Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
Jon: Holy cow, what an opening day of the Australian Open! Only ONE of the 10 ‘merican women (Nicole Gibbs) who played in Melbourne yesterday survived the carnage. Among the defeated: Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe, CiCi Bellis, Taylor Townsend, and Alison Riske. Within the first four hours of play, Venus, Sloane, and CoCo -- three of the four semifinalists from the 2017 U.S. Open -- were out. The top two American men, John Isner and Jack Sock, also bowed out in the first round. I certainly can’t remember a day like this for American tennis at a Slam, can you?
James: There were probably a few French Opens back in the day that saw this much American blood spilt. But to your point, it was a shocking display from the U.S. contingent. I was actually most surprised by Vandeweghe’s performance; going in, I felt that she had momentum and a tricky, but not impossible, first round. I heard reports that she had the flu, though. What about you -- any true shockers for you, or was it just jarring that this all happened on the same day?
Jon: Not really. I think it’s not so much that these individual American players lost to these particular opponents, but that they all lost on the same day and in such a large volume. Bencic was always going to be a tough out for Venus; nobody has played and won more matches than her since Singapore. Sloane Stephens hasn’t won a match in a long time and she was playing Zhang, ranked #34 and the highest ranked first round opponent for a seeded player. I take your point about CoCo; she came in fresh off that ESPNW article aiming to debunk the perception of her being arrogant, and was viewed as a legit threat on these fast courts to build on her two Slam semis last year. Babos played top tennis, and if you’re not at your fighting best physically, then it becomes all the more difficult to perform at this level. While her loss may have been surprising, CoCo’s outbursts were not, just as they weren’t again from Ryan Harrison. These two continue to lower the bar for expectations of Americans overseas.
James: There’s just no excuse for hurling obscenities at your opponent or your opponent’s fans. I’ll never understand the bloc that believes that this abusive and embarrassing behavior is “good for the sport.” It is amazing to me that Ryan Harrison, especially, has any fans left. At least Colleen, for her part, put on her gentle, reasonable voice when conversing with the chair last night after getting a point penalty. The universe is serving Jack Sock a bit of restorative justice lately; after his less-than-full-effort performance in Auckland, there’s talk of rescinding his $100k appearance fee, and now he’s out in the first round in Melbourne after ending the 2017 season on a high.
Jon: Sock says it’s been very difficult to deal with the start of a new year after finishing on such a high at the end of 2017 (winning Paris to qualify for the year-end championships). Paraphrasing here, but it’s been a struggle for him to get motivated after having such a short turnaround between seasons, having never played that deep into a season before. All that makes perfect sense, but it’s not a good look when your performance is so bad that people are calling it tanking, and not for the first time in your career. Being in the top 10 also means added scrutiny, and having to answer for behaviour that would have flown under the radar when he was a less accomplished singles player.
As for Harrison, it’s not just about the swearing on court, which some have suggested dismissively. It’s about, as you pointed out, swearing at your opponent (in the case of Hanfmann), and your opponent’s supporters. It’s certainly not behaviour that would be tolerated or excused if done by someone like Nick Kyrgios; there is absolutely a double standard there, one that I believe has to do with race. Context is very important when debunking the “oh, who hasn’t cursed before” argument. This is an American player, casually and aggressively saying "fuck THOSE people" directed at an obviously majority Jewish group of people, on foreign soil. It reinforces some really ugly stereotypes about Americans, ESPECIALLY in this day and age.
James: Yet totally in keeping with the tenor of our national conversation. Can we talk about something more fun? Sloane Stephens’ press conference, for example. When Sloane feels like participating, she is such a hilarious presence in press. Take this, haters: “Relax, everybody. It will be okay. Don't worry. We will get back to having fun soon.” I’m not too worried about Sloane, because she took this attitude last summer right before she went on a tear through the American hard courts. Just as she did then, she ensured the assembled press, “I’m going to beat someone eventually. I’ll have the best Instagram picture when I snap this losing streak.”
Obviously, Sloane was not in fighting shape to start this tournament. It’s really only her second tournament back after her knee injury, which she played on for much of the fall. Nike’s atrocious kit certainly didn’t help her mystique.
Jon: Sloane’s mystique? We need to do a segment to delve into what you mean by that at another time. To expect Sloane Stephens to have continued that otherworldly form in New York through the rest of her career was just never on the table. She will never be Serena, nor Venus; she is Sloane, and that’s (BIG SHOCK) totally OK. I’m glad to hear she is comfortable enough in her skin to push back against the press for trying to pigeon hole her into that lane. She will come back and win again, and continue to do HER in the meantime.
One of the most anticipated storylines of day one was Rafa’s return to sleeveless tops, a full decade after he last wore one on the ATP Tour. I am saddened to report that it was a big big miss.
James: Perhaps “mystique” is not the word I was going for! As for Rafa’s kit, Nike is trash. They gave us a full line of unimaginative, bland, and just plain ugly kits for their top players this year. Fumbling Rafa’s return to the sleeveless look is something I cannot forgive. But, I was glad to see that Rafa got through his match without drama.
Sadly, I was asleep during Rafa’s match, as it started at 3 am here. I just went to check the stats on ausopen.com, and wouldn’t you know, they don’t work! It’s actually impressive how the tournament has fumbled just about every aspect of their digital technology: the app and website went down simultaneously in the first minutes of play, and even when they are purportedly working, they are full of bugs. As a layperson when it comes to technology, all I can do is laugh. I don’t understand the need to completely rework the app each year; I don’t recall having any problems before. Between the tech problems, the “draw ceremony,” and having to reckon with the ever-irritating Margaret Court, there’s a dark cloud over the Happy Slam which hopefully moves away soon.
Jon: If I know you, those last few sentences read like you’re about ready to put a wrap on this Diary entry! Let me just say about Rafa’s kit...the pink is the LEAST of the trouble with it. For whatever reason, the arm holes of the shirt are enormous and have Rafa’s still-very-ample musculature swimming, and the grey colour of the shirt just makes it look dirty. It looks like one of those patterns that designers first cut to put on a mannequin. It looks entirely unfinished and unwashed. A bright white shirt or even charcoal (although not hot weather friendly) would have done much better.
James: Why not an homage to Rafa’s signature pre-2009 look? What a shambles. Anyway, you’re correct that I was wrapping up; we have to save something for the podcast! To look out for: who will take advantage of holes in the draw left by Venus, Sloane, and CoCo? CoCo’s section now looks like a cakewalk for Wozniacki to reach the semifinals. I’ll also be especially interested to see Novak and Stan tonight. ‘Til next time!
This Week In Tennis
We're excited to bring you a sit-down chat with the first Canadian player on our podcast, up and coming Montrealer Francoise Abanda. We also answer some of the questions you all were so generous to ask us, with the help of friend and listener Chad. The rest is just us: recapping the stunning Muguruza-Kuznetsova quarterfinal, the perplexing men's draw, Querrey's rudeness, and more happenings from on-site.
8:00 The odd men's draw: Rafa the only superstar left
9:20 Odds and ends - Giorgi's no handshake, Sam Querrey's abominable behavior, Makarova-Kerber epic
15:00 Thiem - our analysis of Thiem proved to portentous (lost to Ferrer after we taped)
18:00 Our sit-down with Francoise Abanda, our first Canadian player on the pod!
32:20 Our listener mailbag, with the silky Southern stylings of Chad (@ccsmooth13)
36:30 Most importantly, what's good to eat here?
45:30 Question from @AnnaMarseille: have any players changed your impression of them after speaking with them in person?
Photo credits: Jonathan Newman
It wasn’t always pretty, but Garbiñe Muguruza powered through Madison Keys’ sustained aggression, a 2-hour rain delay, and three match points against her to win a third-set tiebreaker against the in-form American. The Spaniard survived a tough test in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon, handling unpredictable conditions and an opponent whom she had never beaten. Keys had won their previous three meetings: here in 2012, in Rome on her way to the final in 2016, and in Stanford just two weeks ago.
Keys got off to a fast start, punctuated by a dazzling down the line forehand to secure the early break and 2-0 lead. Muguruza, unnerved, broke right back in the next game, the trade of early breaks setting the tone for the rest of the match. The serving struggles were in no small part due to the wind -- a portent of the wild thunderstorm to come -- which wreaked havoc on both players from the onset. But, it was Keys’ ball toss that seemed to be the most affected.
Still, Keys inched ahead on serve to 4-3, before Muguruza left the court for treatment on a lower back problem. When she returned, her thigh taped, the Spaniard took control of the first set and sped to the finish line: she held serve, broke Keys, and served it out with little fanfare. In their previous three meetings, the loser of the first set went on to lose the match; would this match prove different?
After six straight service holds to start the second set, Keys broke to go up 5-3. Serving for the set, the American handled a tough shoelace volley, and launched a deft lob to reach set point. She then bagged the set with a trademark wide serve and inside-out forehand combination, one that she used effectively throughout the match.
With the match in the balance at 2-2 in the third set, the Mason skies produced an almighty storm, delaying the proceedings for two hours. When the thunder and lightning abated, Keys sprinted away with a 4-2 lead in the decider; but, in what was the story of this third set, her untimely errors squandered the multiple leads and chances she held. Still, Keys kept coming, breaking again with a barrage of winners to serve for the match at 6-5.
With the match on her racquet and a 40-15 lead, Keys failed to convert three match points, undone mostly by the unpredictability of her backhand. While Keys was erratic in the key moments, Muguruza remained steadfast, returning with extreme aggression and drawing costly mistakes from Keys.
Muguruza credited her experience in getting her through tough moments: “I knew that no matter what, I’m there and I have my options as well . . . sooner or later I’m going to have a chance.”
That chance came in the third-set tiebreaker. The Spaniard’s sustained aggression finally wore down Keys. After failing to serve out the match and squandering three match points, Keys doubled down with error after error in the tiebreak, thanks in no small part to Muguruza’s brilliant stretch of hitting from the backcourt. A final backhand error sealed the win for Muguruza after 2 hours and 18 minutes.
The Body Serve Tennis Podcast
Join us for Round 2 of player pressers - you'll hear good stuff from no. 1 Pliskova, Kerber, Domi Thiem, Wozniacki, Halep, and Svitolina. But first, we catch you up with what's been going on in Cincinnati in our own words: Venus blazing through her first match, Fabio-Dominic play a strange one, the heat, and balancing the packed schedule despite of the withdrawals.
1:00 What we've been up to in Cincinnati today
6:00 The men's draw was already a huge mess - and then Fabio barfed on court
9:15 Venus plays an efficient, powerful match against Alison Riske
14:30 Watching Ash Barty in singles and doubles (Venus' next opponent)
20:50 Meeting tons of Tennis Twitter folks in Cincinnati
25:45 What is going on with the famous Applebee's?
27:00 Getting into the player interview snippets
32:00 Simona on another level no passengers on her plane ....
40:00 Elina Svitolina talks about her steady rise
44:30 Mega Thiem talks about why he recaps his matches on Facebook
46:26 Angie Kerber brings the honesty
51:00 Karolina Pliskova is funny!
54:45 A few words from Caroline Wozniacki
Venus Williams, donning an atypical white baseball cap, led from start to finish as she blitzed past Alison Riske 6-2 6-0 in her opening match in Cincinnati. Williams served with intent from the first ball. The four points she won to take the opening game came on first serves clocking 109, 110, 105, and the last a 108 mph ace out wide to Riske's backhand. Despite Venus' quick 2-0 lead, Riske was playing well, and fought back to tie the match at two games apiece. Game on.
Or so we thought. The pivotal moment of the match came with Riske facing break point at 2-3; after a prolonged, intense rally, Riske seemed to wrest control of the point when she lured Venus into the net with a stealthy drop shot. Instead, Venus sprinted forward and with one last audible thud of her right foot, pelted a cross court forehand winner to seal the decisive break. The crowd roared as Venus made her way back to the service line with a 4-2 lead. Riske would not win another game.
Yes, Venus Williams is 37 years old. But, like she did in making the finals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, Venus showed that she still cuts a fierce and intimidating figure as weekly contender, regardless of age. At 2-5, and having played well to that point, Riske called her coach to the court; what could she possibly do to stem the Venus tide? Her main failure to that point was to protect her second serve: up to 2-5 and 30-all, Riske had yet to win a point when made to serve twice. Venus would go on to win the first set 6-2 and win eight of nine points on Riske's second serve.
The last glimmer of an opening for Riske came in the third game of the second set with Venus serving at 2-0, 15-30. But, Venus summoned another of her seven aces to stifle that opportunity, and her subsequent break for 4-0 sealed it shut. All told, Williams broke Riske six times, while losing her own serve just once. Her first serve, of which she lost only four points, was the fortress that kept Riske at bay.
With the match at just a touch over an hour, Venus fired one final forehand winner to seal the win 6-2 6-0. It was, in short, one of the cleanest and most efficient performances you will see from Venus Williams, her serve and groundstrokes working together like a well-oiled machine. She improves her record against Riske to 3-0, all straight-set victories in the last 18 months. Up next, Williams will face Ashleigh Barty, 21, in their first ever meeting. Barty, a qualifier ranked 48th in the world, defeated Varvara Lepchenko 6-4 6-4 on Tuesday.
In this rematch of the Stanford final -- which Keys won in two tight sets -- it was easy to appreciate both players’ intensity and power off the ground. Keys came out of the gate strong, pounding returns to earn a break in the third game. At one point in the first set, 14 straight points were won by the server (two holds at love for Keys, one for Vandeweghe). Both players protected their serves with ease after Madison’s early break, but Keys and her ground game drew sloppy errors from CoCo to decide the set.
Vandeweghe pounced to a 3-0 lead in the second set after breaking Keys’ serve. CoCo did a good job to stay tight to the baseline, her aggression forcing Madison to produce a rash of errors. Serving for the set at 5-3, Vandeweghe scrambled to return an overhead smash by Keys and finished the point with a brilliant pass. She won the set with a 117 mph unreturnable serve.
The third set saw Madison race to a 3-0 lead, aided by a few poorly timed double faults from this year’s Australian Open semifinalist. At that point, Madison couldn’t miss; even her mishits clipped the lines. Despite CoCo’s comeback to tie the set at three games apiece, it was Keys’ serve that would ultimately decide the match.
At 5-3, CoCo saved three straight match points, but Madison closed her out 6-3 to bring their head-to-head to 2-0. After the match Madison noted, “It’s never easy to play a friend.” The two shared a warm embrace at net after the match, like they did two weeks ago in Stanford, and it was Keys who was again the victor.
Keys’ serve guided her through the tensest moments of the third set. It got her out of trouble when Vandeweghe erased Keys’ 3-0 lead: “In my head I was just thinking, you’re back on serve. It’s back even, and just focus on your serve and see if you get any chances in return games. And luckily I did.”
That game plan can be exciting in its simplicity. There is a terrible beauty to 115 mph serves, to Madison’s graceful ball toss with her palm raised toward the heavens, to CoCo’s menacing forward motion. Women’s tennis must always defend itself on many fronts, from style to athleticism to economics. But, Keys and Vandeweghe led the night session in a tournament marred by withdrawals, reminding fans that American women’s tennis is thriving. There was magic tonight in two women facing off, thumping the stitching out of the ball, sounding their yawps over the rooftops of American tennis.
The Body Serve Tennis Podcast
02:00 James gives his thoughts on his first ever player roundtable interviews
11:20 Muguruza reflects on being a two-time Slam champion
13:36 Garbiñe gives insight into learning how to keep things closer to the vest, navigate media
16:26 "I like that I like to be in those situations" - Muguruza on embracing the big stages
20:45 Reflecting on her emotional French Open press conference
26:22 Nadal responds to news of reclaiming world #1 ranking
31:35 Sveta for President?
34:29 Who Sveta texts with most, and a BIG BIG laugh
35:36 Konta commits to fun and games, segues to Wimby reflections
40:29 How Jo deals with the trolls: block block block block
44:59 Jo's take on some of the funniest players on the WTA
The Body Serve Tennis Podcast
00:30 What we really sound like, without edits!
05:00 Opening Monday at the Rogers Cup Toronto
07:30 Ostapenko loses to Lepchenko but shows how great she can be
13:45 Petra's back!
15:30 Venus takes the long way, but beats Begu at 11 pm
18:10 A bit of kvetching about annoying fans
26:00 Young Canadian Shapovalov beats Nadal in MTL
30:15 Is it Fedal the rest of the way in 2017? Who else? Zverev.
35:50 Madison Keys is here! And other US hardcourt news
38:00 Previewing the Cincinnati Masters, big first round match-ups
46:00 What we're personally looking forward to in Cincy
This Week In Tennis
Season 2, Vol 21
"This Week In Tennis is brought to you by The Body Serve Tennis Podcast: "featuring casual, semi-respectable conversations about the ATP & WTA." Subscribe on iTunes and follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram.
- David Ferrer won his first ATP title in two years -- and 27th overall for his career -- when he beat Dolgopolov in the Bastad final.
- John Isner won for the third time in Newport, the 11th overall ATP title of his career.
- Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick were among the new Tennis Hall of Fame inductees in Newport over the weekend.
- Andrey Rublev went from lucky loser to first time ATP titlist all at the same tournament in Umag.
- Irina Camelia Begu won on home soil in Bucharest for the fourth title of her career. Like Kiki Bertens in Gstaad, Begu won both singles and doubles at the same tournament. Begu is up to #38 (+20) in the rankings, while Bertens rises to #36 (+9).
- Julia Goerges had a few choice words for the Romanian crowd during her runner-up speech in Bucharest.
- Denis Shapovalov won his second ATP Challenger title of the year. With the win, Shapovalov moves 31 spots closer to the top 100 at #130.
- Novak Djokovic is unlikely to play the 2017 U.S. Open due to the elbow injury that forced his retirement in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
- Rajeev Ram announced he will no longer compete in singles, and dedicate his remaining time on tour to his doubles exploits.
- The Ferrer-Verdasco semifinal in Bastad was interrupted by a man who walked on court performing the Nazi salute.
- The ITF issued its decision on the Ilie Nastase case: the Romanian is to be banned from Fed Cup and Davis Cup until 2019.
- Three Wimbledon matches may have been fixed.
- Alex Zverev hired Juan Carlos Ferrero as his new coach.
- A weekend of WTA weddings: Aga Radwanska, Andrea Hlavackova, and Yanina Wickmayer all said "I do" over the weekend.
This Week In Tennis
Season 2, Vol 20
"This Week In Tennis" is brought to you by The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. Listen to the Wimbledon recap episode below.
- Roger Federer captured a men's record eighth singles title at Wimbledon over the weekend. Federer extends his all-time Slam tally lead to 19, and rises to #3 in the new ATP rankings.
- Garbine Muguruza beat Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final to win her second career Slam title. With the win, the Spaniard jumps 10 ranking spots to #5.
- Venus Williams, in her second Slam final of 2017, once more fell two sets short of adding an eighth Slam singles title to her resume. She re-enters the WTA top 10 at #9 and rises to #4 in the Road To Singapore standings.
- Marin Cilic, struggling with a blister on his foot, lost in straight sets to Federer in his second career Slam final. The Croat holds steady at #6 in the ATP rankings.
- Tomas Berdych matched his semifinal performance from one year ago, but was unable to score a set off Federer despite pushing the eventual champion to tiebreaks in the first two sets.
- Johanna Konta provided ample entertainment for her home crowd at Wimbledon, winning multiple three-set matches on her way to a second career Slam semifinal. She reaches a new career high ranking of #4.
- Magdalena Rybarikova continued her meteoric rise up the rankings in 2017 after reaching her first ever career Slam semifinal. She rises 54 spots to #33, two shy of her career best ranking from 2013.
- Sam Querrey, vanquisher of Novak Djokovic at last year's Wimbledon on his way to the quarterfinals, beat Andy Murray this time around to reach a career-best semifinal.
- The doubles team of Makarova/Vesnina scored a double bagel win in a lopsided final to win their third Slam title together. Only an Australian Open win remains for the duo to claim a career golden slam.
- Other doubles winners: Kubot/Melo (Men's Doubles), Hingis/Murray (Mixed Doubles). Martina Hingis won the 23rd combined Slam title of her career. The only Slam title missing from her resume is French Open singles (two-time finalist).
- Victoria Azarenka vaults a whopping 482 spots in the rankings to #201 after reaching the fourth round in her first Slam event since her return to the WTA Tour.