- Jon Wertheim empties his notebook from Indian Wells, where we saw two unlikely winners shoot to stardom.
As we empty out the notebook from Indian Wells, here are 30 parting thoughts from the 2019 BNP Paribas Open.
• Bianca Andreescu, the 18-year-old Canadian, didn’t so much break through as she crashed through, in the manner of the Kool-Aid Man. In the last three matches alone, she beat Garbine Muguruza 6-0, 6-1, outfought Elina Svitolina and then won less a tennis match than a tennis war against Angie Kerber in the final. What a comprehensively impressive run; what an impressively comprehensive game—replete with forehand slices and disguised drop shots. Canada and women’s tennis have a new star.
• Even when the going was good, Dominic Thiem tended to get overlooked in the tennis conversation. A fine player who struggled against the icons above him. This year was especially quiet, as he won just three matches in his first five events. Then he comes to Indian Wells, resets his password and wins the biggest title of his career, coming back to defeat Roger Federer in a three-set final. Jawohl.
• For the second straight year, Federer couldn’t quite close in the final. But he ought to leave quite pleased with his overall play and his level of explosiveness. If he can bring the level he showed on the gritty clay of the desert to clay…this could be an interesting spring.
• Planet Tennis was denied another Federer-Nadal match when the latter withdrew before their semifinal assignation, citing a knee injury. Sadly, this is the reality. It’s great that the sports’ stars now play deep into their 30s. But if some days they resemble vintage sportscars, other days they resemble cars with lots of mileage on the odometer, flat tires and Hefty Bags covering the windows. Nadal is in the shop. He’ll be back for the clay.
• Chris Clarey—among others—raised this point. Is it time for tennis to consider allowing late-round losers back in the draw to prevent dead sessions? (i.e. let Khachanov play Federer when Nadal failed to post.) This would be problematic in terms of points and money and potential for corruption. But it beats the alternative. Too many quarterfinal and semifinal matches have been non-starters in recent years. For the sake of fans, both in the stands and at home, it’s worth considering.
• We loved the idea of the $1 million Indian Wells bonus for a player who won singles AND doubles. Even more, we loved the “Newman Plan,” the idea of rolling it over to Miami if there were no winner in the desert. How do we get this back on the table?
• Two top 15 singles players, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, took the doubles, beating top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the finals. Unseeded Nikola Mektic and Horacio Zeballos won the men’s dubs.
• Among Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Andreescu, these are boom times for Canadian tennis. (This is to say nothing of my new neighbor, Milos Raonic, who reached the semis.) For all the jokes about “What’s in the water?” and “tennis is the new hockey,” one tennis Hall of Famer has a more thought-provoking explanation, noting that the players are children of immigrants, long on ambition and short on complacency.
• I shared my thoughts last week about ATP politics, the deposing of Chris Kermode, and brewing player war both in the column and talking with Jamie Lisanti on the podcast. I’m going to take the week off. But we will continue to monitor this, as well as the criminal court case of board member Justin Gimelstob, which only complicates matters further.
• Here’s some fine reporting by Dave Hyde on Naomi Osaka, her Florida roots and some of the former coaches who believe they’re owed money. Note that the Osaka’s lawyer is Alex Spiro, a heavy hitter in sports defense cases.
• The tennis salon wondered whether Novak Djokovic’s political maneuverings—and the pushback from Federer and Nadal—exacted a price on his tennis last week. But this would be a good time to echo Nick Kyrgios and point out that Philipp Kohlschrieber, now age 35, is a hell of a tennis player who’s gone way too long without enough recognition.
• We wrote about her last week, but I still found Venus Williams’ level of play—and reactions to winning—one of the tournament’s more engaging stories. Why is she competing at age 38? Because she can compete at age 38.
• In Delray last month, the ascending Mackie McDonald beat Juan Martin del Potro and jubilantly slammed his racket to the ground in triumph, the tennis equivalent of a mic drop. Problem: it bounced up and nearly decapitated McDonald. Last week Sloane Stephens missed a routine shot and slammed her racket. She showed off her hand-eye and caught before it clipped her chin. Nick Kyrgios had a close call as well. Maybe the risk of personal injury is the deterrent that will get players to stop smashing $300 pieces of equipment, which is a bad look for the sport.
• Want a fun player to root for? Sofia/Sonia Kenin—she’s cool with either, she tells us—an industrious type, short on power and long on fight. Four days after losing to Wang Yafan in the Acapulco final, she beat her in a rematch 6-4 in the third. She then fell to Elina Svitolina 6-4 in the third round.
• Since returning from maternity leave, it’s been tough going for Victoria Azarenka, who has been confronted by both the physical demands of tennis and a difficult custody battle. She is barely in the top 50, but her level against Serena in round one suggests she still has capable of getting back to where she once belonged.
• Ivo Karlovic went out to Thiem in the round of 16. But he is 4-1 as a 40-year-old.
• She isn’t the only player to defy linear movement, but name a player with a greater range of outcome than Garbine Muguruza. Some days she looks like her third major is only a matter or time. Other days—such as her 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Andreescu—you feel she’d rather be anywhere than on a tennis court.
• The Writers Guild of America, may strike over the conflicts of interest involving agents. Sound familiar? If tennis players ever unionize, the entire sport’s structure and infrastructure could really be upended.
• We’ve all established that “tennis coach” is one of the strangest (and least stable) professions. But for sheer contrast, Milos Raonic cutting ties with Goran Ivanisevic and hiring Fabrice Santoro is an all-timer. Then again, from Boris Becker/Djokovic to Conchita Martinez/Karolina Pliskova, we can think of plenty of pairings that seemed incongruous stylistically and still worked swimmingly.
• Thomas Johansson left Filip Krajinovic to coach David Goffin. Tennis being addicted to irony, Krajinovic beat Goffin in round two.
• Speaking of Goffin, he was the top seed for the Arizona Tennis Classic played this week. Check out this draw, for what is technically a Challenger level event.
• Transitive property wins can be meaningless, but they do remind us of tennis’ thin margins. One example: in 2019, Chris Eubanks beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Federer.
• It’s all part of the journey of being a pro, but since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Frances Tiafoe is 1-4. He lost here to Nicolas Jarry, who then capitulated 6-2, 6-0 in the next round to Kyle Edmund.
• Among the many virtues of Indian Wells: it’s a doubles paradise. Djokovic, Stan, Kyrgios, Thiem and Raonic were among those players who took on a partner last week. Our favorite team? Teenager Denis Shapovalov and 39-year Rohan Bopanna. Not every sport can combine a 19-year-old, Israeli-born Canadian with an Indian who will turn 40 next year.
• Because Wimbledon is the king of tasteful understatement, this escaped much notice…but Ian Hewitt has been named vice chairman, succeeding Philip Brook, who is to be commended for the job he did.
• That sound you heard? That’s the jostling for Gordon Smith’s job as CEO of the USTA. The search firms have been asked to apply for the job. Hopefully this means the USTA is thinking big and outside the proverbial box.
• Interesting new role for Andre Sa, who moves from the ATP to Tennis Australia.
• The 2019 Invesco Series circuit schedule was announced and can be found here.
• Thanks for all your Tennis Channel related mail. Your compliments—“Gilberts,” I like to call them for short, in honor of the network’s biggest fan—are appreciated. But the criticism and suggestions are appreciated and instructive as well. Quick notes: 1. I have no say over match selection. 2. I have no say over which players do and do not show up for interviews. You ask: why don’t you interview Serena? I respond: I would be happy to do so. 3. Yes, Chanda Rubin is as cool as you suspect she is.
• Random factoid we picked up: one of Larry Ellison’s residences was build without nails. (And we’re guessing it is not a canvas tent.)
Thanks to Steve Ross, the rivalry is back on. Your serve, Miami…