Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
Jonathan: Wow, we've been so negligent in keeping TBS Diary alive in the past year, but we are BACK from Cincinnati to regale you with some of our initial observations from the tournament. What is the thing that has stuck out most for you so far, James?
James: Aside from the loss of Piada, one of the only healthy options is the food court? The return of Andy Murray to singles, brief though it was, captured a lot of attention in the first day or two. On a smaller scale, 2-time major champ and 2017 Cincinnati semifinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova has gotten her visa issues sorted, and has returned to singles after a long layoff. She's looked great against Anastasia Sevastova. At the risk of objectifying her, Sveta looks to be in excellent shape; plus, her finesse and touch haven't deserted her. You love to see it.
Jonathan: What I DON'T love to see, James, is you not following directions: I asked for the ONE thing that has stuck out for you so far! But, I take your point about Svetlana; we are both currently on Court 3 as we write this piece in Google Docs, and, for how little tennis she's played this year, Kuznetsova looks great. Unfortunately for Andy Murray, he was unable to get by Richard Gasquet today, losing in straight sets. But, considering where Andy was at the Australian Open this year, that he was able to give a good account of himself in his singles return, AND remain pain free, is a massive victory in and of itself. He didn't look too bad on Court either!
James: I think Andy will see any singles play this summer as a positive. He was moving fairly well, fighting for breaks -- not really getting them -- but the match was encouraging, because he says he's playing pain-free.
At the US Open, he has decided not to play singles, but will play doubles and mixed doubles. Any guesses who he'll play mixed with?
Jonathan: I feel like you're baiting me into saying SerAndy, and honestly, Serena would have to be the frontrunner UNLESS Venus puts her foot down and requires her to double up with her instead.
Speaking of the elder Williams, Venus turned in arguably her best performance of the summer today, besting Lauren Davis in straight sets. Venus hadn't won a match since mid-June when she lost in the quarterfinals in Birmingham, subsequently losing three consecutive first round matches to Coco Gauf, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Carla Suarez Navarro. But today, against an opponent she was 3-0 H2H, Venus served up more aces than double faults, was consistently in the 110 mph range on the first serve, and even reached 118 mph at one point.
James: I've been trying to "trust the process" with Venus lately. She's been even more enigmatic than usual, and the results have been perplexing. With Olympic qualification on the horizon, she needed this win badly. I hope to see more of her in doubles soon, as it might be her only legitimate chance to qualify for Tokyo. As you alluded to, she is actually the superior doubles player between her and her GOAT sister. She mentioned in press today that her ideal doubles partner is still her "life partner" Serena Williams.
Elsewhere, our fellow Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime lost in singles today (to Kecmanovic) after losing his doubles match with Berrettini on Sunday. It was a bad serving day for Félix: 10 double faults and only 47 percent of first serves in during his singles loss. Félix can get down on himself sometimes when things aren't going well. Let's hope he can get some perspective on how rapid his rise actually was, and give himself a bit of a break when things aren't going as well as he'd like.
Jonathan: I'm not worried one bit about Félix. He's bound to have his ups and downs, just look at Denis! He's had a great year, but tennis is hard and these players can all bring it on any given day.
We found out today that, not only is Serena Williams still in the draw, but she's scheduled to play the second match on Tuesday night, after Roger Federer. My read on this is that the tournament is giving her every opportunity to be fit enough to play; they literally gave her the last possible time slot in the second round. It would be a real shame if Serena missed out in Cincinnati after building so much momentum in Toronto, and publicly declaring she was finally pain free.
James: I've gotta say I'm a bit surprised that Serena is still planning to play here. It's been a tough year for her. This shows me she's very motivated to turn her season around after a bunch of painful moments. Her performance in Toronto was encouraging, and I think she's hoping to ride that momentum if her body will allow it.
What of the defending champs in Cincy? We'll see them both in an incredible day session schedule on Center Court: Kiki Bertens-Venus Williams followed by Novak Djokovic-Sam Querrey. And that's after the 154th meeting of Wawrinka and Dimitrov. Bertens has had a great year and is currently ranked #5. She and Venus have met twice, splitting two long 3-set matches.
Jonathan: Tomorrow is definitely a cracker jack lineup. You can check it out here. As for the defending champs, while Bertens was a surprise winner last year, she's shown enough of her all court prowess to be considered a threat again. And as for Djokovic, despite winning Cincinnati only once (last year), anybody who discounts him on a hard court is a tad loony.
For Venus, her prospects are infinitely brighter after her performance today. She looked sprightly on court, she had big pop on her serve, and was controlled from the ground off both wings. She is as eager as ever; we've seen her practicing any chance she can get over the past two weeks. I'm looking forward to it.
As we were writing, Sveta closed out Sevastova in 2 hours, 35 minutes, finally holding serve late in the third set.
James: What an amazing performance to witness from Kuznetsova. Currently ranked #153, she barely made it here after waiting months on a visa to enter the U.S. Well, that's all for now! Check out our most recent episode, about Rogers Cup and the big stories coming into Cincinnati. We were lucky enough to get some great audio from Federer and Djokovic on ATP governance and the election of Fedal to the beleaguered Player Council. Listen below:
We'll be back soon with more podcasts and TBS Diaries!