Notes on a a Draw Sheet: Djokokic, Sharapova win Rome, but are they now ready for Roland Garros?

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MAY 17- Novak Djokovic won another huge tournament, beating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3 to win Rome. It was close in the first set, but the Serbian was almost perfect again, virtually not making errors, moving his service all around the box, out-hitting his backhand crosscourt and cracking his forehand.

The 33-year-old Federer looked pretty good too, but even though he mixed it up, he could tell that Djokovic was not going to make any serious errors and he would have to be near-perfect. He could not and in the second set, you could tell that Federer was not confident enough and he couldn’t not raise his level and sore way up high into the sky and out last him. The Swiss knows that Djokovic is better than anyone now and the rest of the field have to wait until he falls down.

Will that occur next week when Roland Garros begins? No one really knows, but that we do know is that Djokovic has never won Paris and at some point he will become nervous. Can he take a deep breath and feel good about himself and play outstanding? Perhaps, but if he plays Federer again when ‘Rog’ beat Novak in 2011 in the semis, we all knew that it’s 3 out of 5 sets, not 2 out of 3 sets, and everyone can be shaky, just like Djokovic did.

Last year, the same thing happened when Djokovic faced Rafa Nadal in the final and the Spaniard had much more depth and variety. Djokovic has looked substantially better up until right now, but in Paris, it’s a new tournament, new stories and new questions. Will he be asked whether he won’t be nervous when the heat is on? We will hear Djokovic’s answer very soon.

Maria Sharapova took a deep breath after she won the tournament in Italy, besting Carla Suarez-Navarro 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the final. She was up and down during the first two sets, and Suarez was quite confident with her heavy topspin, but at 5-5, Sharapova gritted her teeth, swung super hard and won eight straight points to win the second set. Then she was on-fire and won the third set quickly. Remember when Sharapova played Simona Halep at 4-4 in the third set at 2014 Roland Garros? She smoked eight points and won the title. Same thing. Deep inside she was ready to raise up and she did.

Now Sharapova is confident again, which means that outside of Serena Williams, who has owned her for many years, she is the favorite. Sharapova is now ranked No. 2, so she and Serena cannot meet until the final. The Russian/American will be pleased that she and Serena won’t be playing on the same days and stare at each other when they are walking past the locker room.

Sharapova is happy after winning Rome, after she was unable to grab another title since the beginning of the start of the year in Brisbane. Then, Maria thought she could have a great season. Perhaps after winning Italy, she will punch out everyone again, if she did last week, when she was moving inside the court and blasting winners time and time again. However, the 5-time Grand Slam champion has never won a major back to back. Maybe she can pull it off at Roland Garros, but she will have to start quickly so she doesn’t doubt her confidence.

The other women

Suarez had another fine tournament and now she is ranked No. 8. By all rights, she should reach the quarterfinals and hopefully she won’t have to play Williams and Sharapova, but she will be very happy taking on No. 3 Halep or No. 4 Petra Kvitova, whom she beat both in Rome.

Outside of the top 4 as well as Suarez, it’s so hard to figure out who has been playing very well on clay. Almost no one. You have to think that a few of the kids can go deep in Paris such as Madison Keys, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Garcia. Perhaps Karolina Pliskova, Timea Bacsinszky and Zarina Diyas, but who else? …Amongst the veterans, there are a few who have looked well over the past couple months, even if they were sporadic like Andrea Petkovic, Angie Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka, who has looked tremendous at times, but she did not look confident when she lost to Sharapova…Three US women were close to be seeded in the top 32, but they couldn’t get there. CoCo Vandeweghe is ranked No. 33, Varvara Lepchenko is No. 34 and Madison Brengle is No. 36. Hopefully they will have decent seeds on the first round.

The other men 

There will be volumes of Nadal next week, trying as to why the 14-time Grand Slam champion has been struggling all year. Obviously, he is not stroking the ball correctly, which is why for the first time ever, he is making errors from both his forehand and backhand. Perhaps he will shake it off soon, or his coach and uncle Toni will figure why he is flying long or he is too short. As Rafa Nadal said, he isn’t sure when he will be 100% during the next couple of months, but that may not happen in Paris. If he cannot, then all he can do is to grind against the lesser players, but when he goes up against the major competitors then he will have to take risks because one thing is for sure, the rest of the players know he is vulnerable and they are licking their chops.

A couple months ago, who would have thought that No. 3 Andy Murray would win a major tournament on clay for the first time (he won Madrid) and Tomas Berdych is ranked No. 4 for the first time? Murray has an outside chance to win Roland Garros, but while Berdych has been solid against the men outside of the top 10, he hasn’t been able to knock out the Big 4, except upsetting Nadal.  Outside of the Big 4 (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are the favorites once again, but who else has a real chance to reach the final? Ok, fine, Berdych can, but not if he faces Djokovic or Federer. Kei Nishikori, but this year he has been a little short against the top players. David Ferrer never gets tired and he is very steady, but he is not powerful enough. Here are some other men, veterans or youngsters, who could reach in the semis, as long as they start hit early: Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, John Isner, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Nick Kyrgios…Two US guys were close to reaching the top 32: Jack Sock who is No. 36, and Sam Querrey, who is ranked No. 38.

 

The Pick, Rome, May 16: Djokovic vs. Ferrer, Federer vs Wawrinka, Halep vs. Suarez, Sharapova vs. Gavrilova

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1-Novak Djokovic vs. 7-David Ferrer

The so-called youngsters are gone again, and the veterans have reached the semifinals. Novak Djokovic overcame Kei Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-1, and David Ferrer beat David Goffin 6-2 4-6 6-3. Now the 33-year-old Ferrer will try and figure out how the Serbian will attack him. Djokovic has won their last eight matches. But, at the very least, Ferrer is 3-2 head to head on clay, so he can recall when he frustrated him and has a decent chance.

Djokovic has had to fight in three sets, three times this week, when he was a little off at times. However, by the third set, he was more consistent, locked in both on his forehand and backhand and threw in some gorgeous drop shots.

If Ferrer is going to allow Djokovic to charge early and often then the Spaniard will become frustrated and become erratic. Ferrer prefers to engage in long points, parking in the left corner and whacking on his gigantic forehand. He will go to the right, left and down to the middle way deep. He is very muscular and he is pretty fast even though he has aged.

The problem is that Ferrer is more predictable, he can’t handle with Djokovic’s super-sharp backhand cross court and he can’t back him off with his serves, which are good, but not great. Ferrer has been playing pretty well during the past two weeks and he realizes that he will have to be aggressive. But Djokovic has a darn good idea exactly what he has to do and he will win in straight sets.

2-Roger Federer vs. 8-Stan Wawrinka

These two are good buddies but when they come on court against each other they are extremely intense. The Swiss’ don’t get mad at each other, but they can get upset if they aren’t playing perfectly.

Federer has won just about everything, except he has never won Italy. The 17-time Grand Slam has reached the final three times, but he was stopped. The 33-year-old  just wants to play as well as he can. On Friday Federer looked very good, easily taking down Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-3.

On paper, Federer should be able to best Wawrinka, whom he is 15-2 head to head. Obviously, he has been better than he has since they started in 2005. He has beat him in clay, hard courts and grass. Federer has tremendous variety, his forehand is the best of all time and these days he likes to come into the net more.

Wawrinka has improved a lot over the past two years. By working hard he’s improved his fitness, forehand and serve. Last year, the 2014 Australian Open champion nearly upsetFederer 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) at the Barclay’s ATP World Final, one of the most exciting matches of the year. Stan nearly won it and had some real chances, but Federer stood tall and came through.

Here on clay, this contest will be very close again. Wawrinka didn’t show any nerves of upsetting Rafa Nadal 7-6(7) 6-2 on Friday. He was cracking his phenomenal one-handed backhand, he jumped on his returns and he was able to control his heavy forehand. Can he do it again? Sure he can, if he doesn’t become confused and take too many risks. He must be patient. Just like in 2014 Monte Carlo, Wawrinka upset Federer. This time, he will do it on clay again, winning in three sets.

2-Simona Halep vs. 10-Carla Suarez Navarro

This should be a terrific contest, as they have played nine times, with the 23-year-old Halep having grabbed five wins, and the 26-year-old has snared four wins – three times on clay. The Spaniard grew up on the dirt and loves it and while Halep has risen up quickly over the past two years, Suarez believes she can snare it. Halep knows that her foe will grind it all day long, mixing it up and running for hours.

However, Halep can do the same and she can out hit her with her lightning backhand.Interestingly, the last time they faced off on clay was at 2013 Roland Garros in the first round, won by Suarez. Neither was in the top 10 back then. In fact, Halep was ranked No. 64, and she wasn’t ready against the big girls yet.

A few weeks later, she was ready to roll and she rose quickly. Halep crushed Alexandra Dulgheru in the quarters, but Suarez took out Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-2. Obviously, Halep looked good, but that was a substantial victory by Suarez over the No. 4 Kvitova who had won Madrid. It wouldn’t be surprising if Halep won, because she out-hit her at Indian Wells in three sets in March, But on clay, Suarez will feel her touch and upend the Romanian in three sets.

3-Maria Sharapova vs. Daria Gavrilova

In Miami, Gavrilova stunned Sharapova in the first round. Clearly, Sharapova was hurt and she was extremely erratic, but nonetheless the 21-year-old was gutsy and aggressive when the most important points came. Being able to reach the semifinal here shows she can really play. She might be short, but she is super fast and can crack the ball.

However, Sharapova loves the clay now and she was lethal and beating Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in the quarters. When the Russian is playing that well against the former No. 1, you know that she is very confident. Credit to Gavrilova for being here and upsetting Sharapova the last time, but the five-time champion wants revenge and she will crush the youngster in straight sets.

Who is dominating the WTA? Serena Williams, Sharapova, anyone?

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Plus Wozniacki vs. Azarenka in Italy

After January ended, it looked like the WTA’s two top women, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, would go on and on, winning titles and still believing they could cruise on hard courts, clay and grass. But not anymore.

Serena won the Australian Open while Sharapova won Brisbane, as well as reaching the final at the Aussie, which was close. The 28-year-old won both of matches for Russia defeating Poland at the Fed Cup.

But after that, things changed, right up until now in Rome.

Ms. Williams won a match in Fed Cup in Argentina before she got sick. She went to Indian Wells, returning for the first time since 2001, playing pretty darn well but then she was injured and pulled out before the semifinal against Simona Halep. A couple weeks later, she played Miami and overcame Halep in the semis (in a terrific match) and then blitzed Carla Suarez-Navarro. Serena was all good again.

She signed up to play Fed Cup once again and she played her heart out against the Italians and won both of her singles, but in the doubles she and Alison Riske lost quickly. She did not play Stuttgart and last week, Williams fought very hard, somehow besting over Vika Azarenka 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-6 (1). A few days later she finally lost, falling to Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in the semis.

But does that matter and is Serena vulnerable? Perhaps not, and these days she is the favorite here in Rome and in a week and half at Roland Garros. But she is not unbeatable. Why?

Two things: one because last year against Garbine Muguruza in Paris, she was smoked 6-2, 6-2 and the second she walks on court, she will be thinking about it, which could maker her nervous; secondly, while Serena had not lost when she has played an entire match since August in Cincinnati until last week in Madrid, she has retired against Wuhan and withdrew from Beijing and Indian Wells. That matters. When Williams is feeling fine physically, she can wipe out her opponents when she is on. But when she is hurt, well, that is where she could be in trouble. She is 33 years old, you know…

Sharapova has sputtering now, too. She withdrew at Acapulco before the semis because she was sick, she lost in early at Indian Wells against Flavia Pennetta, she shouldn’t have played in Miami because her leg was bruised and she lost to Daria Gavrilova. She pulled out of Fed Cup, tried at Stuttgart but lost to Angie Kerber in three long sets. On Madrid, she played much better overcoming Caroline Garcia and Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost to Sveta Kuznetsova in the semis and while the other Russia was impressive, Maria was sporadic.

No. 3 Sharapova is the Roland Garros champion and she badly wants to win it again, but first things first: she has to beat everyone in Rome (except against Serena, who owns her) to hone her strokes perfectly, fine and true. If she doesn’t, it will be difficult to win a Slam back to back, which the five-time champion have yet to do.

Here is the cool thing on the WTA: no one knows where the wind blows. No. 2 Halep had looked excellent on hard courts beginning in February, winning Dubai and Indian Wells, but she has faltered on clay, losing early at Stuttgart and Madrid. No. 4 Kvitova looked ready to win another major after snagging Sydney, but then she fell fast and didn’t begin to strike the ball inside the lines until last week and she won Madrid.

Everyone wants to rise and most of the top 20 have had at least a week or better, such as Wozniacki, Bouchard (yes, she’s been quiet for a while but she did reach the quarters at the Aussie Open), Ivanovic, Makarova, Petkovic, Kerber and Pliskova, etc. This week in Rome, someone will play fantastic and come very close to winning it, or grabbing it. Some of the others will lose early and dash to Paris.

On the first day Sunday May 24 at Roland Garros, everyone will dream a sweet dream and envision of raising the trophy. But right now, who is a gigantic favorite? Nobody knows.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Victoria Azarenka, May 13, Wednesday, Rome

This is pretty simple, even though it is an extremely important match: if the Dane has a real chance, she was to move forward quickly or for the third time this year, she will go down quickly. Azarenka dictated her shots from the beginning to the end, out-hitting her forehand, putting away balls at the net and dare her to kiss the lines with her backhand. Wozniacki has beaten Azarenka before on hard courts and knows how to frustrate her, but this is clay and she has admitted that she isn’t confident there. This year, she has to do things differently. Wozniacki has to be patient but when her opponent drops the ball short, she has to rush ahead and attack immediately. Caro’s backhand is by far her best shot so she has to crush it down the lines, crosscourt and very deep down the middle.

Let’s assume that Wozniacki plays the first set brilliantly, but then Azarenka will pound it with her better forehand, win the second set, and in the third set, one would stay true and the other will panic. Azarenka was off on Tuesday, and she won’t play well again. Wozniacki will win in three sets.

Notes on a Draw Sheet: Murray smokes Nadal to win Madrid; Kvitova won, on to Rome. Djokovic favored, but is Serena?

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MAY 10 – Props to Andy Murray, who won his first gigantic tournament on clay by beating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2 at Madrid. For the first time against the Spaniard on dirt, he never panicked, he wasn’t afraid, he was very impressive and he actually believed that he could out hit with his phenomenal backhand. Years ago, he stayed way back behind the baseline and frequently push the ball with his forehand, but not anymore. Now he believes that he can crack his forehand when moving forward and he would dictate as fast as he can.

Roger Federer was not going to participate in Rome, but then he lost early against Nick Kyrgios at Madrid and he changed his mind. He played fairly well in winning Istanbul, but he played against the lower-ranked guys. If he is going to go very deep at Roland Garros, he has to beat the better competitors and if he manages to face the other Big 4 (Djokovic, Nadal and Murray) he must be very close. If he does he will become more confident. Kyrgios could play against his fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic. They are super close and respectful of each other but Tomic doesn’t want the younger kids beating him yet – or ever. However, Nick has to play Feliciano Lopez in the opening round … first things first.

The No. 1 Novak Djokovic decided not to play in Madrid because he was exhausted. So now he will be super fresh. Obviously he is the favorite on clay because Nadal is panicking. Could the Serbian lose? I doubt it, but he will face the former No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, who is very fast and can run around for a long time. Maybe he will go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters which could be a terrific match if the Japanese keeps forward, and should he face Murray in the semis, well, we know that the Brit is on fire now. He hasn’t beat him in a long time, though.

John Isner has improved since March and now he has a solid draw, playing Joao Sousa in the first round. If he wins there he would face Leonardo Mayer. Rome is slower than Madrid. Isner will have to work very hard, but assuming he scores both wins then it is very likely that he will face Nadal. He has been close of beating him before and given that Rafa is shaky mentally, Isner would have a legitimate. Currently ranked No. 33, the young American Jack Sock could be seeded at Roland Garros. He will have a very tough task against Gilles Simon who, when he is happy and feeling right, can be excellent. You never know when Simon shows up. Oh my, Alexandr Dolgopolov has fallen to No. 73, but good for him for qualifying. We would assume that the former No. 13 is now back on track.

THE WOMEN

Petra Kvitova crushed Svetlana Kuznetsova to win Madrid. She looks faster; she was under control and torching both wings. If she plays as well she did in smoking Serena Williams and Kuznetsova, then she will be a huge threat to win Roland Garros for the first time. But as good as she can be, she rarely has been able to be excellent over a month or so. She can get tired and she can get upset with herself. At Rome, even if she loses, she has to move on. She beat Serena for the first time ever, which was huge because now she finally believes she can beat the best players. If she is feeling good mentally and she is healthy, perhaps the two-time Wimbledon champion can show the world that she has learned how exactly to play the right way at the French Open.

I wouldn’t be concerned about Serena finally losing. It’s impossible to win every time out and on clay over the years. Now the 33-year-old has taken some great wins and some bad losses. She is the favorite at Italy and at Roland Garros, but it won’t be easy. At Rome, she might have to face the former US Open champ Sam Stosur in the second round, which could be a marathon. Check out the potential fourth round: Ana Ivanovic, Belinda Bencic, Daria Gavrilova, Kateryna Pliskova or (gulp) Sloane Stephens. Brutal and extremely tough, who ever it is.

Maria Sharapova played pretty well in Madrid until playing Svetlana Kuznetsova and then she stopped. Now she needs to step it up in Rome. She could play Caroline Garcia in the third round (a match that was very close in Madrid) or against Madison Keys, who is dangerous but who didn’t play well in Spain…Here is the biggest match in the second round: Caroline Wozniacki could face Victoria Azarenka, who has beaten the Dane twice this year. The Belarussian is the favorite so it is up to Wozniacki to figure it out and go for her. She can’t back off all the time if she is going to have a real chance…Here is a shocker: Wozniacki hooks up with the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario as her coach a few weeks ago, the Spaniard looked pretty good at Madrid and all of sudden Sanchez=Vicario bails out as she says that she cannot be able to travel toRome and Paris. Where did that come from? Why would the three-time RG champion have agreed to help Caro and then wave good buy already? There is something very fishy. Such is Sanchez-Vicario’s strange life.

Pick ’em, Madrid, May 10: Nadal vs. Murray in the final, both are on fire, but the Scot will play better than ever to stun the Spaniard

 

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Andy Murray is very confident now, so confident that he has a real chance to upset Rafael Nadal in the final. Yes, he has never beaten him on clay and he will be the underdog, but if he is being aggressive off both sides, he can crunch his serves and when he comes into the net, he will know exactly where he is going. He simply cannot hope that he can out-run him, but he can go side to side for a couple of hours and when he’s not very far behind the baseline or way outside with his long legs, he can swing his racket as hard as he can.

Unfortunately, Murray has not been able to get very close against Nadal on clay. Last year, Rafa smoked him 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 at Roland Garros. Clearly, Murray was tired after winning a very long match when he bested Gael Monfils in five sets, but that is the way it goes on clay. If you are going to win a massive tournament on dirt, you cannot be slow against the speedy Nadal.

Yes, the Spaniard has said all week that he was not quite there yet, but he is now: in the 7-6 6-1 win over Tomas Berdych, you could tell that he could hit as hard as he can and believed that he would deliver line after line, which he did. Here is what he said:

“Today I played again at a very good level. I did yesterday; today I played at a very, very high level. Let’s see tomorrow if I am able to continue with that positive feeling. This week has been fantastic for me. This is a very important result, and that’s confidence, that’s positive energy. That’s calm, too.”

Playing at home at Madrid, Nadal is very comfortable on the stadium court. He isn’t nervous there and he is very forceful. When Murray beat Kei Nishikori in straight sets, he said that he was “dictated a lot of the points, especially when he was serving, and it worked well.” If Murray wants to be close, he will have to be because if the Spaniard is dictating all the time he will win easy.

Murray has been unable to beat the other three men in the Big 4 since 2013, and he has to be able to knock out Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer at least one time this year because he has been very consistent this year. He will raise a trophy at one of the ATP Masters Series this season, but not yet, as Nadal is charging again and will win in two delicious sets.

 

Pick ‘Em, Madrid, May 9: Semis with Nadal vs. Berdych, Murray vs. Nishikori; final, Kvitova vs. Kuznetsova, really?

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Tomas Berdych has been extremely consistent this year. Believe it out not, the Czech has not fallen earlier at any of the events, only going down at a quarterfinal in Indian Wells when he lost against Roger Federer at Indian Wells. He has reached the final of Auckland and lost to David Ferrer, he reached the final at Rotterdam and fell to Stan Wawrinka, he reached a semifinal before going down to Novak Djokovic at Dubai, he reached the semifinal at Miami and lost to Andy Murray and on clay Monte Carlo, he reached the final and was close against the Serbian, but fell again.

He may have beaten everyone outside of the top 10, but he has to be able to beat the rest the top 10, too. He upended one of he top 10s, which was at the Australian Open, when he stunned Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. He was extremely happy and even though he lost to Murray in the semis, he was changing and believed that he was finally hitting the balls the right way.

Perhaps he will never be able to win a Grand Slam, but he still has a shot and if he can upset Nadal again in Madrid, and then he will be a big threat at Roland Garros. However, Nadal is rising, he looks pretty fast now and he is feeling much better after coming back from his long injury. He says that he may not be 100 percent for another month or two, or it could me next week or even at Roland Garros, but he has shaken the rust out. He is 18-4 wins to losses against Berdych, which extremely good. He can belt his forehand down the lines and crosscourt and if he is returning well, he can knock the balls, start the rallies at 50-50, and he will be pleased that he can out-last him.

In Australia, it was Berdych who was very aggressive, who was very confident at the net and who exposed him on his floating backhand. But this is clay and although Madrid is fast and you can nail ace after ace, you have to work long rallies. The Czech will try to do that, but Nadal is a Spaniard and he knows exactly when to raise his level at a perfect time. He will win in three sets.

Until last year, Andy Murray had owned Kei Nishikori, who couldn’t figure out which way he should go and he became very erratic. Not last November, when the Japanese had put together a terrific season and when they met, he took down Murray for the first time at the ATP Finals is the Round Robin. Now, Nishikori thinks that he is right there against the big boys. He won Barcelona two weeks ago and on Friday, he wasted David Ferrer.

However, Murray won Munich, the first time he was able to grab a clay title, so now he is quite confident. He says that he is moving forward more, he is not staying way back from the baseline and he is not just lopping his forehand. Now he is almost pretending that he is playing the hard courts.

But does he look on fire like Nishikori is? He looked just fine in beating Milos Raonic on Friday but Nishikori is so fast that if he is concentrating he can catch up to anything in front of him or backwards. This contest is a pick-em, but Nishikori wants to go to the final at Madrid again and he will win in three sets.

Talk about a pick-em on Saturday, how about Petra Kvitova against Svetlana Kuznetsova after the Czech shocked Serena Williams and the Russian surprised Maria Sharapova? Neither Williams nor Sharapova played well, but the other two looked excellent and confident and totally deserved it. Yet who wins on Saturday? Kuznetsova has virtually done nothing; I mean nothing before this tournament. But suddenly, the former Roland Garros champion is sweetly touching her racket and kissing on the lines. Kvitova has never won a major clay before, but she is happy after struggling this year and the left-handed looks like she can crush the ball, anytime, anywhere. It is impossible to know who will mentally be sound when she walks on court, and while Kuznetsova is a better competitor on clay, the Czech is more ambitious these days on the most important tournaments. Take Kvitova to win in two tough sets.

 

 

The Pick, May 1: Andy Murray wants to win a clay court, badly. To face Rosol

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Andy Murray vs. Lukas Rosol, Munich, May 1

Murray would love to win a clay court for the first time. He’s won 31 titles over the years, winning two major Slams at the US Open on a hard court and Wimbledon on grass. He has beaten the big member of the ‘Big 4’ Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but he has never taken them out during prime-time at the clay tournaments. Those men have all won gigantic clay events, but the Scot has not come super close.

Murray wants to win any type of a clay tournament, which is why he is in Munich this week (and a lot of additional money, of course). The world No. 3 is still learning how to play the right way and he is only 27, so he has years ahead. When he slides on the red clay, sometimes he just continues to slip, and he isn’t able to lock it in and club the balls. He can strike his phenomenal backhand just about everyone, but he can push his forehand because he isn’t set and floats the balls into the middle of the court. He needs to use more spins, drop shots and be patient.

The veteran Rosol is tall at 6-foot-5 and he is a huge hitter. Last year he had played very well overall, reaching his high ranking at No. 26. But this season he has struggled big time, only winning two matches in a row, which is problematic. Rosol has a huge first serve, but he has never looked fantastic on clay, which means that Murray will figure him out early and win 6-3, 7-5.

In Estoril the 18-year-old Borna Coric now has a new coach in Thomas Johansson, which the Swede will make sure that the young one will be enthusiastic. But is Coric ready on clay against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who won Romania? Nope, the Spaniard will best him in sets.

In Istanbul, Grigor Dimitrov will face Ivan Dodig, who is a big hitter but the Bulgarian has a lot more variety and is faster. Dimitrov will win in straight sets.

In Prague Karolina Pliskova has won her third straight three-set wins and if she is more consistent she should be able to grab the title. She will face Yanina Wickmayer who is powerful, but she is erratic and this time Pliskova will win in straight sets.

In Marrakech, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova has been playing excellent ball on clay, reaching the final in Rio, winning Poland and on Thursday she beat the red hot Timea Bacsinszky 6-3 3-6 7-5. She will win again when she upsets Elina Svitolina in three long sets.

 

The Pick, Stuttgart, April 25: Halep vs Wozniacki, is Caro finally ready to grind again?

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Maria Sharapova went down early against Angie Kerber, Petra Kvitova lost to Madison Brengle and all of a sudden, Caroline Wozniacki had hope, not that she would win instantaneously, but everyone was vulnerable and if she was willing to grind it, she might be able to exhaust anyone. She looked terrific to beat Carlos Suarez on Friday, which was not easy at all considering that the Spaniard loves clay and she has admittedly that the dirt has given her the most trouble.

But at least this week, she has not been emotionally bankrupt and feeling spry. However while all the players out there were vulnerable, one did not: Simona Halep, who she has to face in the semifinal. The Romanian has been almost untouchable since February, winning just about everything, and nearly besting the great Serena Williams in Miami (although the last game was spotty at best). Here in Stuttgart she had to play Garbine Muguruza, who had beat Halep on the Fed Cup in Romania. But this time, on clay, she kept hitting the corners and won in three sets. That was gigantic because the Spaniard was willing to strike. Halep was ready, she didn’t just be reactive, but who saw her game beautifully.

That is what she occurred in Dubai in February, when she beat Wozniacki 2-6 6-1 6-1 in Dubai. She challenged the Dane’s sporadic forehand and charged. She faked her backhands when it looked like that her crosscourt would stay their forever but she went down the line very early and Wozniacki was confused. Yes, Caro was hurting during the third match, but she was healthy enough and simply lost because she didn’t know where to go.

What now on Saturday? The only way that Wozniacki can win over Halep is if she can stroke her forehands and backhands deep. Yes, she will also have to throw in some drop shots, but both of them are super fast so Caro can’t allow them to run up and go anywhere she wants. She has to fool her and then go for her much improved spinning lobs over her head. Her backhand is by far her best shot so she had to swing away early and often because Halep is pretty darn good, too.

Wozniacki has struggled this year but at least she’s trying. Maybe she has a real chance to win a big tournament again but not yet, and certainly not on clay. Halep will fight for hours, but won’t need to and will win in two entertaining sets.

The Pick, WTA at Stuttgart, April 23: Kvitova is ready for clay vs. Brengle; Wozniacki and Safarova face off

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Petra Kvitova looked just fine at Fed Cup last weekend, winning two contests over the French. Now the Czech has to play the American Madison Brengle, the only US in the draw at Stuttgart. Kvitova has been up and down forever, looking like she could wipe out everyone at Wimbledon, and then fading at the US Open. She has been awful at times on clay, but she has been very good at times, reaching the semifinal at Roland Garros three years ago.

Is she ready to dance this year? Who knows, but she is refreshed now after resting during March and now she is happy. Brengle has improved a tremendous amount over the past year and not only can she grind it from the baseline, but she can also attack the ball. She will threaten Kvitova, but Petra’s left-handed serve can be deadly and she will win in two tight sets.

Carolina Wozniacki has been working with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the former No. 1 who has rarely watched with the kids, but maybe she has changed now and she understands exactly how the Dane is played. Maybe on clay, Wozniacki will just grind as long her foes grow exhausted and then she can attack. That’s what the three-time RG champ Sanchez did, who was never tired. However, these days almost all the women can crush their forehands –where Sanchez could not — so if Caro just pushes the ball against Lucie Safarova, she will be gone pretty quickly.

The other Czech, Safarova, also played very well at the Fed Cup, so the lefty is happy and ready to move forward and crush her strokes down the line. These two know each other well and Caro can out-run her, but she hasn’t played well much of the year and she has to prove that she feels fine again. Safarova is and will win in three sets.

I am not going to pick with Maria Sharapova against Angie Kerber because even though Maria has been lights out at Stuttgart as she has won the last three years, she is coming off an injury on her leg and she’s vulnerable. Kerber was out of it all year up until Charleston, but then she rose, played beautifully and won the title on green clay. Last Sunday against Russia, she blitzed her foe on red clay, although Germany ended up losing. But the lefty is back, at home and is ready to battle for three hours against Sharapova. Can Angie win? Possibly but she better yank her around quickly and not hope that Sharapova is totally off. This will go three sets, but who will win on Wednesday? It’s a toss-up.

 

Fed Cup, Winners & Losers, April 19: Czechs & Russia reach final. Kvitova returns, Vesnina helps team, Germany falls

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The World Group

Czech Republic d France 3-0

WINNERS: The Czech Republic is unstoppable, once again. On Saturday, Petra Kvitova swept aside Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-4. Then Lucie Safarova — who has been so impressive over the past two and half years and rarely panics at the Fed Cup — overcame Caroline Garcia 4-6 7-6(1) 6-1. Kvitova, who hasn’t played since February, beat Garcia 6-4, 6-4 to win the tie 3-0 over France on Sunday.

The Czechs beat Germany in the final at Prague last year over Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic; they beat Serbia in Prague in 2011 over Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic; they beat Russia 3-2 in the final 2010 in Moscow over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Kirilenko, among others. Now the Czechs will play the final again, this time against Russia once again and presumably, in Prague. Do Kvitova and Safarova want a piece against Maria Sharapova? You bet they do.

LOSERS: Caroline Garcia has improved quite a bit this year but she has to be more patient and not go for winners immediately. She will in time.

Russia d Germany 3-2

The Germans thought it a had a real chance to take down the Russians after Sharapova pulled out, but they couldn’t do it when. in the fifth rubber, the excellent doubles player Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wiped out Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Captain Barbara Rittner had so many different choices. She said that Kerber, who had won Charleston last week, was too tired and didn’t arrive until Wednesday so she needed to rest. Petkovic, who made it into the semifinals, was also tired and hurt. But they had five days before Saturday, so if they were OK, why not just put them on Saturday? At the Grand Slams, you have one day off, and then you are ready to play again. Unless you are injured, that’s fine, but if they are OK, then go with it. That is why they are the main competitors.

However, Rittner felt that Julia Goerges has been good at times on the clay and Lisicki had been played well at Indian Wells and Miami. But they both lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and then Germany was in serious trouble. But whoops, Petkovic and Kerber were ready on Sunday, they destroyed Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and they were ready to grab the tie. But hold on.

Rittner decided to use Petkovic and Lisicki instead of trying Goerges, but Lisicki grew nervous and wasn’t listening, while Petkovic began to get frustrated. Vesnina knew exactly where she should be and what she would do and Russia won it. Props for the captain Anastasia Myskina, who talked to the team and calmed them down at 2-2. You can guarantee that she will want Sharapova to be the leader in the final.

LOSERS: Rittner paid and they lost and that was painful. But her team has stuck in there and they have to give her another chance in 2016.

WORLD GROUP PLAYOFF

Italy d USA 3-2

Serena Williams did not play spectacular in singles by beating Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani, but in the fifth rubber, she and Alison Riske lost 6-0 6-3 to Errani and Flavia Pennetta. Props to Errani and Pennetta who really know how to mix in their shots, but Serena and Riske weren’t very enthusiastic.

LOSERS: The younger girls still have a lot to learn, including Riske, Lauren Davis and Christina McHale who lost very quickly and quietly.

Switzerland d Poland 3-2

Crazy days, that is for sure. Aga Radwanska comes out firing and beats Martina Hingis 6-4 6-0, her best match all year, even though the former No. 1 hasn’t played singles in eight years. The Swiss Timea Bacsinszky has played very well over the past two months, and she whacked Urszula Radwanska 6-2 6-1. But then Bacsinszky smoked Radwanska 6-1 6-1. That was stunning. Hingis surpisingly fell to Urszula 4-6 7-5 6-1. Back in the day, Hingis would play for hours and never looked tired. Now at the age of 34, she looks terrific moving around in the doubles, but on singles, she is not as fast. But getting tired after a couple of hours? She must have been super nervous inside, because there is no reason that her legs were heavy.

Whatever the case, Hingis didn’t play the doubles because she couldn’t run anymore, but Bacsinszky was gutsy again, playing with Viktorija Golubic and they beat Aga and Alicja Rosolska 2-6 6-4 9-7.

LOSES: Without question, Aga Radwanska has been reeling, losing to everyone and everything this year. Losing easily at home against Bacsinszky — who has played lights out – by the once former Wimbledon final shows that she is very confused.

Romania d Canada 3-0

Good for Genie Bouchard who changed her mind and came to Montreal. However, she is really slumping, losing both matches to Alexandra Dulgheru and Andreea Mitu, a real unknown. But, the tennis world knows her now. The top Romanian’s Irina-Camelia Begu couldn’t even play on Sunday because she was hurt (she beat Francoise Abanda on Saturday). Credit to all the players who won as there No. 2 Simona Halep couldn’t make it.

LOSSES: Bouchard has lost her rhythm, but she took a big hit by not shaking hands with Dulgheru at the tie. People will talk about it all year long, or until she retires.

Netherlands d Australia 3-1

It looked like Australia would win easily, but Sam Stosur was hurt and couldn’t play. The Netherlands played as well as they could, with Kiki Bertens winning two matches, beating Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua, while Arantxa Rus grabbed one over Gajdosova 0-6 7-5 7-5 to end it. Props to the captain, the former ATP pro Paul Haarhuis, who gave them self belief.

LOSSES: Gajdosova should have been able to best Rus, who is ranked at No. 217.