By Cheryl Jones
Philipp Kohlschreiber made his debut at the Gerry Weber Open in 2005. He calls Augsburg, Germany home. Five years ago, he celebrated in Center Court as the champion. This Thursday in Halle, he stepped a bit closer to that prize again as he moved into the quarterfinal round with a win over Ivo Karlovic.
Germany has had a grass court tournament in the small town of Halle, located in Westphalia for the past twenty-three years. This is actually the twenty-fourth year that the tournament has been staged as a preparation for the competition at Wimbledon, the Grand Slam tournament that has remained true to an old fashioned kind of tennis that at one point in time was “the” surface that serious tennis matches were contested.
The Gerry Weber Open has blazed a trail that has now become quite well traveled as an alternative to the often rain-soaked British countryside tourneys that formerly were the only “games” to choose from in the tennis world, in order to complete the yearly preparations for the storied and formal “Strawberries and Cream” event. While there may not be berries involved, the venue in Halle, situated in the countryside of a pristine rural area of Germany, is superb when it comes to exhibiting the very best of what tennis has to offer. Audiences have traveled far and wide to attend a first-class event that includes the cream of the crop when it comes to male tennis professionals.
Roger Federer, the Swiss maestro who has thrilled the world with his graceful and masterful understanding of the game for the past dozen or so years signed an exclusivity contract with the Weber’s. He will play only this warm-up to Wimbledon for the remainder of his days as a professional. He is thirty-four years old now; he’ll be thirty-five in August. That string of years has traveled further than most thought it could, and so far there is no end in the foreseeable future. And, yes, he is in Halle this year, and he won his first match that was played on Wednesday.
Federer will not always be the main attraction, although some may have an argument with that. A German Player by the name of Philipp Kohlschreiber made his debut in Halle in 2005. Many German professionals have received wildcards into the matches at the GWO. It seems only fair to give young players a chance to show their stuff on a larger stage than they are accustomed to, and it provides them with a friendly audience. (After all, Kohlschreiber’s home in Augsburg is just a mere five or six hour drive from Halle.) He was runner-up to Federer in 2008. Five years ago, in 2011, he took home the trophy when he defeated fellow German Philipp Petzschner, 7-6, 2-0, Retired.
Today (June 16th) he was a star in the opening match when he faced Croatian giant server, Ivo Karlovic. The Croat is the second tallest player presently on the tour, at 6’11”. His serve is his game. Today, he had a total of 26 aces. Kohlschreiber, who had 9 aces managed to counteract what is usually a huge advantage for the big guy by moving more than three meters behind the baseline in the second and third sets to receive the booming serve. Karlovic’s downfall seemed to be the 37 unforced errors that ended up being huge in the three set match. In the end, it was Kohlschreiber – 6-7, 6-4, 7-5.
As a little background, it is interesting to note that the thirty-two year old German has been a professional since 2001. His highest Emirates ATP Ranking was 16, but that was in 2012. As of the thirteenth of June this year, he is ranked 25. Of late, he is really due for a day off. Since June 7th, he has been on court everyday. Not just practicing, but competing. He was in Stuttgart, and because of inclement weather the match went on for two days. He lost in the final to Dominic Thiem, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.
There’s something endearing about Kohlschreiber. He’s quiet and thoughtful. He actually examines what he is doing. He isn’t planted at the baseline, banging ball after ball just over the net. He moves quickly and carefully. Even though he was very tired from his daily on-court pressure over the past nine days – today being the tenth – there was a visible connection with the court and with his opponent. There was no calculator or questions for Google involved. He simply processed information and adjusted what he was doing and in the end, it all worked out in his favor.
Germany has been the birthplace of more than a few phenomenal tennis players. The magnificent Steffi Graf, a graceful willowy blonde who would like to be known as Stefanie now that she has matured is the most famous. She has a tennis resume that would sound embellished if it hadn’t been visibly recorded by a media that relishes its champions. She is Andre Agassi’s wife now, but her career is a tale that defies gravity. She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, among other accomplishments, and a Golden Slam, where she won each of the four Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic Gold Medal in the same year. Boris Becker has been in the limelight for various reasons over the years, including being the youngest Men’s Champion at Wimbledon, scoring that win when he was a mere 17 years old. There’s more, but it has been chronicled repeatedly in the media. Presently he is coach of today’s number one player in the men’s rankings, Novak Djokovic. Tommy Haas is less well known, although he is now an American citizen who lives in Southern California, and he will be the director of what some have called the Fifth Grand Slam – Indian Wells.
Kohlschreiber’s success hasn’t been a secret. It’s public knowledge. Many of today’s players who have remained in the background haven’t done so of their own accord. They play, they celebrate; they do what champions do. They just aren’t Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. For a few minutes, today at the Gerry Weber Open, it was Kohlschreiber’s time to bask in the spotlight. His hard work and diligence have given him an opportunity to show just what he’s made of – sturdier stuff than most, apparently. Next up, he will face either Dominic Thiem or Teymuraz Gabashvili. He isn’t asking for a day off. He’s sure to put on his Friday best for the match. And, once again he will be close to home in Center Court at the Gerry Weber Open – Halle, Germany.
US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major
After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.
The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.
That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of Shelby’s biggest fans.
LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?
Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.
Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.
Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.
WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN
The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.
Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.
But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.
With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played in the last 19 games Monday night.
WHO’S NEXT IN LINE
So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.
And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.
Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.
WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!
Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep.
The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.
At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.
So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.
NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE
Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.
Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.
And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.
Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.
And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.
My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?
Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.
Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.
The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.
It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.
However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.
Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.
The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.
However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.
“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.
“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.
“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.
“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”
Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.
Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.
Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?
Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.
The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.
First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.
However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.
After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.
Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.
But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.
As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.
“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.
“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit.
“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”
It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.
It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.
The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.
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