Quick Hits From A Busy Week in Tennis With News on Djokovic and Sharapova Plus New French Open Contenders

Here are some quick “hits” from a busy week in the world of tennis:

  • Novak Djokovic announced that he would be working with Andre Agassi at the French Open.

Djokovic recently terminated a lengthy relationship with his entire coaching and training staff, including longtime coach Marian Vajda.  He stated that he wanted a fresh perceptive to help him return to the top spot in tennis, and was looking to work with someone who had been where he has been in the sport.  After his loss in the finals at the Italian Open on Sunday, he announced that he would be bringing in Agassi, who won eight Grand Slam titles before retiring in 2006, for the second major of the year.  Djokovic said that he has been in contact with Agassi for a couple weeks and the Hall of Famer was following his matches and giving him tips over the phone.  The two will be together for a portion of the tournament, and have not determined what will happen after the French.  Agassi joins former stars Ivan Lendl (Andy Murray), Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori), and Carlos Moya (Rafael Nadal) in the current coaching landscape.

  • Maria Sharapova was denied a wildcard into both the main draw and into qualifying at the French Open.

Sharapova’s ranking was not high enough to get direct entry into either the main draw or into qualifying, but it was up to the discretion of the tournament to award wildcards.  Most of the time, wildcards go to younger players from the home country of the event, and some former champions and/or top players that are either coming back from injury or at the end of their careers.  It would seem like Sharapova would fit the second criteria, and that the French Open would want her in its event in some form – even if it was just in the qualifying round.  I get that they may want to avoid the controversy that surrounds someone that just came back from a doping suspension, but to be honest these last few weeks have been just what the game needs.  With Serena out, the women’s side desperately needs someone that can draw attention, and ever since Sharapova has returned, there has been a ton of attention (both good and bad) on her and her comeback.  Instead of being firmly entrenched on the drama, the French Open chose to avoid it, which is a shame because with the state of the women’s game, Sharapova would have been a legit contender to make a deep run and shut up a lot of her critics.  She’ll be at Wimbledon – in the qualifying round as she is refusing a wildcard into the main draw – and Paris’ loss may be London’s gain.

  • Dominic Thiem served Rafael Nadal his first loss of the clay court season in the quarterfinals in Rome.

Nadal has been on an absolute tear on the clay this year, looking unbeatable during the last month heading into his favorite Grand Slam.  But Thiem derailed him in Rome with a master class performance, as he clearly had a game plan to shorten points and go for winners no matter where he was on the court.  It was a remarkable display of his shot-making skill, as he routinely overpowered Nadal on a surface that sucks a lot of pace out of most shots.  Whether he could have kept that up for another set is unknown, as beating Nadal in a best-of-three sets match on clay is totally different than besting him in a best-of-five match in Paris, but at least now we have a couple other possible contenders for the crown in Paris.

  • Alexander Zverev vaulted into the Top 10 by winning the event in Rome to become the youngest player ever to win a Masters 1000 event.

I said “a couple” because Sasha Zverev put his name firmly in the short list of contenders by winning his first Masters Series event in Rome.  Zverev defeated American John Isner in the semis (yes I’m shocked that he made it that far and actually played really well for the first two sets against Zverev) and then knocked off Djokovic in the finals to move into the Top 10.  And he’s still a teenager!  Zverev may have just graduated from “Next Gen” player to next superstar in the sport with that statement title.  We all knew that he would be a contender sooner rather than later for majors, and could be one of the players that takes over the sport once the Big Four (Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, Federer) leave.  But I’m not sure anyone thought it would be this soon.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how Thiem and Zverev perform in Paris since there will be greater expectations and more eyes on them after their runs in Rome.

  • Simona Halep continued her strong play, reaching the finals in Rome before losing to Elena Svitolina in a matchup of two of the possible favorites at Roland Garros.

Svitolina and Halep may be the two best bets for favorites for the women’s side of the French Open, as both have played extremely well during the last month.  Svitolina won her fourth title of the season, moved to #6 in the world, and is first in the year-end rankings (which should be the actual ranking system but tennis likes to be complicated and just stupid when it comes to ranking players).  The Russian is 31-6 overall this year and 10-1 on clay, winning two of the three events she’s entered on the red surface.  Halep is 12-2 on clay, winning the event in Madrid, losing in the final in Rome, and losing in the semifinals in Stuttgart.  Clay is the most unpredictable surface, and the entire women’s game is even more unpredictable, so picking favorites for the French Open is probably going to be completely pointless (though I’ll try in next week’s column).

Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)

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