The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

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Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

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Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

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Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?

The Doubles DL: Rogers Cup Previews

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Top Teams Edging Further Ahead

As the summer hard court swings to back-to-back Masters events, the doubles draw will again feature all the teams in the running for the ATP World Tour Finals. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo remain well ahead in the top spot in the rankings as the only team qualified for London. Last week however, they saw a 17 match win streak ended in the Citi Open final at the hands of the second ranked team, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers had been fairly mediocre since winning the Australian Open, but they have now turned it back up a notch with the season in its final few months. Kontinen-Peers now also have two wins over Kubot-Melo this year with the third meeting between the two at Wimbledon seeing Kubot-Melo taking it in a tense five set thriller. For Kubot-Melo, they have been the most consistent team still with five titles and two other finals appearances in 2017.

The top two duos on the ATP Tour look to have separated themselves quite a bit in the rankings race. Kubot-Melo come to Montreal with a large lead still at around 1,900 points over Kontinen-Peers. Kontinen-Peers put some space between themselves and the third ranked Bryans. Kontinen-Peers lead the Bryans by about 1,300 points. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four in the rankings. They come to the Rogers Cup just 75 points behind the Bryans for third. Last week showcased these top four teams who were all in the semifinals. Clearly at this point, these four teams have established themselves with good consistency in the last four to six weeks.

Other Seeds Provide Depth to Draw

This week marks the return of French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert-Mahut have not played together in doubles since a second round exit at Wimbledon. This week’s fifth seeds have not been able to capture the magic of 2015 and 2016 this season. They are just 16-8 after winning 73 combined matches the previous two seasons. They have just one title this season, winning in Rome – which was also their only finals appearance in 2017. Behind them in the sixth slot are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. Klaasen-Ram scored both their titles early in the year on hard courts in Delray Beach and Indian Wells. As a team, they are just 1-2 all-time at this event.

Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig reunited as the 7th seeds. They have teamed up just one other time this year at Queen’s Club, where they made the semifinals. Both played with different partners last week in DC with both losing in the quarterfinals. The 8th seeds are Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic who are back together for the first time since losing that epic five set battle in the Wimbledon final to Kubot-Melo. They went 11-3 on grass as they seemed to find a groove after going just 7-7 since they first teamed up for the Miami Open. It will be interesting to see if they can rekindle the chemistry that propelled them from non-factors to the #11 spot in the rankings. They are just over 300 points back of the 8th spot, so they could move up rapidly again if they catch fire.

ATP Rogers Cup Draw Preview

The top half features top seeds Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut, the Bryans and Marach-Pavic. Kontinen-Peers didn’t get the best of draw as they could see Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in their opener. Rojer-Tecau battle Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young in round one. Gonzalez-Young will be tough in their own right. The surprise French Open finalists have been a tough out everywhere they have played. Rojer-Tecau do own a win over Kontinen-Peers from early in the season in Dubai. Either team has upset potential even with Kontinen-Peers in good form. Marach-Pavic are the other seeds in their top quarter who could block them from the semifinals. Do watch out for the team of Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. They are a first time pairing, but both are skilled doubles players. They open against Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Pablo Carreno Busta. Cabal’s regular partner Robert Farah is still recovering from an injury suffered from Wimbledon, forcing his fellow Colombian to seek new partners.

In the other quarter in this half, Herbert-Mahut and the Bryans are the seeds. Herbert-Mahut will see either Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round two or Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Herbert-Mahut are 1-3 against Team Lopez over the last season and a half. The Bryans had a six match winning streak halted by Kubot-Melo in the Citi Open semifinals. They have had trouble beating the elite teams on tour this season. They will face either Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison or Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin Del Potro. Venus-Harrison have had trouble outside of Slams where they are a combined 9-1 with the French Open title and Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance. Outside of those two tourneys, they are just 5-6. They have lost both matches they have played on this hard court swing. Perhaps they can change that luck this week against Dimitrov and Del Potro.

This is a difficult half to call. Kontinen-Peers have a tough road to get to the final. The pluses are that the Bryans have lost to them twice and Herbert-Mahut have not found much consistency this season. Marach-Pavic are the X-factor for me. If their chemistry is still there, they could make a push this week. Of the unseeded duos to monitor, I think the winner of the Rojer-Tecau/Gonzalez-Young match could stun Kontinen-Peers and use that as a catalyst to a big run.

Bottom Half Sets up for Kubot-Melo to Get Back On Track

Kubot-Melo are seeded second in the bottom half with Murray-Soares, Bopanna-Dodig and Klaasen-Ram as the other seeds in this half. Kubot-Melo will get either all-Canadian pair Frank Dancevic and Amil Shamasdin or all-French duo Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin to start. The all-French pair would be a tougher match-up, I think. Klaasen-Ram will likely face Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in round two. The Canadians face Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in the opening round. The Spaniards will be pesky, but Nestor-Pop really should win in the end. Klaasen-Ram might be the team to cause the most issues for Kubot-Melo. They beat Kubot-Melo in the Indian Wells final, but Kubot-Melo beat them at the Ricoh Open on grass in June.

In the other half, Murray-Soares may have to deal with Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson in their opener. Johnson-Querrey battle Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a very winnable match for the Americans. Focus might be the thing that keeps the Americans from pulling off the upset. Johnson is already out of the singles draw and Querrey is likely to be a little big heavy legged from travel after last week’s Los Cabos victory. Bopanna-Dodig will open against the one-off team of Karen Khachanov and Dominic Thiem who upset Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock in a super breaker on Monday in round one. Those one-off teams do pull their fair share of round one stunners, but often flame out after that. Bopanna-Dodig should have an edge there as both Khachanov and Thiem focus more on singles.

This one smells like a highly competitive half that likely comes down to one of the seeds getting through: Kubot-Melo, Murray-Soares or Klaasen-Ram. Murray-Soares made the final last year in Toronto, but lost to Kubot-Melo twice early in the year on hard courts in Miami and Indian Wells. Both came in super breakers, so the difference between the two is small.

2007 was the last time a team outside the top four seeds took home the Rogers Cup doubles titles. This week doesn’t look like that streak might end, although perhaps one of the lower seeds could slip into the mix like Klaasen-Ram or Marach-Pavic. I don’t think we’re going to get 1 versus 2 again this week with Kontinen-Peers for me the more likely not to get to the final.

Toronto Could Tilt WTA Doubles Race

It will be an interesting week in Toronto for the Rogers Cup doubles draw on the WTA side. The Citi Open didn’t have many glamour names taking part last week as second seeds Shuko Aoyoma and Renata Voracova beat unseeded duo Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in the championship match. The top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, were ousted in the semis by Bouchard and Stephens. It continued a long slump for Mirza without a finals appearance. This week, she’ll partner up with Shuai Peng who has been announced as Mirza’s partner during the hard court swing to the U.S. Open. They are seeded fourth this week.

Wimbledon champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina return for the first time since their triumph in London. They serve as the top seeds this week and sit just 260 points behind Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan to the top spot in the rankings. Makarova-Vesnina are the defending champions. Hingis-Chang will be seeded second in Toronto. They have combined to secure five titles this season, but have fallen short in both Grand Slams they have participated in together in 2017.

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The third seeds are an interesting combo with Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova teaming up. Remember they won the bronze medal in Rio last year, so they do have some chemistry. Strycova was Mirza’s regular partner when the year started, but they split as Strycova wanted to focus more on her singles career. Safarova of course is without her regular partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands who continues her long rehab from that knee injury suffered at Wimbledon.

The other team to watch out for in the bottom half with Hingis-Chan and Safarova-Strycova is the all-Aussie combo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. They rank fourth in the year-end race right now and have been a consistent threat. They made the French Open final and the quarters in Wimbledon. They have three titles together this season. Much like the Bryans on the men’s side though, they have struggled to beat the top teams when presented with the chance.

This would be a great week to get the #1 vs #2 seeds and the #1 vs #2 teams in the final. Hingis-Chan beat the Russians on clay earlier this season, so let’s see who is better on hard courts heading towards the U.S. Open.

Pig-pourri: WTA Semifinals Preview

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Sharapova v. Makarova
This Russian on Russian battle has been a one way street throughout their careers with Sharapova owning a 5-0 head-t0-head record against Makarova. They’ve met twice at the Australian Open as well in 2013 and 2013. Sharapova won both of those in convincing straight sets. In fact, Makarova has only taken one set off of Sharapova in all their meetings and that came on clay in 2011. Makarova seems to struggle with the power of Sharapova, much like Bouchard did in the quarters. Makarova in general on this surface has had her difficulties matching the top players with pop in their game like Serena, Sharapova and Kvitova. Is that likely to change today? It doesn’t look like it. Makarova did beat Halep handily by the scoreline of 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals. If you watched that match though, that seemed more like Halep just having an absolute dud than Makarova playing sensational tennis. Makarova didn’t have a ton of winners, ten and had 20 unforced errors for the match. Not exactly inspiring numbers. Meanwhile, Sharapova did dominant Bouchard in the quarters and the numbers back it up. Masha won 72% of the points on-serve and while only hitting 19 winners, had just 18 errors compared to 13 winners and 30 errors for Bouchard. Since her mighty struggle against Panova, Sharapova has been locked and loaded. She’s dropped just seven games over the course of her last three matches. The feeling her is that Sharapova will have to beat herself for Makarova to have a chance for the upset. It’s a poor match-up for Makarova as Sharapova’s serve can dominate and put more pressure on Makarova to match on her own service games. With as sharp as Sharapova has been since the scare, expect her not to let up in this match and move into the Final.

 

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Serena v. Keys
Some of the luster certainly might have been removed from this potentiallly explosive match-up with the injury to Madison Keys in her quarterfinal win over Venus Williams yesterday. The injury sounds similar to the one that forced Keys out of Wimbledon last year. That was an abductor problem. Keys acknowledged the injury is not as bad as Wimbledon, but that there is definitely some pain to it. So this match would seem to be more about how much can Keys do with the injury? She was fortunate that Venus Williams cracked in the third set yesterday with a slew of errors and poor serving. I don’t think anyone expects that Serena will be doing the same today. However, Serena has her own concerns as she’s contracted some sort of illness this week and at least SOUNDS terrible during her post-game pressers. On the court though, she was delightfully brilliant against Cibulkova in the quarters. Shr boke Cibulkova early in both sets and never let up with 31 winners to 18 errors. Serena also was solid on-serve, winning 83% of her 1st serve points and 59% of her 2nd serves. It hardly seems the sickness effected her play at least not yesterday.

So one might be gimpy. One might be sick. What’s to make of all of it? Even without the injury, there is the also the fact that this is Keys’ first Grand Slam semifinal. Even with Lindsay Davenport in her corner, nerves are bound to be large here. It’s very common for first timers to need a crack or two or three to get to their first Final because of that. So couple those things together and this might not be pretty. It’s a shame really because Keys’ powerful serve and groundstrokes remind you of Serena in her early career. She possesses the pop and force that few do in the women’s game, which is what will make her a force to be reckoned with in the near future. Today though, I fear that the injury may not even let us concentrate on how nerves could come into play. Only the match will tell, but with Serena looking sharp against Cibulkova, this could be another fairly one-sided semifinal.

Fine Swine: Australian Open Day 9

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Tomas Berdych
You can argue that Rafael Nadal played some awful tennis in the 1st two sets of the men’s quarterfinal clash with Berdych on Day 9. You can’t argue with the result for Berdych or the way in which he kept his focus and simply overpowered Nadal. In the 1st set, it took Berdych just two service games to get at Rafa. He broke for a 3-1 lead and then when it looked like he might get nervy with that lead, he fending off a couple of break points to power through to a 6-2 set win. Berdych picked on Nadal’s serve, winning half the points played in that set. He had nine winners to Rafa’s six. The 2nd set was sheer dominance for Berdych and a lack of answers for Nadal. Berdych bageled Nadal, the first time the Spaniard has been shut out in a Grand Slam set since Wimbledon in 2006 against Roger Federer. Berdych woin 25 of his 29 serve points and whipped in 11 more winners. The third set proved to be much tougher as Berdych and Nadal traded service holds to a tie breaker. Berdych actually had two chances on Nadal’s last service game to end the match, but a couple of errors sent it to the TB. Berdych would not relent as he jumped out to a quick mini break and then extended his lead. To his credit, Rafa fought back from a 5-1 hole to force Berdych to make plays to win. On his 4th match point, Berdych converted to break his 17 match losing streak to Nadal and book his second straight Australian Open semifinal.

Ekaterina Makarova
The match itself may not have been easy on the eyes, but give Makarova credit for the way in which she dismantled 3rd seeded Simona Halep. Halep had received much of the hype this tournament as a potential break-through Grand Slam winner. Makarova would have none of that. Makarova took the fight to Halep in both sets, breaking the Romanian in each. That provided her the wiggle room needed to craft a relatively easy 6-4, 6-0 win. Makarova needed just 69 minutes to finish Halep off. The most telling stat of the match was Makarova’s ability to convert break opportunities. While Halep got more off the Makarova serve with nine break opportunities, she could only convert one. Makarova conversely had six looks at breaks on Halep’s serve and efficiently broke her five times. For Makarova, it’s the second Slam in a row where she has made the semifinals after breaking through to that stage last year at the U.S. Open.

U.S. Open Day 8: Fine Swine

An Italian continues her roll at the U.S. Open and a Scot scowls his way to another quarterfinal.

Flavia Pennetta
The 11th seed has been business-like for the first week and a day at the U.S. Open, working her way to the quarterfinals or better for the fourth time in the last seven years at the Open. She won 79% of her points on 1st serve and broke Casey Dellacqua five times in 14 tries. She was able to save six breakers of her own in route to a 7-5, 6-2 win.

Andy Murray
The Scot seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but watching his defensive game against Tsonga on Labor Day was quite fun. Murray was able to bounce back from a break down in both the 2nd and 3rd sets to take out the #9 seed in straight sets 7-5, 7-5, 6-4. Murray quietly had a great day serving, winning 84% of his 1st serve points and 58% on 2nd serve. He broke Tsonga five times and hit a whopping 45 winners to just 18 errors. That was a big difference as Tsonga committed 43 unforced errors. Next up for Murray is top seed, Novak Djokovic.

Ekaterina Makarova
The Russian has slithered her way into the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the 4th time in the last three years, second straight year at the U.S. Open. Makarova was able to convert a better percentage of break opportunities, winning three of five while Eugenie Bouchard could not take similar advantage. The 7th seeded Canadian won just two of ten break opportunities. Bouchard had just 21 winners and 31 unforced errors. Makarova has 25 winners to go along with 27 unforced errors. She did a great job against Bouchard’s serve overall, winning 44% of the points off Bouchard’s serve. 7-6, 6-4 was the final.