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Home   News   Tebbutt: An Anticlimactic Autumn?

Tebbutt: An Anticlimactic Autumn?

Oct 25, 2016
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

How can you go wrong putting a picture of these two guys at the top of a blog?

It was taken last week when Federer travelled to Nadal’s native Mallorca to celebrate the official opening of the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar.

The project is ambitious and a release describes it:

“Located in Rafa’s hometown of Manacor in Mallorca, Spain, the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar is a first-class campus, which allows young people between 10 and 18 to be educated academically in an American International School while training to become professional tennis players. In addition, the Academy has a program for students who do not wish to dedicate their lives to professional tennis, so they can get scholarships at universities in the US and continue competing.

“Rafa Nadal has transformed his training base into a high-performance academy where, together with his team, he will develop young tennis players. The Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar opened its doors in June 2016.”

The academy has 26 outdoor and indoor courts, two swimming pools, a fitness centre and residence facilities.

Unfortunately the same week as the official opening took place it was announced that Nadal’s on-going issues with his left wrist, which forced him out of the third round of the French Open in May and lasted until his return for the Rio Olympics in August, have led to his decision to shut down his year and focus on preparing for 2017.

Federer is also in that mode, not having played since losing in the semifinals at Wimbledon in July to Milos Raonic. The 35-year-old told Swiss media last week that he’s on course for a return next year in Australia and that he might even play matches in the International Premier Tennis League taking place in Asia from December 2 to December 18. He’s one of seven players listed on the UAE Royals team along with Ana Ivanovic and Daniel Nestor. (Milos Raonic is on the roster of the Philippine Mavericks with Serena Williams among others.)

In the meantime, there’s the rest of the 2016 season to be completed starting with the women’s BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore this week.

For the second year in a row Serena Williams is resting her body and will not take part in the $7 million (US) tour grand finale.

That’s disappointing along with the absences of the two players who are probably still considered, along with Williams, as the most competitive women on the tour – Maria Sharapova (suspension) and Victoria Azarenka (pregnancy).

The women’s tour is in an awkward situation in that a number of players who might have been expected to become marquee stalwarts in the mold of Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka have failed to do so. Whether it be the pressure of performing or other factors such as injuries, players like Sloane Stephens, Genie Bouchard and Belinda Bencic have failed so far to live up to expectations.

Going back further, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Nicole Vaidisova, all powerful and charismatic athletes, didn’t evolve into the consistently top-flight players that their early success had suggested.

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So, this week’s field (in the picture above Johanna Konta is out and replaced by late qualifier Kuznetsova) at the WTA championships in Singapore lacks a certain pizzazz because of the absentees and the players with star-power who aren’t there and potentially could have added some charisma.

Garbiñe Muguruza, 23, and Madison Keys, 21, are the best representatives of the emerging generation, but both have already lost their opening matches. It’s unfortunate that in Angelique Kerber’s emergence as world No. 1 she has only really beaten the ‘old guard’ at the Australian Open where she impressively defeated Azarenka in the quarter-finals and Williams in the final. She’s 0-3 in other meetings with Azarenka (2) and Williams (1) in 2016.

On the men’s side, the 2016 year appears to be coming to an under-whelming conclusion with the sport’s two greatest stars – Federer and Nadal – having shut down. Neither will play the ATP World Tour Finals in London from November 13-20. That will mark the first time since 2001, after 14 consecutive appearances, that Federer misses the year-ender. He has won it six times.

As for Nadal, he has qualified 11 times but missed four of them because of injury. Always somewhat star-crossed and not at his best at the season finale, the 30-year-old Spaniard has never won it and just twice – 2010 and 2013 – reached the final.

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Of the fabled Big Four, only Andy Murray seems to be really revved up as the year winds down, inspired by the opportunity to reach No. 1 in the rankings for the first time. Murray has many admirers who believe he deserves the top spot after all he has done and the competition he has had to face, but achieving it now will not quite have the same cachet with Federer and Nadal absent and current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic going through some sort of personal and public identity crisis in terms of his goals moving forward.

Murray, as top seed in Vienna, and Milos Raonic as No. 2 behind Stan Wawrinka in Basel, are in action this week (Raonic lost his opening round match 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to qualifier Ricardas Berankis) and all three along with Djokovic will be in the field for the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris next week, the final event before the London wind-up at O2 Arena in three weeks.

It’s Djokovic who holds the key to battling Murray and adding some genuine excitement to the final weeks of the season. But he appears sketchy in terms of his motivational funk as the season draws to a close and it will be intriguing to see if he fires up for his final two events.

Nestor still going strong

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Daniel Nestor recorded the 91st title of his storied career when he and Edouard Roger-Vasselin won the doubles at the European Open in Antwerp on Sunday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over top-seeded and world No. 1 Frenchmen Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

It was Nestor’s first victory as a 44-year-old and his third in the nine events he has played alongside the 32-year-old Frenchman, and also his third in 2016.

First playing together at Rogers Cup in Montreal last year where they reached the final before losing to the Bryan brothers followed by winning the title a week later in Cincinnati, Nestor and Roger-Vasselin (let’s call him ERV) have compiled an impressive overall record of 26-6 and have never lost in an opening round.

Unfortunately Antwerp will be their last event together in 2016 as Nestor reunites with Rohan Bopanna of India for the season’s final two events – in Basel this week and Paris next week.

Nestor and Bopanna played seven tournaments together from January to March last year – winning titles in Sydney and Dubai – before splitting. This year they played in Beijing and Shanghai in recent weeks and lost in the opening round both times.

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It would appear Nestor (above retiring with a calf injury from his first-round match at the US Open last month while playing with Vasek Pospisil against young Americans Tommy Paul and Taylor Fritz) would like to play more with ERV but the latter is apparently committed to compatriot Julien Benneteau.

Together Benneteau and ERV are No 13 in the (team) Race this year, highlighted by a 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-3 runner-up finish to Mahut and Herbert at Wimbledon. But since Wimbledon, Benneteau and ERV are an anaemic 1-6 together.

Clearly Nestor would like to team up again with ERV, but only time will tell if that can happen.

Worth noting, Nestor, currently No. 16 in the ATP’s doubles rankings, is the only player 40 and older in the top-50. Closest to him are three 39-year-olds – Max Mirnyi (No. 24), Robert Lindstedt (No. 37) and Andre Sa (No. 49).

Andreescu impresses

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Photo: Yves Henrichon

After missing most of the first half of the year with a stress fracture in her right foot, Bianca Andreescu (on right above) is beginning to round into form. The 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was runner-up on Sunday at the $50,000 (US) National Bank Challenger in Saguenay, Quebec, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Catherine ‘Cici’ Bellis of the U.S.

Andreescu may have been a little weary after beating second seed and WTA No. 113-ranked Jennifer Brady of the U.S. 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(5) in the semifinals while Bellis got a walkover from her compatriot Sachia Vickery.

Bellis, now 17, is best known for upsetting No. 13 seed Dominika Cibulkova, the Aussie Open runner-up, in the first round at the 2014 US Open when she was just 15. Her win in Saguenay moved her ranking up to No. 101.

As for Andreescu, her WTA ranking is No. 321. Comparisons are always dangerous, but at 16 (and four months older than Andreescu) in 2010, Genie Bouchard ended the year ranked No. 538.

Petkovic unplugged

This will go down as one of the most racy tweets of 2016. Unfortunately for the fun-loving, No. 57-ranked Petkovic, she was beaten 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the Luxembourg second round by No. 85 Lauren Davis of the U.S.

Connors for hire?

Maybe this isn’t the best approach for 64-year-old Jimmy Connors to take if he really thinks Nick Kyrgios might be interested in him as his coach.

From the vault

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Annie Juneau didn’t leave an indelible mark on the Canadian tennis scene as a player but in this item from August, 1989, she did achieve a measure of celebrity in a different field of endeavour.

Nowadays Juneau is a naturopath and in 2005 she founded the Clinique Vitacru Naturopathe located in Laval north of Montreal. It promotes a naturopathic lifestyle that includes diet, cleansing and other approaches to well being.

NOTE: Next week’s blog will be from the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.