There wasn’t quite as much action from Beijing last night, but Tokyo, led by top seed Juan Martin del Potro, kept rolling forward. With most of the big names still standing, both events appear to be poised for an entertaining final three days. Here’s a look at what you may have missed late Wednesday night. You can start with the photo above: Nicolas Almagro advanced to the quarters in Tokyo. Before this tournament, he hadn't won a match since Hamburg in July, and hadn't won a match on hard courts since Miami in March. Maybe the haircut is finally working for him.
Net (Needs) Work
Until this week, I’d been willing to forgive the Tennis Channel for not showing second-tier events in their entirety. I hadn’t even complained much when the network delayed broadcasting tournament finals on Sunday mornings to give us lifestyle romps from luxury resorts instead. Over the years, my default reaction to the channel's programming has been: “Well, it’s better than what we used to get, which was absolutely nothing.”
Now, though, with the advent of TennisTV and the eternal online stream, where virtually every match can be seen live, we have a lot less than nothing. We have everything. I know the Tennis Channel has to make deals with the tours and the tournaments to show live tennis—next week we’ll get all of the ATP's Shanghai Masters. But Beijing, with the men and women in town, has felt pretty top tier this week as well. As of Thursday morning, it hadn’t appeared on the Tennis Channel at all. In the age of all access, this has been weird, and frustrating. More and more often, my first instinct is to fire up the computer, rather than flick on the television, for my tennis.
The Dominants, Part 70
Yesterday we began to hear some whispers, way off in the distance, over on the horizon, about Rafael Nadal’s 2013 season going down as the best ever. Today we get a little perspective on Serena Williams’s similarly spectacular year. Serena won her 70th match of 2013 last night; her previous high was 59. As the WTA notes, somewhat randomly, this makes her the fifth woman to win 70 or more since she turned pro in 1995. The other four are Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis (three times), Jelena Jankovic, and Justine Henin. Which may only prove that winning a lot of matches leads to burnout, and that Serena was right not to do it before.
Serena’s season will not be the best in women’s history. Steffi Graf’s 1988 Golden Slam, Martina Navratilova’s 83-1 record in 1983, and Margaret Court’s Grand Slam in 1970 are all out of reach. And it might not even be Serena’s own best 12 months. Her 2003 (three Slams) and 2012 (Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Olympic gold) aren’t exactly chopped liver.
Both Serena and Rafa are having a particular type of all-time year, the same type. They’ve won more Slams in single seasons in the past, but this time their overall records are nearly flawless—Nadal is 63-3, Serena 70-4, and both won the French Open and U.S. Open. Their seasons remind of Roger Federer’s 2005. That year he also “only” won two majors—he came away with three in 2004, 2006, and 2007—but he had his best win-loss record at 81-4. The Slams might ultimately mean more, but there’s something otherworldly about those overall records. Like Federer in ’05, so far Rafa and Serena in 2013 have been as close to pure as tennis players get.
Your Daily Sloane
“A lame, tame performance,” is how the Eurosport commentator described Sloane Stephens’s play in her 6-3, 6-1 loss to Caroline Wozniacki last night. He wasn’t wrong. Stephens managed just 14 winners against 51 unforced errors. She decided to rally with Caro rather than attack, which was never going to work. And after she was broken in the middle of the first set, her body slumped, and then slumped some more as the match went on.
This is hardly news to regular Sloane watchers, and we can recite the reasons not to worry: It’s one match, she’s only 20, she saves her best for the Slams, she’ll learn, etc. What was worrying, though, was the way she mentally wilted in the middle of the first set. Granted, the match had been going on for 55 minutes at that point, but it was still far too early to deflate. I don’t think she was helped by coach David Nainkin’s advice at that stage, either. He told her to keep doing what she was doing, rather than trying to use her natural attacking advantage over Wozniacki. Hopefully she won’t try to beat the Dane at her own game again.
Milos from Nowhere
Don’t look now, but Milos Raonic appears to be giving the ATP the outlines of a future. The 22-year-old Canadian won last week in Malaysia, is up to No. 11 in the rankings, and is into the quarters in Tokyo. With his draw, he should go farther—the other players left in his half are Lacko, Nieminen, and Dodig.
Raonic has been working with Ivan Ljubicic since the spring. They’ve tried to make him more aggressive from the baseline, and after a slippery start on grass, they appear to have succeeded. But as with Andy Murray, I wonder if the improvement comes less from any tactical or technical changes than it does from simply having a former champion in his player box. Ljubicic is no Ivan Lendl, of course, but he does have more stature in the game than Raonic’s old coach, Galo Blanco.
Murray has talked about how he doesn’t want to let Lendl down. I’m thinking Raonic feels the same way about Ljubicic. Maybe that’s the key with coaches: Find one whose reputation will take a hit if you don’t live up to your potential.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...
Shakespeare knew something about professional tennis—there’s always a tomorrow. But the next two or three of them should be good. Here’s a look at a few of Friday’s match-ups.
Li Na vs. Petra Kvitova: Uncharitably, I could say this is a war of one-Slam wonders. Charitably, I could say it will be a shot-maker’s delight. Realistically, I’ll say that it will have its ups and downs.
Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki; Novak Djokovic vs. Sam Querrey: In both cases, the lower-ranked player has a win over the higher-ranked one. Which makes it less likely that the higher-ranked will let the lower-ranked have another.
John Isner vs. Tomas Berdych: If ever a match deserved the "it is what it is" tagline...
Juan Martin del Potro vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov: Fox, meet hedgehog.
David Ferrer vs. Richard Gasquet: Any time a soloist like Gasquet gets to work with a drummer like Ferrer, there's potential for beautiful music. They played what might have been the match of the U.S. Open, a five-set quarterfinal that was won, to the universe's surprise, by the Frenchman.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Angelique Kerber: Whatever it takes.