Aces and Faults: Stanislas Wawrinka checks off another career first
Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Last week, Stanislas Wawrinka won his first ATP Masters 1000 title, a teenager won a WTA title and the Czech Republic and Germany advanced to the Fed Cup final.
Stanislas Wawrinka: A year ago, Wawrinka was ranked 17th with three career titles, all won at ATP 250 tournaments. Now, the 29-year-old Swiss is ranked No. 3, and has a Grand Slam title (Australian Open) and his first ATP Masters 1000 title after defeating Roger Federer 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Sunday in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters; he leads the tour with three titles this season. Wawrinka entered 2014 having lost 14 consecutive matches to Novak Djokovic, 12 straight to Rafael Nadal and 11 in a row to Federer. He's snapped all three of those streaks on his way to a 6-0 record against top-10 players, results that have helped elevate Wawrinka to the No. 1 spot in the Race to London.
Donna Vekic: With her victory at the Malaysian Open, the 17-year-old became the first player under 18 to win a WTA title since Vania King in 2006. The Croatian did it in dramatic fashion: She rallied from a set and 4-5 down to win seven straight games, failed to convert three match points at 5-2 and finally closed out No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (4) in two hours and 51 minutes. Vekic recorded her first win over a top-20 player and moved up 30 spots, from No. 95 to No. 65.
Bob and Mike Bryan: The twins won the Monte Carlo Masters for their fifth consecutive title, extending their winning streak to 21 matches. They picked up their 98th team title, and Mike became the first man to win 100 tour-level doubles titles.
Germany: If you're going to commit to fly from Europe to Australia to play on hard courts right before the European clay-court season begins, you better return home with the victory. That's precisely what the German team did in its 3-1 dismantling of Australia in the Fed Cup semifinals. Andrea Petkovic got things started with a victory over Sam Stosur, and Angelique Kerber followed with wins against Casey Dellacqua and Stosur. The Germans advanced to the final for the first time since 1992, when Steffi Graf led them to the title.
Czech Republic: The Czechs and Italians met in the Fed Cup semifinals in 2012 and '13, too, and the winner went on to win the title. That's good news for the Czechs, who shut out Italy behind singles victories for Petra Kvitova against Camila Giorgi and Roberta Vinci. The Czech Republic will host Germany in November.
Roger Federer: He had a good week despite fading in the final against Wawrinka. Federer rallied past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals after being two points from defeat, and he dispatched an ailing Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Federer was pleased with his performance after accepting a late wild card. "I would have loved to have won a second title [this year] because I've come close a few times," said Federer, who won the Dubai Championships last month. "That's my next objective, that I get to the very end more frequently. But clearly I'm happy that the clay-court season started so well for me."
David Ferrer: The Spaniard broke a 17-match clay losing streak to Nadal, knocking out the eight-time Monte Carlo champion in the quarterfinals. His biggest win of the year has to help Ferrer's confidence as the 2013 French Open finalist begins his heavy lifting on clay.
Caroline Garcia: The 20-year-old Fed Cup rookie, fresh off her first WTA title, led France past the United States 3-2 in the World Group playoffs in St. Louis. She beat Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys in straight sets and teamed with Virginie Razzano for another straight-set victory, against Keys and Stephens, in the decisive doubles rubber. The words "poise" and "maturity" were bandied about often over the weekend, and Garcia now appears to have the belief to back up her stylish game. This is good news for the WTA. She's a very fun player to watch. Go ahead, Andy Murray. You can gloat a little:
The girl sharapova is playing is going to be number one in the world one day caroline garcia, what a player u heard it here first
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) May 26, 2011
Agnieszka Radwanska: When Radwanska made her Fed Cup debut in 2006, Poland was toiling away in the Zonal Group (that's two levels below World Group). Her commitment has been unwavering, even when she reached the top five and most of her elite colleagues chose to skip the competition. Her dedication has paid off: Radwanska won three points (two singles, one doubles) against Sweden over the weekend to lift Poland into the World Group for the first time since 1994. Radwanska improved to 19-1 in her last 20 Fed Cup matches.
Madison Keys: I wondered how she would respond to her heartbreaking loss to Peng Shuai in the second round of the Family Circle Cup, where she rallied from 1-6, 1-5 down and served for the match in the third set only to lose in a tiebreaker. But the 19-year-old American's gutsy 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over Alize Cornet in Fed Cup was a positive sign for her growth. Keys trailed for most of the first two sets but stuck with it and never got negative; she came back from a break down twice in the second set and outplayed a fatigued Cornet in the third. She's competing better than ever and that's a great thing to see in a young player.
Team Canada: Eugenie Bouchard clinched the tie against Slovakia with two singles wins, but it was Aleksandra Wozniak's massive comeback against Jana Cepelova in the opening rubber that put the Canadians in prime position to secure their first World Group appearance. Cepelova served for the match at 5-3 in the second and third sets, but Wozniak battled back each time to win 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. Bouchard was far from her best, but she beat Cepelova and Kristina Kucova.
Rafael Nadal: One thing we thought we could bank on during the clay season was Nadal and Djokovic consistently battling it out for the big titles. One tournament into the clay swing, though, and the men who account for the last nine Monte Carlo titles didn't even make the final, with Nadal tumbling out in a low-key effort against Ferrer. It was his earliest loss on clay since a fourth-round defeat to Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open. Nadal says he's still struggling with his confidence this season and it showed against Ferrer; he had difficulty with his depth and sprayed an uncharacteristic number of errors.
Jana Cepelova: Fail to serve out a set once? Fine. Fail to do it twice in one match? Problematic. Fail to do it three times in two matches? That's a fault. After being unable to convert twice when serving for the match against Wozniak, Cepelova was broken by Bouchard when serving for the first set and lost it in a tiebreaker. So, yes, the Cepelova serve is a liability.
Eugenie Bouchard: She refused to shake Kucova's hand during the customary draw ceremony photo, calling the tradition "lame" and saying she didn't want to wish her opponent (ranked No. 137 last week, by the way) good luck. I've written about Bouchard's jockish demeanor and how she distinguishes herself with her competitiveness. In this case, though, she came off as childish and immature. Kucova's reaction was right on: "It gives bigger motivation for me in the match." Sure enough, Kucova came close to pulling off the upset on Day 1, racing to a 3-0 lead and pushing Bouchard to three sets in a 7-6 (0), 2-6, 6-1 loss.
Photo of the Week
See some of our favorite photos from Monte Carlo here.
3: Losses to Swiss players (Federer twice and Wawrinka once) for Djokovic since the 2013 U.S. Open. Those also happen to be his only three losses during that stretch.
16: Break points Federer needed before he finally converted one against Tsonga in the quarterfinals.
29: Consecutive holds of serve by Wawrinka until Federer broke him in the first set of the final.
3: Players age 20 and under who have won WTA titles in 2014 (Garbine Muguruza, Garcia and Vekic). It happened only twice in 2013.
4: Players who have beaten Nadal multiple times on clay. Ferrer (two) joined Djokovic (three), Federer (two) and Gaston Gaudio (three).
30: Consecutive clay victories for Nadal before his loss to Ferrer.
3: Players who have made the quarterfinals of all three Masters 1000 tournaments this year (Djokovic, Federer and Milos Raonic).
50: Rankings spots jumped by 18-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios after winning the Sarasota Challenger. He went from No. 221 to No. 171.
In case you missed it ...
• The Australian Fed Cup team gifted the Germans some pink pajamas so they had a pajama party on the plane ride home.
@AngeliqueKerber @andreapetkovic @juliagoerges @Annagroenefeld so proud of my pyjama girls pic.twitter.com/G72veVb13W
— Barbara Rittner (@BarbaraRittner) April 20, 2014
• The Fed Cup final between the Czech Republic and Germany will be a battle of beer nations. Incidentally, Andrea Hlavackova's father is the master brewer at Pilsner Urquell. The Germans ... well, they did this:
#goosebumps #bestteamever https://t.co/oZHUF2IAE9
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) April 20, 2014
• The Bryan brothers were the only Americans in either the singles or doubles draw in Monte Carlo.
• The Americans dominate the list of top-50 players who have yet to win a WTA title: Carla Suarez Navarro, Sloane Stephens (USA), Bouchard, Jamie Hampton (USA), Keys (USA), Peng, Alison Riske (USA), Varvara Lepchenko (USA), Annika Beck and Karin Knapp.
• Djokovic, who was hampered by a wrist injury last week, said he was reluctant to retire or withdraw from his semifinal against Federer because he didn't want people to talk about his retirement history. Azarenkaian logic.
• Romania beat Serbia to earn promotion into World Group II for the first time. A team of Simona Halep and Sorana Cirstea (along with a fairly good bench) should be able to push the Romanians into World Group I next year.
• I'm not panicking about Djokovic and Nadal just yet. There's plenty of time for both men to prepare for the French Open.
• That said, who benefits the most if they can't get their games or bodies ready in time? Wawrinka? Federer? Ferrer?
• Watching French captain Amelie Mauresmo attempt to deal with Cornet's histrionics over the weekend was pretty entertaining.
• Why didn't U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez carry a doubles specialist on the Fed Cup roster against France?
• Stephens was flat in an opening-day loss to Garcia, but I liked how the 21-year-old American turned her energy and game around the next day in a victory over Razzano. • It seems so wrong to see Serbia in the Fed Cup Zonal Group. It was in the final just two years ago.