But outside of Prague, Safarova is 2-7 on the year, having lost in the second round of her last two tournaments entering Roland Garros.

 

 

 

 

Will drug allegations dog Rafael Nadal at the French Open?

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By Leighton Ginn

Every time Rafael Nadal steps onto the red clay of the French Open, he’s always the man to beat.

Having a target on his back hasn’t been a big deal. Nadal has an astonishing 70-2 record at Roland Garros with nine titles.

Nadal might not be the favorite this year, not with the way Novak Djokovic is playing, and with Andy Murray starting to find his groove on the dirt.

But Nadal will likely have a difficult obstacle this year, which are drug allegations.

Back in March, after Maria Sharapova revealed she tested positive for meldonium, the former French minister of health and sports, Roselyne Bachelot, accused Nadal of failing a drug test, but covered up his suspension with a bogus injury.

Through the early parts of the BNP Paribas Open, Nadal had to deal with questions about the accusations. It got to the point that on March 13, Nadal said he had enough following his second-round victory over Gilles Muller.

” There is a couple of times I heard comments like this, and this gonna be the last one, because I gonna sue her,” Nadal said. “I am tired about these things. I let it go a few times in the past. No more. I know how tough I worked to be here. To hear those comments from a person that should be serious, because (she) was minister of a big country and a great country like France.

“So I gonna sue her, and I gonna sue everyone who gonna comment something similar in the future, because I am tired of that.”

It should be noted that Nadal has not failed a drug test in his careers. Bachelot had not offered any evidence to support her claim.

In April, Nadal filed the lawsuit against Bachelot.

This will be Nadal’s time back in France since the comments. While Nadal threatens to sue anyone who makes similar allegations without evidence, it probably won’t apply to reporters who will ask questions.

And Nadal probably did open the door for questions with the lawsuit.

We’ll see how the French media handles the situation, and how the rest of the tennis media approaches the story.

They cycle of the story may have passed and maybe reporters will pursue other angles. But that seems unlike.

Sharapova will have her hearing to see how long of a suspension she will serve, and it will likely feed into the Nadal story.

If Nadal is dogged by questions throughout his time at Roland Garros, will it be a distraction? Could he lose focus?

Or could the adversity spur Nadal to his 10th title.

Roland Garros will be a tough proposition for Nadal anyways. Although he’s showing signs of getting close to his dominant form, he’s not there. Djokovic is playing the best of anyone, and he just got beat in Italy by Murray. And David Goffin is rising quickly up the rankings and will be a dangerous force.

A lot of adversity awaits Nadal.

 

 

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.

Hall of Famer Rosie Casals picks Serena Williams to complete Grand Slam

For Rosie Casals, picking the favorite for the 2015 US Open is pretty easy — It’s Serena Williams’ title to win or lose.

This year, Williams has dominated the tour like no other and has won four consecutive major title for her second Serena Slam. But a victory in the US Open will give Williams her first calendar-year Grand Slam, which is winning all four major titles in a single season. If Williams accomplishes the Grand Slam, she will be the first player to do so since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Despite all the pressure that comes with trying to complete the Grand Slam, Casals, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996, believes Williams is well equip to handle any situation.

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.

As for the rest of the field, Casals doesn’t seeing anyone capable of beating Williams.

But Williams can be vulnerable in the early rounds, and that’s what Casals warns again.

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Simona Halep will be the No. 2 seed, but Casals doesn’t feel she has the weapons to threaten Williams.

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Sharapova is the No. 3 seed, and the only other player who is a multiple major winner and a former US Open champion. But Williams has her number.

In the clip, Casals also breaks down Caroline Wozniacki, a finalist last year, former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, and 2014 darling Eugenie Bouchard.

 

Who do you think will win the women’s title? Click on the link below to vote for your favorite

//www.pocial.com/embedme/who-do-you-think-will-win-the-2015-us-open-womens-title

 

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.