Thoughts on Wozniacki, Clijsters and Isner

Warning Signs for Wozniacki

The US Open was Even Worse for Caro than SW19

Caroline Wozniacki’s loss at the US Open may have had injury elements thrown into the recipe, but this is an ominous sign.  Last year, many said Wozniacki is uber fit, works hard on her game, and she is the youngest player in the top 10.  The Dane winning a Grand Slam did not seem inevitable, but it also did not seem far fetched.  2012 has been a disaster for Wozniacki.  She could still turn the tide, but she also seems to be the latest victim of the WTA’s Byzantine ranking system frequently rewarding players with the #1 ranking minus a Grand Slam title.  I thought it was bad enough when Lindsay Davenport was routinely claiming the #1 ranking when her most recent slam was years prior.  Wozniacki has only reached one Slam final.  Caroline is a great ambassador for the sport and is popular with existing fans.  Tennis does not need for her to succeed, but success would be a jolt for the sport.  Instead, I worry that she is going to make Dinara Safina look like a dominant #1.  Safina reached 3 major finals and won a Silver medal in singles in 2008.  Wozniacki has time on her side, but she needs to start winning while simultaneously adding a few wrinkles to her game (an improved serve, a few net approaches etc.).  My advice to Wozniacki would be to pick the brain of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Kim Clijsters.

Clijsters 22-1

Kim Clijsters had one of the most odd winning streaks at the US Open snapped today.  Clijsters won the 2005 US Open and retired shortly thereafter.  She returned to win the 2009 and 2010 US Opens only to miss the 2011 event with an injured ankle.  She won her first round match in 2012 to stretch her winning streak in New York to 22 matches contested over a period of 8 years.  Clijsters’ career ends with 4 Grand Slam singles titles, 2 Grand Slam doubles titles, multiple stints as the #1 ranked player in the world, 3 season championships  and a sparkling reputation.  Clijsters close loss in the 2001 French Open final and a frustrating loss to Jutine Henin at the 2004 Australian Open seemed to doom her to a fate of never winning a slam.  In 2005, she reversed that fortune.  In 2010, Clijsters backed up her 2009 US Open win with another US Open crown.  Clijsters won the season ending title to cap 2010 and won the 2011 Australian Open.  A period of dominance from Clijsters seemed to have arrived.  Injuries put an end to that.  My best Clijsters memory was seeing her daughter on court after both the 2009 and 2010 US Open finals.  She also deftly handled an awkward question from Dick Enberg* during the 2005 award ceremony.

John Isner & the McEnroe Brothers

He did Break Milos Raonic in Canada

I have been fortunate enough to interview John Isner on 2 occasions (after his 2009 Indianapolis loss to Robby Ginepri and after his 2009 Cincinnati win over Tommy Haas).  John struck me as a nice guy with a good perspective on tennis and on his life.  I say this to point out that I personally like and root for John Isner.  The McEnroe Brothers  have put some heavy expectations on Big John in 2009.  I think their predictions are wrong-headed even if I hope that I am wrong myself.

Patrick McEnroe predicted that Isner would make the final weekend at the French Open this year.  He had taken Nadal to 5 sets in Paris in 2011, he had beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon on clay in Davis Cup play, he had beaten Roger Federer on an apparently awful indoor clay court in Switzerland in Davis Cup play, and he had finished as the runner-up at the 2012 Houston event on clay.  Patrick McEnroe had some justification for this prediction, but come on … it was not going to happen.

John McEnroe recently asserted that Isner landing in David Ferrer’s quarter at the US Open was an opportunity for Isner to make the final four in New York.  Isner did reach the finals at Indian Wells in March and won Newport and Winston Salem this Summer.  Still, Isner lost a set to Xavier Malisse and needed 2 tie-break sets, & 4th set tie-break heroics to beat a player in his 30’s who last made an impression at the US Open by pushing Andre Agassi to 5 sets in 2005.

Isner’s match vs. Malisse is the perfect example of why he is threat in Davis Cup, but not nearly as much of a threat in Grand Slam play.  Isner’s serve gives him a chance to play a lot of close sets.  In a one or two match situation like Davis Cup, fatigue from earlier matches does not impact Isner.  Also, odd things can happen in one or two matches.  If Isner gets stretched out to needing to win 5 three out of five set matches to reach a semifinal, the odds shift against him.  Isner’s serve may allow him to put scoreboard pressure on elite players and take his chances in tie-breaks, but his lack of a return game makes journeyman players a risk to him.  If Xavier Malisse wins a 4th set tie-break that went 11-9 in favor of Isner, the former Georgia Bulldog is headed to a 5th set.

Isner plays close sets against just about everyone.  That means a lesser player can put scoreboard pressure on him by hanging around.  Then, these lesser-ranked players can take their chances in tie-breaks against him.  Even if Isner disposes of lower-ranked players, long sets and matches take a toll on his conditioning for the next round.  I’d love to see Isner in the semi-final, but I think he will be fortunate to replicate last year’s final 8 appearance (the only Grand Slam quarterfinal finish of his career).

* Enberg asked Clijsters what she was doing 1 year ago when she missed the 2004 US Open.  Kim was in New York in 2004 cheering on her then fiance Lleyton Hewitt in his 2004 US Open (Rusty was runner-up).  Somewhere between September 2004 and early 2005, their relationship had ended in a less than ideal manner.

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