Okay so I’m going to try something new here. There’s a few things that happened this week that I’d like to discuss. I’m calling this series “This Week In Tennis.” The plan is to have a few story lines from the week and write a few paragraphs about each, rather than a long elaborate article. Some of the topics may not just solely be about the week, but be something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Maybe I realized something about it in the current week or just want get it off my chest. There’ll be 3-4 mini sections throughout the article discussing different topics. I won’t be doing this every week, or even most weeks, but when I see a few things in a week I think are worth discussing, I’ll write about them here. Hope you enjoy it!
Let’s start in Stuttgart, as it was extremely kind to most of the Germans!
HISTORIC STUTTGART FOR GERMANS
The 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix featured a final between two Germans for the first time in tournament history, dating back to 1978. Angelique Kerber met qualifier Laura Siegemund in the final. Kerber won 6-4, 6-0 to defend her title. In the process Kerber tied Anke Huber for the most titles by a German at the event! Only three German women have ever won the event. This is the fifth overall title and first time a German woman has won it in consecutive years.
Only five German women have now ever made the final, with Laura Siegemund joining that club this year. What an incredible week she had becoming the first qualifier in tournament history to make the final. She did that by beating three Top 8 players without even dropping a set to make the final. It’s a great story for her. At 27 years old, she reached the Top 100 last year for the first time in her career. Now she’ll be ranked #42 tomorrow. She’s now the #4 German, just a few points back of Annika Beck to be the #3 German.
What made the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix so special for the Germans wasn’t just the two finalists. If anything the final captured what the Germans were doing all week. It was a highly successful tournament for most Germans, perhaps the most successful ever at the event. Last year, if you remember, Germans had a terrible tournament. Outside of Kerber, they only had one other main draw win, which occurred when two Germans met in the first round, so one had to win. This year six different Germans won a main draw match. That was the total number of main draw match wins they had the previous year, with Kerber winning five of those six. Last year was such a success with Kerber winning, but no one else did well. This year we not only had a German champion, but we had many of the other Germans performing well, which made for a better tournament.
I’ve compiled some statistics to illustrate how successful the tournament was for the Germans in all facets, compared to 2015.
It wasn’t only main draw singles, but singles qualifying and doubles too. A German doubles champion was about the only hole in the CV for Germans this week and still two Germans made the doubles semifinals. Domination in all draws! The most telling stat I believe is that only three Germans didn’t win a singles match in Stuttgart, qualifying or main draw. In 2015, eight Germans lost their first match in Stuttgart. 2016 was a complete tournament for the Germans, in all respects. Maybe it’ll go down as one of, if not, the most successful Porsche Tennis Grand Prix for Germans!
Last week Rafa won his first Masters 1000 in almost two years. This was an important week for him to back it up and show he can produce a top form of tennis consistently. That’s exactly what he did. Rafa defeated Nishikori in the final 6-4, 7-5. It caps off a week in which he didn’t lose a set. Rafa is looking more confident on the important points. His forehand isn’t missing like it was over the past year. He’s being more aggressive.
I thought I saw signs of his return in Indian Wells. Rafa had a set point against Nole, but didn’t convert. It was Rafa’s best performance against Nole since he beat him in the Roland Garros final in 2014. When he went to Miami and had to retire, I wondered if it was a setback. I expected him to perform well in Miami after his promising week in Indian Wells. Miami seems to be an anomaly now after titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. I’ve always believed Rafa would return to the top of the game. It makes me laugh when I see him doing what he’s doing now. So many people wrote him off. They didn’t respect him for the champion he was. Now Rafa is #2 in the race singles in 2016.
Even though Rafa won these titles, the question still remains if he’s able to beat Nole. He’s beaten some of the other top guys in the last two weeks: Murray, Stan, Nishikori, and Thiem. Nole is the ultimate test though, given how that matchup has played out over the last couple of years and how dominant Nole has been in the sport. I have some doubts. In a couple of those matches in the last week, Rafa has been having to save many break points. Rafa saved 15/16 break points in the first set against Thiem in Monte Carlo. He saved 10/13 in the Barcelona final against Nishikori today. He usually just tries to start points. That’s a losing formula against Nole. I think he’s still just committing a few too many errors as well. Rafa certainly has put himself in a better position and is looking to be in promising form, but we cannot get carried away. None of this success is happening against the best player in the world. It’s all about how far this rise will take Rafa. Can he reach Nole’s level or will he remain in that second tier of players? That question won’t be answered until we see what happens over the next month.
Madrid will be very interesting now to see if Rafa’s success will change anything. Will we get a Nole-Rafa match to see how they stack up before Roland Garros? Unfortunately they may meet in the quarterfinals of the Masters 1000’s, depending on whether or not Federer will play. Let’s hope they get drawn in different sections. Whatever happens, it’ll be a fun final month of the clay season.
UNDERWHELMING INJURED HALEP
Halep lost this week 1-6, 2-6 to Laura Siegemund. Shocking scoreline, but I think it had more to do with the ankle she turned in Fed Cup last weekend and not being prepared to play in Stuttgart. What I want to discuss about Halep is “fighter girl” and her health problems/injuries that seem to be continuously occurring.
Simona has said she would always fight on court after losing in the 2015 Australian Open to Makarova. She has, at times, but other times you don’t see her fighting. To lose early in majors and other tournaments many times over the last few years, being a top player, doesn’t show she’s always fighting. I realize you can’t always be 100% on court, but Simona still could fight better in the matches she ends up losing. Some of those she doesn’t even look like she’s engaged in the match. With the level of tennis she’s displayed, she should be firmly cemented in the top 3 or 4 and challenging Serena more. Now her ranking is slipping and she hasn’t won a title since Indian Wells last year.
Injuries have been a big problem for Simona. She just always seems to pick one up every few weeks. I wonder if her smaller stature is causing this, along with her game style. She has very strong legs and is very fit, so it’s surprising she seems to pick up so many injuries. Not only the ankle this week, but in press she said she had breathing problems in her match too. Simona was supposed to have nose surgery earlier this year to help her breathing. Now I worry she may need to have it sooner than she and the doctors thought. This would be the worst time to need to have it done. She could’ve done it sooner and she’d be feeling good now for the most important part of the season, with a few majors coming up within a month. Now it could turn into a year long problem until she has the surgery and prevent her from achieving the results she should be.
Last year Simona played incredibly well to start the season and expectations were high when she went to clay, where she made the Roland Garros final the previous year. Then she went out early at Roland Garros. This year she’s not looking promising either with this ankle injury and breathing problems. I hope she’ll be able to produce a high level of tennis on clay again this year, like she showed in 2014. I feel like we’re not witnessing what she’s capable of on what is supposed to be her best surface. She hasn’t been able to capitalize on some opportunities in the biggest tournaments either. She was going to be the next big thing in women’s tennis, but the lack of big results and early losses is starting to make me question whether she will or not. Hopefully she’ll be healthy soon and can show us all what she’s truly capable of and put any doubts to rest.
Hope you enjoyed the topics in this first installment of “This Week in Tennis!” Tennis seems to get more and more interesting each week. This week being perhaps one of the more interesting with how the clay season will play out. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. We’ll all be following along closely I’m sure 😉