First Ball In, 7/30: Tale of Two Seasons

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 /by
Sloane Stephens lost to Christina McHale, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0, in her first match with new coach Thomas Hogstedt. (AP Photo)
Sloane Stephens lost to Christina McHale, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0, in her first match with new coach Thomas Hogstedt. (AP Photo)

It was more of the same on Monday from two women on opposite coasts. In the east, in D.C., Sloane Stephens lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 to Christina McHale in her first match since signing on with new coach Thomas Hogstedt. The opening-rounder wasn’t broadcast or streamed anywhere, so I didn’t see what happened in that mysterious blowout third set, but Stephens is ranked outside the Top 20 now, and has yet to reach the semifinals in any tournament in 2014. And for the second straight year, Sloane has made more news in a magazine—this time in an unfortunately titled Elle feature—than she has on court.

Can Stephens learn anything from Ana Ivanovic, the woman on the west coast who kept doing what she’s been doing yesterday? What she’s been doing in 2014 is winning at a surprising rate. With her opening-round victory over Sabine Lisicki, Ivanovic won her 40th match of the season, making her the winningest woman on tour this year. She also did it from a 1-4 deficit in the first set. Ivanovic says she’s happy with her new coach, Dejan Petrovic, a Serb from Australia. Ana has always liked Oz, so maybe she’s finally found her perfect fit: a guy who can speak Serbian but do it in the easygoing tones of an Aussie.

We’ll see—perfect fits don’t tend to stay perfect for long with Ana, but she’s doing something right at the moment. The question for Ivanovic now is whether she can turn herself from a player who has had a good run for a few months, back into the type of player she once was—i.e., one who has a good run all year. Yesterday we saw a prime example of one of the former, Dominika Cibulkova. The Aussie Open runner-up cracked the Top 10 for the first time in March, but has fallen back to No. 12, and hasn’t reached a quarterfinal since April. On Tuesday she suffered another early loss, to an admittedly solid player, Garbine Muguruza. The tour is a grind, the season is long, and most players can’t sustain momentum for more than a few months at a time. Ivanovic may get a chance to show us how much momentum she still has a in a couple days, when she might play the woman she beat in Oz, Serena Williams.

*****

OOP Analysis

See Wednesday’s Order of Play in D.C. here, Stanford here, and Kitzbuhel here.

Naomi Osaka vs. Andrea Petkovic: The 16-year-old Osaka, who beat Sam Stosur on Monday, goes for upset No. 2

Serena Williams vs. Karolina Pliskova: Serena makes her first appearance since...those double faults.

Kei Nishikori vs. Sam Querrey: Here’s an opportunity for the American to get a decent win; Querrey is 3-1 vs. Nishikori lifetime.

Jack Sock vs. Milos Raonic: In theory, this should come down to a point or two, but Raonic has won all five sets they've played in 2014.

John Isner vs. Steve Johnson: The two former college standouts have never played.

Dudi Sela vs. Richard Gasquet: A war of the one-handers.

Kristina Mladenovic vs. Taylor Townsend: Two upset queens of Paris face off. But for the third straight day, a promising U.S. woman won’t be on U.S. TV, or any TV at all. Monday it was Madison Keys who was blocked out, Tuesday it was Sloane Stephens, today it’s Townsend. It hasn’t been good luck for the States so far.

Bojana Jovanovski vs. Sorana Cirstea: Jovanovski seems to have brought her good form from Baku to the States.

Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. David Goffin: Kohlschreiber is the top seed, but Goffin is 1-0 in their head to head, and he’s been on a Challenger tear this summer, winning his last 32 sets.

Dominic Thiem vs. Jiri Vesely: Thiem leads 1-0 in the head-to-head between these two ATP up-and-comers.

For Further Reading

Andy Roddick went on a Fox Sports podcast rant about not being able to play the U.S. Open with Mardy Fish this year, because he hasn’t made himself available for drug testing for the required three months. It would have been fun to see those two old friends again, and nobody believes Roddick would have doped to get ready for it. But if there’s one section of the rules that the sport shouldn’t wave off, even for a former champion, it’s the anti-doping policy.

—Question for tennis players: Would it be safer to change the post-match handshake to a fist-bump? According to a recent study at a university in Wales, a knuckle-bump spreads fewer germs and is 20 times more hygienic than an old-fashioned clasp of the palms. Doubles players might want to consider going away from the high-five as well; the fist-bump is 10 times more hygienic.  

One thing I can’t see happening: Players fist-bumping with chair umpires when they walk off the court.

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