Post-Wimbledon Blues

In my early youth I believed June was the worst month of the year for sport; then I became a tennis fan and quickly realised July tops it by a long stretch.

Summer sports like golf and cricket don’t fill the void left by the football season’s conclusion and, besides the first week where the Wimbledon schedule spills over, tennis doesn’t either.

All the top players disappear for two to three weeks once Sue Barker’s wrapped up the closing ceremony on Centre Court and, due to my UK residency, so does the coverage of the sport.

Luckily I have a companion who bets and he’s always looking for a tennis punt. He’s been keeping me updated on which players have been making the most of this July tennis drought.

Here’s a summary:

The next big buzz after Wimbledon came from the Davis Cup. Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori were in action for Australia and Japan with both helping their respective countries to victory. Japan will next face India with the Aussies taking on Switzerland when the World Group Play-offs commence in September.

Ksenia Pervak continued her recent good form by reaching the semi-finals of the Gastein Ladies and losing out to third in the world Vera Zvonareva at the Baku Cup. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost in the quarter-finals of the latter event.

In a tournament where John Isner was the top seed, Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t make the most of another grass court event after his second round exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon. He lost to 18-year-old American Denis Kudla in Newport, Rhode Island before travelling to Atlanta and falling to Rajeev Ram in the first round despite being seeded fifth. In the same tournament, Ryan Harrison reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Mardy Fish. Harrison is also well inside the top 100 and improving on his highest ever ranking position all the time while Dimitrov is still at a respectable #57.

Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki continued her remarkable comeback by reaching the same stage of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, joining 22-year-old Dominika Cibulkova. The German was cast aside by an imperious Serena Williams whilst the Slovakian had to retire before her match with Marion Bartoli but her ranking has improved to world number 16.

Youngsters Tamira Paszek and Irina Falconi both made the semi-finals of the WTA International tournament the Citi Open. Austrian 20-year-old Paszek made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and has seen her world ranking increase to number 36 in the world while American 21-year-old Falconi is back in the top 100. Bojana Jovanovski made the quarter-finals and Eugenie Bouchard reached the second round as a wildcard.

As the hard court events got underway Ernests Gulbis produced a stunning turnaround from recent form. The 22-year-old ended a five-match slump to win his first round match at the Los Angeles Tennis Open against fifth seed Xavier Malisse. From then on the Latvian seemed re-born, smashing former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro 6-2, 6-4 en route to winning the tournament outright 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 against top 10 player Mardy Fish in the final. He’s now rose 29 places to number 55 in the world.

Ernests Gulbis

Advertisements

Lost Talents

Marin Cilic’s defeat in the first round of the French Open to 33-year-old Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo compounded what has been a tough year for the former top 10 player.

The Croatian was seeded 19th but lost in straight sets a man whose only Grand Slam victories came in the 2006 French Open, where he reached the fourth round.

Now world number 20 Cilic is likely to drop further down the rankings when only last year he sat at number nine following an impressive Australian Open semi-final run.

So what has happened to the once lauded young talent and former French Open junior champion? Well 67 unforced errors doesn’t help and certainly aided his downfall against Hidalgo but there are aspects of his game which need improving.

When looking at his only ATP final appearance this year in Marseille compared to his Australian Open quarter-final there are notable differences.

The first is the movement. Some of the shots Robin Soderling produced in Marseille were reachable but Cilic either stood still or gave up trying to make the return.

Another thing is his reading of the game. Against Andy Roddick, Cilic anticipated the ball’s placement and the American’s shot selection much better.

And also he can’t rely solely on his serve. At 6′ 6” it’s a great weapon to have, smashing in aces on your own service game but it’s not enough to win you matches against the top players. Ivo Karlovic and John Isner have yet to learn that lesson as well.

Mentality is also key. I heard American youngster Irina Falconi say after her first round defeat that tennis is “100% physical and 100% mental”.

Cilic has spoke before of feeling nervous before big matches, something I’m sure most players experience, but if it gets to you during the match then you’re more than likely going to crumble.

Marin Čilić on the receiving side

Another first round exit came in the form of Ernests Gulbis whom I’ve written about before. Back then I admit my thoughts on Gulbis’ similar ranking ‘injustice’ were sketchy but after more thorough research I’ve come to realise how important mentality is.

One thing I labelled Gulbis was a “headcase” and I stand by that. His interviews are often light-hearted and clichés are rarities, which is nice and different but some of the things he comes out with raise eyebrows over commitment issues.

Upon publication Gulbis fans hated me for saying that but he’s admitted to not enjoying practice whilst saying he loves being on the court and winning matches.

Unfortunately it’s a symbiotic relationship. If it wasn’t, I could be at Roland Garros.

In one interview Gulbis says he’s happy no matter how he wins. In contrast, women’s number one Caroline Wozniacki has said she’s a perfectionist and works on the things that didn’t please her during victories.

Perhaps that is the difference; I’m not sure. Certainly maturity on the court is something for Gulbis to improve on. One-time racket-smashers Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray have become much better players for it.

Gulbis is a player who intrigues and often confuses me. I don’t know whether to love him for his casual style or hate him for how it affects his tennis.

Him and Cilic are both currently 22 and have many years ahead of them. Although the Croat is ranked higher than the Latvian, they both have top 10 potential. Whether they’ll get there and remain there, depends on how they react to their current slumps.

Sweet Victory

Ryan Sweeting beat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston to lift the first ATP Tour title of his career.

Upon winning, the American jumped into a pool and he’ll be looking to make more of a splash on the tour now as well (insert groan here).

On his way to the final he defeated fellow American and second seed Sam Querrey as well as former top 15 player Ivo Karlovic.

After losing the first set without gaining a break of serve, Nishikori will be ruing the three set points he missed at 5-4 up in the second as he fell in exactly two hours at the ATP 250 event.

Ryan Sweeting

As the name suggests, Sweeting will now gain 250 ranking points to push him to a career high position somewhere in the 70’s. It’s also the first time a wildcard has won the event since Mardy Fish in 2006. Since then Fish has gone on to become the USA’s number one player so this victory is a great boost for Sweeting and American tennis.

At the age of 23, he’s still got time to improve but any chance of a major title win during his career is unlikely. Still, a resurgence for Fish and Sweeting as well as the progression of teenager Ryan Harrison should increase the level of support for tennis fans in the US.

There’s also some good news for the beaten finalist, a prospect covered on here in the past. Despite the defeat, Nishikori is projected to be in the world’s top 50 once the rankings are out, almost matching the highest ever position of a Japanese player.

That’s currently held by Shuzo Matsuoka who reached #46 in 1992. Nishikori has every chance of breaking that record in the near future to slightly brighten the mood of a country surrounded by devastation following the tsunami last month.

Sweeting became the fifth newest player to win an ATP title this year joining Pablo Andujar who claimed the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca and Milos Raonic amongst others.

Canadian Raonic managed to beat Michael Llondra in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters and his progress at that tournament shall be watched with an eagle eye over the coming week.

Elsewhere in Monaco, Bernard Tomic lost out in qualification to Julien Benneteau while Ernests Gulbis saw off Alexandr Dolgopolov, a player only just coming to fruition after a fine run in the Australian Open this year.

Gulbis, 22, is a great clay court player looking to recapture the promise he showed last year when he beat Roger Federer on the surface. The Latvian’s next match versus Raonic is set to be a cracker of a second round tie.

Well, Well, Wells

The quarter-final line-up for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells has been decided and for some of the up and coming tennis stars it’s been a very productive tournament.

Ryan Harrison impressed the most after reaching the fourth round as a wildcard entry. En route he beat top 50 Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and 22nd seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez before Roger Federer dispatched of the American in straight sets.

It was far from an easy ride for the 16-time Grand Slam winner though as Harrison took the first set to a tiebreak which the former world number one edged 7-4 before securing the second with a more comfortable 6-3 scoreline.

In the previous round Harrison had met another young prodigy in Milos Raonic. The 20-year-old Canadian defeated home favourite Mardy Fish to reach the third round but lacked the same sharpness which earned him his first ATP Tour title last month.

However, 17 aces as well as some great baseline work from Raonic showed the class he possesses and he’s now flown out to Miami in preparation for the Sony Ericsson Open.

Ernests Gulbis had looked in good form going into his third round tie with Serbian Novak Djokovic after beating Taiwan no.1 Yen-Hsun Lu but this year’s Australian Open winner kept his 2011 unbeaten streak intact with a 6-0, 6-1 blitz.

Elsewhere Aussie Bernard Tomic reached the second round whilst further American success came from Ryan Sweeting, Donald Young and Sloane Stephens from the women’s draw.

Kim Clijsters has already declared she’s a fan of 17-year-old Stephens who lost to world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.

Certainly the experience gained as well as the ranking points earned from the combined ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier event will aid all the successful young players with Harrison already carving a name for himself.

Great stadium at Indian Wells Indian Wells Masters in California is considered the biggest tournament outside the four Slams

The Curious Case of Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis should be in the world’s top 10, if not for his tennis skills then certainly for his crazy antics.

At the age of 22, he’s already been to jail in Sweden after an incident involving a prostitute and on court breaks more rackets than a noise officer.

Novak Djokovic is the only top player with a bit of spunk. He’s become a star via two Grand Slam titles and an increasingly popular internet career thanks partly to some hilarious impressions at the US Open (and Ace of Baseline also recommends his advert for Head).

“Ernie” is even more wilder than the in-form Serb but the potential for even more scenes like the ones from Djokovic are hindered by his poor performances on the big stages.

First round defeats have been next to Gulbis’ name in major tournaments since the 2009 US Open and he has won only one ATP tour title. His record against top 10 players is also appalling.

Yet Gulbis did reach the quarter finals of the French Open three years ago so the talent is there, particularly on clay.

What’s missing is the attitude to make it to the top. Most players who suffer a setback use the same line of trying harder in practice but for Gulbis he’d rather not bother with it.

There’s also a case he may not even care about performing to the crowd but we’ll never know until we see him on a regular basis.

A friend of Marat Safin, the two have drawn comparisons by their casual approach to the sport, somewhat refreshing but it doesn’t garnish that much success.

Another problem facing Gulbis is he’s a bit of a headcase. On the prostitute fiasco, an alleged solicitation attempt, he commented that everyone should experience jail once in their lives with six hours of his spent behind bars.

Gulbis didn’t know of his lady friend’s career choice because he didn’t ask and after a fine he was free to go. On court he’s known to get frustrated quite often and destroying his racket heads in the process.

It’s a shame really that Gulbis isn’t seen more by the public. When beating Roger Federer after missing six match points he said in an interview “I was shitting in my pants”. Just imagine the kind of things he’d come out with. He’s the kind of guy who’d snog Sue Barker on-air for a laugh.

The game needs more characters and the public will be grateful if Gulbis can one day match the feats of Djokovic on and off centre court.

And of course we’ll be watching, in Ernests.

%d bloggers like this: