Old Champions Become Anew In Dubai
TENNIS – I am not sure if many who watched both the WTA (February 17-23) and ATP (February 24- March 1) Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships realized that the respective champions from both event, Venus Williams and Roger Federer are well over the age of 32. Cordell Hackshaw
I am not sure if many who watched both the WTA (February 17-23) and ATP (February 24- March 1) Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships realized that the respective champions from both event, Venus Williams and Roger Federer are well over the age of 32. Williams will be 34 years old in June and Federer 33 in August of this year. However, I am sure fans of both players were beside themselves when they saw their “player” hoisting the winner’s trophy as Federer and Williams showed signs of a resurgence of their dominant self from yesteryears.
Venus Williams’ battle with Sjögren Syndrome has been well documented but her unwillingness to let it kick her out of the sport might have gone unnoticed. Since being diagnosed in 2011, Williams maintained that she is not retiring even though at 31, she had earned the “right” to do so. Many of her contemporaries left the game before or around this age. It must be noted that amongst active players, Venus Williams alone occupies the 2nd slot on most major titles list with 7 behind her sister, Serena Williams who has 17. However, Venus has not won a major title since 2008 Wimbledon and last appeared in a major final in 2009 Wimbledon. The elder Williams will no doubt be elected into in Tennis Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, her many accomplishments makes no difference to the American as she made the decision to work her way back to the game which has brought her so much fame.
Williams’ last title was in Luxembourg 2012 and coming into this event, she had a good run in Brisbane earlier in the year where she made it to the final before losing in 3 sets to Ana Ivanovic. She seemed to be in excellent shape and had a fairly decent draw at the Australian Open but she lost in the opening round to Ekaterina Makarova. However, Dubai is a somewhat magical place for Williams. She has an unbeaten streak at the tournament having won back to back titles in 2009 and 2010. Despite her 3-year absence in subsequent years due to injury, Williams proved that she still has the magic in 2014. Given a wild card into the tournament and unseeded, Williams, currently ranked 31 in the world, played some of the best tennis seen from her racquet in a long time. With the exception of the quarterfinal where she dropped 8 games against Flavia Pennetta, Williams surrendered no more than 5 games per match during the entire tournament. Before, getting to the final, she took out Elena Vesnina who took her out in the 1st round of 2013 Wimbledon, Ivanovic, quite handily 6-2, 6-1 in the 2nd round (a bit of a revenge scoreline perhaps), then Pennetta and Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinal. In the final, she had total control of her game with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Alizé Cornet who had taken out Serena Williams in straight sets in the previous round. Venus Williams stated “I have had a good week. Everything is falling together pretty much, is all I can say.”
What was most impressive about Williams’ game during the week was her resilience and stamina. She was not negative on the court but stayed focus and relied on her heavy groundstrokes and smart court coverage which allowed her to win the title without dropping a set. In the final, Cornet soon realized much to her dismay that Venus Williams was the tougher Williams sister that week as she was clearly frustrated by the American’s game as early as the 5th game of the match. The Frenchwoman was in tears during the changeover as she complained to her coach about her inability to make any inroads in the match. However, Williams continued her assault and picked up the bagel in the 2nd set to take her 45th career title. As always, Williams’ serve was problematic. In the finals, she had only 48% 1st serves in and was 55% for the entire tournament. Nonetheless, Williams was very quick to come forward to finish points at net at the slightest opportunity, which many believe is one of the American’s most “deadly weapons” on court.
What more can be said of Roger Federer at this point in his career to denote his impact on the sport. He remains an enigma; indescribable and ever the epitome of the game. That he is still playing at this age and at such a high quality is astounding to say the least. With such a distinguished career, one wonders when will enough be enough for the great Swiss maestro? Federer has suffered several setbacks over the past years and having not won a major title since Wimbledon 2012 and only winning one title in all of 2013, many asked whether he should consider hanging up the racquet to maintain his legacy. However, the word “retirement” is not a part of the Swiss’s vocabulary. He has put his plaguing back injury behind him and has a new pep in his step with a new coach in legendary Stefan Edberg and new baby on the way. Federer at 32 years old looks just as eager to be out on court today in 2014 as he did when he was 25 in 2006.
Federer is currently ranked 8th in the world and was seeded 4th at the Dubai Championships, an ATP 500 level tournament. However, this tournament is very popular on tour and has been known to attract many of the top ranked players each year. Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were all in attendance. Federer had a bit of a hiccup in the 2nd round against Radek Stepanek when he dropped the 2nd set in a tiebreaker but he quickly put the Czech to rest in the 3rd set. Nonetheless, it was in the latter stages of the tournament, the semifinal and the final, against world’s number 2 and number 6, Djokovic and Berdych respectively where Federer showed his true grit.
Federer dropped the opening sets against both players and for a while, it looked as though Federer was on his way out of the tournament in the 2nd set. Interestingly enough with these match ups, Federer had lost his last two previous encounters against both players. Last year, he squandered match points against Berdych in the semifinal. Djokovic and Berdych were exhibiting signs of their true tennis prowess on court as they blasted winners from all angles of the court. However, Federer dug deep into his reservoir of experience to come up with brilliant plays and level the match by taking the 2nd set. Djokovic and Berdych both blinked in the 3rd set, perhaps figuring that Federer could not maintain this level of play and soon found themselves facing match points with no real answers to save them. Federer thus collected his 6th Dubai trophy (2003-2005, 2007 and 2012) and 78th overall title to be 3rd on the All-time titles list.
After the final, Federer stated, “Things definitely went my way out here tonight, but I have had a lot tougher matches in the last one and a half years, so this is nice to get a lucky break again.”
Maybe one can say it was all luck for both Williams and Federer in winning titles at this stage of their careers. However, looking at their matches and the continued effort to still be on tour amongst the game’s elite, the “lucky charms” defense becomes soggy. This is determination and persistence paying off. In one of her post-match interviews, Williams spoke of the fact that winning majors as she did in the past required “a lot of nerves and mental prowess.” She added, “I’m not looking to do anything I did in the past, because I already did that. I’m looking to improve and be a better, smarter Venus.” Federer and Williams are striving for this level of improvement it seems and are sticking to the plan despite the odds being against you. Who knows what their success rate would be and how long their bodies can withstand the rigors of the tour. It might be that “success” does not necessarily come in the form of winning more major titles and recapturing the glory days for either player. One thing is certain though; retirement is clearly not an option. Both Williams and Federer have made it clear that Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 is in their sights. They will be 36 and 35 years old respectively during the Games.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Alcaraz and Sinner Meet Again in the Semifinals
Both ATP semifinals will be played on Friday, as well as the second WTA semifinal.
For the third consecutive big event in the United States (US Open, Indian Wells, Miami), Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner will collide. At the US Open, they played an epic five-hour five-setter that went into the early hours of the morning. At Indian Wells, they contested a high-quality semifinal. Both of those matches went to Alcaraz. Will he prevail again on Friday?
And are we on the verge of a rematch from the Indian Wells final between Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev? Fellow Russian Karen Khachanov will be Medvedev’s opposition on Friday. And in the remaining WTA singles semifinal, Petra Kvitova plays Sorana Cirstea for the right to face Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s championship match.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Friday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Karen Khachanov (14) – 1:00pm on Stadium
Medvedev is now 27-3 this season, and has claimed 22 matches within the past seven weeks alone. Daniil has easily advanced to this semifinal, averaging just over an hour on court across his three matches thus far. He is vying for his fifth final in as many tournaments.
Khachanov is 13-5 on the year, and this is his third significant hard court semifinal since last summer. At the US Open, he defeated both Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios in five sets to reach the semis. At the Australian Open, he beat both Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Korda to advance to this stage. And this week, he took out both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Francisco Cerundolo, who was a Miami semifinalist a year ago.
Medvedev leads their head-to-head 3-1, which includes a straight-set victory at the beginning of this season in Adelaide. And based on his current run on hard courts, I like Daniil to achieve his first final in Miami.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Jannik Sinner (10) – Not Before 7:00pm on Stadium
Alcaraz is 18-1 in 2023, while Sinner is 20-4. Neither has dropped a set this fortnight, so both are feeling fully fresh and quite confident heading into this blockbuster matchup.
Overall Carlitos is 3-2 against Jannik, and 3-0 on hard courts. Sinner’s two victories have come on grass (Wimbledon) and clay (Umag). Since holding a match point against Alcaraz in the fourth set of last summer’s US Open quarterfinal, and failing to convert, the Italian has lost four straight sets to the Spaniard.
Both men have made previous appearances in the Miami final, with Sinner losing to Hubert Hurkacz in 2021, and Alcaraz defeating Casper Ruud in 2022. Carlitos needs to defend his title in order to maintain his No.1 ranking. And considering how well he’s played since returning to the tour in February, I favor Alcaraz to eliminate Sinner again on Friday.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Petra Kvitova (15) vs. Sorana Cirstea – Kvitova has now advanced to the quarterfinals or better at the last three WTA 1000 tournaments held in the United States. Cirstea has been playing some of the best tennis of her career since hiring Thomash Johansson as her coach. Petra leads their head-to-head 6-4, which dates all the way back to 2008. They met twice on hard courts in 2022, and split those two encounters.
Storm Hunter and Elise Mertens (6) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – This is a quarterfinal, and the winners will come back later in the day to face Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez in the semifinals.
Magda Linette and Bernarda Pera vs. Leylah Fernandez and Taylor Townsend – This is a semifinal. Prior to this event, Linette and Pera had not teamed up since last year’s Wimbledon. This is only Fernandez and Townsend’s second tournament as a team.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Elena Rybakina Plays Jessica Pegula in the Semifinals
Due to rain on Wednesday, only one WTA semifinal will be played on Thursday.
Elena Rybakina is just two wins away from completing the “Sunshine Double,” which is winning both Indian Wells and Miami. But in Thursday’s WTA semifinal, American No.1 Jessica Pegula stands in her way. The other semifinal is still to be determined, and will not be played until Friday, as Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Alexandrova will contest their rain-delayed quarterfinal on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the ATP quarterfinals will be completed on Thursday. Indian Wells finalist Daniil Medvedev faces American Chris Eubanks, who has been the breakout story of this tournament thus far. Also, Karen Khachanov takes on Francisco Cerundolo, who is vying for his second consecutive semifinal in Miami. And delayed from Wednesday night, Carlos Alcaraz battles Taylor Fritz in another ATP quarterfinal.
You can find a preview of the Alcaraz/Fritz and Kvitova/Alexandrova quarterfinals in yesterday’s daily preview here.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Chris Eubanks (Q) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4) – 1:00pm on Stadium
Medvedev leads the ATP with 26 wins this season, as well as with three titles. Daniil has not dropped a set to this stage, though he’s only played two matches thus far due to a walkover earlier this week.
Eubanks has already won six matches this fortnight after coming through qualifying. And the 26-year-old achieved a career goal of breaking into the top 100 with this quarterfinal run. Chris became emotional on-court after clinching that feat on Monday, and followed it up with another upset the next day, over Adrian Mannarino. The American is projected to become ranked 85th in the world on Monday, but a win on Thursday would propel him into the top 60.
In their first career meeting, of course the self-proclaimed “hard court specialist” Medvedev is a strong favorite. But I’m quite interested to see how Eubanks performs in the biggest match of his career. During a rain delay on Monday, Frances Tiafoe provided Eubanks with some advice in the locker room, which Chris credited with helping him come back in the second-set tiebreak once play resumed. He’s played more freely since that comeback, and Eubanks may feel as if he has nothing to lose on Thursday.
Elena Rybakina (10) vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – Not Before 8:30pm on Stadium
Rybakina is 20-4 this season, and is currently on a 10-match win streak. If her 2,000 points from winning Wimbledon last summer counted, she’d currently be ranked third in the world. Elena easily dispatched of Martina Trevisan in the last round.
Pegula is 19-5 on the year, and 10-3 in Miami. This is her second consecutive semifinal at this event, and she’s the No.3 player in the world without Rybakina’s Wimbledon points counting. She saved multiple match points to come back and defeat Anastasia Potapova during Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Pegula is 2-0 against Rybakina, with both matches taking place on hard courts during 2022. A year ago at this same tournament, Jess prevailed in straight sets. And last fall in Guadalajara, Pegula outlasted Rybakina in a final-set tiebreak, another match in which the American saved multiple match points. As confident as Elena currently is, with her big serve and groundstrokes dictating play, it’s hard not to favor the reigning Wimbledon champ. But based on their recent history, as well as Pegula’s rising confidence after saving match points in the last round, I give Jess the slight edge in Thursday’s semifinals on home soil.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Francisco Cerundolo (25) vs. Karen Khachanov (14) – Cerundolo was in danger of falling out of the top 40 with an early loss in Miami, defending the best result of his career at this level, but has impressed by returning to the quarterfinals, defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime on the way. Khachanov upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the last round, and is looking to reach his first Masters semifinal since 2019. Last summer in Canada, Karen defeated Francisco in three sets.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Indian Wells Champs Carlos Alcaraz and Taylor Fritz Collide
On Wednesday in Miami, 2023 Indian Wells champion Carlos Alcaraz faces 2022 champ Taylor Fritz for the first time.
Alcaraz is just three wins away from defending his Miami title, which he needs to do in order to remain World No.1. Wednesday’s other ATP quarterfinal sees Indian Wells semifinalist Jannik Sinner take on Emil Ruusuvuori, who is the first Finnish quarterfinalist at a Masters 1000 tournament in a decade.
In the WTA singles draw, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova are one round away from a big-hitting semifinal. But first, they must get past Sorana Cirstea and Ekaterina Alexandrova, respectively.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Wednesday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Ekaterina Alexandrova (18) vs. Petra Kvitova (15) – Not Before 7:00pm on Stadium
Kvitova is 14-5 this season, and has now reached the quarterfinals of both Indian Wells and Miami this month. Petra has also now advanced to the fourth round or better of this event for the fifth straight time, and has not dropped a set this fortnight.
Alexandrova had a losing record this year before arriving in Miami. She defeated Belinda Bencic two rounds ago, and advanced in the last round after Bianca Andreescu’s upsetting ankle injury. This is Ekaterina’s second WTA 1000 quarterfinal, after first achieving that feat last year in Madrid, when she advanced to the semifinals.
Their only previous encounter occurred three years ago at the Australian Open, when Kvitova comfortably prevailed 6-1, 6-2. Ekaterina does not possess the same offensive weaponry of Petra, so on a hard court, the two-time Wimbledon champion is a considerable favorite to win again on Wednesday.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Taylor Fritz (9) – Not Before 8:30pm on Stadium
Alcaraz is 17-1 on the season, despite missing all of January due to injury. His only loss came to Cam Norrie in the final of Rio, a match in which Carlitos reaggravated his leg injury. He’s yet to drop a set during this tournament.
Fritz is 20-5 in 2023, and has now reached the quarterfinals or better at his last five events. This is Taylor’s first quarterfinal in Miami, and his third consecutive quarterfinal as Masters 1000 events in North America. Like Alcaraz, he’s also yet to lose a set in Miami, but he’s 1-4 in his last five Masters quarterfinals.
This is the first career meeting between the World No.1 and the American No.1. Fritz certainly has the firepower to threaten Alcaraz on this day. But based on Carlitos’ recent sharp form, the 19-year-old is the favorite to advance to the semifinals.
Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:
Sorana Cirstea vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Sabalenka is now a stellar 20-2 on the year, and has allowed her opponents this past week an average of just 2.5 games per set. Cirstea is having an excellent March, having advanced to her second consecutive WTA 1000 quarterfinal, a stage she hadn’t reached since 2017. This is another first-time career meeting.
Emil Ruusuvuori vs. Jannik Sinner (10) – Sinner is vying for his second consecutive Masters semifinal, and has not dropped a set thus far in Miami. This is Ruuuvuori’s maiden Masters 1000 quarterfinal, at the only Masters event where he had ever previously advanced beyond the third round. Jannik is 4-0 against Emil, with all of those wins in straight sets, except a match in Miami a year ago that went to a third-set tiebreak, and saw Sinner save three match points.
Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.
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