The men’s grade, from AO: Djokovic was way up, Rafa way down

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The 2006 Australian Open


Novak Djokovic

The No. 1 came in as a heavy favorite at the AO and with the exception against Gilles Simon in the fourth round, when he needed to push in the fifth set, he absolutely nailed against three fine folks: Kei Nishikori, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. There are no holes. He is relentless, he can smack side-to-side and the minute he can go forward, he puts it away.

He owns 11 Grand Slams now, and given that he has won four out of the last five majors, in 2016, he will be seriously driven to win his first crown at Roland Garros. If he manages that, he will have a legitimate shot to win all four Slams. If he does, he’d be tied with Pete Sampras with 14 Slams. Wow!


Milos Raonic

The Canadian has improved so much in the past month: his backhand, his return, his aggression and his volley. Given that his huge serve and massive forehands, he was very close of reaching the final. He out-punched Stan Wawrinka, he smoked Gael Monfils and in the semis against Andy Murray, he was up two sets to one, but he hurt himself and then he dropped significantly, losing in five sets. Before the year started the 25-year-old said he will win a major this year. I bet he is right.


Andy Murray

Even though Murray has lost four times against Djokovic in the Aussie Open finals, still, he fought hard and there were times when he looked pretty close. Still, his serve has improved a little bit and he is very comfortable at the net. He can use tactics to his advantage and he understands what he has to do. However, Djokovic is flat-out better than he is, especially with his forehand and maybe his famous backhand, too. Murray has to realize that.

Roger Federer

The all-time great (well, very close, at least) played beautiful tennis until he faced Djokovic, who destroyed him for the first two sets, battled in the third set, and in the fourth set he couldn’t figure it out. In some ways the 34-year-old has improved in the last couple of years, but otherwise he is declining physical. It happens to every one eventually.

Gilles Simon

When the Frenchman is locked in, he is incredibly consistent and smart, dragging Djokovic into their fifth set. He played terrific, until the end, when he backed off.


Tomas Berdych

The Czech scored two significant wins over Nick Kyrgios and Robert Bautista Agut and he looked very driven, but against Federer, he didn’t know which way to go. If he is ever going to reach a Grand Slam final again, he must find some more strengths and reduced mistakes.

Kei Nishikori

Yes, Nishikori played fairly well until he reached quarters, smacking Jo Tsonga. But, against Djokovic, it was very clear that he has a lot of work to do if he ever is going to wins a major title some day.

Bernard Tomic

The Aussie was very controlled in the first three matches, and he was somewhat close against Murray, but he lost in three sets. He has always played pretty well in Australia, but for the rest of the year? Hmmm. He has to prove it.

David Goffin

The Belgian danced around when he bested the rising Dominic Thiem in four sets. However, Federer tore him apart.

Robert Bautista Agut

Nice to see the veteran Spaniard to reach the fourth round for the first time. Does he actually like the hard courts now?

Jo Tsonga

Jo appears ready to go once again as he was hurt during the fall. He reached the fourth round before Nishikori dusted him, but at least he can reach the top 5 again. However, the clock is ticking.

Gael Monfils

Like Tsonga, he is always hurt, but at least he reached the quarters, beating the Russian Andrey Kuznetov before Raonic hit the heck out of him.

David Ferrer

Good for the Spaniard, who reached the quarter once again, needing three hours before he fell against Murray. He always tries, but maybe the 33-year-old can serve and volley once in a while?


Stan Wawrinka

Coming in, it was Stan the Man who had a legitimate chance to win the tournament again. However, he was a bit sick and, against Raonic, he was a little off. Next year.

Nick Kyrgios

The 20-year-old won a couple matches and, at times, he was very flashy and skillful when he fell in four sets versus Berdych. Give him more time.

Grigor Dimitrov

Some think that the Bulgarian didn’t play well in Australia, but that is wrong as he almost won Sydney. But, he lost in Brisbane and the AO against Federer, in two fairly tight matches. Good enough for now.

John Isner

Big John scored a huge win over Feliciano Lopez who has always gave him a lot of trouble, but he could not figure out what to do when he faced Ferrer in the fourth round. Ranked No. 11, he has to continue to improve significantly if he is ever going to reach the top 5.


Steve Johnson

The USC standout has improved every year and reached the third round, so maybe soon he can reach the second week this season.


Fernando Verdasco

There is no doubt that Verdasco played amazingly well to upset Rafa Nadal in five sets in the first round. However, he lost in the next round, which mean he was unable to go deep at all.

Jack Sock

The rising Sock came through in the first round against the very good 18-year-old Taylor Fritz in five sets, but then he went down against Lukas Rosol in the second round. Yes, he had been sick, but he had a really chance to go deep. Next time?


Marin Cilic

The 2014 US Open champion have said that he can reach the top 5 in 2016. He didn’t reach in the second week. I am waiting …


Rafael Nadal

It is impossible to know why he lost in the first round against Verdasco, given since October he had beat everyone with the exception of Djokovic. He wasn’t aggressive enough. He simply cannot do that anymore or he will never win another Slam.

Benoit Paire

The Frenchman had a fine 2015, but then he was totally shocked against the young American Noah Rubin.

The Aussie women final: Does Kerber have a chance vs Serena?




Let’s think of some positives of Angie Kerber, even though she is a serious underdog against Serena Williams in the final at the Australian Open. While the German has only beaten her once, back in 2012 Cincinnati, she wasn’t afraid, she went for it and Serena was a little out of it.

Head to head, Serena is 5-1 versus Kerber, but the last time they played in the final at 2014 Stanford, it was pretty close, with Serena winning 7-6 6-3. Kerber has become extremely nervous at the majors, but at the other tournaments, she can dig in and go side to side until she cracks them.

Kerber has never reached the Grand Slam final before, so when she walks on court, her head could start swimming around. She says that she knows that she is the underdog and she knows that, so she needs to start very quickly and rapidly. She realizes that Serena is far better when she is crushing her first serve, so anytime Williams needs to make a second serve, Kerber has to swing as hard as she can and nail it very deep.

On the baseline and between their strokes, they are pretty close, but even though the German is very strong, she isn’t quite as powerful with her forehand. The second that Serena sees the ball is coming up short, she will pounce on it. Sure, Kerber can play forever, and she loves to engage long rallies, but Serena isn’t going to want to wait from way behind the back. Once Serena has an opportunity to strike, she will judge on it.

Kerber can hit down the line and go crosscourt very smartly. She might be a little faster, but so what? Kerber has to nail big serves and returns, but against the American, she will overpowering her.

Let us hope that Kerber plays fantastic so the match will be thrilling, but Serena is flat out better and she has been playing well during the entire fortnight. Serena will win in her 22nd major, tying the great Steffi Graf. Serena is also great, too


Here we go again: Can Federer stop Djokovic at Aussie Open?

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Novak Djokovic is the world’s best player everywhere he goes, so despite the fact that the 17-time Grand Slam Roger Federer can beat anyone on a great day, that does not mean that he has been able to stop the Serbian on the hard courts at a Slam since 2009. Yes, since that time, Federer has beaten Djokovic numerous times at various tournaments in two-out-of-three on the hard courts, but that is not the same of three-out-of-five sets.

At the 2009 US Open semifinal at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, when Djokovic was still learning to play, Federer raced around on the somewhat slick surface and won 7-6 7-5 7-5. But in 2010, Djokovic knocked him out in a classic semifinal at the US Open, fighting back a match point with a huge forehand to win 7-5 in the fifth. At the 2011 Australian Open on the hard courts once again, Djokovic out-schooled him 7-6 7-5 6-4. At the 2011 US Open, they did the exactly same thing, running past Federer 7-5 in the fifth. The Swiss was fairly upset, to say the least.

After that, they faced off plenty of times, on the clay, on the grass and on the hard courts, but it wasn’t until the 2016 US Open final, when they finally would clash on the beloved hard courts. Federer had just beaten Djokovic in the Cincinnati final in the two-out-of-three. In New York, Federer was ready to dance, but oops, he went down again, this time in four sets. In three-out-of-five, you cannot hide.

It is raining outside, which means on Thursday night, the roof will be closed and the court will be a bit slower – unless the sun come out and the roof will be opened up. Is Djokovic a little faster? Yes, the 28-year-old is a little quicker than the 34-year-old, so when he’s stretched way out, he still manages to dig it out and find with lines, even when Federer has already attacked the net. Djokovic has significantly improved his forehand and serve over the years, but Federer has improved, too, and he certainly can out-hit him forehand to forehand. But then again, the two-hand backhand Serbian can blow him apart corner to corner.

On the serve, both of them can dominate the box, going wide, into the chest, or on the T. Federer has so many different types of shots: he can chop his backhand, he can roll it over, and he can flat it out. While Djokovic is steadier with his forehand and his backhand, he can twist it around: he can spin heavily, he can move forward like lightning, and he doesn’t mind to chuck in a few drop shots.

Without a doubt, many people are thinking that if Federer goes into the net, that he can unearth Djokovic. But in the 2015 US Open final, the Swiss was unable to go to the net all the time and bother him. Djokovic knew that he was coming and he passed time and time again. It was a fine idea from Federer, but he could trouble him.

That is what will occur tonight on Thursday on Rod Laver. Yes, Federer has played extremely well in the last 10 days, but this is an entire different match up. They have played each other 44 times, which is incredible, and they are locked 22-22. The No.1 Djokovic was pretty shaky to over come Gilles Simon in five sets. He was not perfect in defeating Kei Nishikori, but he was very smart and he did. Now, he is ready to jump on Federer. While Federer will change his tactics a little bit, it is not going to radically change on a hard court it the Australian Open. Djokovic believes he is in control and he will win in four sets.

Close ones: Murray vs. Ferrer, Raonic vs Monfils, Vika vs. Angie

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Can the Spaniard really bother the Brit if he manages to serve big and jump on his returns? Maybe, but even if he does, how is he going to wear him down? Years ago, Ferrer did, as he could run side to side, pushed him back for hours, and Murray became frustrated. Instead of being patient, he could be wild. But over the past few years, Murray improved overall. His forehand is stronger, especially when he goes down the line. His brilliant backhand is so sharp and he can smack it were ever he want to. Ferrer can’t find a way to crack him, and now he has become anxious.

Both the veterans know each other well, with Murray having beaten him 15 times, and Ferrer has won six times. According to Murray, he has found out that Ferrer has recently changed his racket and now he can hit even harder. Perhaps he is, but that doesn’t mean he can out–hit him, as Murray has looked fantastic since he arrived here last week. Murray will win in the four sets.


Monfils’ right arm must be busted up after he dove to the right to try to hit a forehand and fell hard into the court. He said that he could have broken it, but it didn’t. However, he is likely pretty sore and while he can leap around and crush his first serve and forehand, he can be erratic and he has never gone deep at the Aussie Open. However, the 29-year-old Frenchman has beaten Raonic twice and, while it was a while ago, at least he will think he can sting him. On Rod Laver, he can smile and grin and have the fans join him in a fun match.

However, Raonic has played extremely well since he started this year in Brisbane. He knocked out Roger Federer in the final, and here, when Stan Wawrinka was trying to trick him, he decided to be more aggressive in his serve, returns and net game. Monfils can sit way back and punch the ball around, but Raonic has no intention to engage in long rallies. He will swing early and often and the Canadian will win in straight sets.


Do we have to see this again? In two-and-a-half weeks ago in the final of Brisbane, Azarenka beat the heck out of Kerber 6-3 6-1. The first set wasn’t bad, but after that, Azarenka whacked her. She has never lost against Kerber, who she has beaten six times, and the reason is because her serve is substantially better. In big matches, she can get right into her face and the German backs off.

Look, Kerber is an excellent player when she is feeling fantastic mentally and outside her so-so serve (and it can be very, very bad), she can handle anyone. She is a super fast, she doesn’t get tired and she can paste her forehand and backhand. At the 2015 US Open, Kerber was very close of upsetting Azarenka, but lost 6-4 in the third. Azarenka was pretty vulnerable then but now, the former two-time Aussie champion is on fire and hasn’t lost a set. She will be ultra aggressive and come to the net whenever she can. Azarenka will win in two sets.


What a shocker that they both reached the quarters. Who would have think it? Konta has played extremely well over the past six months; while Shang has lost time and time again. She said that she was ready to retire, but then she qualified and began ripping the ball from everywhere. It’s a true pic-em. I will take Zhang, largely because she knocked a series of fine players (even if they were hurt) such as Simone Halep, Alize Cornet, Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys. Zhang Zhang will win in three very tough sets.

Top men still winning, Nishikori to face Tsonga in classic match

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN, JAN. 23, 2016 – In a flash amongst the men, most of the young males were gone. At the WTA, a number of top competitors left quickly, but on Friday, the elder ATP folks look very good, and very intelligent.

The somewhat unbeatable Novak Djokovic dusted Andreas Seppi. 6-1 7-5 7-6(6) and he will face the savvy Gilles Simon who crushed Federico Delbonis 6-3 6-2 6-1. These two have faced off 10 times, with the Frenchman winning the first time they played, in 2008 Marseille, but after that, the Serbian got better and better and gained experience. Simon can be fast, he can be powerful and he can cagey, but is he strong enough to out-him? That is doubtful, given that the No. 1 may not be having a great day, and still, he’s winning just about every single set.

“You try to keep it very simple. When the tough gets going, you try to dig out what’s in you,” Djokovic said.

It looked like Kei Nishikori was hurt again – and really, he gets hurt all the time – but he turned it around. He didn’t think his sore wrist was bothering him and he looked terrific to win it 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-4 over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Now he has to face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,who beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4 7-6(7) 7-6(4). That will be a huge match, considering that Tsonga overcame Nishikori in five sets in the quarters at the 2015 Roland Garros. The Japanese journos are still talking about it because Kei was right there. He freezed up. Now he has another gigantic chance. If he doesn’t immediately attack, then the Frenchman will climb on top and beat him down. It’s time for the 25-year-old to step up and not hesitate.

In a sense it was too bad that Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t manage to claw into the fifth set against the great Roger Federer. But it wasn’t to be. Over the past three weeks, Dimitrov has played a little better, but not enough, as the Swiss is much more consistent, his serve is superior and on court he is smarter, too. Federer took it 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4 and later said that the younger players aren’t patient enough. Dimitrov is 24 years old now so his time is now, but as Federer said, the teenagers have a long way to go.

“Talent takes you only so far. But the rest of it is you have to teach it to yourself and learn it, get it right,” Federer said. “You got to be patient. Can’t expect to win Slams at 16, 17, 18 any more these days, skyrocket through the rankings, unless you’re out of this world.”

Federer will go up against David Goffin, who skipped around and bested Dominic Thiem in four sets. Goffin will have a great time running around and try to mix up his attack, but he isn’t strong enough to topple the creative Federer.

It sure looks like Federer will reach to the semis, assuming he’s shocked by the Belgium, but it’s likely that he will go up against the well-known Tomas Berdych. The tall Czech played very well and he was composed to beat Nick Kyrgios 6-3 6-4 1-6 6-4. The 20-year-old was disappointing because he really thought he was ready to go far at the Slam, but he didn’t. Kyrgios is tall, athletic and he is reasonably intelligent, but he still has to be more on top of the ball. He can belt his first serves, but his second serve can be so-so and his return can be spotty. But if he continues to work Kyrgios will get better and better. Look at the 30-year-old Berdych now: he is not just blasting away, but he will be patient until he can set up the right way and then blast it. That is exactly what the Aussie needs to do.

Berdych didn’t have a terrific 2015, but maybe he is ready to finally win a major. He will face the red-hot Roberto Bautista Agut, who upset Marin Cilic 6-4 7-6(5) 7-5.

On Saturday in the bottom half, all the bigger seeds won, including Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, David Ferrer, John Isner, Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils. Wawrinka will face Raonic, with the Swiss having beaten him all four times they have played. Ferrer has beaten Isner six out of seven times. Clearly, they are both the underdogs, but at this point they need to win right now. Ferrer has been around forever as he is still very good and never backs off. Wawrinka, who has now won two Slams, has been substantially better over the past three years. If either Isner or Raonic don’t change it up, they will lose. If they give them a few tricks, then maybe they can unearth them.

Monfils has been out hurt seemingly forever, but now the Frenchman is back and when he is happy and feeling good. When healthy, he can be phenomenal. He will face the Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, who looked driven and beat Dudi Sela 7-5 3-6 6-1 7-6(4).

Federer says Big 4 still there; admires Lleyton Hewitt



AUSTRALIAN OPEN, January 20, 2016 – Admittedly, Novak Djokovic had a tremendous year in 2015. He won 11 titles, including three majors, grabbing the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. He beat the rest of the so-called Big Boy-plus 1: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Federer has won 17 Grand Slams and Nadal has won 14 majors. Djokovic ‘only’ has won 10 Grand Slams. Both Murray and Wawrinka have won two Grand Slams, which is pretty good, too. Some think that the Big 4 plus 1 might have begun to disappear because in 2015, no one could handle Djokovic for the most part.

However, Federer said that for sure Djokovic had a tremendous year, but that doesn’t mean that the other elite competitors are getting blown out all of the time. Recall that in 2004, Federer won three Slams. In 2010, Nadal won three majors that year, too. Neither of then went undefeated. So while everyone is bowing down for Djokovic, he did lose a few contests

“If you’re looking at his season, he was the most dominant player by far last year,” said Federer, who took out Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3 7-5 6-1 in the second round. “Then, if you look at just who won the Slams and the Masters 1000s, doesn’t hold truth, because Stan won the French [he beat Djokovic in the final]. Nobody else won a Slam other than him and Novak. So it completely depends on how you look at it. Who’s had the most success? The top five guys really, with Stan, Murray, myself, Novak and Rafa.

“Now the rankings are back to more normal again after Rafa’s worked his way back up. I don’t think Rafa, myself, we personally look at the rankings very much, check it out all the time, care too much, to be quite honest, after being world No. 1. I understand some people do. It’s helpful in the seedings at times. But for us to lose quarter, semis, finals, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a loss, because we’re looking at higher goals, Rafa and myself. Same as Novak. I still think the same guys are playing very well. But Novak deserves like a little star next to his name right now because he’s been doing extremely well. Same for Stan really. Hasn’t been said, he’s won Slams the last couple seasons [he won the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open] and he’s going into a third season where he’s maybe going to win a Slam.”

Federer is now 34 years old, just like the Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, who will retire after the tournament is over. They began playing each other in 1998, when they were still juniors. Within a flash, Hewitt was given a wild card in his own town, Adelaide, and he won the title. Federer and Hewitt were supposed to play doubles in the juniors at the Australian Open, but instead, Hewitt was given another wild card, this time in the pros.

“He dumped me,” Federer said with a laugh.

For the next five years, Hewitt pretty much had him, winning seven contests and losing two matches. The small yet feisty Aussie beat Federer on carpet, grass and hard courts. But, by 2004, Federer had risen. He had finally figured him out. They had yet to face off in the majors, but this time, Federer and Hewitt went at each other in the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Federer was completely in control. He understood exactly how he should play Hewitt. The Swiss beat the Aussie 15 matches in a row, until 2010, when Hewitt finally upset him on grass in Halle. In 2014, Hewitt was absolutely thrilled, upending Federer in the final in Brisbane. The only time they had played against each other in Australia was in the Davis Cup in 2003, when the two-time Grand Slam champion Hewitt came back down two sets on grass. Both of them still clearly recalls what occurred.

It would be stunning if they can meet in the final of the 2016 Australian Open. They are in opposite draws and Hewitt hasn’t played the singles since the US Open.

But both have said they will watch each other’s matches during the tournament. They admire each other quite well.

“We always got along well. It was sometimes feisty on the court, but it was always respectful,” Federer said. “I always admired his work ethic, his on-court fighting spirit, even though it annoyed me sometimes because in the beginning it was more crazy than now. Until I found myself as well on the court, took me a while, but it was more because of me, not because of him, I’d say. Lleyton made me figure out my game and made me definitely a better player. I enjoyed the battles with him. I wish him well here.”


Hewitt will face David Ferrer in the second round on Rod Laver. The Aussie is the underdog, but if he is healthy, they can exchange long rallies all night long.

Federer will go up against Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. The two just played in Brisbane, with Federer playing a little smart and he won it in three tight sets. The only way that Dimitrov can win is to move forward, takes some risks and he cannot back off. The Bulgarian looks a little bit better after a tough year. Last week in Sydney, he reached the final, he held a match point versus Victor Troicki, he came up the net, he had an easy forehand down the line and he dumped it. He lost and he was crushed. Can he stun Federer? Possibly, but if he has a match-point, he cannot hesitate.

Here are two excellent third-round matches: Tomas Berdych vs. Nick Kyrgios and David Goffin vs. Dominic Thiem.

The Australian Open 2016 Draw: Can anyone upset Djokovic?





Novak Djokovic is a heavy favorite, essentially dominating the hard courts. He has won the Aussie Open five times, having won in 2015 over Andy Murray in the final. Last year on the hard courts outdoors, he also won Indian Wells, Miami, the US Open, Beijing and Shanghai. Last week, he won Doha, destroying Rafa Nadal. Can anyone touch him? Probably not, but eventually, everyone can lose.

Djokovic will face the rising Hyeon Chung in the first round, which could be interesting, but Novak has much more experience. He should face Ivan Dodig, who can grind you, but he is simply stronger. He should thrash Andreas Seppi in R3, and in the R4, throw in Gilles Simon, who can be cagey, but he can’t out hit him. In the quarters, he will likely face Kei Nishikori, but the Japanese could go down against Benoit Paire, who beat him Tokyo. Jo Tsonga is around ,but he hasn’t done anything lately. Djokovic will clash against Nishikori and he realizes that if he wants to win a major for the first time, he really has to go for it and make sure not to get hurt. Djokovic will outlast him in five dramatic sets.

SEMIFINAL: Djokovic.


Nishikori vs. Philip Kohlschreiber with the German loves to slug.


Roger Federer could face Grigor Dimitrov in the 3rd round, which it will certainly be a tremendous match, assuming that they get there. The Swiss loves variety and he will get that, likely playing Alexandr Dolgopolov in R2. Dolgopolov loves to slice and mix it up, but Federer has a bigger forehand and serve. Then he should play Dimitrov, who he beat him in Brisbane in 3 tough sets. The Bulgarian is improving once again and without a doubt, he doesn’t back off at all. However, Federer knows how to attack him and when he needs to back off. In the fifth set, Federer will know which way to go. In the fourth round, he will have to face another youngest, Dominic Thiem, whom he out stroked him in Brisbane. It is possible that the flashy David Goffin will get there, but while Thiem can sit way back in the court, he can rip his strokes. This time, the Austria will grab a set, but Federer will get into the quarters.

Who will face him in the quarters? The controversial Nick Kyrgios can go off, but he is an excellent young player. Kyrgios doesn’t have a coach, but somebody must be talking to him during the AO, perhaps with the soon-to-retire Lleyton Hewitt? The super-powerful Kyrgios will overpower Pablo Carreno Busta, then Pablo Cuevas, and then knock out No. 6 Tomas Berdych. Then Kyrgios will face the 2014 US Open champ Marin Cilic, which will be very physically. The fans will be going crazy, cheering for Kyrgios, who will out-stroke him in five sets.

Can the 21 year old stun Federer? Yup. Even though Kyrgios didn’t play particularly well in the fall, and he hasn’t played a match in the ATP this year (even though he played in an exo at the Hopman Cup), he loves to battle at the Slams. He can crush his forehand and backhand, he has a huge serve, he can charge the net, and he can mix it up. Obviously, the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer is still a better player than he is, but he is slightly aging and in three out of five sets, he can slip down.


GREAT FIRST ROUND: Thiem vs. Leonardo Mayer. The Argentine has slumped a bit, but he can drag Thiem all over the place.



Without a doubt, this is the most enticing quarter. There are a slew of big names that can reach the semis, including Stan Wawrinka, Rafa Nadal, Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils and Jack Sock.

The No. 4 Wawrinka is slightly leading, as he won the 2014 AO [he beat Djokovic and Nadal] and last year, he reached the semifinal, going down to Novak. The fiery Wawrinka has much improved at the majors of the past two years. But still, he can be vulnerable. Sock has reached the final in New Zealand, and at this point, the American is ready to jump. He will stun Wawrinka in the third round, but it’s Raonic who is ready to go super deep: the Canadian will nail serve after serve and take down Sock in the Round of 16.

Then what? The 14-time Grand Slam Nadal is fighting hard, even though he can’t figure out Djokovic. Nadal has to go up against Fernando Verdasco in the first time, and while Rafa knows him well, in 2009, they faced off in the semifinal at the AO and the two bangers played over 4 hours. Nadal out-lasted Verdasco, and then he won the tournament, beating Federer.

Can he do it again? I can’t see it, but he should beat Verdasco, knock down Jeremy Chardy in the third round, and in the fourth round, he will club Anderson – assuming that Kevin had overcame the flashy Monfils.

But in the quarters, assuming Raonic is healthy, that he will negate Nadal in four sets. His time is come.



Chardy vs. Ernests Gulbis: because Gulbis is always crazy – and some times, a whole lot of fun


Andy says that he badly wants to win an AO for the first time, losing four times in the finals. He certainly has a chance, but he has to keep his head in the game. In the first time, he will face the super tall and rising 18-year-old Alexander Zverev. Murray will win, but the German will come out swinging. He should control Sam Groth in the second round, and he will out-think Joao Sousa, but in the fourth rounding, it’s anybody’s guess. He should face Bernard Tomic, who has been playing better over the past 13 months, but he should not have retired on Friday at Sydney because he wants to make sure that he is totally healthy in AO. Tomic loves to mix it up, and he can crack the ball. Plus, at least on court, he is much smarter. But so is Murray, who knows how to attack him and mix it up. The Britain will take him down in four sets,

Who will meet Murray in the quarters? David Ferrer, who just loss against Sock and is aging. Maybe the wily Feliciano Lopez, the former USC standout Steve Johnson, or the huge-server John Isner? It will be Isner, who has been way overdo at the AO, losing some very tough losses over the year. Isner will get there, but once he gets on court against Murray, he tends to lose his head. Murray will get through once again.

SEMIFINAL: Andy Murray

GREAT FIRST ROUND: Lleyton Hewitt vs. James Duckworth. The former No. 1 Hewitt will retire at the end of the tournament. What better to go out on the bright lights at Rod Laver Stadium.



Tomic progresses in Sydney vs. top players: ‘Gives us confidence’

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APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 13, 2016 – Everyone is talking about Novak. In 2014, it seemed like everyone thought Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka could still win a Slam, or an ATP 1000. But in 2015, it changed, radically. Djokovic won 11 titles, three of which were Grand Slams, six ATP 1000s and one ATP 500. With the exception of falling to Wawrinka in the final of Roland Garros, he won every time he needed to.

Last week, the Serbian crushed everyone to win Doha, blowing out Nadal in the final. Now, according to almost every player, Djokovic is dominating.

On Wednesday in Sydney, the Aussie Bernard Tomic said that other than downing Djokovic, the young guys are finally ready to upend the elite, veteran players. Tomics, who beat the fellow Australian Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarters, just shook his head.

“Novak, it’s just a joke now. It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Tomic said. “That’s the reason why he’s the best player in the world. I think even Roger and Rafa are just — when you step on the court against Novak now it’s like, ‘How can you beat him?’ Even Rafa playing that final in Doha, it was amazing tennis to watch, but so comfortable, and on score just shows how much Novak is dominating the sport. I think he is a different level, Novak, now, and there is a reason why he’s there. I think the other players, there are a little bit more weaknesses. There is a reason why Novak is the best. No weaknesses. I can’t think of any. He deserves to be there.”

Tomic, who had reached the semifinal of Brisbane and then lost against his buddy Milos Raonic, agrees with Grigor Dimitrov that the very good young players can beat the Big 4 plus 1 this season. But maybe not against everyone.

“[Milos beating Federer in Brisbane] that’s a good sign for us,” Tomic said. “Not just for Milos winning that tournament. It gives us confidence stepping on the court against Federer, Murray, and against these other guys.”

He then laughed: “Except Novak.”

By the way, Tomic is now ranked No. 16 at the Aussie Open. In one way, it’s more important to win the tournament in Sydney again because he will continue to get more confidence. But it is also important that he won’t be able to play against the highest player until at least the Round of 16. He is very pleased.

“It gives me an opportunity now playing I think 17 to 24 seeds in the third round,” he said. “There are dangerous floaters out there, as well, first and second round that you can get, so can be difficult as well. Hopefully I get the right draw to save energy to play well in the first few rounds and confidence getting to the third, fourth round. What I’ve noticed the past year or so, you need to get to those third, fourth rounds and be ready and physically fresh. You have to beat the top players. You have to be physically ready. If you play top matches first, second round, not a good thing.”

Dimitrov, who lost against Federer in three sets, says he is getting closer and closer – even though he thought he should have won. On Wednesday, he beat Pablo Cuevas 7-6(2) 6-4. Dimitrov will face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarterfinal, which should be a fun match, as both men have a tremendous amount of spin. A few years back, Dolgopolov reached the second week at the Aussie Open. He had enough variety that most thought  he would eventuallycrack the top 5. He was unable to do so and he may never reach the top 10. He is just not strong enough. But next week when the Aussie Open begins, there are plenty of players who can punch their tickets into the second week. Three of the interesting veterans are still alive in Sydney: Viktor Troicki, Gilles Muller and Jeremy Chardy. 

Dimitrov wants to win a major some day, and soon. He truly believes that someone can play as well as he can – or he is locked into the zone – and stun Novak.

“You just never know when you’re going to get the chance and the opportunity in general,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what tournament you’re on or which round you’re playing. In a way anything is possible if you have the will and the faith.”


Halep continues to deal with an injury. Photo: Jimmy48

Halep continues to deal with an injury. Jimmy48 Tennis Photography

Whether or not Simona Halep wins the title here in Sydney, or at the Aussie Open, give her credit for sticking in there. The world No. 2 has been dealing with an inflamed Achilles heel for months and she was forced to pullout of Brisbane. But all she wanted to do was to simply play again, so she went on court and even though it could hurt her, she has been running as fast as she can. On Wednesday, she beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4 7-5 in a very close match. She yanked the Czech around time and time again until she frustrated her.

She’ll face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis, who beat Sara Errani 7-6(1) 6-0. The Russian veteran said the reason why Halep has risen over the past two years is because she is simply more consistent. It is hard to know if Kuznetsova will play great on Thursday. As she said, she pushed herself too much last year so now she wants to be calmer and more relaxed this week. ‘Whatever wind was blowing,” she said.

Here was the big upset: the 22-year-old Monica Puig took out Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. Stosur had a decent draw, but she looked pretty slow. If she reaches the second week at the Aussie Open, Australians will be crying in joy.

The Puerto Rican Puig slumped last year, so during the off-season she decided in 2016 she would actually have fun. At least this week, however.

“You always put pressure on ourselves because we want this so bad. Every single one of us wants to be the No. 1 in the word; we want to win titles. We want to win,” Puig said. “It’s a really competitive sport. Kind of putting it into perspective. I’m traveling the world and seeing so many new places. On top of that, I’m doing what I love for a living. It’s pretty amazing. If I take time to look back at where I’ve come from and all that I’ve done to get here, why not enjoy it a little bit more and have some fun while I’m doing it? Doesn’t hurt to crack a smile on the court every now and then.”

Puig will be the underdog against Belinda Bencic, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 2-6 6-4. There were a lot of fans watching Bencic during the match, including her friend/coach Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza. In the doubles, the No. 1 Hingis/Mirza haven’t lost in months.


Raonic rises, upsets Federet to win Brisbane title: ‘Cherry on top’

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BRISBANE, Jan 10, 2016 – Milos Raonic had been tired about losing against the big boys. Here and there, he had won a few matches, but he had lost to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer so many times that it would make his head spin.

Last year, the Canadian was in the final in Brisbane against the Swiss and he was neck and neck. They split sets and he had a real chance there. But he couldn’t close. Federer knew that he could yank him around once Milos couldn’t place his bombing serves on the lines, allowing the Swiss to win the title 6-4 in the third.

But, this year in the final against Federer, Raonic out-hit and out-stroked him, winning the title 6-4, 6-4. This time, the normally stoned face Raonic even grinned side to side. Given how important it was to win a significant event against the greatest of all time showed him that maybe he can begin to win the ATP 1000s as well as the Grand Slams. Last season he was hurt for months and he was unable to take down the elite players. Now he is knocking at the door.

“It feels great considering how the last nine months have been. It adds a sort of cherry on top to all that,” Raonic said. “I feel like maybe there was some attention to other things brought in the off-season due to changes and so forth [he has hired his new coach, Carlos Moya], and at the end of the day, want to focus on my tennis and do better. I feel like I’m doing that. I stepped up and was able to show that to myself and everybody else. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

The 25-year-old Raonic was much more solid, much more directive against Federer, who was still recovering from being ill during the week, and the Swiss was a little slow and erratic, especially with his backhand. But Raonic was extremely clean, and he was so, so powerful. He bombed his first serves all day, even reaching 143 mph, while even twisting his second serves at an incredible 130 mph. As always, he crushed his big forehand, but his backhand has improved quite a bit. He rushed the net whenever he could, which is also intelligent. Federer wanted to drag him into long rallies, but he could not for the most part. Any time Raonic had a chance, he would go for it, hoping that he could kiss the lines. Good enough.

Moya has been talking with Raonic everyday. The former No. 1 told the Canadian not to back off Federer for one single second.

“It was, ‘Keep playing the way you’ve been playing this week. Pull your game together, and you can be better than him on the court,’ ” Raonic said.

Federer said that he even though he lost, he was pretty happy. He almost pulled out of the tournament because he had a high fever, and he wasn’t quite there, saying “definitely felt tired in my legs throughout the week, so then you feel that in defense. When you feel it in the most important moments, every time I had a chance to create some better plays, it just wouldn’t be happening. So it wasn’t going naturally. I had to force myself. When you force yourself things become more complicated. Often was also under pressure. How come I was so often under pressure was because of the serve. One leads to another. Yeah, he did well. It was a tough match. The legs were a little bit wobbly throughout the week.”

What Federer did say is that before Raonic became hurt last spring, he was getting better and better. He thinks that Raonic has added to his game and he hasn’t been stuck in the mud.

“I just think his consistent power is something that’s so impressive. The focus he brings to every single serve. I’ve always said it’s amazing that he can do that,” Federer said. “For a big guy he moves well, you know. He’s improved his fitness the last few years. Also tactically I think he’s better now than he’s ever been. He’s made a conscious effort of playing close to the baseline, which before when he was working with the Spanish coaches he was way back.

“It also may be an option, but if you really want to make it to the very, very top, maybe that’s not quite the play. You don’t want to hand over the play every time to the best guys. I think like this it’s more on his racquet and it’s probably not a bad thing. I thought he was playing really good tennis here last year and in also Indian Wells when I played him. [Federer beat him in straight sets in the semis.] I was quite impressed how good he was. Unfortunately he got injured and he had some issue, which then didn’t allow him to play anymore since. So it’s a great start for him. I’m very happy for him.”

Can Raonic win the Australian Open? Perhaps. He did reach the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal. Obviously, the nearly unbeatable Novak Djokovic is the big favorite, but at least today, Raonic is riding high.

“That’s maybe another step away, but I definitely feel I have it within myself to step up with play great tennis for two weeks,” Raonic said.

Calm & collected: Azarenka d. Kerber to win Brisbane

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BRISBANE, Jan. 9, 2015 – Three years ago, Victoria Azarenka was nearly dominating. Yes, Serena Williams was going hard then and Maria Sharapova was healthy and strong, but the Belarussian was lethal on the hard courts. She had won two Australian Open finals, and until she was knocked out, she was the favorite.

But towards the end of the season, she had badly slipped and her confidence disappeared. It has taken her two years to be fully healthy and mentally sound once again.

In the final, Azarenka tore apart Angie Kerber 6-3 6-1 to win the crown at Brisbane. She played nearly perfect. She clubbed 23 winners and made just nine in forced errors. She rushed the net 13 times and won 10 points. Her serve can be up and down, but she moved it around the box. Her forehand and backhand were hard and deep. Last year, she wasn’t quite fast enough, but now she is faster and she sprints quickly side-to-side.

“Definitely a lot more comfortable, a lot more calm, a lot more aware. Happy. Very happy,” she said

In 2013, the then 23-year-old looked like she would be at the top for a long, long time. In January, she was No. 1. In Brisbane, she got hurt and pulled out before the semis against Serena. It didn’t matter because she recovered, winning the Aussie Open once again, beating Sloane Stephens and Li Na to win the title. The two-time defending champion could be controversial, but on court, she was fearless.

She won Doha by upsetting Serena, but a few weeks later at Indian Wells she lost her No. 1 ranking. She didn’t really seem to care, because she would get it back. She lost to Serena in Rome, to Sharapova at Roland Garros, and then she got hurt again and pulled out at Wimbledon.

On hard courts, she reached the final at San Diego, and at Cincinnati, she reached the final again. In a classic contest, she edged Serena 2-6 6-2 7-6 (6). Right there, it looked like Azarenka could finally win the US Open. Uh-uh. In the final, she got a little crazy in the third set, and Serena was much more composed, winning the title 7-5 6-7 (6) 6-1.

Bye-bye Vika, who began to slide – fast.

In 2014, she only played nine tournaments. In Australia, she said that she was raring ago. She reached the Brisbane final, losing against Serena, but it was a very decent contest. However, in the quarters against Aga Radwanska in Australia – whom she had beaten her so many times – she folded in the third set, going down 6-1 5-7 6-0.

After that, she was pretty much done. She lost early everywhere, except for the US Open, when she managed to grind and reached the quarterfinal, but she looked like she was out of shape and Ekaterina Makarova out-hit her.

At the start of 2015, Azarenka admitted that last year that she was depressed after she and her ex-boyfriend broke up. However, she wanted to play better again, so badly that she could feel it. But Azarenka couldn’t beat the best players that year. She was close at times – even against the phenomenal Serena—but she was a little bit short. Now she says that the reason why was because she was hurt continuously.

“I was hurt the whole year actually. There was not a moment where I felt good,” she said. “I have no pain. There was a lot of medication last year which made me feel crazy actually at some moments. I don’t respond well to medication. It was a constant battle with pain, with my own fear. Like is it going to hurt again? I don’t want to go through that. But it took me to a point where I decided, Okay, I got to stop and try to figure out and actually change my life around the tennis court.

“I had a lot of changes last year, so it took a little bit of time to regroup, reorganize, mature a little bit, understand how to organize yourself. I’m like a freak right now. Like I’m super organized. Like my bag has to be a certain way. I’ve never been like this. I was a little bit messy. I just didn’t care. I would throw things around. My mom was getting so pissed off with me. Now I found what works for me, what makes me feel comfortable, calm, at peace. So it’s good.”

This was only one week and there is a lot of matches to go, but at least now, she knows that if she can be calm and she can continue to mix up the pace, she can go very deep once against at the Aussie Open.

Can she win it again? If she is playing as well as she can, she can be right there against anyone. But as she said, there is no come back, she just needs to continue on.

“I don’t really call it comeback. I don’t think there is a name for it,” she said. “I think it’s more for you guys to put it as a headline. For me, it’s like you’re reading a book and you just turn the page. That part of it was over. You just flip the page. I think that’s exciting. I can’t wait the to read the next page.”