The stretch run to the French Open began last week with Rafael Nadal winning his 10th Monte Carlo Open title – a record for the open era – as well as his 50th clay-court tournament surpassing the record of 49 set by Argentine Guillermo Vilas in the 1970s and 1980s.

This week Nadal tries to repeat that feat as he aims for a 10th Barcelona Open championship. Meanwhile in Stuttgart, indoors on clay, Maria Sharapova makes her long-anticipated return from drug-suspension exile from the sport.

There are just five weeks of tournaments left before Roland Garros begins on Sunday the 28th of May – a total of 13 events for the men and nine for the women – with all of them played on red clay.

Nadal’s dominance looks like the main story on the men’s tour but world No. 1 Andy Murray is also in Barcelona and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will join both of them in Madrid in two weeks.

On the women’s side Sharapova’s appearance in Stuttgart (at 12:30 p.m. EDT in Canada on Wednesday) will be fascinating to observe – even more so since last week when a pregnant Serena Williams basically took herself out of the sport until 2018. Here’s a quirky thought – had Williams waited until this week to announce her pregnancy she could have upstaged old rival Sharapova’s much-ballyhooed comeback in Stuttgart.

What to expect from the 30-year-old Russian as she gets back into action for the first time since losing 6-4, 6-1 to Williams on January 26th, 2016, in the Australian Open quarter-finals?

Facing No. 36-ranked Roberta Vinci, Sharapova should feel confident with convincing victories over the 33-year-old Italian – in Indian Wells in 2012 and at the US Open in 2007 – in their previous meetings. But Vinci, not in great form at the moment and expected to retire by the end of the year, is an unorthodox player who likes to get to the net and rush her opponent. That could be tricky for Sharapova whose M.O. is to out-hit the opposition from the baseline.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

As great a competitor as Sharapova is – one of the top-10 of all-time – she’s human and it will be an emotional occasion on Wednesday. If she does get through Vinci, it may be hard to come back the following day to face one of two experienced players – either No. 8-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska or No. 43 Ekaterina Makarova. After being away from competition for 15 months, playing for a second day in a row might be too much. But Sharapova has off-the-charts willpower and is certainly motivated to prove herself in a highly-charged environment.

Other players will be similarly motivated, including top-seeded Angelique Kerber who has just dropped to No. 2 in the rankings (behind Williams) and enters the tournament in the same Porsche Arena where she lost a Fed Cup match on Sunday – 6-4, 6-2 to No. 13-ranked Elina Svitolina.

The 22-year-old Ukrainian is top seed this week at the International Series event in Istanbul. Genie Bouchard, ranked No. 59 and unseeded at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, played her opening match on Tuesday and was beaten 6-0, 6-4 by No. 97 Jana Cepelova of Slovakia. She is now winless (0-6) on the WTA tour dating back to the third round of the Australian Open in January.

Back on the men’s tour, there’s also the initial staging of an ATP 250 tournament in Budapest, with No. 14-ranked Lucas Pouille of France as the top seed.

The field is stronger in Barcelona with No. 1-ranked Murray, No. 5 Nadal, No. 9 Dominic Thiem and No. 10 David Goffin filling out the top-four seeding positions.

Although the quality of this picture posted on Twitter by Nadal is not great – it does show him in Monte Carlo on Sunday with all of his support team. They are (left to right) agent Carlos Costa – a former world No. 10 (1992) – physio Rafael Maymo, coach Carlos Moya, head coach Toni Nadal and media manager Benito Perez-Barbadillo.


Photo by: Arturo Velazquez

Despite a struggling Genie Bouchard, the future of women’s tennis in Canada has seldom looked brighter than following last weekend’s Fed Cup victory over Kazakhstan by the Canadian team in Montreal.

Francoise Abanda, No. 186, and Bianca Andreescu, No. 188, won all but two sets in four singles matches against their higher-ranked Kazakh opponents – No. 31 Yulia Putintseva and No. 51 Yaroslava Shvedova.

Abanda, 20, was outstanding in her two wins but it was Andreescu, who turns 17 on June 16th, who really impressed. The level of her power hitting when she pushed Putintseva to the brink in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 loss on Saturday and then beat Shvedova 7-6(1), 6-4 on Sunday was remarkable.

It is always dangerous to get ahead of yourself when it comes to the potential of such a young player, but that didn’t stop the normally circumspect Louis Borfiga, Tennis Canada’s vice president of high performance athlete development. A highly-respected tennis expert who helped develop players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon while he was at the French Tennis Federation, the Montreal-based Borfiga told the TVA Sports network on Sunday that he believes Andreescu will one day win a Grand Slam title.

The tennis the 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., produced on the weekend, and has been producing recently, would easily threaten any woman in the top-100, and probably many ranked a whole lot higher.

A final note on the Fed Cup weekend – kudos to Sportsnet Now (SNNOW.CA) for its coverage via live stream of the matches in Montreal. The stream was of high, interruption-free quality and the production values were solid. Commentary work by Rob Faulds, Sharon Fichman and Caroline Cameron added to the experience. There was only one slip, the handshake at the net on Sunday between the temperamental Putintseva and Abanda was missed in favour of a random shot of anonymous faces in the crowd applauding – always a pet peeve with the crew here at Tebbutt Tuesday.


David Goffin was matched against Rafael Nadal in last Saturday’s semifinals at the Monte Carlo Open, the day after he upset Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

The 26-year-old Belgian was playing well and had a point to lead 4-2 in the opening set. A Nadal shot appeared to land long on Goffin’s baseline and he thought he had won the game. Umpire Cedric Mourier of France got down from the chair and walked over to the baseline and indicated a mark on the line where he claimed the ball had landed.

Goffin is one of the most mild-mannered individuals on the tour but he essentially lost it with Mourier.

Following the incident, there was a school of thought suggesting Goffin should have been able to get over the bad call, which led to a replayed point that went to Nadal who soon won the game to level the score at 3-3.

In defence of Goffin, he was playing well and in his own mind had just held serve to lead 4-2. If he had been playing anyone but Nadal – indisputably the player in tennis history who has been the most dominant on a single surface (clay) – maybe he could have re-composed himself. But against the awesome Rafa a player has to absolutely maximize his own game and virtually everything has to go right for him to have a chance of winning. A disruption like the bad call is simply too much to overcome in the cauldron of competition on clay against the mighty Spaniard. Against anyone else in a similar situation, maybe Goffin would have deserved criticism for not getting over the bad call. But against Nadal, knowing he had to redline his game to have any chance, Mourier’s mistake was just too egregious and ill-timed. It broke the spell of what could have been a very interesting match.



The picture above shows the bottom of the singles drawsheet for this week’s Gazprom Hungarian Open.

The story behind the unusual notation about the ineligible wild card for No. 257-ranked Marsel Ilhan of Turkey is that on Saturday, when the draw was done for the ATP 250 event in Budapest, Ilhan had played a match that same day in the qualifying for this week’s $15,000 ITF Futures event in Antalya, Turkey. A player cannot be entered in two events the same week and so Ilhan was not eligible for the wild card in Budapest.

As it turns out the 29-year-old Turk did qualify in Antalya and became the top seed for that Futures event in his home country.


Ana Ivanovic, 29, is married to footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 32-year-old German is currently playing for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer so the retired Ivanovic is spending a lot of time these days in America’s second city.