Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 29

The Semis

2-Maria Sharapova v 10-Ekaterina Makarova
Makarova has played very well this tournament. Every day it seems like she would crack but she did not, notably wasting Simona Halep in the quarters. She doesn’t fear the occasion, rarely pushes the ball and understands immediately when she has to go for it or knows when to wait for the right shot. The problem is: Sharapova is 5-0 against her and having beaten her in the Aussie Open twice and pretty easily. Maria doesn’t wait, but will immediately pound at Etkaterina until she is on her heels. That’s what happened when she eliminated Eugenie Bouchard, pushing her back from the get-go. Sharapova dictated every point, even if she misses some balls. All she needed to do was to handle her foe about 60 percent of the time and that was all good in the end. Maria will use the same strategy against Makarova, who will take some risks, but not enough to diminish Sharapova’s dominiance. Sharapova will win the semifinal in straight sets and reach the Aussie Open once again.

serena wins wta champs 12

Serena is favored against anyone at this time, especially against a youngster like Keys.

1-Serena Williams v Madison Keys 
Ms. Williams is very sick do to a flu and Keys has her left leg all banged up. Still, someone will prevail. It depends who is feeling OK and who is not. However Serena has done this plenty of times. She knows the ropes and even when she has been feeling bad, she forgets about it and swings away.

Keys did a good job of maintaining her pain against Venus Williams and out-hitting her. Her first serve is almost as big as Serena’s, and can slug her forehand about as well as Williams. But overall, Serena is just about better in every facet of the game. Maybe Keys will eventually get there, but William has the tools. Keys still has a lot to learn, while Serena in one of the most intelligent people around – ever. Serena will win in straight sets and face her foe Sharapova in the final.

6-Andy Murray v 7-Tomas Berdych
Who thought that Tomas would shock Rafa Nadal for the first time in 17 matches? I sure didn’t. The Czech played extremely well, jumping on the Spaniard’s backhand and coming into the net at the right times.

Murray had better choose the right tactic or Berdych will get him again. Interesting fact: Berdych is 6-4 head to head, with wins in the last two matches in 2013 in Madrid and Cincinnati. For whatever reason, his serve and his forehand bother Murray. The Brit is very smart, but sometimes he gets irritated and loses his focus. He has to nail his first serve and try to hit his forehand with conviction. His backhand is better, as is his net play. He mixes it up, too. But when he was feeling good, Berdych can be patient until he gets the right shot and when he is ready, to boom his first serve. He can find the lines off both his first and second serves. The Czech can reach a Slam final for the second time, but he can become nervous and he will against Murray. Andy will win the match in five sets and reach to the final once again.

Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 27

Rod Laver Arena

3-Simona Halep v 10-Ekaterina Makarova
The Russian has become so much more important, rarely losing to mediocre players and raking the ball with power. Makarova isn’t super-fast but she moves better than she used to, can rip her forehands and backhands and is very consistent at the net. She can be had and can get nervous at times, but she is more mature now. But Makarova is not as talented as Halep, especially compared to what Simona has done over the past year and a half. The Romanian is quicker, more aggressive and steadier. There are times that she loses her control, but that has been the past now. Yes, Halep has to prove that she won’t back off a little bit, but she is too aggressive and thoughtful to go away. Halep will win in three sets.

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Sharapova is looking to beat Bouchard again in a Slam.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

2-Maria Sharapova v 7-Eugenie Bouchard
The Canadian has hit her stride again and she really believes she can take down Sharapova for the first time. They have played three times, all wins for Maria. But the now 20-year-old Bouchard was basically a rookie. Yes, last year in the Roland Garros semis, Genie was old enough at that point to win. Still, Sharapova was smarter and she never backed off, winning 6-2 in the third set. The other day, Bouchard said she didn’t play that well overall, even though she almost beat her. Oh really? Now Sharapova will have heard about it, so she will go at her super hard.

Clearly, Bouchard is ready to rumble, She is faster than Sharapova, but the Russian/American does so many other great things that against many other top players, speed really doesn’t matter. Sharapova hits as hard as she can off the baseline, inside and out. Bouchard says that she will go for it and not back off. I believe that as she has been super-solid since the start of the tournament. But that does not mean that Genie can kiss the lines at crush time. Sharapova will and take the contest in three tough sets.

3-Rafa Nadal v 7-Tomas Berdych
As the ITF notes, “Nadal going for 18th straight win over Berdych tomorrow. If he wins would be longest h2h (head-to-head) winning streak in Open Era history.” So does Tomas have a real chance? I doubt it, although sometimes, (remember Vitas Gerulatis vs. Ivan Lendl) it’s possible once or twice. However, Nadal had a tough 2014 after winning Roland Garros due to injury – again. But he has looked darnn good during the last two matches. He’s running like the wind, his forehand is phenomenal and he is returning super steady. Yes, Berdych is a huge hitter and he owns a gigantic first serve. But he is not good enough from the nets, he can’t depend on his forehand and is not much better than his backhand. There is nothing he can do unless Nadal falls apart. The Spaniard won’t and will win in four sets.

6-Andy Murray v Nick Kyrgios
Murray looked wonderful and intelligent and took down the ambitious Dimitrov. The Brit knew that the only way he was going to take down the creative Dimitrov was to change it up and that is exactly what he did.

Murray is 27 years old and loves watching his own sport, which means that he knows just about everything and exactly what he has to do. That does not mean that he is perfect, not being able to hit every shot. But against most of the guys outside of the Big 3, he knows what he can do. That means that if Murray is healthy and is playing well, the young excellent player will have a lot of trouble. Without a doubt, the teenage Aussie Kyrgios has played excellent ball. He is tall, strong, can bash his first serve and can stroke his forehand and backhand. He appears to be a big deal. However, Murray is very good on his returns, even when he has to deal with a gigantic bomb that Kyrgios has. Yes, the Aussie will be loving the thousands of fans screaming for him on Rod Laver Arena, but Murray is too good for him now. Maybe the kids will be right there with him soon, but not yet as Murray will confuse him. It will be fun, but the Brit will win in four sets.

Australian Open picks for Saturday, January 24

Rod Laver Arena / Day

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Aga will have to battle on center stage.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

6- Agnieszka Radwanska v 30-Varvara Lepchenko

This going to be a long three sets. Both can run forever and both can be very patient. Yes they can both find the lines. But, if the Pole can spin the balls around her and confuse her, Radwanska will win. If the lefty Lepchenko can bang her forehand, she can pull off the upset. Varvara will be very close, but Radwanska will throw in some beautiful drops and win 7-6 in the third.
1-Serena Williams v 26-Elena Svitolina
The Ukrainian Svitolina has not only grown stronger and faster but she is more composed now. But while she thinks she is ready to shock the world, Williams already looks very good and ready to rumble.  Svitolina might bew improvving, but she will only able to win seven games or so.
Stan Wawrinka v Jarrko Nieminen
This could be a lot of fun amongst these two, as the Swiss can hit his one-handed backhand with a yo-yo while the Finn can twist his left-handed on the lines.  The veteran can trouble Wawrinka, but Stan truly believes that he can go back to back at the Australia and against Jarrko he will win in four sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic v 31-Fernando Verdasco
Remember when Verdasco made it into the semis and nearly stunned Rafa Nadal but then he fell short in more than four hours? Verdasco can bang his forehand, but his backhand us so-so and he isn’t ultra fast. Fernando will have a ton of fun for about an hour and a half, but Djokovic will out nerve him and win in four sets.
4-Petra Kvitova v Madison Keys
The tall and super strong Czech thinks she can win the tournament and she knows it. She whips her first serve, her left hand is dangerous and her volleys are more effective. But the 19-year-old Keys is coming hard, too. She can blast her first serve at 120 MPH, she can gun off her forehand and backhand and she is put away balls at the net. But Keys is still a little young, while Kvitova is more mature now. She will win in two straights sets.

Margaret Court Arena

18-Venus Williams is steadier than Carmila Giorgi.
Jerzy Janowicz will upset Feliciano in five sets – again.
Victoria Azarenka is ready to go deep and will thrash over Barbara Strycova.
David Ferrer will last forever to best Gilles Simon.

Hisense Arena

Garbine Muguruza is coming hard and will easily beat Timea Bacsinszky
Milos Raonic has to work harder to get to Rod Laver  and will do so to blast Benjamin Becker.
CoCo Vandeweghe has a huge serve and will take down Madison Brengle in three sets, but it will be super close.
Kei Nishikori wants to be on Laver, but Hisense is packing in tons of Japanese fans this week. Steve Johnson is getting and better and will bring it to five sets, but Nishikori will triumph.

Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 21

Rod Laver Arena / Day

6- Agnieszka Radwanska v Johanna Larsson
The Polish ‘Aga’ went up to world No. 2, and make it all the way to the final Wimbledon, but she has yet to win a Slam. She came close last year, playing terrific back until she reaches the semifinal Aussie Open, but then she was too tired and was wiped out by Domi Cibulkova. She was upset and mad. Now she is being coached by Martina Navratilova, who knows her game inside and out, but they just started together so she will likely take some time. Nonetheless, she is too smart for Larsson and will win it in straight sets.

Vera punched out Ana |

Vera is back and in form.

1-Serena Williams v Vera Zvonareva
Remember Zvonareva who once pushed up to No. 2, reaching two Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open against Serena in 2010? Serena destroyed the Russian in both sets.  Zvonareva has been seriously hurt and she has been pretty darn good in the Aussie, reaching the semis in 2009 and 2011. Hopefully she will eventually come back at 100 percent, but not yet. Williams will easily push past year in two sets.

1-Novak Djokovic v Andrey Kuznetsova 
The Serbian has been sick over the past two weeks but he played reasonably well in the first round and is feeling much better. Kuznetsova has improved over the past year or so, but he isnt strong enough or smart enough to battle the big boy. Djokovic in three sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

Lleyton Hewitt v Benjamin Becker
Hewitt was inconsistent at best on Tuesday night but, once he got over, he struck with the ball for more purpose. Hewitt is super at anticipating where his opponent is going, but he does not hit as strong as the younger players overall. However, he and Becker are around the same age and he knows that he can fool his foe with the help of a raucous pro-Aussie crowd. Hewitt will win in four sets.

20-Sam Stosur v CoCo Vandeweghe
The Aussie Stosur was very pleased to take her first match – actually any win at the Aussie Open – but this is different. Now she will be on the tournament’s biggest stage in front of a packed house. American Vandeweghe is finally coming her own. Vandeweghe has a gigantic serve – just like Stosur does – and can smoke the forehands that bounce up high. If Stosur plays as well as she can, she will take it in front of fans screaming for her. But she consistently becomes nervous in her homeland’s Slam and will again. Take Vandeweghe in three.

Margaret Court Arena

18-Venus Williams v Lauren Davis
Williams has gone on and on. She began the AO back in 1998, reaching the quarters as a baby. Now she is 35 years old and still playing well, looking like she still has a threat. Maybe that is possible, but you never know depending on whom she has to play. We know is that she is very smart, which will help her against younger foes. Davis runs forever and never gives up. But Williams has the tools. Venus will win in two long sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Victoria Azarenka
Without a question, Wozniacki has played much better since last August. She is more aggressive, her forehand in stronger, her first serve can kiss the lines and will move forward to attack her returns. But, you’ve got to wonder if she is feeling comfortable against Azarenka, who pretty much disappeared last year and wasn’t as motivated as she once did for years. Perhaps, but what we know is the two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka is ready to challenge the rest of the best and she is very close to racing up the tops. Azarenka is as fit as she was here in 2012 and 2013 when she won the titles. While she is not as fast as before, she can smoke the balls side to side. Vika will win in three tremendous three sets.

Other matches

8-Milos Raonic will take out the American Donald Young in four sets, because the Canadian is crushing his forehand, which is as powerful as any on tour.

4-Petra Kvitova thinks that he is ready to win the tournament, which means that she has to lock in quickly. She will defeat Mona Bartels in three sets, even though the German is a big swinger, too.

17-Gael Monfils almost went out against a French kid in five sets, but he hung in there and now he will do it again. He will survive the big hitter Jerzy Janowicz in a marathon.

Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 20

Rod Laver Arena

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Sam Stosur can’t seem to get going in front of her country audience.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

20-Samantha Stosur v Monica Niculescu
It is almost impossible to know how well Stosur will play. She has been terrific on times, but rarely in Australia. Sometimes she is very nervous, other times she is not, but that doesn’t mean she will be playing her best either way at home. She will find a way to best Niculescu, but after that, who know?

4-Stan Wawrinka v Marsel Ilhan
The defending champion Wawrinka appears very happy in Australia and did win Chennai the week before last. At times, he can lose his head, but he loves his somewhat slow hard court. The Turkish Ilhan wants the fans to notice him and perhaps they will, but the Swiss is much more bravado.

1-Novak Djokovic v Aljaz Bedene
The Serbian has been sick over the past week but he is feeling better and he is the man to beat. While Djokovic is not perfect at the Grand Slams, he almost always gets close. He will take down the Slovenia Bedene in straight sets.

Lleyton Hewitt v Zhang Ze
Hewitt admitted that he did not play well in Brisbane, but he has been at Australian Open many, many times before. However, he has aged and even though he is very smart, that doesn’t mean that he can crack the ball. Hewitt will win the match, but it will take him five long sets against China’s Ze.

Ajla Tomljanovic v Shelby Rogers
The young Tomljanovic is now an Australian … so that’s why she’s on the Rod Laver Arena schedule. The once Croatian is powerful, and moves fairly quickly, and played a solid win over Jelena Jankovic in Brisbane. However, the American Rogers has slowly rising and she outlasted Tomljanovic in Montreal last year. Rogers wouldn’t be nervous, while Tomljanovic will be. Take Rogers in three sets.

Margaret Court Arena

5-Kei Nishikori v Nicolas Almagro
The Japanese is a real threat to win the tournament, but finding out the former top 10 Almagro is back in the court after being hurt much of the year could be troubling. It could be, but the Spaniard isn’t ready for prime tie yet. Nishikori will win in straight sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Taylor Townsend
Wozniacki has been pretty darn good since last August, but she hasn’t won a big title in a long time. However, if her wrist is hurting she could be in trouble. The 18-year-old Townsend still has a way to go, but she is very strong and ambitious. But she is not ready yet, as Wozniacki will win in two interesting sets.

17-Gael Monfils v Lucas Pouille
The flying Monfils can be so good – recall his amazing win over Roger Federer in the Davis Cup final (although the Swiss won the title) – and so impossible to figure out. Monfils has a lot more experience against 20-year-old fellow French Pouille, but is the kid ready to shock him? Perhaps, just not yet. Monfils will win in five aching sets.

Hisense Arena

Sloane Stephens v Victoria Azarenka
Imagine these two are not seeded when two years ago they played in the semifinals here in the Aussie Open. Azarenka says that she essentially wasn’t around much at all during 2014. Stephens faded quickly after June. So who know is ready to make a serious push again? Stephens might this year but she didn’t start during the past two weeks. Azarenka lost to Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane, but the Czech is very good now and it went 3 hours and 20 minutes. Azarenka is ready to battle again. She will take it in two sets.

8-Milos Raonicv v Ilya Marchenko
The Canadian is ready for prime time. Yes, he still needs to improve his return and his backhand, but his forehand is massive and so is his first round. The Ukraine Marchenko can hit the ball, but he won’t be able to hurt him enough. Raonic will win in straight sets.

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.”

 

 

Sydney: Great tournaments, but dropping like flies

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY — The historic venue has had quite the past three days. Who wouldn’t want to come to Sydney? It’s one of the most attractive cities in the world. A gorgeous beach, the harbors, the restaurants, music, drinks – oh and some fine tennis courts, which date back to 1885.

Unfortunately, the tournament is the week before the Australia Open and that hurts.

Yes, the 2000 Olympic site is problematic because it’s way outside the city, but so what: if you love tennis, then find your way out there. Yes, the tournament needs improving and it is, but if you want to watch some excellent players, and then go out, sit down, and enjoy the players bashing away.

But the problem now is that many of top players are very wary about how they feel before the Australian Open. Two weeks prior, some of the top players will go all out to win a tournament, thinking that they will have a week of practice before Melbourne starts.

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Venus on the rise. Photos by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Take Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic — all reached the final of Brisbane and fought as hard as they could. The same goes for Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, and David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych in Doha. They all reached the finals. How about Stan Wawrinka in Chennai and Simon Halep in Shenzhen? They both won.

By Tuesday in Sydney, they were dropping like flies.

Federer and Lleyton Hewitt came out to play an exo in downtown in Sydney and that is just fine. Wozniacki, however, retired in her first match as her left wrist was painful. Halep had a sore stomach and pulled out. Madison Keys won a match and, then in the second round, her right shoulder hurt and she retired.

Had the Aussie Open not started next week, they may have continued on. In fact, both said they didn’t want to take the risk because of the Slam. So why play in the first place? If you are going to enter, you are supposed to give it all out. If you are not going to, then why bother?

How about the men’s in Auckland this week? Ferrer, Gael Monfils and John Isner all pulled out at the last moment. David said he was hurt, the defending champ Isner says that he was tired after playing the Hopman Cup and who knows what personal reasons Monfils had? When your top guys aren’t there, are the fans really going to want to come? Not as much, that is for sure.

Yes, if you become injured just prior to the Aussie Open, then that stinks. But you can actually play well during the week before and dominate the Aussie Open. In 2012, Vika Azarenka won Sydney and went one to win her first Slam by grabbing the Australia Open title. Former No. 1 Hewitt won Sydney 2000-2001 and 2004-2005.

It is plausible, as long as the players stay healthy physically and psychologically, to win it all, both the warmups and the Slams. Then the fans will keep coming back, cheer loudly, during day, and during night.

OTHER NOTES

Here’s the good news: Juan Martin del Potro took down Fabio Fognini 4-6 6-2 6-2. On Tuesday, he was very shaky in the first match he played since 10 months due to his sore left wrist. On Wednesday, he was flying high.

“I was nervous yesterday, not today,” he said. “My first match was too many sensations before getting to the court.  Today I did like normally, like a normal match.  He was the favorite for sure, but I played very calm.  I never give up, even losing the first set. I think the crowd also help me to keep fighting and enjoy all of the things too much.”

Guess what? On Wednesday, the Auckland got smacked again when Roberto Bautista Agut withdrew and Tommy Roberdo pulled out. Ugh.

The Italian Simone Bolelli bested second-seed David Goffin 6-3 6-3. We will quickly see how good the Belgian will be this season; a great results would be reaching the fourth round of the Aussie.

Angie Kerber beat Davia Gavrilova 6-7(6) 7-6(2) 6-3 in a match that began around 12:33 AM (Wednesday) & finished at 03:09. It’s very rare to start playing past midnight. It’s simply too late. Wait until the next day.

There are some very good players left in Sydney. The Czech Karolina Pliskova didn’t look tired and wiped out Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6 6-4 6-0. Don’t forget that Pliskova played Azarenka for more than three hours in Brisbane. She has almost cracked the top 20 and she is rising. She has a real shot to reach the final.

Tsvetana Pironkova won the tournament as a qualifier last year and here she goes again; she did not receive a wildcard (what a shame), so she went out and won three matches in the singles qualifying. Now she has won three more matches, besting Barbara Strycova 6-4 6-1.Could she do it again? She faces Petra Kvitova in the semis.

Ivanovic: 2008 Aussie final ‘quite disappointing’

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Ana competes in Indian Wells in 2011, the site of her first huge title. Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Ana Ivanovic had it, didn’t she? During 2008, she and Maria Sharapova were in the final of Australia Open and they both had ripped the ball over the past two weeks. Sharapova had never been as confident before then, smacking apart four excellent players to reach the final: Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic without even losing a set.

She was just 21 years old, had won two Grand Slams but wanted another more. Badly, but so did Ivanovic.

Ivanovic was just 20 years old then, but she was already pushing very hard. She had reached the 2007 Roland Garros final and you could tell that she was right there. Six months later in January, she was ready to roll. She took out the very young Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, shocked Venus Williams in the quarters and then played very smart in upsetting Daniela Hantuchova 6-4 in the third in the semis.

Ivanovic was ready to win her first major.

“I remember that match, very vividly,” Ivanovic told Tennisreporters.net. “I felt like I had a lot of chances in the first set.  It was my second Grand Slam final and I really thought I could do it, you know.  It was quite disappointing the way the second set finished.  I remember it was 6‑3.  I didn’t really sleep much after that.  That was tough loss, but it made my stronger.  After this I won Indian Wells and French Open.”

She did, shaking it off and winning her first huge title at Indian Wells and grabbing on clay and her first (and only) first Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros.

But she’s still thinking about it. It has been six years, since Ivanovic’s challenge was to sneak in, change it up, get into Sharapova’s head. But she did not. She had some key points in the first set, had a couple of looks right in front of her but she could not convert. Sharapova was more powerful, more composed and a bit smarter.

Sharapova won the title 7-5 6-3. Ana cried all night long while No. 1 Maria could smile up and down the street. Ivanovic admits that she was in there for the taking, that she felt like she would win it. Uh uh.

“Yeah, definitely.  The year before against Justine in French Open [in 2007] it was first time and the nerves overwhelm me,” Ivanovic said.  “Against Maria I really felt confident going into the match, and all the way through I felt like I could do it. That’s why it was really, really tough loss for me.”

Ivanovic is so much more mature now. She has had her ups and down since 2009, when she went down, but she battled and battled and, since 2014, she been much more consistent. She has cracked the top 5 and now will play a final again, when she plays Sharapova in Brisbane.

Here, this week, she bested two tough foes, Kai Kanepi and Varvara Lepchenko. She didn’t panic, but knew that she could mix and match. Or just swinging her favored forehand super hard.

“I really feel I have different mental approach to it,” Ivanovic said. “I struggled to be in the spotlight.  For me, this is something to take time, to get used to because I was very shy.  It was really overwhelming for me and all the pressures.  I always play tennis as a game and not all these pressures and expectations.

“It takes time to learn about yourself, to mature.  Now I really try to take my time and enjoy on the court and off the court.  The time I spend on court it’s more quality.  I really focus 100% on that.  And then when I’m off the court I can relax and enjoy.

“This is something that I was lacking in the past, because coaches really tried to control and I didn’t feel like I had time for myself.  It was all about tennis and just spending time on court or this.

“I felt like I had no time to go to movies with friends, you know, and this is what every person needs.  So I really feel since maybe year and a half I found this balance.  Then obviously it takes time for things to get in place and change, and I really feel I found that now.”

Sharapova is 9-4 head to head against Ivanovic, but the two split their matches in 2014. Ivanovic pulled out a classic win over Sharapova, 7-5 in the third set of Cincy. Perhaps they will do it again.

“Yeah, I enjoy playing against top players and having these kind of battles, because that’s what you want to test yourself against,” Ivanovic said. “She’s in great form.  Last year we had really close battles, and that match in Cincinnati was actually one of my favorite wins probably because it was really tough match and I managed to save match points and actually win.

“So it’s going to be I think a great tennis for both of us tomorrow to also see the level of the game we are at.  But I look forward to it.”

NOTES

The Aussie had a good week for the guys, but once they faced the top men the going got too tough. Roger Federer destroyed Aussie James Duckworth 6-0 6-1, and will face Grigor Dimitrov, who cruised Martin Klizan  6-3 6-4. Kei Nishikori was terrific in beating Aussie Bernard Tomic 6-0 6-4, while Milos Raonic overcame the Aussie Samuel Groth 7-6 in the third.

Dimitrov believes he has a good shot against Federer and appears to be very confident. But he actually has to do it, rather than just pretending.

“It’s very close and I am excited against players like him,” Dimitrov said. “I am looking forward to it. It’s not going to be an easy.  I have quite experience now and I have learned every match. I’ve played against him and I like my odds. I have had more wins and performing, more experience of tournaments and at 30-30 or deuce, or you know how to play better, or the structure of the game is different. I am sure he is going to be on the other side.”

Oh so smarter: Lepchenko on rise, again

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL, DAY 3 – Varvara Lepchenko is much more calm these days, so much so that she will enjoy her tennis, win or lose. She wants to be better, year after year, but if she isn’t clicking in, she can sit down, think hard about what she can do, and change it up. If she is on fire, it doesn’t matter if she keeps dictates everywhere. All she needs to do is swing away and not is concerned about her tactics. Some days you are locking in and there is no turning back.

The American Lepchenko is smarter than she used to be and knows how to fool her opponents. Here in Brisbane, she took out Sam Stosur 7-5 in the third set when she has been down 5-1. She knew that Stosur would become tight and, if she can move in closer, she could become more aggressive and faster. She knew where to go and how to do it properly.

She did it and on Tuesday. She confused Keys, who is very powerful but who can be had. The left-hander stroked early and deep and was able to return the big young hitter. The now 28-year-old has a real shot to make it to the 32 seeded in the Australian Open. Currently ranked No. 34, she will play in the quarters in Thursday, perhaps playing against Karolina Pliskova, who overcame Vika Azarenka in over three hours. Lepchenko will play all day long and rarely backs downs. Last year, she wasn’t seated in the 2014 Aussie Open and was playing pretty well but had to go up against Simona Halep in the second round where the youngster was on fire. Lepchenko is once again ready to challenge anyone and this week in Brisbane the fans will give her a closer look. Moreover, the other players have to pay attention.

OTHER NOTES

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Steve Johnson aims for an Australian Open seed. Photo: Ron Cioffi/TennisReporters.net

Pliskova has improved a great deal over the past year or so. She’s about to crack into the top 20 and, while the Czech hasn’t been watched by many people yet, look out. She is tall, hits a huge first serve, can crush the ball from her forehand and backhand and while she is not super fast, she is quick enough. The key for her is not to become afraid when she is playing the best competitors and that is exactly what she did in overcoming Azarenka, a two-time Slam winner. She didn’t back up and kissed the lines again and again. She has top 10 all over her.

Sam Groth says that he has improved over all and is changing his strategy but losing to Lleyton Hewitt 6-3 6-2 in Brisbane was a killer. Hewitt won the title last year, stunning Roger Federer, and people wanted to see them go at again. Not them, perhaps never again.

Alexandr Dolgopolov thumped Carlos Berlocq 6-2 6-3. Remember about four years ago that Dolgopolov was dancing around, mixing it up, ready to become a top young guy and lock into the top 10? He has not and may never have a real chance again.

Jarkko Nieminen bested Denis Kudla 4-6 6-1 6-4.  The Fin is 33 years old, just like Federer and Hewitt. Roger is still No. 2 while the other guys are sliding. Not ‘Rog’ though.

American Steve Johnson overcame Marinko Matosevic of Australia 2-6 7-6(0) 7-5. He will face Kei Nishikori on Wednesday, where he will be the underdog, but currently ranked No. 37, he believes he is rising up. Should he stunned Kei, he might be able to reach the top 32 by the end of the week and grab a seed for the Aussie Open. The US guys wants that badly.

New days, happy days as 2015 seasons starts

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – It’s the first day and on the first ready to rock and roll – or we think, that is. Tennis has begun, a fresh new start on brand new courts. It’s the New Year smf everyone is ready to play perfectly. There is hope, there is potential, there are aces one after another.

The players are quite excited in the first tournaments, thinking they can beat anyone. While the top players rarely go down fast and quietly, it can occur, which is exactly what appended on the first day in Brisbane.

On Sunday the young WC Ajla Tomljanovic took down Jelena Jankovic 7-6(6) 6-0. The Croatian – but now to be soon Australian – Tomljanovic was thrilled, but the former No. 1 Jankovic says that she almost retired at the end of last year due to her aching back. (Here’s the full report.) Who would have thunk it?

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Will Sam Stosur ever reign in Australia. Photo by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Then Kaia Kanepi upset No. 13 Andrea Petkovic 6-4 5-7 6-4. Kanepi had won the tournament back in 2012, but she has fallen over the years, very up and down. But, here she is a star again, at least on one day.

“Winning this tournament, I will always remember that, even if I come back here in ten years or doesn’t matter,” the smiling Kanepi said.  “So I still have the feeling, and I feel, I think, better because of that.”

Late at night, Samantha Stosur, of Australia, was very hopeful. She won the US Open four years ago, and was so close at the Roland Garros a few years ago. She can be very, very good when she clicking in, but can she play her best at home Down Under? No, not at all. She is very nice and has the weapons for the most part, but she can panic and that’s what she did. Sam was up 5-1 in the third set against Varvara Lepchenko, but the American began to lock it, and she was very steady. Lepchenko could see that Sam’s eyes were getting glassy. And she did, racing to the net, not knowing why and when she was going. It was obvious she was going to fold. She went down as Lepchenko was very smart and meaningful, winning 4-6 6-4 7-5.

“So, look, 5‑1, match point, you get yourself into that winning position there is not too much you’re doing wrong,” said Sam.  “I don’t feel like I did too much wrong even from that point. I think she played a fantastic last set from that position and absolutely went for it. She obviously had nothing to lose at that point in time, and tonight it all came off for her. I don’t feel like I went away. I kept trying my guts out, and unfortunately I came out on the wrong end.”

If Stosur is really playing well at the most part, everyone will really see how well when she heads to Sydney. She has never won an Australian title, but she did reach two finals, way back in 2005 at Gold Coast and Sydney. She has never reached the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open, but the current world No. 21 has another chance, so perhaps she can finally do it. Perhaps.

While three seeded women went down on Monday, the others who won deserved it and all of them – Tomljanovic, Kanepi and Lepchenko –want to climb up the ladder and are good enough to make runs in the rankings.

Keys has substantial potential.

Keys has substantial potential. Photo by Ron Cioffi/TennisReporters.net.

On Monday, another youngster came to play. The 19-year-old Madison Keys of the US smacked the balls and upsetting Dominica Cibulkova in straight sets. “Domi” reached the Aussie Open final last year, and didn’t play badly, but Keys was on fire, nailing 32 winners and six aces. She has her new coach, the former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, and while it is clear that the coach knows what she is talking about, but Keys can become nervous, or irritated. But as she said later, she is trying to be more consistent and on that day, she was looking calmer and playing smart. As she said, it’s time for her to enter the second week at the Aussie Open.

On Monday, the youngsters and the veterans all looked good. Angelique Kerber beat down Caroline Garcia; Yaroslava Shvedova stunned Sabine Lisicki 0-6 7-5 6-4; another soon-to-be Aussie Daria Gavrilova bested Alison Riske and Jarmila Gajdosova won.

It’s only January 5, but it’s a new day and, on the looks of it, 2015 has a fine start.