Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Last week, records were broken in the ATP and WTA as Novak Djokovic won his third Masters 1000 title of the season in Monte Carlo and Teliana Pereira won the Bogota Open to become to the first Brazilian woman in 27 years to win a WTA title.
Novak Djokovic: The Serb became the first player to sweep the first three Masters titles of the season, beating Tomas Berdych 7–5, 4–6, 6–3 to win the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters. He's now 32-0 at the tour's last six big events, including titles at the Paris Indoor Masters, ATP Finals, the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, and now Monte Carlo. Djokovic's run in Monte Carlo included a 6–3, 6–3 win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, showing just how much he's improved since the two last played in the French Open final. The most important thing for Djokovic over the next five weeks: Stay healthy.
Teliana Pereira: By winning her first title at the Bogota Open, the 26-year-old became the first Brazilian woman in 27 years to win a WTA title. It was a well-earned title. The unseeded Pereira beat No. 1 seed Elina Svitolina, No. 4 seed Francesca Schiavone and No. 5 Yaroslava Shvedova in the final. The win puts her ranking up to a career-high No. 81.
Petra Kvitova: No one knew what to expect from Kvitova this weekend. After a two month layoff due to exhaustion, Kvitova returned to action in Fed Cup and didn't lose a set in two matches, beating Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic to once again lead the Czech Republic back into the final. The defending champions are into their fourth final in the last five years and will host Russia in November. Before then, we look forward to seeing whether a refreshed and rejuvenated Kvitova can make an impact on the clay season.
Alexandra Dulgheru: After getting snubbed by Eugenie Bouchard during the ceremonial handshake at the draw ceremony, the Romanian veteran led her team to victory by securing two singles wins, the biggest of which came over Bouchard on Day 1. After securing the 6–4, 6–4 win, Dulgheru celebrated by faking out handshakes with the Romanian bench before shaking hands with Bouchard at the net. On Sunday, Dulgheru clinched promotion for the Romanians by beating Francoise Abanda 3–6, 7–5, 6–2. Andreea Mitu, who won just her first WTA match two weeks ago in Charleston, also stepped up to win her first Fed Cup match with a 4–6, 6–4, 6–1 win over Bouchard.
Tomas Berdych: The Czech has shown incredible consistency this season, advancing to this third final of the season in Monte Carlo. He has made the semifinals or better at every tournament this year except for one. Despite all of the numbers, there is still a cloud of doubt that hangs over Berdych. He is 0–3 in those finals and is 2–7 against Top 10 players this season, with the two wins coming over an sub-par Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open and via retirement by Milos Raonic last week.
Rafael Nadal: Yes, he took a 6–3, 6–3 loss to Djokovic in the semifinals. But Nadal had his teeth in that match and forced Djokovic to play some of his best tennis of the week. That has to give the Spaniard some confidence. His form isn't so far off Djokovic's on clay right now and he has five weeks to improve until the French Open.
Gael Monfils: He lost easily to Berdych in the Monte Carlo semifinals 6–1, 6–4, but this was a strong week from Monfils. He played aggressive and intelligent tennis but was still the entertaining shot-maker he loves to be. He beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 7–6 (5), 7–6 (6) in one of the most entertaining matches of the week, then stunned Roger Federer 6–4, 7–6 (5) and followed up with a 6–1, 6–3 win over Grigor Dimitrov. More of this Monfils, please.
Timea Bacsinszky: The resurgent Swiss just keeps winning. After taking a much needed break after Indian Wells, Bacsinszky led Switzerland back into World Group I by scoring two singles and wins and a doubles win to lead her team to victory over Poland. The most eye-popping scoreline of the weekend? Her 6–1, 6–1 shellacking of Agnieszka Radwanska.
Doubles: The Fed Cup format differs from Davis Cup in that the doubles rubber is played as the fifth rubber, as opposed to the third rubber. The practical effect is a clear emphasis on singles, as both teams try to earn their three points in the four singles matches to avoid the doubles. But this weekend served as a cautionary tale of what happens when captains focus on nominating singles players as opposed to doubles players. Doubles was the deciding factor in Russia's win over Germany and Italy's win over the Americans.
After Germany's Day 1 debacle (more on that later), the Germans were able to rebound to take it to a fifth rubber only to throw together Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki as a team. They got schooled by the experienced pair of Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The U.S. were forced to a fifth rubber against Italy and had no doubles players on the bench. Captain Mary Jo Fernandez put Serena Williams and Alison Riske on the court and they were brushed aside again by two quality doubles players in Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta. And Switzerland narrowly avoided cautionary tale status. Martina Hingis, soon to be the No. 2 in doubles, was asked to play two singles matches—she had not played singles since 2007—lost both and then was unavailable for doubles. Timea Bacsinszky and Viktorija Golubic rallied to win the doubles 9-7 in the third, but that was flat out poor personnel management.
Monte Carlo Masters 2015
Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic
Eugenie Bouchard: She's getting it from both barrels from her hometown press after going 0-2 for Canada this weekend. She is now on a five match losing streak, with losses to Lesia Tsurenko (No. 85), Tatjana Maria (No. 113), Lauren Davis (No. 66), Dulgheru (No. 69) and Mitu (No. 106). The all-out aggression that made people sit up and take notice has been replaced by inconsistency and aimless shot-making. This is a humbling moment for Bouchard but she also seems stuck—she says she's letting her emotions affect her on court because she hasn't had enough matches this season, but she also needs more time on the practice court to get the pieces of her game together. She had planned to play Stuttgart this week but pulled out after committing to Fed Cup and her next event is not until the Madrid Open in May. The more weeks on tour she skips, the more the pressure will intensify. How she responds to it all in the next two months will dictate her season.
Team Germany: Bad luck or mad management? Germany's surprise loss to Russia in the Fed Cup semifinals has to be chalked up to one or the other. Captain Barbara Rittner had two in-form players in Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber, but the official word is the two arrived in Sochi physically exhausted. Rittner opted to go with Lisicki and Julia Goerges in singles and both lost, and Germany's hopes at a spot in the final were effectively dashed then and there. The question remains why Rittner didn't opt to sit Petkovic—who had indeed played nearly non-stop after making the semifinals in Miami and Charleston—and play Kerber, who won the title in Charleston but had far fewer matches under her belt. Putting the tie on Lisicki's racket was a questionable move.
The U.S. Fed Cup team: Serena Williams did everything she could. She won her two singles matches but the Italians smartly went after Riske during their doubles match. With this weekend's loss, the Americans were relegated to World Group II next year. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez was thrown a last-minute curve ball when Venus Williams pulled out of the tie citing personal reasons. Fernandez's hands were tied as she tried to find a last-minute replacement. Why not find an American doubles specialist instead of bringing Lauren Davis?
Agnieszka Radwanska: Her slump has been overshadowed by Bouchard's but it was another disastrous Fed Cup weekend for Radwanska. How does she only win two games against Bacsinszky?
Photo of the week
Video of the week
The no-handshake. Obviously.
Shot of the week
In case you missed it
- At least Petkovic can laugh about it. Kind of:
- Monfils has now won his last five sets over Federer. So there's that.
- According to the ATP's Greg Sharko, Djokovic now has a record 5,460 point lead over Federer, the biggest point gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in ATP history. The previous record was a 5,245 point lead held by Nadal over Djokovic in 2010. Caveat: Rankings points changed in 2009 so some of Federer's leads during his outright dominant years may still hold up under inflation.
- This stat is a stinger:
- Bob and Mike Bryan won their second straight Masters title, beating Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini in the Monte Carlo final.
- Stan Wawrinka announced his separation from his wife. The two have a daughter, Alexia. Is the stress affecting his tennis? Wawrinka has not won back-to-back matches in his last four tournaments. But his ex-wife issued a counter-statement on Monday saying they've been separated for five months now and that he can't blame his slump on their marital problems. Here's a translation of her statement:
- Radwanska may be slumping, but she still bageled Hingis in singles.
- Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova double-faulted on the last two points to lose 0–6, 7–5, 7–5 to Arantxa Rus and give the Netherlands the surprise win. Captained by former ATP pro Paul Haarhuis, the Dutch have quietly engineered seven consecutive wins to earn their improbable promotion into World Group I.
- Tie-changers: Caroline Garcia had five match points and couldn't convert against Lucie Safarova and the French went 0-2 on Day 1. Sabine Lisicki had match point against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and couldn't convert, and the Germans went 0-2 on Day 1. Just a single point and those ties could have turned out very differently.
- I got a few questions about why Madison Keys, who made the Charleston final just a week ago, did not step in to play for the U.S. in Italy. She didn't play because the USTA had already agreed that her services wouldn't be needed. USTA and Keys reached agreement at Indian Wells for her to skip the tie since she needed a good training block (which she did not get after the Australian Open due to injury) and Serena and Venus had committed. Part of that agreement was that Keys wouldn't get called in last minute should the U.S. lineup change because it would require her to completely re-jigger her training schedule.
All that is consistent with what Keys told reporters in Charleston about the leg injury in Melbourne that sidelined her in February. She only trained for a few days before Indian Wells. The run in Charleston was unexpected. She is now in Los Angeles training resting and training with Lindsay Davenport and Jon Leach. Her next tournament is the Madrid Open.
- Next year's World Group II competition will be fierce, especially with Olympic eligibility forcing the top players to play. Countries include the U.S., Serbia, Poland and Canada.
- Question posed to me on Twitter: Which would be more impressive: Winning all four majors in one year or sweeping all nine ATP Masters 1000s?
- Quite a few "inside tennis" people have mentioned Bouchard's noticeable weight loss as a factor in her performance this year. It may not only be affecting her weight of shot but also her physical resiliency.