It’s the time of the tennis year when players have to keep on keepin’ on – even if they have trouble getting going.
The WTA Finals, which wound up in Singapore on Sunday with Caroline Wozniacki defeating Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the final, had a bit of a feeling of ‘last one out please turn off the lights.’
There was no denying Wozniacki played well but there have to be serious questions about why organizers would have the surface be so slow, basically lessening the chances of more dynamic players such as Garbiñe Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko and Williams.
In the Red Group during round-robin competition, four of the six matches were non-competitive duds with the exceptions being Garcia’s thrilling 6-7(7), 6-3, 7-5 win over Elina Svitolina and her 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Wozniacki after the Dane had already been assured of a semifinal spot.
In the White Group, five of the six matches were forgettable with Williams’ 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-5 squeaker over Jelena Ostapenko being a brilliant exception that featured the oldest player in Singapore, 37-year-old Venus and the youngest, 20-year-old Jelena.
The semifinals – Wozniacki over Pliskova and Williams over Garcia – were competitive and the Williams four-game comeback from 0-5 in the second set of the final salvaged it from what was mostly one-way traffic for the Dane.
It’s great for Wozniacki, who held the No. 1 ranking for 67 weeks in 2010-2011, to win a big title like the WTA Finals and rise to No. 3 in the rankings, but she has yet to win a Grand Slam title and, at 27, ‘tempus fugit’ for someone who isn’t that good at mixing it up with the big hitters.
While it never seems quite right for a player to end the year at No. 1 without winning a Grand Slam – Muguruza would have been a more satisfying No. 1 if she had won one more match in Singapore because she’s the Wimbledon champion – it’s easy to be happy for Simona Halep. She’s well-liked and respected by her peers – a sort of modern-day Kim Clijsters.
While the women – excluding the players involved in this week’s WTA Elite Trophy event in Zhuhai, China – didn’t exactly finish the year with a flourish, the men are also slowly grinding their way toward the off-season.
A prime example was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He won the title in Antwerp after missing three weeks with a knee issue and then went directly to last week’s ATP 500 event in Vienna. He got through his first two matches in three sets (Karen Khachanov and Damir Dzumhur) while looking fairly gassed and then beat Sascha Zverev 7-6(4), 7-5 in the quarter-finals only to have the German mention to him during the handshake that he himself was tired – and apparently suffering from some sort of virus.
All the while, Tsonga had to be wondering how much he’d have left for this week’s Rolex Paris Masters, one of the most important events of the year for him because he’s playing at home. He managed to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Vienna semifinals but, playing on fumes, had little left for the final – going down 6-1, 6-4 to fellow Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
It will be interesting to see how the 32-year-old Tsonga holds up this week in Paris at an event he won nine years ago in 2008.
Roger Federer was the winner at the ATP 500 in Basel on Sunday, his eighth title at his hometown event. He beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 in the final. The Argentine looked good for someone playing his fourth week in a row – now five with Paris this week – and reaching at least the semifinals for the third consecutive week.
— rene stauffer (@staffsky) October 29, 2017
Federer (continuing his tradition of offering pizza to Basel ballkids) is now second all-time behind Jimmy Connors with 95 career titles. He exercised his rights as a doyen of the tour and elected not to play this week’s Rolex Paris Masters. No one will begrudge him making that decision, with most just looking forward to seeing him in the ATP World Tour Finals in London in two weeks. And beyond that believing that his careful managing of his scheduling is a wise move in hopes he will be in top form for a run at defending his Aussie Open title come January.
While there’s a certain weariness about this point in the tennis year, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t some great tennis happening.
Take last week’s Basel quarter-final between Federer and Adrian Mannarino of France. Federer won 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 but played poorly in the first set, well in the second and then reverted to below par form in the third. Things were all going Mannarino’s way when he held two break points in the final set leading 3-2 and having 15-40 on the Federer serve. The Swiss saved the first with a service winner and then he hit one of the shots of the year to save the second break point – it’s at about the 30-second mark in the Tennis Channel video below.
There have been several other compelling moments recently such as Stefanos Tsitsipas’ 2-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(2) victory over world No. 10 David Goffin at the ATP 250 in Antwerp two weeks ago. Goffin was tired and well below his best but the 19-year-old Greek played well and showed promise. He’s of the same generation as Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime – in fact in their last year as juniors (2016) Shapovalov defeated Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals of the French Open juniors and the semifinals at Wimbledon while Auger-Aliassime beat him in the US Open semifinals.
After reaching the final of a $100,000 Challenger event in Brest, France, last week, Tsitsipas is now ranked No. 89. At 6-foot-4 and with a one-handed backhand, he has a nice game and a chance to be a rare Greek who makes his mark in big-time tennis – as long as you don’t count predecessors with Greek ancestry such as Pete Sampras, Mark Philippoussis and Nick Kyrgios.
On the women’s side, 24-year-old Caroline Garcia (above after losing in the Singapore semifinals to Venus Williams) is much more established than Tsitsipas but that doesn’t make her recent breakthrough any less remarkable. Her winning a Premier 5 event in Wuhan and a Premier Mandatory in Beijing back-to-back, before getting to the semifinals of the WTA Finals, was wildly impressive.
She played inspired tennis in that excellent victory over No. 4-ranked Elina Svitolina in Singapore and has an attractive game that promises much in the years to come. The 5-foot-10 Garcia’s year-end ranking is No. 8 – solid progress considering she started out 2017 at No. 23.
So, while there may be something of a jaded feel to the final stages of 2017, there are still plenty of little gems out there to entertain the committed tennis lover.
Denis Shapovalov lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 83-ranked Julien Benneteau in the first round of the Rolex Paris Masters on Monday.
A couple of the stats from a disappointing match by an error-prone Shapovalov were that Benneteau won 92 per cent of his first serve points and was 2/2 in break point chances.
But there’s a more important number – Shapovalov has now been away from his home in Richmond Hill, Ont., for 50 days.
He left on September 10th to play Davis Cup in Edmonton – went from there to Prague for Laver Cup – travelled from Prague to Tokyo where a visa mix-up kept him out of the Japan Open – moved on to Shanghai where he lost his opening match (Viktor Troicki) while suffering from a virus – headed back to Europe where he lost first round (Ernesto Escobedo) in Antwerp – journeyed to Basel where he won a round (Yuichi Sugita) and then lost (Adrian Mannarino) before landing in Paris and Monday’s loss to Benneteau.
Is there anything surprising about an 18-year-old getting worn out and a little homesick with all that travelling? Add to that trying to get accustomed to his newfound status as a budding star of tennis – he has said more than once that “the month of August (Rogers Cup and US Open) has been absolutely life-changing.”
All that isn’t exactly easy for a young guy to get a handle on. Shapovalov would be even more superhuman than he appears to be if he could.
There’s one more week left in the season for him – the new Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan next week from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11.
By the end of Milan it will be a total of 62 days away from home for Denis – and just a little over six weeks before he has to leave for some far away destination to begin the 2018 tennis season.
It’s hard to say that Vasek Pospisil is playing well when he’s now on a seven-match, main-draw losing streak dating back to the second round of the ATP 250 event in Atlanta in July. But over that time he is not without victories – having a 6-5 record in qualifying matches.
His 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(4) loss to Nicolas Mahut on Monday at the Rolex Paris Masters was yet another match where he was basically sound from start to finish but just couldn’t pull out a win. In this one it probably turned on a double fault – slightly long – when he served at 3-4 in the final set tiebreak.
Currently ranked No. 109, he’s basically five spots out of the 2018 Australian Open main-draw entry cut-off of No. 104, which can vary depending on withdrawals and/or players using injury-protected rankings. He receives 35 points for qualifying and losing in the first round in Paris but still has 20 points to defend in 2017 from a Challenger event in Bratislava last November. With the plus 15 points in that exchange he should move up to close to No. 100, with a good shot at making the main draw at Melbourne Park.
His 2018 year begins at the Hopman Cup in Perth, where he will represent Canada alongside Genie Bouchard.
— New York Open (@NewYorkOpen) October 25, 2017
There’s a new ATP tournament coming to New York. Here’s an amusing promo video for the event featuring John and Patrick McEnroe. The New York Open will be held on Long Island at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum from February 11-18.
NOTE: As mentioned last week, the $60,000 Tevlin Challenger is currently underway at Aviva Centre in Toronto. The top seed is Risa Ozaki of Japan while the second seed is Patty Schnyder, the 38-year-old Swiss who ranked as high as No. 7 in 2005. Seeded third is Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., while the No. 4 seed is Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands.
This weekend’s semifinals begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday with the final slated for a noon start on Sunday.