Rogers Cup 2013: Nadal, Gulbis and Other Winners and Losers of Tennis' Week

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2013

Rogers Cup 2013: Nadal, Gulbis and Other Winners and Losers of Tennis' Week

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    An exciting Rogers Cup brought Canada plenty of homegrown excitement and familiar winners in Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.

    There were also tough losses, ranging from early-round exits to Novak Djokovic's tiebreaker.

    And there were a few unscripted commentaries on the state of Canadian tennis from Ernests Gulbis. He might not want to show up at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game anytime in the next decade.

    All this and more in this week's edition of "Winners and Losers," where we comment on the unusual, disappointing and triumphant happenings in professional tennis.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

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    We lead off with Novak Djokovic's loyalty. No matter what his supporters or critics say, he is a stand-up person and considerate to those around him. Consider his comments about uneasy situations.

    He backed fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki, who was recently suspended 18 months for supplying a mandatory sample. Djokovic said through Reuters (via Yahoo!) that "We all give him (Troicki) big support because he's definitely innocent... Hopefully he is going to be able to be on the court very soon."

    Djokovic also took a tough stand to distance himself from his father's criticisms last week of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in BAtennisworld.com:

    I'm really sorry that his words have caused so much attention, and also that they might have hurt my colleagues in some way, and with whom I have good and fair relationships. But as unfortunate as it sounds, I cannot be held responsible for his deeds and for his words because everybody is entitled to their opinion, even my father, and I love him so much, and respect him. He's helped me so much in my life to arrive where I am...

    The respect and love Djokovic shows for his father is evident as well. He continues to do and say the right things with his genuine character.

    Tennis is fortunate to have a champion as classy as its No. 1 ranked star. He's a breath of fresh air with a fun-loving spirit. He doesn't mind dancing at the Rogers Cup, smiling and congratulating his opponents, win or lose.

Loser: Caroline Wozniacki

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    Last year, Caroline Wozniacki released her debut single, "Oxygen." These days, she is struggling to breathe on the WTA tour.

    Her latest disaster was her first match of the week. She lost to eventual finalist Sorana Cirstea after holding two match points. For the year, she fell to 21-16 and is now hanging onto the No. 10 ranking. It seems like a century has passed since she was ranked No. 1.

    She is only 23 years old and has time to improve her fitness and offensive attack, but she has also perhaps been distracted by her social circle and rumors about coaching changes.

    But until she regains her former fire and commitment, her brief stint as a caddy last April may not be as laughable.

Winner: Canadian Men's Tennis

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    This week is now arguably the Golden Age of Canadian tennis. After all, Canada has never produced a Grand Slam winner, and the last Canadian to win the Rogers Cup was Robert Benard in 1958. That was two years before the Beatles became a rock band.

    Since then, the Open era's best Canadian player had been Greg Rusedski, who defected in the middle of his career in hopes of becoming Great Britain's answer to Fred Perry. That's like claiming counterfeit bills as a national currency. (At least England has had better success with Scottish products like golf and Andy Murray.)

    But this week, Canada cheered wildly in Montreal as the following countrymen all won at least one match in the qualified bracket: Filip Peliwo, Jesse Levine, Frank Dancevic, Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic.

    Pospisil and Raonic found their ways to the semifinals, where they faced off in a thrilling three-set match, decided by a tiebreaker win for Raonic. Canada could now look south of the border and claim the upper hand on its big brother.

    Well-deserved props for Canada, but we will give it one more week before we displace hockey for tennis as the country's national sport. The conquest continues in Cincinnati.

     

     

Loser: Venus Williams

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    It may be all over for Venus Williams, but that doesn't mean she can't try one more time to recapture her glory days.

    She has not played a lot of tennis the past few years. Battling injuries, Sjogren's syndrome and several attempts to rehabilitate, she is unlikely to compete at the top level again.

    After losing 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 to Kirsten Flipkens, Williams showed that there are flashes of her talents, but not enough consistency for a match. She would need to string together several great matches to prove she is a force once again, and at age 33 the sands have nearly finished falling.

    She was upbeat afterwards, saying through ESPN, "For me, the best thing I can do is to be positive and to realize that maybe I'm not going to be at my best at this point but I can, you know, just work to that."

    The WTA is certainly more colorful with her presence, but it's also painful to watch a great champion in her twilight. Does she have one more Grand Slam run left? Unlikely.

Winner: Maria Sharapova

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    Maria Sharapova may not be playing in the WTA Rogers Cup at Toronto, but she continues to find ways to improve her brand and ranking as one of tennis's most powerful people.

    Sharapova was featured on the cover of Shape Magazine, which is another reason why she continues to be the highest-paid female athlete in sports.

    Nike also unveiled the U.S. Open outfits for its top stars, led by Sharapova.

    It's a reminder that tennis, business, fashion and commercialism continue a symbiotic relationship that is only gaining speed.

    Purists will frown and newbies would not even be aware that 45 years of Open era tennis has produced quite a few changes. Everything in the middle is evidence enough.

Loser: Andy Murray

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    Okay, it probably doesn't change anything for Andy Murray to get whipped 6-4, 6-3 in the third round of the Canada Open by the always-dangerous Ernests Gulbis, who played like a reincarnated Marat Safin. These things happen.

    If there was anything to learn from this dismal performance, it could be summed up in one word: apathy.

    Murray lacked the tenacity and fire to compete at his best. He stayed back, decided a game of Pong would be enough and watched Gulbis create the fireworks.

    This isn't a Grand Slam match, but the defending U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion will have to understand that everyone guns for him at every match. Murray is not the type of player who can simply overpower his opponents. For him to be great, he must attack with guile, scramble with his feet and burn a lot hotter. Anything less and he is vulnerable.

    This match will get his attention, so better now than at New York.

Winner: Milos Raonic

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    The half-full perspective shows a great week for Milos Raonic. He defeated Juan Martin del Potro. He got to his first Masters 1000 final. He will be ranked in the top 10, the first time for any Canadian player.

    But the glass is also half empty. Raonic had some controversy in the Del Potro match when he was granted nearly 12 minutes for an injury timeout. He also touched the net to close a point and perhaps should have admitted this.

    The real stinker was his 6-2, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal. Really, the score appears much closer than the match actually was. He was completely helpless to find any advantage against his opponent.

    Raonic was outserved. He was completely outmatched at the baseline. He tried to come into the net, but he got passed like a lumbering farm truck. Time again he looked at coach Ivan Ljubicic in exasperation, hoping to divine some kind of tactic that would work.

    Welcome to the top 10, Raonic.

    Will he keep building in the aftermath of Hurricane Rafa? Does he have the potential to compete with the top five? For now it seems more likely that his entrance in the top 10 be a guest appearance.

Loser: Novak Djokovic

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    Too many loose forehands, double faults and 44 total errors for three sets proved fatal for Novak Djokovic in his Canada Open semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal. The Rogers Cup will not fly back to Serbia for a third straight year.

    When you're Djokovic, the standard has to be title or bust. It was an important match for him to continue his dominance of Rafael Nadal on hard courts. He also lost a chance to keep Nadal at 360 semifinal points and instead will fall another 640 points behind for the ATP Race to London. That match was a 1,280-point swing.

    Give him credit for charging back after a lackluster first set in which he conceded the role of aggressor on hard courts. Despite his problems, the match was there for the taking as it headed to a well-deserved third-set tiebreaker.

    Unfortunately, the tiebreaker's first half-dozen points still had Djokovic staring at a bagel and the match was all but cooked.

Winner: Serena Williams

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    When Serena Williams plays great tennis, there is nothing any of her competitors can do.

    Certainly the fairy tale week of young Sorana Cirstea was quickly changed back into a pumpkin. The 6-2, 6-0 Williams win was more of a statement to the tour than anything else.

    Williams now has 54 WTA titles in her career, good for eighth in history. She is still far from the unreachable amount of titles from Steffi Graf (107) and the ridiculous accumulation from Martina Navratilova (167). That last record is as safe as any sports record will ever be.

    As she approaches her 32nd birthday, it's clear that Williams doesn't have the competition she faced early in her career with the likes of Martina Hingis, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and others.

    Give credit to Williams most of all. She has become smarter and unwilling to concede her competitive fire. Every match is hers to lose.

Loser: U.S. Men's Tennis

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    Okay, so the U.S. Open is coming up, there are no American men in the top 20, and Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are not suiting up to play at Flushing Meadows.

    So what? The moaning and wailing about the failures of Americans in men's tennis needs to stop.

    Americans are loyal to homegrown products, but there are so many other choices as well. For every person who clings to driving a Ford truck, there are plenty of people driving a Toyota Camry. Americans like cuisine and food from all over the world. They buy the Sony PlayStation and import toys from China.

    Why not tennis? America can surely enjoy goods from Switzerland, Spain and Serbia. What American tennis fan has not been fascinated with Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal? Who has not enjoyed Novak Djokovic? Was there anybody who did not feel good for Andy Murray?

    It will likely be years before America produces another Grand Slam champion, but it can still support John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock without unrealistic expectations.

    If the American product comes around, the American hype can return for better or for worse.

    Enough with looking for the shine on a common apple. Eventually the harvest will bear fruit once again. Just don't expect entire generations of American dominance like Sampras-Agassi-Courier and McEnroe-Connors. Global competition is reality.

     

Winner: Rafael Nadal

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    In hindsight, it shouldn't be considered a surprise that Rafael Nadal won his third Rogers Cup, but it is.

    Many tennis fans who have watched his entire career understand his talent and tenacity. Yet even they can be amazed at how he turns the tables to situations where he is written off.

    There was a lot of talk about Nadal just needing some tune-up matches, or looking to find his form on hard courts. The result was another spectacular success comparable to his hard-court title at Indian Wells.

    He stormed through his first three matches and then played with his familiar fire and concentration to defeat rival Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Most of all, he showed his willingness to keep evolving his game and attack.

    His final pasting of Milos Raonic bookended his massacre of Jesse Levine to begin his tournament. It might have been Nadal's finest hard-court display since the 2010 U.S. Open.

    He no longer has tape wrapped around his left knee. He just defeated his biggest rival on hard courts. He is holding his eighth title of 2013.

    Is he getting better? Nothing seems impossible with Nadal.

Loser: Ernests Gulbis

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    Ernests Gulbis is a dynamic tennis talent and a man of his word. If he has to lead the way to provide more fireworks in men's tennis, he will do so.

    First, he played some excellent tennis in defeating three quality players: Feliciano Lopez, Fabio Fognini and Andy Murray. If this were a game of Risk, he captured Western Europe.

    But the real story is his attempt to fill the void of boring stars at the top of the ATP. In May, Gulbis voiced his displeasure, saying in an interview through SI.com, "Tennis today lacks characters. I respect Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic] and [Andy] Murray but all four are boring players. ... Their interviews are boring, they are rubbish. It's a joke."

    Now he is providing the bulletin board material by taking shots at Canadian players and fans, as reported in the Toronto Sun:

    Milos is a great player. But the rest of the guys, they play great in Canada because it’s like Davis Cup every match. People are clapping after a double fault, before a second serve to provoke a double fault. I don’t think it’s nice.

     If that were not enough fireworks, he took further shots at the fans, also in the Toronto Sun:

    They’re used to hockey here. It’s OK. But, honestly, I don’t understand why you need to clap for a double fault. Simply, I don’t understand it. You know, there can be emotions, but I think it’s stupid.

    It's probably not the wisest reaction for a player to chide the intelligence of a country's fanbase. He provided rousing commentary, but he is also the deserving winner of this week's burnt bagel award.