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Serena Williams is no choker: Statistics don’t lie

English: Serena Williams at 2009 Australian Op...

Serena Williams at 2009 Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does Serena Williams choke?

This must seem like a really stupid question given that Williams has 21 singles Grand Slam titles to her credit. She also has 13 doubles titles with her sister Venus.

Is this the hallmark of a choker?

I repeat the question: Is Serena a choker, that is, does she lose matches she was expected to win relatively easily?

This year’s loss to Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-final is a case in point.

Serena had come into the year’s final Slam on the back of another Serena Slam.

Maria Sharapova was rendered hors-de-combat before the tournament qualifiers began.

This was her golden opportunity to go down in history as only the third woman in history to record a Calendar Grand Slam.

Alas, it was not to be.

Serena choked or at the very least appeared to.

She was not at her best, seemingly sluggish throughout the match. Her customary speed deserted her. Her Italian opponent was on song, storming back in the final two sets to make her first ever Grand Slam final.

To answer the question again, one has to check Williams’ record in Grand Slam tournaments.

What we need to know are the instances when Serena has lost in Grand Slams when she was doing well and expected to go all the way.

There are always giant-killers, there will always be giant-killers in any sport. That is the beauty and unpredictability of it. An underdog comes in and knocks out a fancied opponent. But it is rare that the unheralded player goes on to overcome every obstacle in his or her path. That kind of consistency is not to be suddenly expected from , say, a rank qualifier or wildcard unless their names are Goran Ivanisevic or Kim Clijsters.

That said, let’s look at Serena’s record in Slams specifically the instances when she lost out after making it past the first 7-8 days of the tournament.

Let’s look at her record when she has lost in quarter-finals, semis and finals after putting in all the hard yards to get that far.

Serena has an awesome record in Grand Slam finals: 21-4. Her record in women’s doubles is even more terrifying to her opponents: 13-0. Her four losses in singles finals have come against three opponents: her sister, Venus (2), Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur. Her mixed doubles record is 2-2; this was in the early part of her career before the 2000s.

Serena has appeared in 61 Slams with a winning percentage of 34%.

Steffi Graf has 22 singles titles in 56 appearances including qualifiers with a win percentage of 39%.

Margaret Court who holds the all-time record of 24 titles in 47 appearances with a win percentage of an astonishing 51% i.e. she won more than half of all the Grand Slams she played. Add to that 19 women’s doubles and 21 mixed doubles titles and you will just begin to comprehend her dominance of the game in her era.

Nowadays, Court is more known for her strong views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in her role as founder-minister of a Pentecostal church called the Victory Life Centre. Court was raised a Roman Catholic but converted to Pentecostalism in the 70s.

Court states that she does not hate the LGBT community and welcomes them to be members of her congregation.

I digress.

Serena has made the quarter-finals or better 42 times, winning 21 thus equally likely to clinch the title or (somewhat) lose her way.

The table below chronologically lists Serena’s career losses in Grand Slams—quarter-finals and better.

Tournament Serena’s Ranking Stage of Tournament Opponent Opponent’s Ranking Eventual Winner
Wimbledon 2000 8 Semis Venus Williams 5 Venus Williams
US Open 2000 5 Quarters Lindsay Davenport 2 Venus Williams
Australian Open 2001 6 Quarters Martina Hingis 1 Jennifer Capriati
French Open 2001 6 Quarters Martina Hingis 1 Jennifer Capriati
Wimbledon 2001 5 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 4 Venus Williams
US Open 2001 7 Final Venus Williams 4 Venus Williams
French Open 2003 1 Semis Justine Henin 4 Justine Henin
French Open 2004: 2 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 7 Anastasia Myskina
Wimbledon 2004 1 Final Maria Sharapova 13 Maria Sharapova
US Open 2004 3 Quarters Jennifer Capriati 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova
French Open 2007 8 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Justine Henin
Wimbledon 2007 7 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Venus Williams
US Open 2007 8 Quarters Justine Henin 1 Justine Henin
Australian Open 2008 7 Quarters Jelena Jankovic 3 Maria Sharapova
Wimbledon 2008 6 Final Venus Williams 7 Venus Williams
French Open 2009 2 Quarters Svetlana Kuznetsova 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova
US Open 2009 2 Semis Kim Clijsters 19 Kim Clijsters
French Open 2010 1 Quarters Samantha Stosur 7 Francesca Schiavone
US Open 2011 28 Final Samantha Stosur 9 Samantha Stosur
Australian Open 2013 3 Quarters Sloane Stephens 29 Victoria Azarenka
US Open 2015 1 Semis Roberta Vinci 43 Flavia Pennetta

The statistics in the above table show that Serena has lost to an opponent who was ranked lower than her and not the eventual winner a total of just 5 times.

That’s 5 out of 21. It’s less than a 25% chance that Serena will lose crunch games to players ranked lower than her and not red-hot coming into the tournament and continuing that streak.

The players she lost to? Jennifer Capriati (2), Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens and Roberta Vinci.

Despite appearances, Serena is a model of consistency when it comes to performing at Grand Slam tournaments.

Her latest loss notwithstanding, Serena is difficult to get away from when she’s on song and at the top of her game.

Serena is a champion among champions.

Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters came into the tournament unseeded on a wild card after coming out of retirement. She went on to win the first Grand Slam of her career. The win lifted her ranking to 19.


Can Marin Cilic defend his US Open title?

Marin Cilic is in the semis of the US Open once more.

Last year, he won his maiden Slam knocking out Asian hope Kei Nishikori in the process under the watchful eye and tutelage of his countryman Goran Ivanisevic.

Tennis fans all remember Goran not just for his histrionics on court, his big booming serves but also for the fairy-tale ending to his career where he won his first and only Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2001 after succumbing at his earlier two final appearances at the sport’s Mecca.

Cilic has been plagued with a shoulder injury this season. He missed out on the Australian Open and has had indifferent results—by his newly exalted standards—losing in the fourth round and quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively.

The Croat has flown under the radar at his Grand Slam homecoming in New York.

It’s always difficult returning from an injury.

No one knows that better than Cilic’s coach, Ivanisevic, who was unseeded at his maiden Grand Slam triumph, only playing with the benefit of a wild card.

But it’s Del Potro, another US Open winner, that similarities can be drawn with.

The 2009 US Open champion first suffered a left wrist injury in 2010.

He returned only after a nine-month break.

He was back to his best only in 2012 ending the year ranked No.7. He returned to the top 5 in 2013.

The recurrence of his wrist injury saw him missing out most of the 2014  season.

He returned briefly in 2015 but withdrew from the Australian Open with the injury flaring up again.

He has been operated since and is now rehabilitating.

Can Marin Cilic break the hoodoo?

Since 2003, except for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, no US Open champion has returned to claim the title.

The title has not been defended successfully since 2008 when Federer won the last of his US Open titles.

The singletons in the club—in terms of US Open titles in the modern era—include the likes of Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith,Ilie Năstase,Manuel Orantes, Guillermo Vilas,Mats Wilander,Boris Becker,Marat Safin,Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

Cilic takes on a formidable foe in Novak in the semis. It could be either Federer or Wawrinka in the final. Interestingly, all the semi-finalists have at least one Slam to their credit. Wawrinka is the only one without a US Open title.

A trivial bit of trivia about Cilic is that he is yet to clinch an ATP 500 or Masters title.

It’s going to be a slug-fest. Sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Can Stan Wawrinka make the US Open 2015 his third one-of-a-kind Slam?

Is Stan Wawrinka on the verge of yet another Grand Slam title?

The Swiss No. 2  just gets luckier and luckier.

This time, it’s Andy Murray, his prospective quarter-final opponent, who lost his legs against a fitter, smoother South African Kevin Anderson.

Wawrinka faces a much easier adversary in him.

Roger Federer is expected to be his antagonist in the semis should he get past the latest version of Richard Gasquet as the 17-time-champion quizzically put it.

This semi-final could be anyone’s. I give the edge to the younger man.

Novak Djokovic takes on on last year’s winner Marin Cilic in the other semi-final.

Should Djokovic win, he should be odds-on favourite to clinch another Grand Slam and repeat the kind of success he had in 2011.

Should Cilic win , Wawrinka would have a much better chance of winning the third Slam of his charmed, revived career.

Can he? Will he? The tennis Gods will let us know—very soon indeed.

Tennis: Nick Kyrgios targets Stan Warinka with inappropriate remarks at Rogers Cup

Nick Kyrgios is young and stupid.

He’s an ass.

A sorry ass but nevertheless an ass.

A sledge went awry and suddenly the bad boy of Australian tennis is the scourge of the gallant game.

Australian cricketers, perhaps, could teach the young man the intricacies of gamesmanship.

“Nick, don’t indulge in sledging with your front to the camera specifically with your voice audible to the on-court microphone. We could have easily told you that, mate!”

The insult was grave; it also needlessly involved a third party and a fourth, both of whom had very little to do with the battle in the center.

Kyrgios dragged Wawrinka’s current girlfriend Croatian Donna Vekic and Nick’s compatriot and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis into a sordid war of words.

Wawrinka recently separated from his wife and is now dating Vekic.

Vekic is a younger, blonder version of Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki or both or so the marketing geniuses at the WTA would have us believe.

She’s currently ranked 127th in the world.

Stan, the Man, was quick to respond to the hothead’s slurs taking to Twitter calling for swift action from the ATP.

The Swiss star revealed that he later confronted the Aussie in the locker room.

He said:

“He tried to avoid me, but I confronted him. I just hope that the ATP will take big measures against him because he’s young maybe, but there’s no excuse. Every match he has problems. Every match he behaves very badly. On top of that the problem is that he doesn’t just behave badly towards himself he behaves very badly towards the people around: the other players, the ball kids, the umpires. I really hope the ATP will take major action against him this time.”

Kokkinakkis was linked to Vekic in 2013 but has laughed off any such rumours of them being a pair except on court.

Kyrgios was fined $10,000 for his remark  by the ATP.

This is the highest fine allowed for an offense for bad behaviour while playing.

Novak Djokovic reacted:

“I think it is very important to keep the fairness in the sport. There is no excuse for what he has said.”

Kyrgios posted an apology on Facebook for his fans:

Members of the Kyrgios family have not made it easy for their starling.

Nill Kyrgios, Nick’s mother, speaking to Fairfax Media, said:

“It’s not a nice thing to say, it’s not, but you can’t always cop it on the chin from other people without retaliating. If you give people lip then you’ve got to receive some back. You know that Stan did say that Nick was faking an injury last time they played and Nick was actually very sick (with asthma). So there was no love lost there to start with. We let it go, we didn’t comment on Stan’s comment. That’s still in Nick’s head, so the minute that Stan starts giving Nick cheek, what do you think will happen? He’ll say whatever comes to his mind that will upset the guy.”

The Greek-Australian’s elder brother Christos was dumped from an interview with Sydney radio station Triple M.

Christos continued to make derogatory remarks about Wawrinka’s love interest Vekic.

The sibling appears to have said that Vekic “loved the ‘kokk’”.

Christos then went onto Facebook to update his online pals.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

“‘So just did a media interview for nick. Said Donna obviously loved the ‘kokk’ they cut my interview and said its the worst thing they have ever heard on air. Ah cheers.”

Friends posted messages laughing at his comment, before Christos responded: 

‘Hahahah f**k me who cares if the women likes a root – good on her, jump on the Kokk then on the stanimal IDC!! All I know it Nicholas Hilmy Kyrgios the king fried his ass.’”

In other reports, it is discovered that Kygrios delivered another barb at Wawrinka during the Rogers Cup match that he won.

He added another innuendo saying:

“He’s banging a nineteen-year-old.”

Much as we would all like to believe that these Kyrgios reprehensible actions are aberrations and there will be no such repetition of such obnoxious behaviour or attitude on-court or off, it is hard to believe that the young Australian can be reined in without an older, calming influence on him.

It is also clear that such a service can hardly be expected from his emotional family members who clamber on the train wreck that is Nick Kyrgios at full throttle.

It’s true that family is expected to stand together. But there has to be a line drawn at atrocious behaviour. While the Kygrios contingent is right to point out the history behind the provocation, Nick had no right to embroil Vekic or Thanasi in the drama. His mother and brother may be emotionally and financially invested in Nick’s success or failure in the sport but that does not allow them to dictate terms to the ATP or tennis fans.

Kyrgios was right to issue an apology and pay his fine. No further defense or excuses are needed. Social media fury is short-lived. The Australian has a glittering future awaiting him if he grabs his chances.

Lleyton Hewitt is believed to be mentoring the excitable talent. But is he the best person for the job? Hewitt himself was and is an atypical Aussie believed to be too intense and too much of a scrapper on court.

The question then is:

Who’ll bell the cat?

Roger Federer can win another Slam provided…

I'm quite chuffed with how the camera coped, c...

I’m quite chuffed with how the camera coped, considering we were quite far back and I was lacking in tripod! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time he makes a Grand Slam final nowadays, his fans go wild with delirium believing that an 18th Grand Slam is inevitable. Yet, the man comes up short. In 2014, it was Djokovic in five sets at Wimbledon.

This year, it was the Serbian again in four sets.

The Swiss last won a Grand Slam in 2012, beating Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in succession to clinch the title. It was also the year he was last ranked No. 1.

It is this ability to clinch Slams that has eroded over the years. The 17-time-champion no longer can produce the tennis required to beat the rest of the Big Four when it matters, where it matters, in successive best-of-five encounters.

This is unlikely to change as age catches up with one the modern greats of the game.

That is the bad news.

The good news is that he is not the only one suffering a loss in invincibility.

Nadal ceded his domination over the French Open this year losing to Djokovic who in turn surrendered his chance at a Career Slam by losing to Fedex’s fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.

That is the other piece of good news. Novak, if Roger can’t beat you, Wawrinka surely must.

Murray is not quite among the invincibles. Yet, he is a potent force on the comeback trail.

For Roger to win another Slam, the draw must be favorable enough to have him encounter just one of the above three at any stage in the tournament and preferably not the Djoker.

This is the blueprint for (immediately) imminent Grand Slam success for the Original Man.

Stan the man is two for two in Grand Slam finals

I thought I was going to be writing an article on whether Career Grand Slams have become de rigueur in the current age of tennis or we are blessed to have three to four outstanding players converge on the sport in the same era.

It was not to be.

Stanislas Wawrinka (va-vreeng-kah) had other thoughts.

The Swiss No. 2 (he’ll probably be No. 1 this week) defeated the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets on a Sunday afternoon in Paris.

He is no longer a one-Slam wonder.

Aficionados might have cribbed that his first Slam, the Australian Open in 2014, was handed him on a platter. A favourable draw and an injured Nadal were the variables that worked to his advantage.

But very few can begrudge him his second Slam. Djokovic may not have had enough time to recover from a grueling semi-final. But the Swiss had to fight hard to get to the finals, ousting his idol Federer on the way.

Wawrinka recently ended his marriage to  Swiss TV presenter Ilham Vuilloud.

Wawrinka said:

“We have enjoyed ten fulfilling years, with all the ups and downs that every couple experiences, but sometimes life is more challenging than one would hope.

Ilham and I were both blessed to create a family when our wonderful daughter Alexia was born in 2010. We have always tried to live our lives as a team and as a family, despite the challenges we have faced due to the demands of my career. To my great regret this isn’t possible anymore.

Ilham will always be the mother of my daughter and a person that I have a lot of love and respect for. We will always remain as a family. Now my priority is to do everything to protect Alexia during these challenging times.

I hope that the fans and the media will understand that I’ve always been very protective of my private life and wish to continue to do so not giving any further information about the situation.”

Nice guys do not have to always finish last.

From IPL 8 to French Open 2015

IPL 2015 is finished, over, done with. The champions have been crowned. The champions are Mumbai Indians.

Three teams have now won the IPL twice. Chennai Superkings (of course), Kolkata Knightriders and Mumbai Indians. The other winners are Rajasthan Royals and Deccan Chargers (now defunct).

Is Rohit Sharma, on the basis of IPL results, a better skipper than Virat Kohli? Has captaincy led to a new-found maturity in the cavalier—yet immensely talented—Mumbai batter? Is Sharma a better candidate to lead the Indian Test side?

Recall that Saurav Ganguly was appointed skipper only after Sachin Tendulkar refused the crown of thorns for the second (and final) time. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meanwhile, the French Open beckons with a tantalising glimpse of possibly history in the making.

Can Novak Djokovic become only the fourth man in the Open era to claim a career Grand Slam?

For once, Nadal does not ride into Paris as the overwhelming favourite on his favoured surface—clay.

The Mallorcan has feet of (well, you said it, not me) clay.

In the women’s draw, the top two contenders are Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Both have claimed career Grand Slams and Sharapova—interestingly—has two French Open titles; it is her least liked surface.

(My cable operator is not televising the French Open; it is not among the default options offered. So I guess I’ll be following it mainly via the net or the print media.)


Caroline Wozniacki: What she said, really meant and definitely didn’t

Caroline Wozniacki vows not to exhaust herself in 2015.

Caroline Wozniacki at 2008 US Open

Caroline Wozniacki at 2008 US Open (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What she said:

“My only problem with Serena is that I’m tired of losing to her. So I told her, Watch out, I’m coming for you in 2015.​”

Caroline Wozniacki nominated her good friend and fellow competitor on the WTA tour Serena Williams for this year’s Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

In a heartfelt  essay, the Dane said:

“When you go through hard times, you find out who your true friends are, and Serena Williams was one of the first people to be there for me when my engagement unraveled last spring. She didn’t have to support me—she has her own life, her own problems and her own career to worry about—but she was there when I needed someone to lean on the most. We talked on the phone, and she told me that it was going to be hard to recover, but that when I did get to the other side, I was going to be a stronger person. And now I am.”

She added:

“Serena is always concerned about her family and friends. She stays true to her word and never changes her personality for anyone or anything. Throughout her career she has remained consistent as a person, and I think that is really admirable.

…When you play against Serena, you are playing against a fighter and a fierce competitor, but off the court, she is great to the fans and her friends and family. I think that shows a great athlete and a proper champion.”

What she really meant:

“And I’ve got marathon muscle twitch fibre to do it too. It’s going to be a long year, Serena.”

What she definitely didn’t:

“I’ve done one better than you this year, Serena. And that’s at the New York City marathon. That’s good enough for me, buddy.”

Maria Sharapova: What she said, really meant and definitely didn’t

Maria Sharapova’s beauty is skin-deep.

What she said:

“People always ask me about my beauty routine, but I think that beauty always comes in the way that you take care of your skin—not in the makeup you put on your face.”

Maria Sharapova talks shop, food, drink and beauty with Yahoo! Beauty.

What she really meant:

“Skin-care and exercise—that’s my big secret. But don’t tell anyone especially all the companies chasing me for celebrity endorsements.”

What she definitely didn’t:

“I guess I’ll be chucking my Avon deal soon enough—now that you know.”

Maria Sharapove

Maria Sharapove (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Sania Mirza: What she said, really meant and definitely didn’t

Sania Mirza is candidly unsporting.

What she said:

“We’re not a sporting nation, we’re a cricketing nation. We need to accept that and stop pretending to be a sporting nation.”

Sania Mirza hopes that the International Premier Tennis League inspires more people to follow tennis and take up the sport.

Mirza said:

“Leagues are becoming like a cult now. It popularises the sport. Look at what it did for kabaddi. The IPTL is going to do the same for tennis. We have some of the greatest players in the world coming and playing in the country. It’s going to be huge. To me, it’s the awareness that’s going to matter. We’re not a sporting nation, we’re a cricketing nation. We need to accept that and stop pretending to be a sporting nation. Why don’t we produce sporting stars? Well, because there’s no awareness. There’s no help. People don’t believe they can be a professional athlete, they think they can only be a cricketer. I think leagues like this help to motivate and inspire people to take up the sport. A lay man will get a chance to see Roger Federer playing live. How can you not be inspired after seeing his class?”

Mirza described her recent meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mirza said:

“I did meet him alone though, but we spoke about my sister. He remembered my sister, which was pretty amazing. I still can’t believe it. She was a pistol shooter and he was the CM of Gujarat. He met her at some event. I had no clue that he even met her. It was amazing. Anyway, at the meeting he just asked me if I was happy and if I needed assistance for anything. It’s pretty amazing for a PM because he’s trying to help and trying to change things in the country. He is motivating.”

On not playing singles any more:

“Yeah, I do miss playing singles. But I do know that it was the right decision to concentrate on doubles. You can’t fight nature. If your body is screaming every morning, you can’t be stubborn and say you are going to keep on playing and kill the body. I want to be able to walk when I’m 40. I don’t want to be in pain all the time. And it’s actually very upsetting because you wake up in the morning and you’re not able to work as much as you want to. I have a certain joint condition. I’ve had three surgeries. So yeah, at that moment it was the toughest call. I was still top-100 in the world, so it was not easy. I do miss it. But look at the bigger picture. If I was still playing singles I wouldn’t still be playing tennis any more. I’d probably be injured. It wasn’t about ‘if getting injured’, it was the question of ‘when’.”

 What she really meant:

“To repeat a cliche (ad nauseam) ‘Cricket is a religion for us Indians and cricketers our gods. Other sporting heroes are minor deities to be recalled only on festive days (days when we actually win something)’. Every young boy wants to be a cricketer and will not even consider playing another sport.”

What she definitely didn’t:

“I should have this statement emblazoned on my tee. Wouldn’t that be cool?”



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