Monday at The O2 Arena was an all too familiar situation for former US Open champion Marin Cilic. Taking on Germany’s Alexander Zverev, he lead by 5-3 before eventually losing in straight sets.
At a glimpse, it could be argued that the outcome wasn’t significant considering he was taking on the world No.5 at an event dubbed the fifth grand slam of men’s tennis. However, a closer analysis of Cilic’s last 10 losses on the tour identifies an interesting, as well as worrying, trend developing.
It all started at this year’s Wimbledon championships. Taking on Guido Pella in the second round, Cilic was the overwhelming favourite to win and lead the match by two sets. Winning 12 out of the first 15 games played against the Argentine before rain halted play. Despite the lead, Cilic ended up crashing out in five sets in what was his worst result at the tournament since 2013.
“I was not as accurate. I was just missing some balls, some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back.” He commented after that match.
Since Wimbledon, Cilic has gone on to suffer nine losses on the tour. In most of which he either lead the match or had match points. His opponents have ranged from grand slam champions Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, to Jan-Lennard Struff.
“I feel with my game that I need to be more stubborn, a little bit more consistent when having also a lead,” Cilic told reporters in London earlier this week.
“Maybe I drop my focus a bit. That gives an opportunity for the player to come back. It’s not easy for just mentally as well, working for it and creating chances and then dropping them, so its up-and-down with the emotions.”
Cilic’s last 10 losses
- Had a two-set lead against Pella (Wimbledon)
- Lead Nadal by a set (Toronto)
- Took Djokovic to three sets (Cincinnati)
- Lead Kei Nishikori by a set and 4-2 (US Open)
- Lead Struff by 4-2 in the deciding set (Tokyo)
- Had match points against Nicolas Jarry (Shanghai)
- Had set points against Marius Copil (Basel)
- Lead Djokovic by a break in the final set (Paris)
- Had an initial 5-3 lead over Zverev (London)
Nightmares At The O2
The irony in Cilic’s losses is that it leads up to one of his weakest tournaments in terms of wins. This year is his fourth appearance at the ATP Finals. Overall, he has only managed to win one out of 10 matches at the event. That was against Nishikori back in 2016.
“I know the score. Having another match with chances and not taking them. That’s something that I’m not happy about.” Cilic commented about his record following his loss to Zverev. “Also, last year, it happened a couple of times. And the year before that. So, against top guys like this, it hits me back.’
“It’s not the best thing that I’m doing, creating opportunities and having most of the time leads in the match and then I drop them. So, that’s what I need to just get better at.”
Despite the results, the 30-year-old is refusing to let it hinder his motivation. During his career, Cilic has won a total of 18 ATP titles. He is also the highest earning Croatian player in ATP history (in terms of prize money) with more than $25 million. Overall, he is 10th on the all-time list.
“It’s not easy also to come back again and push yourself. But, you know, that’s also part of the game. And looking forward to the next two matches in the group. Hopefully, I can build upon this match and that I can play better.”
So is he the worst in London?
It can be difficult to deem a player the worst in the tournament because it depends on the measure. For example, John Isner might be classed as the strongest server, but not the best returner. One measure that helps to draw a conclusion is the Infosys ranking system that is done in partnership with the ATP. Which oversee the leaderboards of these three categories:-
- Serve leaders (four service metrics percentages + average number of aces per match – average number of double faults per match)
- Return leaders (winning percentage in the four service return categories added together)
- Under pressure leaders (percentage of break points converted and saved + percentage of tie-breaks won + percentage of deciding sets won).
Based on the past 52 weeks, Cilic is the worst player in the Under Pressure category among those participating in this week’s ATP Finals. He is the only player ranked outside of the top 40 at 45th. On the other hand, he fares better in the other two categories. He has a better rating than Isner and Kevin Anderson in Returns (overall rank 39th), and has the fourth highest score when it comes to serving (10th on the tour).
It is easy to blast the former grand slam winner, but awknoledgement should also be given to his achievements in 2018. Including winning The Fever-Tree Championships in London (Queen’s), finishing runner-up at the Australian Open and reaching the semifinals at three other tournaments. He also achieved a career ranking high of third in January.
Cilic will play Isner in his second match at the ATP Finals on Wednesday.
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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