Roundtable: WTA Tour hot topics
Will Marion Bartoli contend at the U.S. Open after her Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon? How big of a concern was Serena Williams' loss, and what does the future hold for her vanquisher, Sabine Lisicki? A panel of tennis writers -- Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand, Amy Fetherolf of The Changeover and Erik Gudris of Adjusting the Net -- joined me to discuss these topics and more. Click here for our look at the state of the ATP Tour.
Nguyen: Marion Bartoli, 28, became a first-time Grand Slam champion in her 47th major appearance. Was Wimbledon a one-and-done situation for the Frenchwoman? Or is she a threat at the U.S. Open?
Fetherolf: I'm afraid she's probably a one-and-done situation. Before winning Wimbledon, she hadn't even strung together three consecutive victories this year.
Dimon: Bartoli is not a threat in New York. Her triumph at Wimbledon may have been a shock, but it's easily explicable: 1) She is at her best on grass, and 2) she did not have to play anyone seeded higher than No. 17 Sloane Stephens. Bartoli was already a former Wimbledon runner-up with an additional quarterfinal showing. She has made the U.S. Open quarterfinals only once, in 2012, and that was preceded by three second-round ousters. Plus, it's hard to maintain momentum after a life-changing win.
Gudris: This year's women's event reminded me of 1994 in some ways. Top seed Steffi Graf exits in the first round. No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario loses early, too. That leaves the door open for presumed favorite Martina Navratilova. But instead it's Conchita Martinez who loops in a thousand one-handed backhands to win her first Grand Slam title. Some thought she might go on to win more. She didn't. And neither will Bartoli, who, to her credit, seized her moment.
Nguyen: Yes, the draw opened up for Marion the Contrarian, but who's to say it won't open up again? This Wimbledon should serve as a reminder that as much WTA stability as we've seen since last year with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in control, anything can still happen. I'm not willing to bet against Bartoli, regardless of her numbers. She came in with no form to speak of and basically blitzed everyone. Sure, she didn't face a top-10 seed, but she also didn't lose a single set.
Gudris: Win and advance. That's what every sports tournament is about.
Dimon: The draw won't open up again because hard courts are not ice rinks like the Wimbledon grass was. Azarenka won't slip her way out of the tournament; Sharapova won't lose early again; and Williams won't have to deal with any "hard-court specialists" because there is no such thing. A grass-court specialist played the match of her life to bounce Williams at Wimbledon. That isn't happening in New York.
Lisicki's run and Serena's loss
Gudris: What about Sabine Lisicki? Grass rewards her streaky game. Other surfaces, not so much. One could say Petra Kvitova is just as streaky, but she manages to win events elsewhere, indoors and outdoors. Lisicki has all the talent, but I'm not sure what else she can do to end her "Wimbledon specialist" tag.
Nguyen: One could say Kvitova is simply better at being streaky.
Gudris: Or Li Na. Except with challenges.
Nguyen: Don't get me started on that non-challenge against Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. Complete tournament-changer.
Dimon: Lisicki is like the Ernests Gulbis of the WTA Tour, except with less racket-throwing and less off-court drama. She can beat anyone on any given day while also being capable of losing to players outside the top 200, and she is way too mentally fragile in pressure moments. I do not see her stringing together six or seven straight victories on anything other than grass.
Fetherolf: I think Lisicki gets unnerved when people are defending well against her, and that's when you see those mental mistakes build up. She doesn't want to play long rallies, and she's going to have to play longer ones off grass. I think that's part of why she struggles to do damage on other surfaces.
Nguyen: A player with her serve should be more of a factor on hard courts, but she's advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open and U.S. Open only once apiece.
Gudris: My only thought about Lisicki is that her big serve gets negated somewhat on other surfaces. Then it gives her opponents more chances in the return games. Perhaps she has to find more ways of winning without relying on her serve. Also, not losing it when losing would help.
Dimon: You are not going to go places when you start sobbing down 4-1 in the second set of the Wimbledon final. It's mostly mental with Lisicki, but her game is also high-risk, right-reward. The occasional quarterfinal runs are always going to be interspersed with first-round flameouts.
Nguyen: What do we make of Serena's loss to Lisicki? Lisicki wants to tell the world until she's blue in the face that Williams played well. Sorry, Sabine. I'm not buying that. That was a shocking performance from Williams. How do you blow a 3-0 lead in the decisive set on grass with her weapons? The mental breakdown was extraordinary. Do you guys think it was a one-off match?
Dimon: Williams will win the U.S. Open. Hope this helps.
Fetherolf: I wouldn't say it's a one-off match, because we've seen it happen with Williams a couple of times in recent history. (Her 2012 French Open loss comes to mind immediately.) With Serena, it feels almost entirely mental at this point.
Gudris: I wasn't surprised that Williams lost at Wimbledon. Riding a 34-match winning streak, there had to be a letdown at some point. The Roland Garros/Wimbledon double is getting harder and harder to pull off. Williams may have felt fine physically, but she had to feel a tad spent after that emotional win in Paris.
Nguyen: What's your takeaway from the women's tournament in general? The men had a wacky one, but it ended with No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the final. The women ...
Gudris: The women's event was truly weird. But it will have little bearing on the WTA as a whole, with Williams, Azarenka and Sharapova set to be back in the mix.
Nguyen: Speaking of weird: It's been that kind of year for Azarenka. I genuinely don't know what to make of it. Is she just snakebit? Too fragile to hold up over the course of a year? The victim of bad luck?
Gudris: The injuries keep piling up this year. If she recovers 100 percent, she could be the one to watch on the hard courts.
Fetherolf: Her recent injuries have to make you wonder, but if healthy, she's the second-best hard-court player out there.
Dimon: Unless Azarenka can crush people all the way from start to finish at the U.S. Open without any adversity along the way, I don't see her winning in New York. And her cruising like that is definitely not a realistic scenario.
Fetherolf: Wimbledon conjured up the way the Slams played out in 2011, when Li, Kvitova and Samantha Stosur all won their first majors. But it was a pleasant aberration because the results had been relatively predictable for the last stretch of Grand Slams. I tend to prefer a mix of the two. Some consistency at the top is great, but too much can be mind-numbing. Sometimes it's great to see a first-time Slam winner.
Dimon: I agree with Amy. It was a great changeup from the norm, with Bartoli-Lisicki being the equivalent of a men's final between Marin Cilic and Tommy Robredo. That said, the quality of the final left a lot to be desired.
Nguyen: Wimbledon produced a likable champion who had paid her dues. I think that resonated with a lot of people.
Gudris: Bartoli's back story was so compelling. If you would have told me a year ago that Bartoli would thank the French Federation during her Wimbledon acceptance speech, I would have thought you were insane.
Wimbledon ups and downs
Nguyen: Aside from the two finalists, who impressed you the most at Wimbledon? Or the least?
Gudris: I was impressed with Madison Keys. She lost a tough one to Radwanska but took away a lot of positives from that third-round match. Her ability to hit aces when down match point is a true gift. I was also impressed with Flavia Pennetta. She mused about retiring and then advanced to the fourth round, thanks in part to Azarenka's second-round withdrawal. Maybe that result will keep the 31-year-old around another year?
Nguyen: It's so encouraging that Keys keeps winning the matches she's supposed to win at only 18 years old.
Dimon: Keys is going to win a Slam.
Fetherolf: Least impressive? Jelena Jankovic lost to Vesna Dolonc in straight sets in the second round. Enough said.
Nguyen: Monica Puig continues to win. This fascinates me. I watched her quite a bit in juniors and she had nowhere near the firepower she now has off both wings. Her competitive instincts might be the best among the teen crop.
Dimon: I know Sara Errani isn't much of a threat on grass, but playing the No. 5 seed is playing the No. 5 seed ... especially when you are 19 years old. Puig not only destroyed Errani but also parlayed it into a run to the fourth round, where she lost to Stephens in three sets. I have not seen enough of Puig to be sure, but I highly doubt that grass is her favorite surface. Impressive stuff.
Gudris: Angelique Kerber crashed out in the second round after reaching the semifinals last year. I know she's had some injury issues, but I'm not sure what's up with her of late.
Dimon: Laura Robson was both encouraging and discouraging -- kind of like her entire career. With Williams exiting one round before they would have faced each other, Robson had a nice opportunity to go really deep. Her first-set collapse against Kaia Kanepi in the fourth round would not soon have been forgotten ... but luckily her Olympic mixed doubles partner, Andy Murray, let her off the hook!
Nguyen: Could you imagine how far the British press would have taken it if Robson had beaten Kanepi and then gotten the advantage of drawing Lisicki instead of Williams? Insanity. Too much insanity for a 19-year-old who didn't play her best at Wimbledon.
Dimon: I'll be interested to watch Robson at the U.S. Open. She upset Kim Clijsters last year on Arthur Ashe Stadium in Clijsters' last match, and she followed it with a third-round win over Li. Robson won't have the pressure like she does in London, but there will be expectations nonetheless.
Gudris: I have a feeling that all the weight of UK expectation that was on Murray at Wimbledon will now get transferred to Robson next year. Enjoy!
Nguyen: No British woman has won Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977. I'm sure Robson will never hear about that stat.Gudris: