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US Open 2018 Review:   My reaction to the "Serena Incident"

My take on Serena Williams,  Tennis Player  v. Carlos Ramos,US Open Tennis Umpire

 

At first sight,  I would label the incident that took place at last week’s US Open women’s tennis final  as unfortunate.  It took away from a great performance by a new young star, Naomi Osaka.  There were mistakes made by both the umpire and the player.  (This will be a common theme throughout this article.)   I became emotional the next day when I read  Sally Jenkin’s article in the Washington Post, and further angered by Billie Jean King’s twitter post and article.  Both were completely one-sided opinions, defending Serena with extreme assumptions and biases on their part. 

I feel driven to elaborate on this as I have a lot of experience with all sides- as an official, as a player, and as one who has trained competitive players for a very long time.  First, I was a competitive tennis player, playing four years of Division II tennis, and maintaining rankings as an adult.  I know first hand the emotions of making mistakes, of losing to younger players, losing matches in which you are expected to win.  Second, I have trained players for over 35 years, and have spent, and continue to spend enormous amounts of time on “competing skills”- dealing with the stuff that goes on in your head when you are preparing  for matches, and the emotions you experience during matches.  Emotions, such as anger, fear,and nervousness, occur in most players during competition.  How players deal with these emotions can vary greatly.   You can train to deal with these emotions that occur.  Finally, I have been a high school basketball official for the last 16 years.  All of these experiences have driven me to want to shout out to the world:  WHY DO YOU HAVE TO PLAY THE SEXIST CARD???

Let’s start by getting to the elephant in the room:  Could Umpire Ramos have some sexist biases?   Its possible. but the rules he enforced were pretty clear.  The mistakes he possibly made were not of sexual bias, in my opinion, but of applying rules at the wrong time.  Putting my basketball official hat on, to be a good official, it is not enough to know all the rules.  It is more important to know WHEN TO APPLY THOSE RULES.  I have been criticized frequently by my officiating supervisors over the years for applying rules at the wrong times.  Officiating is both science and art.  There is the black and white, the science- I know the rule, and that rule was broken.   But the application at the right time is the art.  That is what makes the greatest officials.  How about Serena?  Could she be accused of being sexist?  Would  she had gone off as much if it was a female umpire making the judgements?  I would say so.  All you need to do is do a Youtube search of the 2009 US Open semifinal when she was defaulted.  She threatened a lineswoman, and was defaulted by the FEMALE chair umpire.

Let’s apply this to the recent situation.  Let’s take the coaching violation.  The rumour is that all coaches coach from the box, and the rule is, you can’t.  Now how often do you see an official give a player an official warning for coaching?   The answer is,  not that often.  It doesn’t make it right, its just the truth.  So I question the timing of this rule enforcement.  And that is the art of applying rules, especially when it comes to enforcing BEHAVIOR- is it the right time?    In a highly anticipated grand slam final, with a highly emotionally charged player, I believe it wasn’t the time.  No one is questioning the accuracy of the decision.  We have a name for this in basketball.   Its called bringing “crap into the game”.  I believe, in making the coaching violation call, Umpire Ramos did just that.  I don’t think he did it because Serena is a woman!   He did it because he saw coaching, and he called the player out on it.

Now let’s look at Serena’s reaction to it.  She flipped out!  She is welcome to disagree with the judgement.  But she knew her coach was coaching her.  She had to get over it, and control her emotions.  If she was getting upset because it was a guy enforcing a legitimate rule, well that is her problem, and no one elses.  Now this is hard to believe:  she told the umpire that she doesn’t cheat, that she never cheats!   And  as a result of these comments, she assumed , without a confirmation, that the umpire would rescind the warning for coaching.   Come on now!  Did she really believe she would receive this special treatment?  In my opinion, she expected this special treatment to be given to her at that moment because she is Serena  Williams.   I don’t say this because she is a woman, I say it because she thinks she deserves it , because she is one of the best tennis players of all time.

The match continues.  Serena thinks she has not received a warning.  Officially, she has.  At 4-3 in the second set, she reacts to losing a game by destroying her racket on the court for all to see.  This is a no-brainer violation.  No judgement or timing issues on this one.  Slam dunk.  Serena knows it, but she expects to get a warning, because she thinks she has no previous violations.  The penalty for a second violation is a point penalty.  Serena has no idea she was given a point penalty until she waits to receive serve on the deuce court, but her opponent is standing on the ad side to serve at 15-0.   Again, Serena goes beserk.  As most of us know by now, she repeats the line, “you stole a point from me”. and, "you owe me an apology".  She holds on to this claim because she expected the official to rescind the first warning.  You know, because she informed the official that “she doesn’t cheat”.   That would be like me, as a basketball official, rescinding a foul call, based on the fact that either the player or coach claimed “I didn’t foul him”.  It doesn’t happen.  Not in a basketball game, and not  during an officiated tennis match. 

So lets fast forward toward the end of the match, when Serena gets a third violation, which results in a game penalty.  It appears that it is a result of Serena calling the umpire “A thief”.   From an officiating point of view, that is nothing.  And watching it live, I was upset that he gave a violation for that.  HOWEVER, I watched the replay on tennis channel.  They did not go to commercial during changeovers, and they carried the conversations between Serena and Umpire Ramos.  Serena berated the umpire nonstop during two consecutive changeovers.  She kept repeating “You owe me an apology” (for accusing her of cheating).  Really?  That is how it works now between officials and players?  If you don’t agree on a call, you insist on the umpire apologizing to you?   I know of officials who will admit occasionally that, in retrospect, my call was inaccurate, but to demand an apology?  Anyway, back to the changeovers.  After I realized that, prior to the “Thief” accusation, the umpire was yelled at for the last two changeovers, that accusation could be considered just the “icing on the cake” in declaring a verbal abuse violation.  It was not just the accusation, it could be a violation for the accumulation of verbal abuse.  I still wouldn’t have done it.  I believe it was a misapplication of the rule.  It was like me making a decision whether to give a coach or player a technical foul in basketball.  I have a hard time justifying giving coaches “a longer leash” because they are emotionally charged.  But I have been told by my supervisors so may times that it the proper thing to do, so I do it.    Sometimes I need to let players or coaches release some steam, at my expense, considering the magnitude of the game, or in this case, the final of a grand slam.  However, it was a judgement call, and Serena gave the official enough ammunition to use the “bullet he had in his pocket”  (i.e. giving out another violation for verbal abuse).

So there it is.  I don’t know where, in any of the above paragraphs , there is obvious, or even less than obvious sexist behavior???!!!  The official could be accused of not applying rules that obviously occurred.  He could have made it clear, and reminded Serena the consequences if she continued to verbally abuse him.  What about Serena?   If she doesn’t destroy her racket, we are not having this conversation.  She continues the match without ANOTHER warning.  She probably would have finished the match not even knowing that she was given a warning.  (Remember, the one she thought the umpire rescinded?)  So both sides quite possibly made mistakes in judgment.  The official in misapplying rules, and the player, in destroying a racket and verbally abusing an umpire. 

 

So finally, the reaction.  Sally Jenkins played the sexist card- pulled it from the bottom of the deck!  Google Sally Jenkins and read the article for yourself.  Jenkins perceived the situation as Serena was totally the victim, and it was because she was a woman and the umpire was a man.  And it happens all the time to her.  I believe sexism happens frequently, but don’t use it to blanket EVERY SITUATION where there is a chance it might apply.  SEXISM isn’t, and shouldn’t have been the main story here.  It was about mistakes made by an umpire, and boorish behavior on display by one of the greatest champions who ever lived, and is looked upon as a role model for many young people.

As mentioned earlier in this article,  Billie Jean King also wrote an article defending Serena’s behavior at the Open.  Shame on Billie Jean!  Again, another great champion, who was not only a great tennis player, but a great defender and advocate of women’s rights.   I applaud her for all she accomplished in both areas.  But she was way off base in this instance.

On the other hand, Mary Carillo and Martina Navritilova both wrote very accurate statements about the incident.  Mary mentioned that Serena might have a beef, but the way she went about it, and the timing of her response was ill conceived.  Martina wrote an excellent op-ed in the NY Times criticizing Serena’s behavior and reasoning.  Martina, another great defender of women’s rights.  She criticized Serena defending her behavior because “the guys do it and they get away with it”.  Martina stated that argument doesn’t hold weight.  She said that Serena should be better than that.  No abuse is acceptable, whether the rule is enforced properly or not.  

 

As you can tell, this incident and the reaction really hit home with me.  It extended beyond the court.  I believe applying serious accusations and conclusions to situations where they don’t belong  is a troubling thing.

 

 

Doug's 2018 US Open Preview

Mens Singles:

Well hold on, because I think we are going to be on a wild ride over the next two weeks!  The big news:  the big four are back!  Well, at least three of the four are REALLY back.   That is, Nadal, Federer, Djokovic.  Yes, Murray is in the draw, but its hard to say that he is back.  He is not even in my conversation.  He will get beat by  somebody, somewhere in the draw, prior to the quarterfinals.  Some really good stuff could take place in the third round, a potential Federer-Kyrgios matchup.  I could write a whole column (and may do so in the future) about all the concerns about Kyrgios.  He is a troubled young man.  He does himself and the game a disgrace many days when he shows up for his matches.  Many people come to watch because they like a trainwreck.  That is what he is, but let’s hope he gets his act together, rather than enjoy the act that Nick Kyrgios is at this point in his life.  Having said that, Kyrgios is possibly the most talented athlete I’ve ever seen play tennis in my life.  It is possible that he could keep it together for a few hours in prime time on Arthur Ashe, and upset Roger Federer.  I don’t think so, and I hope not. 

The other good stuff could happen in the quarterfinals.  Djokovic vs. Federer is your semi-final being played in the quarters.  I believe they are your second and third best players in the draw.  Djokovic is back, but not ALL the way back.  I’ll wrote about that in a minute when the final is discussed.  I believe he is far enough back, that he is better right now on hard courts than a 37 year old Federer.  Djokovic will win this prime time encounter.  Alex Zverev is knocking at the door.   He is the number 4 seed.  He plays a lot of tennis throughout the year. Again, I believe he comes into New York tired from a long successful year on the tour.  I believe that fatigue is actually more mental fatigue, than physical.  You’ll see it when dealing with adversity that will come his way during the event.  I don’t see him getting past the quarterfinals, if that far.   A David Goffin-Zverev quarter would be entertaining.  I think Goffin has a good chance of breaking through to the semi-finals.  He will be no match for Djokovic in the semis.  Who will meet the Joker in the final?  It will be Rafael Nadal.  I have never seen Rafa more physically dominating on a hard court, than the show he put on in winning Canada a few weeks ago.  He skipped Cincinnati, and he should be strong and rested for the big show in the big Apple.  Nadal will wear down del Potro in the semi-finals, and will do the same against Djokovic in the US Open Final.  It should be must watch television.  Nadal will physically and mentally gradually wear down Djokovic and defend his US Open title.

 

Womens Singles:

Now you really got a hold on for this rollercoaster ride!  And do I have a darkhorse finalist for you!  Lets get right down to it.  Serena is not winning this year’s US Open.  She is not right.  She has a lot of things going on.  If she is right, physically and mentally, even at 37, she is still the best player in the world.  Its not going to happen during this fortnight.    Here is the darkhorse name to watch:  Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.  She had two tough back-to-back losses this summer in Canada and Cincinnati.  She lost second round in Canada to eventual winner Halep 7-5 in the third.  She lost second round in Cincinnati to Kerber 6-4 in the third.  I think she will wreak havoc in this US Open.  She will start by upsetting the top seed, Halep, in the third round.   She will follow this up by  knocking off the sentimental favorite, Serena, in the round of 16.  This will blow up the top half of the draw, and get her to the final.  The other half should have some interesting round of 16 matchups.  One is Martens vs. defending champion, Sloane Stephens.  Which Sloane will we see?  That is the question.   She carries her burdens on her sleeve.  Having a bulls eye on her back, as the defending champion, will be too much to bear.  I see her going down in the round of 16.  How about that other exciting young American, Madison Keys.   Here is where the story turns and gets really interesting and exciting.  She could have another primetime matchup in the round of 16 vs. Wimbledon champ Angie Kerber.  She will win this match, and this will propel her all the way to the final, and yes, her first grand slam championship!  She lost in the final last year to her good friend Sloane, but it will be her, Madison Keys, holding the trophy two weeks from now.  Oh, and yes, she will defeat that darkhorse in the final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova!

Doug's 2018 Wimbledon Preview

Mens Singles:

Can Roger defend his title?  Can he skip the clay court season and come back and be the best player in the world over the next two weeks?  Ivan Lendl, late in his career, lacking only a Wimbledon title from his prestigious career resume tried the same.  He never was successful, but did reach two Wimbledon finals in this fashion.  And no, Lendl is no Roger Federer, at least when it comes to grass court tennis.  He is the odds on favorite.  I know he has the heart of a champion, but he has 36 year old (almost 37) legs!  I won’t be surprised if he wins.   At this point in his career, nothing should surprise anyone when it comes to Roger Federers’ tennis brilliance.  However, I say he doesn’t.  In his way in the round of 16 is Borna Coric of Croatia, who, incidentally, just beat Roger in a Wimbledon tune up event a week ago.  He may not make it out of that one.  If he does survive, I don’t think he survives his semi-final opponent.  More on that later. 

In the other half, Rafa Nadal has a very favorable draw.  However, I see Juan Martin Del Potro hitting him off the court in the quarter finals.  In the other semi, I’m not happy to say this, but look out for Nick Kyrgios.  I’m not a fan of him at all!  I find his attitude and antics disgusting, frankly.  But his talent and skill level are off the charts.  If he can keep his head together over the next two weeks, this could be his break through event.    He has Sasha Zeverev in the round of 16.  I don’t think Sasha has recovered from his long and successful clay court season.  In his half is also Thiem.  Grass is not kind to him in the best of circumstances.  However, Thiem, is also recovering from his long run as a French Open finalist.  There is also a former champion floating around in his half, number 12 seed Novak Djokovic.  Djokovic is actually the second favorite behind Federer.  The Brits are looking forward to a possible round of 16 match of Djokovic vs. their current #1 player, Kyle Edmunds.  I think Edmunds has a good chance.  And if not, I see Kyrgios taking out Djokovic in the quarters, which could be a classic.  So I see Del Potro taking out Kyrgios and making his first Wimbledon final.

And who will he play in the final.  Remember that top half opponent that may take out Federer in the other semi?  Last year’s finalist Marin Cilic, number 3 seed.  He has been through the school of hard knocks with his losing performance at last year’s Wimbledon final.  He will use that experience and bounce back and win his first Wimbledon championship.  Your 2018 Wimbledon Mens Champion:  Marin Cilic.

 

 

Womens Singles:

Just when I thought Simona Halep might be the best player never to win a grand slam tournament, she broke through and won the French.  Good for her.  She enters Wimbledon as the number one player in the world, and the number one seed.  However, she is not either the favorite, or the second favorite to win this event.  I thought I had a dark horse picked to win Wimbledon this year.  It turns out, she has been playing so well, that the number 8 seed is actually the favorite to win! More on that later.  It is amazing to me that Serena can play so little tennis, come back from childbirth , and just recently, an injury and still be the second favorite to win the title!  Serena is ladies tennis’ Roger.  Can the heart of a champion overcome a 37 year old body, including 21 years on the tour?  I say its doubtful, but would not be surprising.   I believe Serena will make a deep run, but not win.  And yes, there is a good chance her body could break down in the middle of the tournament, just like the French.

Those in Serena’s half of the draw include Caroline Wozniacki and Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens.  Wozniacki has never been able to make a deep run at Wimbledon.  Madison Keys is a huge threat, but has come up short in big moments.  If she would play Serena in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, that would be a big moment!   There is a potential Sloane Stephens-Serena semi-final in the works.  That would be must watch television.    As great as Sloane has been, she has not been able to repeat her performances on a consistent basis.  She could make a big run here, or she could just as easily be upset early.  I believe there is a very good chance that Serena’s body will once again let her down along the way.  That means Serena may have to drop out, like she did at the French, or play at less than 100%.  I don’t think Serena can win if she is not close to 100% healthy.  But if she goes deep into the second week, and she’s feeling good, then history could be made!

Now back to the other half, the favorite, the number 8 seed, and the betting favorite to win the tournament.  The hottest player on grass right now is Petra Kvitova.  She is a two time Wimbledon champion.  But she is no secret…. to those in the know!    She could have a tough quarter final vs. Ostopenko, and it could be a Kvitova-Serena final-  but I don’t think so.  You can fill out the losing finalist.  My pick is Kvitova, and Serena doesn’t make it to the final. 

Doug's 2018 French Open Preview

Mens Singles:

So who is going to lose to Rafa in the final?   Which low ranked player will make a run, and maybe win a few rounds.  Will an American make a deep run in the tournament?  These are the questions we are asking - not, "Who is going to win."  We know who is going to win!!!  If he stays healthy,  Rafael Nadal will win his 11th French Open title. 

There is no more sure thing in Mens Professional tennis than no one can beat Rafael Nadal at Centre Court, Roland Garros, in a best of 5 set match. 

There will be exciting tennis to be followed over the next 2 weeks.  I think #7 seed Dominic Thiem is the biggest threat.  He has been the only person to beat Rafa on clay this year.  But remember, it was a 2 out of 3 set match.  I love to watch Sasha Zverev play, and he had had a great clay court season, winning the Madrid masters, and losing in the Italian Open masters final to..... Rafa.  I think Zverev is worn down from this clay court success, however.  I see him losing to Thiem in the quarterfinals- if he gets that far.   There is a former #1 and French Open champion "floating" in the draw as a #20 seed:  Novak Djokovic.  He could play David Goffin, #8 seed in the quarterfinals.  I would favor Goffin in that match.  If he would get through, it would be Thiem in the semi's. A marquee match, but Thiem would be better match tested and would grind himself to victory.    I don't see any American making  a deep run.  You could see Jack Sock, John Isner, or Sam Querry getting a sniff at round of 16, but that would be it. 


So who does Rafa beat in the final to win his 11th French Open?  Dominic Thiem.  Thiem could even take a set, but Rafa will eventually wear him down.

Ladies Singles:

So many ladies, but so few favorites!  That is my take in the ladies draw.  Who could win?  Halep, Wozniacki, Serena, Ostopenko, Muguruza, Sloane, Svitolina?  Lets break them all down.  #1 seed Halep SHOULD win this year's French Open.  Until she can break through that mental hurdle of winning her first grand slam, I can't, and I won't make her the favorite.  Wozniacki, after breaking through and winning her first Grand Slam, has sort of gone away.  She has made it no further than the quarterfinals in any of the French Open warmup events.   Serena is entering her first grand slam event in over a year!  It would NOT surprise me if she would win the event.  Nothing Serena does on the tennis court will surprise me.   However, I don't think she is ready for the physical grind that clay court tennis will demand of her over a two week period.  She is not my pick.  Defending champion Ostopenko has a chance.  She is a fighter.  But she is so young, and I don't think, emotionally, she will be able to deal with defending her title. She had a good run in the Italian Open, losing in the quarterfinals to Sharapova, 7-5, in the third. But , otherwise, her clay court season has been very inconsistent.  Muguruza is a big-time, big-event player.  However, she has not shown anything in her game to indicate that she will make a deep run in this event, the site of her first Grand Slam title a few years ago.  Sloane Stephens, the defending US Open champion, is such an emotional player.  If she is feeling good about herself, her talent is off the charts.  But when she is not, you don't know what you are going to get.  She went on a tear back in March, and won Miami on hard courts.  She hasn't had any significant results in any other event since she won the Open last September.  Ukrainian, and world #4 Elina Svitolina is my pick to win her first Grand Slam title at Paris.  She is the hottest player on tour, winning 3 tournaments this year, and just winning the Italian Open last week.

Some matchups to look forward to over the next two weeks in the ladies draw:  Ostapenko vs. Svitolina in the quarterfinals.  A portion of the draw which I think you will see lots of upsets include Sloane Stephens and Carolina Wozniacki.   Don't be surprised if Cara Suerez-Navarro makes it out of the portion.  Suerez-Navarro vs. Svitolina semi make be tricky for my favorite.  Svitolina has already lost to Suerez-Navarro twice this year.  In the other half, you have Serena "floating".  There are lots of good clay courters all around her in the draw.  Muguruza and Sharapova are both in her quarter.  I would be surprised if Halep does not make it to the final.  It would be a great story if she breaks through.  However, I'll stay with my pick of Svitolina over Halep to win the 2018 French Open.


 

 

Doug's 2018 Aussie Open Review

Mens Singles:

Oh yes, there were storylines to be had at this year's  Aussie Open.  For starters, I picked Roger Federer to win this year's Australian Open.  However, I didn't REALLY think he was going to win.  I just thought he was the logical person to guess was going to win, because, I really didn't have any idea.  If I had to pick after the first week, I would've picked Nadal.  If he had stayed healthy, and that is a really big "if", I think he would've out "physicaled" (is that a word?) Federer in the final.  He was  playing his physical game brilliantly until his body let him down.  Some of my other inklings also bore themselves out.  One, Kyrgios was terrific, until he couldn't keep his head together to tough out a five set match vs. a high quality opponent, Grigor Dimitrov.  Also, Djokovic's elbow is not healed, and he wasn't able to play at a championship level yet, as I suspected.  And finally, Sasha Zverev's head is still not on straight.  If he gets it together,  (that is, his head), he has the same "can't miss" game that Djokovic exhibited right before he went on his run of 12 majors.

I'm reluctant to produce my regular few sentences about American tennis, like I normally do at this time in my grand slam review.  But here it goes:  who is this guy Tennys Sandgren?  And do we want him representing American tennis?  I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt in regard to his mixing politics, social consciousness, and professional tennis.  Perhaps his tweets misrepresented him a bit.  If we can put blinders on, and just focus on his tennis, it is a "feel good" story.  The kid grinded it out in the tennis minor leagues.  And he has game! 

Moving forward, there are opportunities out there for new names and faces to make big strides on the mens tour this year.  You know Federer is going to play a limited schedule.  Currently Nadal, Murphy, and Djokovic are all hurt for the foreseeable future.  Who will step up?  I believe that Aussie Open semi-finalist Hyeon Chung is the real deal.  I believe he becomes a household tennis name by the end of the year on the men's tour.

Ladies Singles:

Wow, what a women's Aussie Open!  I have to admit that women's matches dominated my Australian Open viewing the last two weeks!  Where do we start?  How about Simona Halep defeating Lauren Davis 15-13 in the final set in the fourth round? (Don't get me started on why the US Open is the only grand slam that plays a tiebreak at 6 all at the end of EVERY set.)  Kerber's three set win in the fourth round vs. Hseih from Taiwan was highly entertaining.  After Kerber's routs of darkhorse favorites Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys, she became the betting favorite after the first week. You thought nothing could top Halep vs. Kerber's semi-final.  Both ladies held match points,  Halep outlasted Kerber 9-7 in the third.  Halep, known for her athletic defense, won by being the aggressor, successfully going for a little more on her shots late in the match than did Kerber.  This takes us to the final, and the other half of the draw.  Did you know that the ladies Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki was down 1-5 in the third set to Croatian Jana Fett in the second round.  I actually turned the channel to another match (enjoying my google chromecast and array of Australian early round matches on ESPN3).  She won her first grand slam by defeating Simona Halep 6-4 in the third after playing for 2 hours, 49 minutes. If you followed Wozniacki's career, you would know her athleticism and retrieving skills were her biggest strength.  She became the world's best "pusher" on the womens tour.  So good that she was able to become number one in the world and earn millions of dollars.  Pushing, however, will not win you grand slams.  I define pushing as having a solid defensive foundation.  She become really good at returning all balls, but not really good, at ending points by hitting very aggressive shots.  She came on tour in 2008.  It took her 9 years to add enough offensive skills to her defensive foundation to win a well deserved first grand slam.  Her serve has become a weapon.  Her groundstrokes are not just being returned in play with world class consistency, she has increased her swing speed and accuracy to dictate many of the rallies.  At 27, she now has an opportunity to win several more.  I predict she does, including another won later this year!

Doug's 2018 Australian Open Preview

Mens Singles:

Oh, so many story lines, and so little time and space! The Aussie Open tends to be the most unpredictable of the grand slams. After a 8-10 week break, who has been training, and who has been resting? Andre Agassi used to run Magic Mountain near his home in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.  Other players were doing....well, what many young adults  do on New Year's Eve!

Let's discuss a few.  Nadal is the top seed and was dominant near the end of last year.  But he battled nagging injuries late in the year.  If Nadal is healthy, and has been healthy to train the way he likes to train - a lot and hard!, then he is the favorite.  Federer was brilliant last year, and he has the heart of a champion.  But he is 36! Murray, and Nishikori are already out with injuries.

My favorite player on tour right now is Sasha Zeverev.  However, he has not been playing his best tennis lately.  He appears to be playing with a lot of weight on his shoulders. I'm not sure why.  He doesn't appear to be enjoying the process as much as he did last year.

Dimitrov could be considered the favorite and the current hottest player on tour.  However, he hasn't broken through yet.  The first one is always the hardest.  Djokovic is back!  But he pulled out of an event just a few weeks ago.  That makes you think he is not completely healthy, and perhaps hasn't been able to train as hard as he would like.  And Aussie bad boy Nick Kyrgios is always a threat, and perhaps the most talented player in the draw.  Until he proves me wrong, I don't think he can keep his head together for two weeks to win a grand slam.  Some interesting potential match ups include Djokovic vs. Zverev, and Dimitrov vs. Kyrgios in the round of 16!

I honestly believe that our champion will come out of no where!!!!  A huge surprise!  But I'm committed to picking a winner, and I will contradict myself, and pick a very familiar and predictable champion:  Roger Federer!

Ladies Singles:

The ladies draw is also wide, wide, open!!! No Serena.  The number one and two seeds, Halep and Wozniacki have never won a grand slam title.  Venus is seeded 5th but is 37 years old. Defending Wimbledon champ Muguruza has been inconsistent lately and also just pulled out of a warmup tournament.  American Sloane Stephens, the latest grand slam winner at the US Open, has not won a match since that grand slam. You read it correctly, not ONE MATCH.

Madison Keys wasn't ready to break through when she had the opportunity at the US Open final last fall. 

But a two-time grand slam winner, and former number one, just won her first tournament since winning the US Open in 2016- Angie Kerber.  She is a rock solid player and incredible athlete.  She had a little "Sasha Zeverev" thing going on last year, meaning she was carrying around a lot of weight in her head, and not enjoying the process.  I think last week's win at Sydney was a HUGE breakthrough for her at this stage of her career.  My pick for the 2018 Ladies Australian Open champion:  #21 seed Angie Kerber of Germany!

 

Doug's 2017 US Open Review

Mens Singles:

If you read my Reviews regularly, I hope you don’t get tired of this phrase:  “The heart of a champion.”  This generation of tennis players has produced two of the greatest champions with the greatest hearts ever:  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal!!!  My first memory of Rafa was his early round  2003 US Open loss to Andy Roddick.  Andy went on to win the Open that year, his only grand slam victory.  He mopped up on Rafa 6-0 in the first set.  You would NEVER have known it by looking at Rafael.  He had that same warrior look that he has maintained for the last 14 years.  Fast forward to August in Canada.  He loses to an 18 year old wild card.  The following week he gets completely hit off the court in Cincinnati by Nick Kyrgios. 

Rafa did not look impressive heading into New York City.  However, as another great champion, Jimmy Connors, once said, “Cincinnati ain’t New York”, Rafa took his game to another level at the year’s final grand slam.  What changed?  Rafa is healthy!  This was the best defense I’ve ever seen him play on a hard court.  He was running down everything, and was somehow staying neutral on points where he had every reason to be on the defense.  But most of all, he NEVER lost the belief that he could win another grand slam this year- which, by the way, was number 17, second only to Roger’s 19.  Who is the best of all time?  Roger,  Rafa?  Yes and Yes!!!

My pick was a victim of a successful early Summer.  Alex (Sasha) Zeverev is 20 years old, who will win multiple grand slams in the future.  I honestly thought he would break through at this year’s US Open.  However, he won DC in late July, and followed that up by winning the Canadian Masters the following week.  However, I think he was shot by the time he reached the final US Open tune up in  Cincinnati.  He lost early there, and had nothing left in his meek second round effort against former junior rival Borna Coric.    After the first two rounds, I was pretty sure that Roger was not going to win in New York. He went five sets in both his first and second rounds.  It told me two things:  One, Roger’s game wasn’t right, and two, his 37 year old body will not be able to hold up over two weeks playing long, tough matches early in the tournament.  When I saw Roger tighten up to drop the first set against del Potro in the quarterfinals, I knew he wasn’t right- and he wasn’t going to win this match.   He ended up losing in four sets.

 

 

Womens Singles:

There were lots of interesting story lines on the women’s side of this year’s US Open.  Serena had a baby during the event!  No, she wasn’t playing or in New York!   There were four Americans in the semi-finals!   One of them was Venus.  I think she would agree that she may have left one slip away.  The ladies match of the tournament was the semi-final between eventual champion Sloan Stephens and Venus.  Well, at least the third set!  Each easily won a set, respectively, setting the stage for a classic third setter, which Sloan won 7-5.  What a disappointment the final was.  It was especially disappointing for me, as I had picked Madison Keys to win her first grand slam prior to the tournament.  She was playing the best tennis of anyone prior to the championship match.  It is understandable, but I was still disappointed that the occasion was too big for her- this time.  Madison can NOT play successfully with nerves.  She plays a big high-risk game.  With little margin for error, being nervous completely throws off her game.  Sloane simply kept the ball in play, and let Madison self-destruct.   And that is exactly what happened in the final.

Doug's 2017 US Open Preview

Men's Singles:

The public is yearning for a Nadal-Federer semi-final.  (They have NEVER met at the US Open.) I’m sorry guys, I don’t see it happening.  There are too many landmines along the way.   I think Federer has a better chance of making it through than Nadal.  Federer’s hiccup could be Kyrgios in the round of 16.  If Nick is healthy, and feels like playing, he can easily take out Federer.  I would call this a toss up, with the winner making it through to the semi-final.    I see Grigor Dimitrov looming in Nadal’s quarter.  Dimitrov just won his first Master’s Series in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.  He is feeling as confident as he ever has.  I think the time is right for Dimitrov to make a big splash in New York. I see Grigor not only knocking off Nadal in the quarters, but beating either Federer or Kyrgios in the semi to make his first Grand Slam final.  In the other half, with Murray dropping out late, it has become wide open.  However, I had my new favorite player making it all the way through, regardless-  Alex, Sasha, Zverev.  The time is right.   This is the tournament that Zverev makes his big splash.  I see no one in his half to stop him, and also plays in his first grand slam final.  So, could it be the changing of the guard during the last Grand Slam of the year?  I think so!   Zverev defeats Dimitrov to win the 2017 US Open. The next new superstar in men’s tennis:  Alex (Sasha) Zverev, at 20 years old.

Women's Singles:

With Serena playing,  everyone is  mostly looking to try to come in second.  Without Serena,  it is wide open, and almost anyone has a chance.   That leads us to a chance for a breakout winner on the womens side as well.   And that is exactly what I see happening.   Wimbledon champion Garbi Muguruza is the hot player of the season.  She also tends to be inconsistent, especially in early rounds.  If Muguruza can make it through the first week,  she has a good shot in the second week.  She is a big match player.  However, its been a long summer for her, and I see her getting upset early.  So my breakout player?  Madison Keys.  She is coming back from some wrist surgery early in the year, and is just coming into form.  I see her playing an English Bulldog names Joanna Konta in the final.  American, Madison Keys, a first time Grand Slam champion is your 2017 Ladies US Open champion!

Doug's Wimbledon Review

Mens Singles:

Well, pat me on the back. I called it.  May be it wasn't a big reach, but going into Wimbledon, I saw no one who had a better chance of winning than Roger Federer.  And EVERYTHING broke his way!  He needed to get through his matches quickly.  One or two five-set matches would have worn him down.  That didn't happen.   In fact, he finished the tournament without LOSING A SET.  Made to order for a 35 year old to win a grand slam.  Second, the draw broke great for him.  Three of the big four failed to make it to the semi-finals!  That is, Murray, Nadal, and Djokovic.  Any of those three are capable of beating Federer on a good day.  Fed didn't have to meet up with any of them on his way to the championship. 

It was a bizarre final.  I don't know if we will every know exactly what was wrong was Marin Cilic during the final.  I believe it was primarily mental.  I even suggest that he was hyperventilating at his chair during a changeover.  That comes from anxiety.  We have seen nerves from Cilic in the past.  One exception being his incredible run during the 2014 US Open.  I believe nerves overcame him during this final.

Ladies Singles: 

The ladies tour will continue to be extremely unpredictable while Serena is not playing.  This held true during this year's Wimbledon.  I predicted a dark horse winner, Simona Halep.  She has come so close to winning a grand slam. She also has struggled with nerves in big moments.  I thought maybe she could break through at an event where she was not expected to win.  Once I saw some big hitters hitting players off the court, I knew Simona had no chance.  Venus had a great run at Wimbledon, losing in the final.  If I had known that the situation involving her traffic accident was not going to affect her play, I definitely would have picked her to win the event.  Gabi Muguruza is a terrific talent.  No reasonable person would have picked her to win Wimbledon this year, however, based on her results coming into the event.  In her two warmup grasscourt events, she lost in the second round 6-1, 6-0!, and also lost in the semifinals of another warmup event to the #77 player in the world.

Gabi put it all together at this year's Wimbledon.  She was able to overpower players from the baseline.  She was able to come to net and end points with volleys.  And she was able to control her nerves when it got to the end. 

Doug's  Wimbledon Preview

Mens Singles:

What a wide-open field this year's Wimbledon is!  On both the mens and women's side.  There are good reasons for and against many of the top  players.  Let's start with the hottest current player on tour:  Rafael Nadal.   The freshly annoited French Open champion has to be a factor in this year's Wimbledon.   But I believe the days are gone where Rafa can dominate the tour for a long time.  I don't think he will be able to complete the "cross the English Channel double".  That is, winning the French and Wimbledon a few weeks later on completely different surfaces.  I believe he has to be tired by all the matches and victories from the spring clay court season.  Murray has to have a chance, being spurrend on by his home country.  But Murray is not completely healthy, and is not extremely confident.  A semi-final run is what I expect from him.   Djokovic's bubble of invincibility has popped.  He feels it on the inside, and the rest of the tour feels it on the outside.  He may still have the game to win Wimbledon, but I don't think he has head back on straight to do it.  That leaves us with one name left, and leaves me scratching my head:  Federer.  Can he do it?  Win two grand slams in one year at age 35?  I keep thinking of reasons that he can't.  And, you know, I can't think of any.  He does have the intangible that Murray and Djokovic may lack at this time- CONFIDENCE.  He truly believes he can win here.  He obviously has the game to win.  He must stay healthy, and he can't get hung up with a lot of long matches over the two weeks.  Just one long match early on may be enough to bring him down.  However,  he stands out to me as the best choice heading into the All England Club.  My pick for 2017 Wimbledon Men's Champion:  Roger Federer.

Ladies Singles: 

Let's start with this:  Can you name the French Open Ladies Champion from last month?  I didn't think so!  It was Jelena Ostapenko.  So now you know what we are dealing with in trying to handicap the ladies field at this year's Wimbledon.  Normally, I would say the field is breaking for Venus.  However, she has a personal issue which I believe will overwhelm her during the course of the event.  I am going to select a darkhorse to win this event:  Simona Halep.  She is good enough to win a grand slam.  She just lost a long three-setter in the French Open final last month.  She will be ticked and motivated.  Halep will not feel any pressure as she is not expected to win at Wimbledon, probably her least favorite surface.  She will loosen up and play unexpectedly high quality tennis on the grass.  Your 2017 Wimbledon Ladies Champion, Simona Halep, winning her first grand slam when least expected.  Just like a young man named Andre Agassi did 25 years ago.

Doug's Australian Open Review

Mens Singles:

Wow, what a crazy and unpredictable Aussie Open! It's even amazing to call a Federer-Nadal final unpredictable!  But that's where we "were" based on the previous years' results. For the last two years, Djokovic has been in 7 of the last 8 Grand Slam finals!  Murray has been in 5 of the last 8- plus winning the Olympics!  What are the chances of NEITHER making it to the quarterfinals in Australia!  Nadal has not been to a Grand Slam final since the French in 2014.  And Federer hadn't played an official tour match since Wimbledon last year!  That is what made this year's Australian Open crazy and unpredictable.  Here is my final take on the Open:  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE HEART OF A CHAMPION.  In this case, CHAMPIONS- Federer and Nadal.  They need to take extra care in pacing their schedule and staying healthy.  If they do that, we are in store for a memorable year on the men's tennis tour. Possibly Roger's farewel tour, but then again, never underestimate Roger.

I always like to add some updates on American success, or lately, lack thereof.  Jack Sock seems to have the biggest upside in the short term.  Sock has one of the biggest forehands, and first serves in the game.  His backhand drive is getting better.  He must get fitter, and he must become a better competitor to make it to the top ten, and to contend for grand slams.  He continues to be a mental roller coaster during matches with huge mental and emotional swings.  He must improve that area of his game in order to become a champion. I was dissapointed that some of our American junior prospects did not break out down under.  I still think Taylor Fritz could break out. Others include Jared Donaldson, Francis Tiafoe, and Noah Rubin.  Keep an eye on these names as the tour continues this year.

Ladies Singles: 

Yes, a Williams sister final was a BIG surprise, but for different reasons.  Venus has showed us flashes of greatness in recent Grand Slams, but has never been able to make a multi-match run like she did in Australia.  I would call Serena's win at age 35 a mild surprise. However, consider these stats:  Serena has been to 8 of the last 10 Grand Slam finals, winning 6 of the last eight.  Maybe I shouldn't even be mildly surprised.  Remember that phrase I used in the men's review:  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE HEART OF THE CHAMPION.  Those who read my previews and reviews know I am not a big fan of Serena.  However, I will ALWAYS admit that she has the heart of a champion.  It appears the pressure of being #1 in the world, and being "the hunted" has taken its toll on Angie Kerber.  She does not have any extremely big weapons.  She depends on that fighting spirit for much of her success.  She must get that fight back, or you may see a surprising slide backwards in her results this year.

A young American female breakthrough occurred at this Australian Open.  Coco Vanderweghe beat #1 Kerber in the quarterfinals losing to Venus in a three set semi final.  Vanderweghe, along with currently injured Madison Keys, gives American tennis fans some realistic hope as the Williams sisters near the end of their history making careers.