Serena Gets Slammed

SINGAPORE – Serena Williams has been bad at times before, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion rarely plays horribly. But, in her 6-0, 6-2 loss to Simona Halep, she never woke up and couldn’t keep her balls in court.

Without question, the young Halep was very solid, but she didn’t have to put together her best strokes. Really, all she had to was keep the ball in, move it around, and stay away from what could have been a panic when she need to finish the match off.  That is exactly what the 23-years-old Halep did, who scored her first win over Williams, and did not shake at closing time.

Serena could not keep her forehand in the court, which is somewhat amazing that the American usually crushes her ball and strokes them close to the line. But not this day. Williams dumped it into the net, couldn’t see where the lines were, or even get on top of his heavy spins. Williams ended with 36 errors – in just 14 games – where the forehand errors were somewhere around 27. She may be her best server ever, but she didn’t murder the ball, only put in two aces. When asked about it later, Serena wasn’t messing around.

“My forehand was off today again. I guess it went on an early vacation,” she told Tennis.com. “Lord knows my serve was as well. My serve was at best in the 10-and-under division in juniors. Yeah, it was actually embarrassing I think describes the way I played. Yeah, very embarrassing.”

The great Williams was embarrassed early on. Halep came out firing early on, as she wanted to prove that she could stay with her and did, playing much more aggressively then she was in August of 2013 when Williams smoked her 6-0, 6-4 in Cincinnati. But No. 4 Halep has been much better this season, reaching the Roland Garros final where she nearly took down Maria Sharapova and gaining the Wimbledon semis.

She moved very quickly and kept pushing forward, keeping Williams deep with her forehand and backhand. Williams tried to slap his balls back, but was so erratic early on that she dropped an f-bomb by the third game.

Williams tried to keep into the second set and even thrown out a “C’mon” after a couple winners, but she could not become steady at all.

Halep showed a bright smile, while Serena was disgusted. And why not? The 33-year-old Williams loss is the worst match since 1998, when she went down to South Africa Joannette Kruger’s 6-1, 6-1 in Oklahoma City. No. 1 Williams wasn’t sure if she was going to play in Singapore because she has been dealing with a sore leg. But she is going to trot on, because she wants to show that she could win the title, plus she wants the fans she can watch her brilliant play. But Williams did admit to us after the loss that she does not feel fantastic. Not even close.

“Oh, God no,” she said. “I’m definitely not 100% okay. I’m just here playing, but I’m not nowhere near 100 percent.”

Williams praised Halep today, but she went further. In fact, Serena says that Simona had “the best match of her career.”

Williams has to face Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday and even though she could be limping, she is going to try very hard. Serena cannot stand losing, but she loves cheering — and winning.

“To be quite frankly honest, I’m looking forward to our next meeting because she is making me going to go home and work hard.”

WTA Finals Singapore ready to rock

Ivanovic going deep would help ticket sales

Ivanovic steps it up in 2014.

By Matt Cronin

Singapore – The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore will begin on Monday. Here are the eight players, some of which are are on fire and others who are struggling. On Sunday, all the players spoke to what is head. Tennisreporters discusses the field, with TR also asks for players as well as journalists who discuss the field.

Matt Cronin returns
to writing for TR

This is Matt Cronin’s first article for TennisReporters.net since his brain surgery last spring.

Matt has written for Tennis.com and USOpen.org.

Matt: Great to have you back as you return to the work you love and the work the tennis world loves you for!

– Ron Cioffi

RED GROUP
Serena Williams: The US No. 1 has not been as dominate as she was in 2013, but Serena found herself believing her game by winning the US Open and snagging her only Slam in 2014 when she needed the most. Now she has the chance to walk away with the WTA 8 final again if she is cracking the ball once again.
Last year in the WTA final in Turkey Serena served and hit her corners when necessary — even when she was hurting — but came through the victory. This year Serena will be careful as she pulled out of Beijing with a knee injury. Williams will play Ana Ivanovic Monday night.
Q.  How important is the year‑end No. 1 ranking to you?  And if you had already had it locked up, do you think you would be here?
WILLIAMS:  I definitely would be here if I already had it locked up.  It’s obviously super important for me.  I love being No. 1; I love being the best.
     But at this at the same time, I’m really glad that I was able to get a slam this year, which was really annoying for me that I wasn’t able to capture one.
     That was something that was super, super, super important, especially for the goals that I was trying to reach.
Simona Halep: The Romanian began to step up last summer and this year she finally showed her self-believe, walking quickly and jumping on the courts. Halep came very close to knocking off  Sharapova in the Roland Garros final, but the Russian turned on the afterburners and nailed his second Slam. However, Halep has been rising quickly and could eventual grab No. 1 – if she can win the WTA 8 and a Slam next year.
 Q.  Do you think that actually, say, in the next year you will become No. 1?
HALEP:  “I cannot say about this because I am very far to No. 1.  So I just want to take the pressure out of me, out of my body, of my mind, and just to be relaxed and to, like I said, to be focused every match.”
Genie Bouchard: The Canadian had become relevant early on and hasn’t stopped, grabbing the semis of Australian and Roland Garros, and playing very close at the lines where she earned the runner-up at Wimbledon. She is contending with a left leg injury but is ready to go.
Q.  When you were here in January, was it possible to look as far ahead as October, and did you think to yourself: I’d like to make it; I want to make it; I’m going to make it here?  What were your thoughts about the year‑end finals in January?
Bouchard: “It’s the craziest thing, because I was with Chrissy [Evert] in this exact room at this table in January launching the WTA Finals and the Road to Singapore.
     So I don’t know who believed that I would be here in October, but being here in January motivated me so much.  It was an amazing city, and seeing the glamorous side of what the finals are inspired me so much to try and make it here.
 Big day for Southern at USTA national Junior Team Tennis Championships. Madison, MS (advanced) and Woodstock, GA play for national titles.
Ana Ivanovic: The Serbian has matured a great deal, becoming much more consistent and winning four titles. She is more aggressive than she has been and is more effective charging the net cords
Q.  Does 2009 [when she won her first and only Slam at Roland Garros] seem like a long time ago?
Ivanovic:   It feels like the other life.  Yeah, definitely does. I think in a way we are very fortunate because we travel so much.  We compete week in, week out.  I feel like there is so many experiences that we have weekly.
     You know, even Auckland seems like two years ago, because so many things happen in the meantime on and off the court.  Also you change a lot.  You change your views on things.
     This is what I feel happens.  So I feel like I’m different person comparing to 2008 or 2009.  I experienced lots of good and bad.  You learn so you much about yourself, too.
     In that sense as well it feels like long time ago.
WHITE GROUP
Maria Sharapova: The world No. 2 recalls back in 2004, in LA and besting Williams in the final, the last time she took down the great Serena. She has played the year pretty well, winning the French Open and two other big wins in Madrid and Beijing. If Serena falters, Sharapova could snare from the top spot to end the year.
Q.  Just talk about 2004, WTA against Serena, just your memory, your thought.
Sharapova:  Well, first I couldn’t believe that I was part of a field at that point in my career.  Yeah, I was in Los Angeles where I had been training with Robert [Lansdorp] for so many years.  It felt like a home tournament in a way for me.  I remember the players.  It was, of course, a very tough field, as always.  Just going through the draw there and the way that I felt and the way I played. I’ve seen some clips as well, very inspiring.  Certainly hope I can do that here again.
Petra Kvitova: The Czech has been much more consistent by being free from injury and rarely backing down. She grabbed the 2014 Wimbledon by striking the ball so   hard that she was untouchable. The lefty recently won Wuhan earlier this month and has a chance to reach the yearend No.1. But she is going to play nearly perfectly to win the crown. She will face Ana Ivanovic on Monday night.
Q.  It seems like your nerves, we don’t see them as much anymore.  Why did that happen this year?
Kvitova: “I’m more relaxed on the court.  I have a little bit more confidence probably.  From the Wimbledon I showed maybe that I can play great tennis again, and that’s really what I missed for the three years. So from that time I think it’s much better.  I can enjoy the tennis, I can really play, and I know that I love to play tennis.  So that’s very important, to know it.
     Yeah, I feel good.  I know that sometimes my game, it’s too risky, but that’s part of the game.  I can live with that, so that’s okay.”
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Pole has been very consistent over the past five years or so but has not been fantastic this season. She did win Montreal and reached the final of Indian Wells, but falling to Dominika Cibulkova in the semis of Australia has really hurt her overall. She needs to step up big time and end the year at a high note.
Q.  What would make you really happy at the end of this year and then all of next year?  What would make you super happy?
RADWANSKA: Well, of course, I think winning Grand Slam as well.  I think this is the tournament that we all waiting for to get a title.  I didn’t do it yet; I was close few times but still didn’t get it.
     So, I think winning Grand Slam, that will make me really, really happy.
Caroline Wozniacki: Even though she is rising again, Wozniacki is only reached the top 8 when Li Na retired. However the former No. 1 has played better than in years, reaching the US Open and stepping inside the court at hard courts. Wozniacki, from Denmark, may not have figured out to upset Williams, but she is confidence to trouble anyone else at the WTA.
Q.  As you were sort of slipping down and then making your way back up, did it feel like it was a long way to go, or did it feel like you were pretty close to where you had been?
Wozniacki: No, didn’t feel like a long way to go.  I never really looked at the rankings, but I definitely totally stopped when I went down to 18.  I’m like: This is depressing.  I don’t want to be down here.
     At the end of day, I just told myself, “Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or No. 18.  At the end of the day, you have to compete with the same players.”  A lot of girls play so well now so it’s never easy.  I just thought if I play well, the ranking will come back up soon.
     I started playing well. I started finding my form, and then the ranking just came up really quickly.

A Battle Royale, this time regarding me

Matt Cronin, Indian Wells.

That’s Matt Cronin (second from left) with tennis writer friends Steve Tignor, Doug Robson and Brad Falkner at Indian Wells.

For the first time in 21 years I will not be attending the tennis tournament at Indian Wells, CA, certainly one of my favorites events ever. I traditionally has arrived there on the Tuesday before plays starts on Wednesday, which ironically is the day this year that I am undergoing brain surgery on San Francisco.

I just came off a great five-week trip to Australia personally and work-wise.The day after I arrived back at my home in Moraga, CA, I was talking to my son, Connor. in the kitchen. I can’t quite recall about what it was but as I was standing over the counter. It’s very likely I was talking about what chores needed to be done – my kids favorite subject :-)

As many of you who know me or listen to me on radio, I have a lot to say, and most times I can say things clearly, but at that moment I had a good five sentences in my head and couldn’t get any of them out. All I could do, as Connor would attest, is drop a series of F-bombs in frustration. Perhaps I have never used the word more appropriately.

A little more than 24 hours later I found myself in a neurologist’s office staring a brain tumor on the left side of my head that was the cause of the incident the day prior.

Hey, Doc, hit one like Fed

By Ron Cioffi

Over nearly four decades, I’ve written about forehands and backhands, murders, politics, hometown features and how much I love the Rolling Stones. It’s been easier to write about sports, the arts and tennis tournaments than my personal life. But, hey, we all have to change.

It was nearly 13 years ago when Matt Cronin and I (with Sandy Harwitt) founded TennisReporters.net. It was a great idea: a website written by professional journalists who covered pro tennis. No amateurs, no gloss, no frills and no BS. We broke new ground in the world of sports and tennis journalism. At first I thought TR would pay for a cushy retirement but soon realized it was wouldn’t make a cent and was an addiction that we couldn’t shake.

Matt and I worked at Inside Tennis in the early 1990s. But, believe it or not, I’ve only seen Matt three times since we established TR, twice at the US Open and once at Fed Cup in North Carolina. But we often start our phone calls on business but lapse into the world of tennis, family, age and frailties. I never thought we would come so close to a life-threatening situation. Figured it would be me, a decade older and more decrepit than Matt.

Over the years Matt has kept the site running, based on his goal of writing honestly about tennis without an editor telling him what to say or not to say. I try to do that once in a while. But, Matt is pretty headstrong.

All I can say to Doctor Berger is: “Hey, Doc. It’s a good brain. It’s a really good brain. There’s a hell of a lot of great tennis info in there, years of experience, expertise and clarity.

“So, Doc, do the tennis world a favor: Don’t screw it up. Hit a winner down the line.”

For about a month before that, there were days when I felt a little odd. My father, Bill, was a doctor and my mom, Joan, was a nurse, so I am by no means I am not psychosomatic and might be the opposite as my parents could recognize real illnesses. When my two bothers and two sisters and I were kids, they knew when to tell us to shake it off. Perhaps as result I have only visit the doctor for mandatory checkups.

While I was still in Australia, I called a couple of people and told them I knew something was wrong with me and that when I returned I would go straight to the doctor. While I was in no real physical pain, I had a sense that something dangerous was going to take a swing at me and I wanted to get a handle on it before it took me completely down.

But before my scheduled doctor’s appointment, I had my mini-meltdown in the kitchen and the battle was on.

I am not going to get into the details of all my medical visits and their effect on me, but what I can offer that it has been an extremely emotional time for me as my kids, other family members and close friends can attest to. Those who know me know that I think a lot about a lot of things, and my mortality has been at the top of the agenda over the past month. I do not fear death at all, and believe that I will leave the operating table healthier and with a decent chance at a long future, but I am a realist and a care-taking type and trying to get my head around not being there for my kids/family/friends with all the things I wanted to accomplish with them is difficult to swallow. At least in my case, I don’t feel like I have planned ahead enough and had I know this was coming a decade or so ago I very well may have changed the vast majority of what I was doing – excepting the constant tennis coverage, of course.

It seems like at all times that I am thinking multi-dimensionally about my past, present and murky future. It’s fascinating, but does not leave time for much sleep, which is OK because at least this point it seems like a pretty big waste of time and, as all of you know, dreams during these types of periods can quite off-putting.

When many people think about relaxing, they think about kicking back and mellowing out. I have never been that person. In fact although I do like short naps in the afternoon, what really relaxes me is physical exercise, namely yard work which I crave daily and can do for hours at a time without feeling overly stressed. That is how I relax for the most part, by doing non-work related chores. Even living in my now beloved California for the past 31 years has not cured me of that habit.

I had a very interesting decision to make last week, choosing between two very reputable SF Bay area neurosurgeons, one whom I had seen three times and the other — who I will describe as the Roger Federer of his profession — I had only talked to on the phone.

Regarding this issue, last week I made a long and drawn out tennis analogy to some of my tennis journo friends, most especially Emily, as well as Doug, Richard, Courtney, Tom and Brad as to why I would make the call either way: essentially, whom am I going to trust to win a match with my brain tumor.

To me, it made perfect sense, but perhaps not so much to others. However, to tennis people it might. In my nearly 22 years covering the sport, I think I have learned to distinguish real confidence from false bravado, which is why some players consistently deliver in the clutch and others don’t. For me to allow someone to open my brain up I needed to be sure that he was not only a distinguished person with great reputation, but if I put the challenge to him to show me that he was confident and great enough to win my “match” that he would look me in the eyes, tell me he was, and his voice would back that up.

I did not want to be put in situation where I felt like I was in broadcast booth on the outside looking in at a tennis match, where the likes of Federer, or any other star, would choke a simple backhand down the line on match point because there was too much pressure on him. As tennis journalist, if I have been around a player for years and have spoken to him or her at recent tournaments, I usually get a much more clear idea as to where their head space is at the moment and how competent they are really feeling.

New fans walking into a stadium might not have a clue as to why an all-time great misses a crucial shot at a big moment, but most of us regulars get why. In the case of the surgeon, I did not want to be in similar position going into the OR, wide-eyed and merely hopeful he would make the shot. I wanted to be sure as much as I could that the guy I picked (and of course who allowed me to be his patient) would bring all of his so-called weapons at his disposal the court and use them appropriately.

And that is why I chose Dr. Mitchel Berger out of UCSF, that and because he talked to me like my dad, Dr. William T. Cronin, would have, straight, to the point with no BS and telling me firmly that he will get the job done.

I joked with my tennis journalist friends that I was going to live tweet my operation on Tuesday and would Skype into the Indian Wells WTA All Access Hour on Wednesday to take care of any questions they might want to ask, or just to chat with a player who was not getting enough attention.

Of course that is not going to happen – largely because I don’t want folks looking at me with half-shaved head– but believe when I tell you that if I felt even remotely confident that I could pull it off I would try to make a go of it. That is how much I love being part of sport. For me, being there and telling pro tennis’ true story is what tournament coverage is all about.

I recently came back from a one-week Bucket List trip, the first few days of which I spent with my 21-year-old daughter Cassandra, my soon to be 18- year-old Connor and my 14-year-old daughter Chia. We had some very memorable dinner table conversations about how we view friends and family and their reactions to these types of situations. My kids may already be smarter than me and I sure hope they have 100 times my intelligence level when they reach my age. But I have a bit more experience due to age and been on the other side of some of these situations as a support person. I’m not sure how I really did, but I do know that many of my friends and family have been extraordinarily helpful to me, especially when it comes to listening. In my opinion, there are few folks in one’s general circle who can hand out sound medical advice (fortunately for me I have some people whom I am very close to who are excellent with it), but there are many who can show they really do sincerely care by just hearing you out on anything you want to talk about.

Believe me there were times when I didn’t want to talk about it at all, which is why I did not tell everyone I am or have been close to until now because I have led a long enough life to have gathered a fair amount of important relationships. While I realized that I would like to talk to everyone I hold dear, there were so many other things I had to deal with on a daily basis that it would have been overwhelming to talk to everyone. I did not leave anyone out on purpose, I just needed fair amount of quiet time in my head.

The mother of my children, Patti Orozco, has been extraordinarily helpful and dedicated as have my mother, Joan, my siblings Tami, Mark, Megan and Paul, their spouses and kids, some of Patti’s extended family and my nieces and nephews on that side, as well as my kids, who for the first time have been really faced with one of their parents mortality and have dug deep to try to sort it out. It has been a role switch for them having to pat me on the back this time in an attempt to keep my spirits up. They have been patient, understanding and given their dad as much love as a man could ask for.

There have also been those close friends whom I contacted and are asking me every day how I feel and are super concerned. Those people know who they are. As it was before I would walk through fire for them. After this experience, I think I would roll and crawl through it, too.

Now to the bottom line of what may of you are wondering about: my prognosis. It is unclear now as the type of tumor won’t be identified until the open me up on Tuesday and take its pathology. The good news is that it does not appear to be large and it is close to the side of my head so the removal process will more than likely go OK. It may be benign, it may be malignant, but one way or another as much of it as possible has to be removed. After that, I will have a good idea what type of recovery process I am in for.

Tennis tournament wise … my plan is to be 100% fit and improved by the time the French Open rolls around in mid-May, talking up a storm on Radio RG like nothing ever happened, and showing Serena Williams my head scar like she showed me her foot scars post her pulmonary embolism scare a few Wimbledon’s ago. And then I can write another tennis book, another couple of thousand articles and produce a million tweets.

Lifestyle wise, the day after I return to our property from the hospital, I want to be out in the spring sun again like I was in this picture two years ago, pruning tress, chopping wood and mellowing out in my own distinctive way. It has been a hairy ride the past month, but my life has been good overall and hopefully it will soon get a hell of lot better.

Best,
Matt

15 love: 15 thoughts on the WTA, from the winning Russians, to Bouchard, to Cibulkova

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APavs (right) won her first Premier title at the Paris Indoors

 

Given Maria Sharapova’s physical struggles over the past eight months now, it could be argued that  Ekaterina Makarova has been the most impressive of the Russians over the same period. The lefthander has a lot of game and showed that once again by winning her second WTA title at the PTT Pattaya Open by besting surprise finalist , Karolina Pliskova. In singles (not doubles where she is very solid with Elena Vesnina) she has been more of an upset maker than a dependable top 10-player, but she is headed in the right direction.

Is she better than Anastasia  Pavlyuchenkova, who is her typical fashion had a sterling week that raised eye brows to her overall potential when she won possibly the last edition of the Paris Indoors?  She bested Carla Suarez, Angie Kerber,  Sharapova and then  Sara  Errani 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the final. It was the first time that she was able to overcome three Top 10 players in the same tournament and it was her first Premier-level title and sixth overall. So now what for the hard hitter, who has been through a slew of coaches, has found herself out of shape at times, and has lacked variety. When she is on, like she was this week, her potential is very clear: top 5. The 22 year old has a great base off the ground, a very good serve, is powerful and can be resourceful. Perhaps she is finally ready to make a sustained push, but let’s see her compete at that level for the next three months before we make any serious projection that is sustainable.

Watching Sharapova double fault her way to a loss to Pavlyuchenkova, it’s evident that her right shoulder is not completely healed yet. She will need at least another month if not more, before she is at full strength.

Kerber has had a so-so year and now another notable lefty, Petra Kvitova, has pulled out of Fed Cup with breathing problems. The Czech has not been fully healthy in a good three years. Will she ever be?

Yes,  Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard  is attractive and very good player with clear top-10 potential, but before we anoint her the next marketing dynamo, let’s see her sign some major new deals, OK? She hasn’t penned a big, non-tennis one to date, the market is tough for female athletes to begin with and non-No. 1s or non- Grand Slam winners do not make the big bucks. Sharapova is the only one to make over $20 million off court annually, Serena Williams and Li Na are the only players to make over $12 million off  court, Caroline Wozniacki makes over  $11 million,  Victoria Azarenka makes over $9, and Ana Ivanovic makes over $6. Aga Radwanska makes over $2 million, but she has been a Slam finalist and consistent top-5 player. Bouchard is from a wealthier country than Poland is, but at best this season, unless she wins a major, perhaps she pulls in $1 million off court, not a number to sneeze at, but not a head turning number that would match the business press she is receiving.

Michael Mortensen, who once coached Li, is now coaching Caroline Wozniacki  on a two-month trial basis. That she hasn’t signed him for the rest of the year shows that she doesn’t trust that it will work out. Sympathy with the Dane though, as the word off court is that it was Thomas Hogstedt who decided to stay in South Africa to coach two juniors rather than join her in Dubai. Apparently he has a good reason for doing so, but a busted contract is just that – a broken one.

Readers of this space know that I love Fed and Davis Cups, so I am  disappointed to see Serena and Sloane Stephens not playing for the US unless they are still truly hurt, but if both show up in Doha the week after next we know that is not the case. Azarenka should also be playing for Belarus, but she’s not.

I will give Italy’s top four a pass this time around because they have been so committed to their team for the past five years.

The top 13 Russians who are not hurt and were asked to play should be embarrassed for not competing against Australia. A tradition of greatness, which they have, matters to a country, not just money, especially when the smart and caring Anastasia Myskina is the head coach for that tie.

You have to wonder where Azarenka is headed after failing to defending her Ausralian Open title. Doing it three times in a row is big ask for any player, but she ripped herself for playing stupid in her loss to Radwanska and can get emotionally down on her self. Her play during the next two months on hard courts will be a good indication of whether she can make a serious push at Roland Garros.

Radwanska should not have been loudly complaining about having to play two straight days after her loss to Cibulkova, but had that been a night match and she been given another few hours to rest, the result might have been different.

Regardless, I still see Li Na winning the title, she was playing that well.

Don’t think that Ivanovic was pleased in the least by her performance in her loss to Bouchard. She saw that as a winnable contest.

Simona Halep has clearly improved a lot over the past seven months and has cracked the top 10 for the first time, but she was dreadful in her quarterfinal loss to Cibulkova in the quarters of the Aussie Open. Halep is still lacking super elite confidence.

Now ranked No. 13 Cibulkova only has 280 points to defend through Miami. The Aussie Open finalist doesn’t want to discuss why she hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but she does has an opening to reach her goal in the next two months. She is about 700 points behind No. 10 Halep, so she does have work to do, but she has the game and now apparently the calm head to pull it off.

Picture of the day: Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic win Aussie mixed

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Aussie Open: Stan finally The Man

Stanislas Wawrinka

Wawrinka finally believed enough to pull off a Slam title

MELBOURNE – Eventually, some player was going to take out a member of the Big 4 and win a Grand Slam. It had not occurred since 2009 when Juan Martin Del Potro stunned Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the US Open. Sixteen Slams went by and Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray captured them.

Last year, Stanislas Wawrinka began to rise out of the veteran doldrums, reaching the ATP Finals for the first time, finishing in the final eight and almost upending Djokovic at the Australian and US Opens.

But was unable to win those contests or some other critical ones because he seemed to be missing a little extra oomph and kick on his shots at the end of matches. He seemed to freeze and a Big 4 member shut him down.

But not at this Australian Open. His coach, Magnus Norman, convinced that he was good enough – that he could sting first serves, flat forehands and booming backhands. He overturned his two five-set losses to Djokovic by stopping the Serbian and his 28-match winning streak cold in the quarterfinals. He did not allow big Tomas Berdych to break his serve in the semis, and then in the final, he finally hit through a man whom he came into the match with an 0-12 record against. He came out flying and despite some shaky moments against Rafael Nadal and his bad back, he triumphed 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.

“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now. I never expect to win a Grand Slam,” Wawrinka said. “I never dream about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guy. During the match tonight was important. I talk a lot with Magnus [Norman] who has been in that situation, to play a final. He told me it was important not to think about the result but think about the way you want to play, the way you want to win every point.”

Yes, Nadal’s back began to hurt in the warmup, but the Spaniard hung in there and even though he was below his level he tried to survive, hence his taking of the third set. Wawrinka was nervous then as it’s never easy to play an injured foe because it’s hard to get rhythm or figure out a winning strategy.

Nadal did regain a bit of speed and a smidgen of power in the fourth set which forced Wawrinka to play fairly well again. He admitted that the occasion was huge and he was not completely himself, but he kept battling his own demons and was terrific in the last two games. He ripped a forehand down the line winner to break Nadal to 5-3. Then he held at love to win the crown: he nailed a service winner; put together a clean serve and volley; smacked another service winner wide and then won the contest with a blitzing forehand winner.

“I still think that I’m dreaming,” Wawrinka said. “It’s strange feeling. I saw so many final. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slam because that’s where the best player are playing. Before today for me wasn’t a dream. I never expect to play a final. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. And right now I just did it. And especially the way I was playing all the tournament, it’s for me a big surprise to play that well. To beat Rafa today, even if he was injury, I think I play my best first set during the match; I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak in the quarter, to beat Berdych in semis. That shows me I’m doing the right thing since many years. That if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis.”

Wawrinka became the first guy to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a Grand Slam since Sergi Bruguera did it 1993 Roland Garros when he overcame Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. He became the first No. 8 seed to win a major since the 1980 Australian when Brian took the title.

Nadal was quite upset that he couldn’t bring his best, but he is friends with Wawrinka, called it “Stan’s day” and went on to salute the Swiss: “He was playing amazing. Is very tough to stop him when he’s playing that way. So just congratulate him because he’s playing better and better and he’s playing with amazing confidence, hitting every ball very, very hard, moving himself great. In a court like this one, the court goes quick, the bounces are a little bit lower and quicker than usual, is very difficult when somebody’s hitting every ball very hard and with that confidence to stop him.”

So now Nadal leaves Australia without a coveted 14th Slam title. Federer still owns 17, Djokovic six and Murray two. Del Potro owns one and now so does Wawrinka who at the age of 28 may not be done yet. He owns an attractive game and is a refreshing personality that the tour is glad to have.

 “To win a Slam, to be No. 3, both for me is a big surprise. But I think more to win a Slam. Because in the ranking you can be No. 3 without winning a Slam. But now it’s both happening, so it’s a big surprise. It’s amazing feeling. I saw Roger [Federer] winning so many Grand Slams in the past, so now it’s my turn to win one. If you look the 10 past years, except Del Potro, it’s only the top four guys who was winning all the Grand Slams. So, I will need time to realize what I did in these two weeks. Because at the end, even if Rafa was injury, I think I deserve that Grand Slam because I won against Djokovic, No. 2; I won against Rafa. I did amazing two weeks, and I was playing my best tennis ever.”

Li decided to change and as result, wins first Aussie Open title

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Li was willing to change, and finally saw the fruits of her labor

By Matt Cronin

MELBOURNE – Perhaps Li Na appeared capable of winning her first Grand Slam title in 2011 when she reached the Australian Open final for the first time but she was not, as Kim Clijsters was a better player than she was then and Li was way too inconsistent.

Last year, she came into the Aussie Open final against Victoria Azarenka looking just as good as the Belarussian but fell down twice, hit her head, and was too dizzy to win the three setter.

But this year she came into the final against Dominika Cibulkova as a significant favorite as she was 4-0 against the Slovakian head to head and since she looked shaky and was forced to fight off a  match point versus Lucie Safarova in the third round, she played lights out. She wasted Ekaterina Makarova, plastered Flavia Pennetta, and put down Genie Bouchard to reach the final. Under her coach of a year and half, Carlo Rodriguez, she has fiddled with  her service motion and her backhand –which has always been her biggest weapon –added a  more topspin to her forehand and developed a net game. At the age of 31 she is a better all around player than she was in 2011 and that’s what she showed Dominica Cibulkova in her 7-6 (3) 6-0 victory to win her first Australian Open title.

She was willing to change, to take risks, because she suspected that was the only way she could go higher.

“The choice always right, because if I really want to prove myself, I have to change something, otherwise I will stay the same level forever,” the 31-year-old said.

Li certainly had hiccups in the first set as her forehand went off for significant periods. She could feel the pressure of being the favorite and was concerned that the fast Slovak would run everything down. But when she was under control, Li crushed hard  groundstrokes deep, and at sharp angles. Her serve has more margin now and she can still keep her focus even when her level is up and down. Her forehand can be fragile, but she kept trying to swing through it.

Li served for the first set at 6-5, missed a make-able backhand down the line on set point, and then saw Cibulkova break back to 6-6 with hard backhand crosscourt and bellow out her trademark cry, Pome!

The result of the tiebreaker essentially determined the outcome of match. Li ripped three winners to gain a 3-1 lead and kept pushing Cibulkova back. At 5-3, it was the Slovakian who grew tense, and she committed two backhand errors that in a small event she would have handled easily. Li won the tiebreak and began to fill up with joy.

“It’s like after if you win a very tight first set, you think, ‘Okay, already one set in the pocket,’ ” Li said. “Like feeling one feet already touching in trophy.  So, yeah, of course if you have one set in pocket, second set you can play more aggressive, attack her.”

After that, Li put her nerves outside and dictated nearly every point. She was incredibly focused and lethal.

“Maybe you guys didn’t realize how hard I worked mentally to win this,” Li said later.

Cibulkova, who reached her first Grand Slam final, had the best major of her life, but she realizes she couldn’t bring her best on the day. She appeared more self-assured in besting Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska, but did not play aggressive enough in the final. The 24-year-old hopes to learn from the experience and be back in the same position again.

“These were just the most fantastic two weeks of my life and I think I’m going to cry,” she said. “It was my first Grand Slam final and I’m just proud with the way I handle it. I just went on the court.  I wanted to play my best tennis.  It wasn’t easy against her because she was playing extremely well. .. When you play a Grand Slam finals, it’s a big step.  I’m ready to take it.  I was waiting for this for a long time.  Now I want to do 100% to keep it up.”

The title was Li’s  second Grand Slam title after winning the 2011 French Open and she said it’s even more special.

“I prepare this one for already two weeks,” she said.  Every round, every day I was think about what I should do. I prepare if I play semis what I should do, if I play final what I should do, because I already have twice in the final up here.  Also in the French I was feeling I just go for it.  I didn’t think about win or lose.  But this one, I really wish I can doing well.”

When the rankings are released on Monday she will be close to the No. 2 spot. She is a long way from passing Serena Williams for No.1 but has a chance to catch her at the end of the year. Her coach, Rodriguez, was able to led Justine Henin past Serena for the No.1 ranking. Perhaps he will be able to do that with Li too. First up, she will take aim at Wimbledon and the US Open. It would be even more impressive to see her go around the block at the Slams.

“Of course is very easy to say I want to win another one,” Li said.  “But I think if you are tennis athlete, you have to know how much working have to be done for only to win the Grand Slam.  So of course if I want to win another one or two, I have to go back to court hard-working and also even more tough than before, otherwise no chance.”

Picture of the day: Li Na hopes 3 times in the charm in Aussie Open final

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Bob & Weave: Nadal withstands Federer blitz before throwing knockout punch

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Nadal is now 23-10 vs Federer and is 12-0 vs final round foe Wawrinka

 

By Matt Cronin

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal says that he gets more emotional for his matches against Roger Federer than against any other player, which is not surprising given that when the Spaniard arrived on the scene that the Swiss was the tour’s dominant competitor and looked unstoppable when he was on.

But since the 2008 Wimbledon final, when Nadal stopped Federer in home away from home, the lefthander has seized control of the rivalry and could soon be blessed with the description of the Greatest Of All Time [GOAT]. In Nadal’s 7-6 6-3 6-2 victory over the Swiss in the 2014 Australian Open  semifinals, he sure looked like he’s ready to contender for that moniker.

Federer played fairly well during the semifinal, but still couldn’t get over the hump as Nadal simply waited out his George Foreman-like barrage early on like Muhammad Ali did against the slugger during the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’ Federer threw everything he had at Nadal: huge serves, forehands, net rushes – even flat one-handed backhand as hard as he could strike them. But what he could not do was return serve consistently well enough and could not manage to get a break point on Nadal’s serves. While Federer’s whirlwind attack was eye-popping at times and had fans on their feet, Nadal was very consistent and counterpunched with authority. He moved quickly, kept his groundstrokes deep and worked the points as hard and long as he could.

He decided upon that strategy because  this is what he knew going into the match after watching the tape of their 2012 Australian semifinal in the morning: that Federer would whale away early and as long as Nadal didn’t get down on himself, eventually Federer would begin to punch himself out and then Nadal would be able to throw big  body blows of his own when the openings were there and eventually score a knockout.

Federer badly needed to win the first set in order to give himself a chance at victory. He had not dropped the first set against Nadal and come back to win the match since 2007 Hamburg so the odds were clearly against him.

Federer had chance in the tiebreaker after Nadal committed three straight unforced errors and the Swiss drew back to 4-5, but then the Spaniard stung an inside out forehand winner and Federer missed a backhand down the line. The tiebreaker was in Nadal’s pocket at 7-4 and for all intents and purposes, so was the match, as  Nadal’s two-handed backhand stood up better against Federer’s forehand than the Swiss’ one-handed backhand stood up against Nadal’s forehand. As the match grew older, Federer had a hard time hitting perfect enough approach shots and Nadal consistently passed him. Federer also could not get enough significant returns into play as Nadal’s blistered hand had improved and he had wicked spin and kick on his favored serves. Simply put, Nadal’s left hook was more powerful and effective that Federer’s right-handed cross.

‘The important thing for me is serve well, resist the beginning,” Nadal said. “I know he will try to go on court going for the winners, taking the ball very early.  So when the match is coming and the match is longer, then that’s more difficult.  Because physically is very difficult for me, for him, for everybody to play with that intensity of trying to play that aggressive during a few hours, no, because mentally and physically is very tough. So when the match is going on, I know that I will have the chance to hit a little bit more rallies.  That’s the position that I want to be.  So is very important to resist the score at the beginning.”

Nadal’s record versus Federer now stands at  23-10.  He is one victory away from his second  Australian Open title, and if he manages to best Stan Wawrinka in the final, he will become the only man in the Open Era to win each major twice – which is glorified Rod Laver territory.

He may or may not go down in history as the GOAT, but with his record against Federer —  whom most people currently consider the GOAT — he will likely have something to say about it if he wins another couple of majors.

But that is a discussion for another day, as Nadal still has to best the red-hot Stan Wawrinka for the title, whom he has a 12-0 head to head record against  and whom he has never dropped a set to. The other Swiss – whom by the way will pass Federer when the rankings are released next week – has been tagging his one-handed backhand and been serving huge, but can he actually get over on Nadal if the Spaniard is playing his best? That is extremely doubtful  as Nadal is No.1 for a reason – he has been at higher level than anyone else at the majors during the past year.

However, Wawrinka did manage to upend the seemingly unbeatable Novak Djokovic in the quarters so that has to give him some belief that he can turn his rivalry around against Nadal, at least on one night. The odds are stacked firmly against him, but he will give it a go. His coach of more than year, Magnus Norman, has impressed upon him that he should try to be relaxed and at the same time go for his shots. He is going to attempt to keep his poor record against Nadal out of his head.

I don’t care about having lost 14 times,” he said. But it’s more about playing Rafa.  He’s the No. 1, the best player.  His game is quite tough for me, especially with one‑hand backhand.  But I did some good match last year against him, close one.  I find few things that I will try tomorrow. I’m playing my best tennis here; physically I’m ready.  I had two days off, so that’s perfect for me before final.  Going to try everything.  Before to beat Djokovic was the same.  I was losing 13, 14 times before that. Just the fact that I’m always trying and I always think that I can change all the statistic, that’s positive.”

 

 

 

TR Retro: Collateral Damage: Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer in 2009 Aussie Open final

Rafa put a dent in Federer’s GOAT label.

EDITOR’S NOTE: JUST AHEAD OF RAFAEL NADAL AND ROGER FEDERER’S 33RD MEETING, THIS ONE IN  THE 2014 AUSSIE OPEN SEMIFINALS, WE BRING YOU WHAT HAPPENED ON A FAMOUS NIGHT IN 2009, WHEN THE SPANIARD WONA CLASSIC CLASH AND HIS FIRST SLAM CROWN ON A HARD COURT.

MELBOURNE – The so-called soon to be greatest player ever was out-fought by his most significant rival again, putting a long pause in the discussion of Roger Federer’s place in the history.

In a truly remarkable and gutsy performance, Rafael Nadal shook down Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday, grabbing his sixth Grand Slam title and becoming the first man since Andre Agassi in 1999 to win majors on three different surfaces.

“It’s a dream win here, one Grand Slam on hard court,” said Nadal, the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open. “I worked very hard all my life to improve the tennis outside of clay. I’m very happy for the title. Today was really lot of emotions on court.”

For the fifth straight time, the 22-year-old Spaniard proved that he has become a mentally stronger and physically more resilient player than Federer, beating down the normally cool-handed Swiss when the hours grew long and moments became tenser.

“There’s huge collateral damage from this match,” said the Tennis Channel’s Justin Gimelstob. “Now he’s beaten him on grass, clay and hard and there’s no barrier that hasn’t been broken. Hardcourts is the most fair surface and there are harsh realities to be dealt with.”

For all the talk of Federer’s automatic ascension to the accolade of the greatest of all time, it has been the much-improved Nadal who has been the more ambitious and resourceful player over the past 13 months.

“Roger can’t be called the greatest ever yet,” said US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe.

Since June, Nadal has won three of the last four majors as well as the Olympic gold medal. He torched Federer in the 2008 French Open final for his fourth straight Roland Garros crown, stopped Federer’s five title Wimbledon streak in a five set classic for his first major on clay and then on Sunday, won his first major on the surface that has troubled himself the most, hard courts, by contesting a near perfect fifth set, committing only two unforced errors to 14 from his worn down foe.

Other legends, such as John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg, have won marathon semifinals and went on to win Grand Slam finals, but Nadal’s feat, a 5 hour and 14 minute marathon victory over the red hot Fernando Verdasco in the semis, followed up by a 4 hour and 23 minute win over Federer, who went into the last day with a 8-0 record in hard court major finals, owns a special place in the record books.

“It was the greatest physical achievement in the history of tennis, said Gimelstob.” People talk about Wimbledon because of the drama, but you take the level of players and that the surface is so equitable, it was the greatest tennis shotmaking ever. There has never been anything close to that, how they challenged each other to come up with great stuff, until the beginning of the fifth set when there was huge depreciation Federer’s side. It was sick.”

Given that he had worn down at the hard court Slams before and was had trouble knocking off offensive players at the Australian Open and US Opens in years prior (think Gonzalez, Tsonga, Murray), the left-handed Nadal still needed to show that he could successfully combine a defensive and offense posture and find a winning formula on hardcourts. While his base is much the same — kick and slice serves into his foes’ backhands, hammer away with his huge forehand and use his legs to run down even the most impossible balls — his improvements are obvious. His slapping two handed backhand has become more powerful, he’s more sure handed at the net, he changes the direction of his groundstrokes more intelligently, and his one handed slice has improved, as has his use of drop shots.

While on the outside, it appeared that Nadal might not pull up fresh and healthy for the final, on Saturday, his camp and those members of the Spanish press who follow him closely had little doubt that he would arrive on court doing same boxer’s split steps that he has done throughout his career.

To him , Nadal is a Toro, with a capital T.

He gored through Federer in the first set, poking holes in his backhand with slice serves and hooking forehands.

The Swiss showed his champion’s heart in the second set, steeping more gamely into his backhand and mixing up the pace and angles of his groundstrokes.

In the third set, there was a little reason for doubt, when a after the seventh game and at up 4-3, Nadal called for the trainer to have his right leg massaged as he was no longer getting a good enough push off that leg, the one which allows him to crush two -handed backhand from an open stance. But it loosened up again and he found the vast fathomless inner reserve where his hellfire’s burn deep.

He dug in his pitchfork and once again struck.

He fought off six break points in his next two service games, three with ball-bursting groundstrokes.

In the tiebreaker, a nervous Federer played sloppy, while Nadal shot off some multi-colored fireworks. At 5-3, in rousing end-to-end rally, he stretched out for a rocket Federer crosscourt forehand and kissed a low backhand volley crosscourt for the winner. A stunned Fed then double faulted to lose the set

“Rafa believes in a different level than Federer does,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier. “I think Federer only believes in that level against other players.”

The Swiss would not go away quietly and once again showed his champions heart and lungs, winning the fourth set by punishing himself to fly more quickly to the ball, to make better use of his forehand and not to shy way from the net, even though Nadal was crushing hard to handle passing shots.

It was assumed by his large amount of supporters at Laver Arena that Federer would once again rise to occasion, or at least bring the battle to the highest mountaintop and perish taking one last heroic swing at the edge of the cliff.

But he did not and in the first time off clay, he completely folded, playing a soft, directionless set where he was broken to 3-1 on three consecutive unforced errors and was broken again to lose the match on an oddly missed forehand.

Nadal soaked in the applause while later, when accepting the runner-up trophy, Federer cried a good three minutes and then cried again going into the locker room.

“God, it’s killing me,” he said to the crowd.

It sure must be. Federer has sunk deep into the spongy clay at Roland Garros after being smashed by Nadal, but he had never been so thoroughly beaten in a final set in major off dirt.

“Roger basically folded in the fifth,” McEnroe said. “He succumbed to the pressure. Chasing the record 14 is tough and obviously the guy in his head. It’s going to be difficult for Roger to come back from this.”

McEnroe believes that Federer plays Nadal all wrong, that he could make simple tactical adjustments that would allow him to grab victories rather than play on the Spaniard’s terms. Federer does not do enough in his return games, rarely attempting to step around and hit forehands and allowing Nadal to go into his backhand 90 percent of the time with his serves, even when those serves aren’t always of the high qualities.

“He needs a coach,” McEnroe said. “He’s never had to adjust to something because he’s been so talented he could go out there and figure it out. All of sudden he’s playing guy he can’t do it against. He’s so stubborn.”

Federer still sits one Grand Slam title from tying Pete Sampras’ all time Grand Slam mark of 14 majors, and as motivated and as talented as he is, it’s hard to think that he won’t break the record.

“I love this game.,” Federer said. “It means the world to me, so it hurts when you lose.”

But even if he does do it this year, Sampras will retain one major edge over him — that he owned winning records against his greatest rivals. Federer, who is now 6-13 against Nadal, cannot claim that very important distinction.

“It’s a huge tipping point in the greatest-ever debate,” said Gimelstob. ” I think Roger will surpass Pete, but if Nadal plays 6-10 more years, there’s endless opportunities for him to rewrite the record books. I don’t care how far Federer goes over Sampras, Nadal is still a threat. It all depends on his body. He’s getting better and he’s a physical beast. There’s no one comparable.”