American men have to step up now

The young American men are coming up fairly fast, but it is hard to know when the boys will win some major tournaments.

Players like Jared Donaldson, Frances Tiafoe, Ernesto Escobedo and Taylor Fritz show great promise but they have a ways to go before advancing from the top 90 to 130 range into the impact player group

Forget about the Grand Slams right now — it is very early. Nobody knows if they are good enough to beat spectacular players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.  

Let’s look the veteran Americans, who are pretty good, but not good enough.

Way back when, the Americans dominated: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. After they all retired, Andy Roddick was darn good, too. But that was the last one. In 2003, Roddick won the US Open. Since then, no Americans won it again.

Now, it is 2017, almost 15 years gone dry.

Currently, the American guys – John Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and Donald Young – have not reached the semifinals at the Grand Slam. Ever. Even though he’s only 24, Jack Sock may be the U.S. man at No. 17, but he has also not shown the promise of rising Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios.

In fact, they haven’t won an ATP 1000.

Time to change?

On Sunday at Miami, the very young American Donaldson will face against the huge-hitter Canadian Milos Raonic. Sock, who reached the semis at Indian Wells. He is coming up, better and better, and will play Jiri Vesely

On Monday, John Isner will face the boy-wonder Zverev. Will the German show why he’s ranked the spots higher than the American?

Querrey has a legitimate shot against Roberto Bautista Abut.
The American vets do like Miami, so perhaps they can go very deep and possibly win it all?
Maybe, but they have to prove it.

NOTES
Bethanie Mattek-Sands is playing well again and she has a fine shot against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, but given that Lucic-Baroni played incredibly well by stunning Aga Radwanska, it will be a very intense contest.

Also on Sunday, Venus Williams and the 19-year-old Taylor Townsend will play against different foes and may face off in the fourth round. Venus is the favorite in that potential clash.

Tough one for Shelby Rogers, who has to play against No. 1 Angie Kerber.

Best Pix from 2017 Indian Wells by Mal Taam

Click here for a fantastic photo gallery by Mal Taam from ’17 Indian Wells’ BNP Paribas Open.

Mladenovic v. Halep set for Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS. March 12 — A couple years ago, Simona Halep became No. 2. She reached the final of Roland Garros. There she was very close to her first Slam win, but Maria Sharapova stepped on the gas, winning to 6-4 in the third.

Halep had lost, and cried, but she believed that she could win at the Grand Slam.

She hasn’t yet. 

In 2016, she was on fire, racing around, hitting hard and crushing balls. She won Madrid, Bucharest and Montreal. But guess what? At the Slams, her head wasn’t into it.

She lost early at the Aussie and Roland Garros. At Wimbledon, she managed to go into the second week, beating Madison Keys, but she fell against Angie Kerber in two tight sets.

At the US Open, she reached the quarters again, losing another very tight match, going down to Serena Williams, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

She wasn’t quiet there.

Now she will face KiKi Mladenovic at Indian Wells.

As Halep said, “I’m here, and she’s here.”

Mladenovic beat her in Paris and Birmingham, but Halep topped her in three long sets at 2015 Cincinnati.

Mladenovic is rising, while Halep is struggling.

One way or another, at Indian Wells, it should be a classic.

Hantuchova is still there: Will she stay, or go?

Daniela Hantuchova plays a $25K. Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

At the beginning of their careers, the younger players have to start at the ITF and USTA Pro circuits.  Everyone wants to reach the top pros, but you have to rack up some wins on the smaller circuits.

If you’re not winning titles at this level, at least you have to improve every year, so you could win more consistently. Some willmove on, while others are stycj there for a very long time.

If you’re not moving up the WTA/ATP level, you would have to decide: Do you want to stay, or do you want to go?

This week, in at the Morgan Run Women’s Open in Rancho Santa Fe/San Diego, three major players are still hanging on:
 
Michelle Larcher De Brito, a popular Portuguese  player who cracked the top 100. But she is now ranked No. 242.

The American Maria Sanchez,  who played at USC and was the No. 1 collegiate player throughout the 2011–2012 season. But, when she turned pro at the WTA, she was close to reaching the top 100, but could not.  Now she is ranked No. 414.

And believe it or not, the former No. 5, Daniela Hantuchova, is there at Morgan Run. The Slovak once reached the Australian Open semifinal. She won Indian Wells. She loves Southern California, but she is 33 years old and had a bad year in 2016. You know, 2015 wasn’t very good either.

Hantuchova breezed through the first round with a double bagel over Louisa Stefani. But, the rising top seed, Kayla Day, eliminated her in the second round 7-6(3), 6-1.

Hantuchova is ranked 245. If she is ready to retire, or is she thinking that ‘hey, Serena Williams is 35 years old, and she just won a major in January at the Aussie Open. If she could go it, maybe I can.’

Can she?

In a few weeks in IW, maybe we can see Hantuchova finds some wins and some peace of mind.

Pliskova, Dimitrov, Vandeweghe are on fire

The week of February 13

FED CUP

The Czechs once again won, with Karolina Pliskova crushed Garbine Muguruza 6-2 6-2. Without a doubt,  the No. 3 Pliskova  can a major this year. Perhaps at Wimbledon.

Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

The Americans won fairly easy in Hawaii, cracking the Germans. The rising CoCo Vandeweghe won two matches, smoking the fine player Andrea Petkovic. USTA flap over playing old version of German anthem put damper on otherwise excellent American performance. Now the US has to face the Czechs at home in April. Will Serena and Venus play? Questionable.

ATP ACTION

Grigor Dimitrov, who won Sofia over David Goffin, says that the now No. 12 is exhausted, but he is thrilled that he finally was able to win Bulgaria.

The 19-year-old Alexander Zverev played outstanding tennis, beating Richard Gasquet in the final at Montpellier. He teamed up with his brother, Mischa, to take the dubs, too. Very soon, he will go deep at the Slams.

The 36-year-old  Victor Estrella Burgos won Quito, as the march of the 30-somethings continues.

THIS WEEK

Doha, Qatar

Believe it or not, Karolina Pliskova and  Garbine Muguruza could face each other in the third round. The Spaniard is hoping that the hard courts aren’t too fast. Three other top players — Angie Kerber, Aga Radwanska and  Dominika Cibulkova — are still in contention. Aga could face her good friend, Caroline Wozniacki , in the second round. They have had some marathons.

Rotterdam

Unfortunately, there aren’t any of the top 5-ers. But there are some fun players, like Mario Cilic, Dominic
Them, Tomas Berdych, Goffin and Dimitrov. Who wins? It’s likely Cilic, given that Dimitrov is exhausted.

Memphis

Memphis has struggled at times, but they are still there, which is admirable.  There are not many great teams, but good ones, like Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and … Bernard Tomic. Can you imagine if he wins the title? Where is the defending champ? See below …

Argentina

Kei Nishikori won Memphis many times, which he decided to go south, way south and now he is in Argentina. It must be about the $$$. There is on clay, which is just fine, given that he was won at Barcelona. This week, it’s Pablo Cuevas, David Ferrer (who is declining) and Pablo Carreno Busta.

Isner overcomes slow start to nail 2-0 lead

 

BIRMINGHAM, AL – Maybe what John Inser needed was a match within native South to find his big serve and groundstrokes.

Isner overcame a first-set loss and months of underachieving to defeat Henri Laaksonen in the second rubber of the US vs. Switzerland tie.

Isner returned is personal nirvana – the tiebreak – to dispatch Laaksonen in the fourth set. Isner found his stride with a 46 62 62 76 (1) victory.

The 6’10” American backed up an earlier victory by Jack Sook to give the US and expected early lead in the first-round World Group Davis Cup tie.

Even though he had no aces in the tiebreak, Isner cracked two service winners and watched as Laaksonen double faulted match point.

As usual, Isner’s biggest weapon is his serve and he put away 28 access, surpassing 500 in his Davis Cup career. As he turned around the match after a mediocre first set, the American had four aces in the last game of the second set.

As the first set fell away, the possibility of Isner less than stellar recent play must have crossed his and coach Jim Courier’s mind. Isner has only won two matches this year, exiting from the Australian Open in the second round. Except for an appearance in the Paris final in the fall, Isner has had less than spectacular results in the last half of 2016. During that time, he lost his standing as America’s top male player, which he had held for numerous years.

“I felt energized by this crowd,” he said during a post-match interview, citing the pro-American spectators who used a large drum and chanting to back their team.


Sock downs Ciudinelli in first rubber

The most trouble Jack Sock had in taking down Marco Chiudinelli in the first rubber of the US vs. Switzerland Davis Cup tie was grabbing a first-set break. It took the American six tries to seal the set.

The rest was smooth sailing.

Sock cruised with a 6-4 6-3 6-1 victory in the World Group first round. Dominating with his usual brand of punishing forehands and big serves, Sock battered the Swiss in the last two sets, repeating the pattern he has used to move into the Top 20.

In a turn of events, Sock has moved past long-time top-dog American John Isner. Now Sock played the No. 1 position in this tie, as his last six months has shown improvement while Isner seems to be slowly losing the edge in his vaunted power-serving game.

Of course, Chiudinelli’s place in the world of Swiss tennis has long been No. 3, slipping now down to No. 146. That makes  Henri Laaksonen, at No. 127, the top Swiss player here. But, hey, this is the Swiss B team with the last two men’s Grand Slam winners – countrymen Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka – being no-shows.

Sock clamped down on Chiudinelli beginning in the last game of the first set. At 0-30 Chiudinelli’s second serve bounced off the tape and barely missed the line, giving Sock three set points. Then the Swiss rattled off three straight service winners. Chiudinelli throws in another double but he bangs a punishing overhead to get back to deuce. It wasn’t until Sock placed a dying drop shot on the sixth break point that he grabbed the first set.

The American was off and flying, taking the first three games of the second set, breaking on his only break chance of the set. In the second game, Chiudinelli had to face a Sock service winner. He followed it up with a sloppy ground stroke. Sock easily took control of the game. Bolstered by the early break, Sock started feeling his game.

“I think I was a little hesitant at the beginning; maybe too conservative playing when obviously my game is to kind of play big and hit big forehands and be aggressive. … Then, when I was able to get the break it kind of made me able to play my game.,” Sock said. He agreed that he built some real momentum in the second set.

Asked about his success with drop shots, he added, “I think I hit them at the right time except for the 3-all game. I tried to hit it at deuce, which was idiotic.”

The Swiss complimented Sock, saying, “(I) struggle a bit with his heavy serve. Yeah, he had good serves at a lot of those moments. When I managed to get the ball back, he followed up with some good second shots.”

Sock sets the stage for what is predicted to be relatively easy first round. If the US wins here, it would face the winner of the Czech Republic/Australia tie. The Aussies took a 2-0 lead today as Jordan Thompson shocked Jiri Vesely and Nick Kyrgios was also a straight-set winner over Jari Satral.

Venus and Serena will face off at the 2017 Australian Open

Venus Williams and Serena Williams will face off in the 2017 Australian Open final, as Venus overcame CoCo Vandeweghe 6-7 (3) 6-2 6-3, and Serena crushed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni  6-2 6-1.

The famous sisters have been playing for a very long time: Serena won her first major in 1999, while Venus grabbed it in 2000. They’ve faced off 27times over the years, with Serena 16-11 versus Venus. Clearly, Serena is better, winning 22 Grand Slams, and Venus winning seven majors. During the last four times at the Grand Slams, Serena beat Venus at the US Open and Wimbledon, twice. But, in 2008 in the Wimbledon final, Venus took Serena down. It seemed like Venus would win majors year after year, but she didn’t. Serena did, having racked up numerous majors in the last few years.

Now, one of them will win on Saturday. Combined, they will be 30 Grand Slams.

“She’s my toughest opponent. No one has ever beaten me as much as Venus has,” said Serena. “I just feel like no matter what’s happened we’ve both won. … A Williams is going to win this tournament.”

Venus said: “Everyone has their moment in the sun. Maybe mine has gone on a while but I’d like to keep that going. I got nothing else to do. Let’s keep it going.”


Here is the story at 2008 Wimbledon between the sisters. On Friday, another piece of the sisters, the 2003 final at at the Australian Open.

WIMBLEDON – Venus Williams said it all with a shy smile.

She had just won her fifth Wimbledon championship. Inside, she was bubbling with joy, but on the outside, there was no in-your-face, wild celebration.

No, not with her little sister Serena standing a few feet away, visibly upset after Venus handed her a 7-5, 6-4 defeat in a final where Serena clearly looked like the younger sibling who couldn’t find the golden key to unlock Venus’ treasure chest of All England Club secrets.

Just how could Venus defend one break point after another, come up with untouchable serves, sure-handed volleys and blitzing groundstrokes whenever Serena seemed prepared to seize control of the match and win her third title?
Why does Venus play so much better on the sleek green lawns, when outside of the historic club, she has looked oh-so-vulnerable since ’01, failing to win another major on hard or clay courts, while Serena has proved herself to be a better all-around player, winning majors on every surface?

Simply because Venus is a better athlete and more knowledgeable player on grass and when she plays her best, like she did in the final, she’ll beat Serena time and time again on the turf. “I love winning and realize one has to win and one has to lose and I’ve been at the losing end of the Slams many times, so I guess it was my time to win,” said Venus, who handcuffed Serena with twisting serves to her body. “But I was pretty excited about that win because it was so close. Of course the celebration isn’t as exciting because my sister just lost.”

Added the girls’ older sister, Lyndrea:” Either way it was going to be sad.”

As terrific a server and returner as Serena is, Venus trusts her heater and slice serve more, especially with her second serve. She is a more accurate and intelligent returner, swarms the net with more confidence and can hold her own from the baseline against her sister’s clean, deep and mostly accurate strokes.

Every other elite player should play close attention to how Venus intelligently approaches the lawns. No. 1 Ana Ivanovic was low balled out early by China’s promising Jie Zheng, ’04 champ Maria Sharapova was bullied by cocky Russian Alla Kudryavtseva, No. 2 Jelena Jankovic was roughed up by 31-year-old Thai Tammy Tanasugarn and No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova was tripped up by Polish teen Agnieska Radwanska.

But Venus and Serena, who held Wimbledon six combined titles entering the finals, never faltered. In the semis,   Venus outlegged Elena Dementieva in and Serena aced her way past Zheng.
Serena had jokingly said before the final that she would eat Venus’  breakfast, but all she ended up doing was crying over spilled milk.
Venus got in trouble early in the first set and went down a break, but then smartly stepped in closer on her returns, cutting off Serena’s angles. Serena held 13 break points in the match but was only able to convert two. She lost a remarkable 17 of her 22 second serve points, which put her under tremendous pressure every time her swerving wide serves or bombs down the tee didn’t find the box.

Serving at 5-6 in the first set, the eight-time Grand Slam champion fought off a set point with a searing backhand crosscourt winner, but on the next one, Serena dumped a backhand to the net and smacked her racket to the ground after handing her sister the set at 7-5. The crisis hadn’t been averted. It was full on.

“She lifted the level of her game and I should have lifted mine, but instead mine went down,” Serena said.
Serena sealed her own fate in the fourth game of the second set. After finally breaking Venus on her seventh break point with a forehand winner to go up 2-1, Serena failed to consolidate and was broken back when she erred on a forehand.

Then the clock began to tick more quickly, as Serena strained to contain her groundstrokes and to figure out just how she would continue to hold while Venus was sprinting around and playing more freely. No such solutions would come into her head.
Venus gained a match point at 5-4 after a beautiful defense-to-offense rally. Serena scalded a service winner on the first one, but on the second one, she was pushed onto her back foot and flew a backhand well wide.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God, it’s five. Wow,'” Venus said of the moment of victory.

Venus secured her seventh Grand Slam title overall, tying her with just-retired Justine Henin and putting her just one behind Serena. She became just the third player in the Open Era to win five or more titles. She’s four crowns behind all-time leader Martina Navratilova and two behind Steffi Graf, who are widely considered the two finest all-around players ever. That’s some kind of company to be in.

“Definitely winning this tournament so many times puts you in the stratosphere, just because of what this tournament means,” Venus said. “Had I had this achievement at any other tournament it would have been awesome, but not nearly the same meaning at Wimbledon.”

What the rest of the Williams family would really like is for the two sisters to face off in more Slam finals, but if history proves to be an indicator, there aren’t many opportunities left. The ’08 Wimbledon final was the first time that that they’ve faced other in the finale of a major in five years, and given that the 28-year-old Venus hasn’t reached the final of a hard court major since ’03, it might not be until Wimbledon ’09 when the siblings are staring at each again with all the major chips on the line.
If that’s the case, it will be too bad for the sport. The ’08 final was played at the highest level of any of the 16 career contests between the sisters.

“Some of those rallies today I don’t think anyone could’ve got,” said their mother, Oracene Price. “That was amazing.”
Venus, who nailed a Wimbledon record 129-mph serve, added, “The level of play was really high. A lot of the times one of us was overpowering the other. So I hit a hard ball on the line, she can’t get it back. Or I tried to go for too much because I’m anticipating that she’s going to run my shot down. Or I hit a huge serve, she hits one I can’t return.”

The sisters, like the rest of the elite players, have a heavy summer schedule ahead. Along with Aussie Open champ Sharapova and French Open victor  Ivanovic, they will contest the Olympics (Venus was the 2000 gold medalist) and the U.S. Open, which starts a couple of days after the curtains are drawn in Beijing. It’s possible that in New York, the sisters will be placed on opposite sides of the draw, and if they play as well as they did in England, they may be able to stop the European title streak there – now running at five straight years.

While fans on Centre Court politely clapped during their delightful clash, U.S. fans are sure to be more emotionally involved watching their countrywomen write another chapter in the rare spectacle.

“I would love that,” Venus said.

Pavlyuchenkova to face Venus: ‘I want to do even better’

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2009. Photo: Mark Lyons

Australian Open, Jan 22 ­– Svetlana Kuznetsova has been there before, losing early, or winning a whole thing. She won a spectacular victory, overcoming the intense Jelena Jankovic. But on Sunday, she froze, and lost against another veteran, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“I was very tired, but I was really tight. Definitely I was not the freshest, but still, I was okay,” Kuznetsova said. “I know I still have to improve on a lot of different things in the game to get decent level, and I was a little bit too tight.”

More than a few years ago, the Russian Pavlyuchenkova looked like she was going to win a major, someday. Since then, she has looked very decent, but not great. The good thing is that she has managed to reach the quarterfinals, but she has yet to reach the semis. Good, but not fantastic.

“I have a lot of memories, because won it twice in juniors and was showing some good tennis, also in the pros, but never achieved something, like, big here. It’s one of my favorite Grand Slams. I’m super excited.  I want to do even better.”

Pavlyuchenkova has played nine years at the WTA Tour. The 25-year-old reached No. 13 back in 2011. She can be aggressive, but she is a little slow.

In 2013, she felt great. In the off season in November and December 2012, she worked out with Serena Williams. She really likes Serena, and in Brisbane to start the new season in 2013, and they played each other in the final (Serena won).

Then at the AO, all hell broke loose.

“I was super frustrated. We have played finals in Brisbane against each other. I was in such good form,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “So I was looking forward for Australian Open, and then I arrived here and I was so strong, and I lost to the girl (Lesia Tsurenko 7-5 in the third).. That was super frustrating for me. I think I didn’t handle it. I was really down. The next couple of tournaments and couple of months didn’t go so well, because mentally I was just not there.

“That was pretty much my mistake before. I think I could kill myself after one or two matches, and then just kind of skip the rest of the tournaments, the next ones, where now I’m trying to work hard, show good tennis, enjoy, and don’t take it so, so serious. Maybe that’s the key.”

The key is that she will have to be super patient against the 36-year-old Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. They have played five times, three wins by Williams and two by Pavlyuchenkova. It’s been pretty close.

Maybe the tide will turn for the Russian.

“I can’t compare myself to Venus and Serena. I remember I was a little girl holding the racquet was bigger than me, and they were ready to play in finals of a Grand Slam. I can’t compare myself to them, but at the same time I kind of also feel experienced. We have had some matches with Venus before. I played her before, so I know how it feels to play against her, but they are still playing. Let’s see who’s gonna win.”

Pliskova: ‘I have a good chance to win a Grand Slam’

Karolina Pliskova thinks that she can actually win the title.

At the US Open, she reached the final, and she was very close to knock out Angie Kerber. Unfortunately in the third set, Kerber would not give in, she won her second Slam of the year.

The Czech had never reached the second week. Even though over the past two years, she could crush the ball. Mentally, the panic set in.

When she arrived at the 2016 US Open, she was ready to control herself.

She stunned Venus and Serena Williams — which is rare— and she was so close to winning the title.

Since she helped the Czech Republic win the Fed Cup final — again— and two weeks ago, she won Brisbane.

The 24 year old believes in herself. She blew out Anna Blinkova in the seond round at the Aussie Open on Thursday. On Saturday, she will face Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, another young player who lives in Latvia.

This Pliskova is so confident that she can go for the lines. The Czech knows that many people think that this time, she won’t back off and win it at the Aussie Open.

“I will try,” Pliskova said. “I’m feeling pretty good on the court, confident. I have some matches already what I won this year. I didn’t lose yet, which is also good thing. Even the opponents were not that high level, but still, I felt pretty good out there. Third round is going to definitely more tough than the first two. Also people are talking I have a good chance to win a Grand Slam.”

Kyrgios says he can win Aussie; beat the best

Nick Kygrios’ tweet apologizing for roundly criticized, on-court remarks that Thanasi Kokkinakis had a relationship with Donna Vekic, Stan Wawrinka’ girlfriend.

Nick Krygios actually said that he can win the Australian Open.

Kyrgios knows that he is very good, but has he ever won the big show, knocking out the legends, those who have reached the finals at the Slams? The finals? No. The semifinals? No. He is a huge hitter, but not everyday. That is for sure.

But maybe its time now.

The 21-year-old Kyrgios, who crushed Gastao Elias in the first round of the Aussie Open, said that he can win the tournament.

Already?

“Well, if I didn’t think I’d win it, why would I play? I think I can win it. I’ve beaten pretty much everyone in the draw before,” he said. “So I think so.”

Kyrgios said that Roger Federer is the best ever, even though the Swiss said that the Aussie will not win the event.

The No. 13 Kyrgios won three events last year: Marseille, Atlanta and Tokyo, but he is mentally up and down. He’d play great tennis, like upsetting top-10ers Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic. Also, he was injured and lost to against a few outside of the top 100 players.

Federer said he didn’t think that Kyrgios is not ready to win the Australian Open.

“I’m not going to, like, say anything back to him about it. Obviously it’s his opinion,” Kyrgios said. “We’ll see. I’ve done everything I can so far. What can I say? It’s Roger. I can’t really say anything to him.  … He’s the greatest of all time. I know I just want to do my own thing. I played him once, I beat him once.”

Kyrgios beat Federer 6-7, 7-6, 7-6(12) in 2015 in Madrid. That’s just one match. Kyrgios hasn’t won a major yet, while Federer has won 17 Grand Slams.

Kyrgios faces Andreas Seppi on Wednesday night. The Aussie should win in both the second and third rounds, but after that, here comes a huge challenge. He could face Wawrinka/Cilic/Tomic/Jack Sock/Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. And perhaps the No. 1, Andy Murray.  That, people, is serious pressure.