Pick of the Day, Feb 25: Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Flavia Pennetta, Doha

Aga is on a hot streak but her 2nd serve still hurts her

Aga is on a hot streak but her 2nd serve still hurts her

Is the Polish Aga Radwanska in a slump? Yes, she is.

The former 2012 Wimbledon finalist and the once No. 2 hasn’t played very well since the start of the season. She fell to Garbine Muguruza in a tight contest in Sydney, went down to Venus Williams in the fourth round at the Australian Open, lost both matches in Fed Cup (when she was whipped by Maria Sharapova) and last week in Dubai, she fell against the rising Muguruza once again.

Currently ranked No. 8, Radwanska isn’t exactly sure how she should properly hit the ball. She is too aggressive at times and, then, too soft. She will likely get over it now, but the only way that she can start playing very well is to listen to her new coach, Martina Navratilova, and that takes time.

However, the No. 16 Pennetta has not been great this year either. In fact, Pennetta didn’t plat at all until Dubai, when she reached to the quarterfinals and lost to Caroline Wozniacki.

However, at least last week, the Italian was striking the ball better again and gradually, her forehand and serves looked more consistent. Over last year, her doubles play went up sky high and she has looked confident at the net.

She bested Radwanska twice last year in singles, spinning the ball around and mixing up her approaches.

One would think that Radwanska will begin to start winning again, but not yet. It will be a long contest, but the Italian will win it in three dramatic set.

The top 10: Halep & Pliskova ready to clash

Simona Halep says that she is under pressure at the big tournaments. Perhaps, but the Romanian was a little nervous when she was playing at home in the Fed Cup against Spain. They won 3-2, but the rising Garbine Muguruza took her out.

When Halep arrived at Dubai, she was the top seed as No. 1 Serena Williams had pulled out. She admitted that everyone would be looking at her, so she had to stay in control and did not lose her head. This time, she did, knocking off the resurgent Daniela Hantuchova (who was exhausted after just winning Thailand), Tsvetana Pironkova. and then over coming Ekaterina Makarova in the quarters, whom she had lost in Australia.

On Friday, Halep was very consistent in the last two sets, whipping Carolina Wozniacki 2-6, 6-1, 6-1. She kept putting the balls deep and yanking it around. Her backhand down the line is legendary. She is very fast and while she is still up and down emotionally, when she realizes she has a very good chance, she locks it down. Now, Halep will face Karolina Pliskova in the final, who plays every week and is rising faster than anyone else.

venus_mt_uso_082813Halep badly wants to win a Grand Slam this year, but so does Wozniacki. The Denmark queen had a very good end of 2014, but this year, she has been hurt and is very frustrated. She did reach the final of Auckland but went down to Venus Williams. Then she hurt her wrist in Sydney in the first match and has to retire. Then she went to the Australian Open and was taken out by the former No. 1 and two-time champion Vika Azarenka in the second round. Caro cried after that match, which was an extremely tough loss, as while they are good friends again, she wanted to go much further.

In Dubai, Wozniacki thought she was ready to win it. Over the past six months, she has been super close; but she hasn’t won to beat the best players in front of her. However, she has been sick in Dubai and now, her left leg was also hurt. Somehow, she managed to take down Sam Stosur 7-5 in the third, and trounce Alize Cornet and Flavia Pennetta. But, after the first set win against Halep, Caro was gone. She was defensive, she was off and her face looks like she was depressed. In the third set, she wasn’t in there at all.

“The air just went out of the balloon,” she said.

Last week, maybe Wozniacki got a vicious cold because she was in New York where it was very chilly; she’s in the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit issue and had to go out at tours, events and parties. Good for her, but then having to go across the Atlantic last weekend was not going to be easy on the court.

Anyway, she can rest for a while now. By the time we see ger at Indian Wells, she will be smiling again. She smiles almost all the time. But if the No. 5 wants to reach No. 1 again, then she has to knock out the big girls. Once again, as her father and her coach says, she has to be aggressive all the time.

Back in Dubai, there were some terrific ones and tough ones.

Pliskova beat Ana Ivanovic, Lucie Safarova and Muguruza in three, all tight sets. She is very tall and cracks her first serves almost as fast as anyone out there. But can she beat Halep when she was already been on the court for hours? She is going to have to play great immediately and keep her foot on the gas.

The young Muguruza had a terrific week, even though she lost in the semis. She upended Aga Radwanska and she was ready to face off Carla Suarez, another Spaniard and her doubles partner. The No. 11 Suarez was slightly favored going into the match and the two had never faced off before. Both of them had said that it was “very difficult” to play each other. The big hitter Muguruza out shined her, winning in three long sets.

What we don’t know if the 21-year-old Muguruza might some day be as good as say Conchita Martinez, one day, but at the very least, she will make the No. 20 very soon and will be a force all year long. … Credit for Suarez upsetting Petra Kvitova, but the Czech has to be more consistent month to month. She rarely is.

Safarova has been better over all during the past year and she upset Venus Williams. Yes, the 34 year old Venus can take out just about anyone, but winning the big tournaments? Rough one…

Andrea Petkovic’s has been way, way tired after the past couple weeks which is why she went ballistic when she lost to Zarina Diyas. It’s a must see. So, so angry.

Fed Cup winners: Sharapova, Mladenovic & Garcia, Petko, Pliskova

WORLD GROUP I, FIRST ROUND

FRANCE d ITALY 3-2

Genoa, Italy, clay

cornet ao 14How the heck did this happen to Italy?

Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi  played just fine on Saturday, with Errani playing very steady and defeating Caroline Garcia 7-6(2) 7-5. Then, Giorgi raced around and whacked her returns over Alize Cornet 6-4 6-2. On Saturday night, the captain Amelie Mauresmo changed her approach, telling the youngesters to go for it early. She sat Cornet, and then she told Kristina Mladenovic and Garcia to crack it. Mladenovic bested Errani, Garcia over whelmed Giorgi (and then they stunned Errani/Roberta Vinci 61 62 in doubles). Those two Italians had won 18 straight in dubs at the Fed Cup and they were shacking their heads. Props to the captain and coach Mauresmo. “I was either going to be a genius or a nonsense captain,”  she said.

France will play away in the Czech Republic in the sems in April. They will be the underdog, but their team is gelling.

CZECH REPUBLIC d CANADA 4-0

Quebec City, Canada, hard

Canada’s top player, Genie Bouchard, decided not to play, and they had no chance at all.  If Bouchard had played, she could have won two singles, but they likely would have lost anyway as the Czechs have been excellent over the past four year, having won three titles. The Czech are so deep that they didn’t need to bring in the top two players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Instead, they went for the No. 22 Karolina Pliskova and the rising Tereza Smitkova. Pliscova knocked out  Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski , while Smitkova beat Dabrowski. It was all over so quickly.

Now the Czechs will go home and face France, which won’t be easy. Who knows if both Kvitova and Safarova will play during April, but Pliscova is right there and perhaps better than anyone in France now. But at home? Pressure, serious pressure.

RUSSIA d POLAND 4-0

Krakow Arena, Poland, hard

Maria Sharapova played as well as she ever, beating both Radwanskas, Agnieszka and Urszula. Throw in a big win by Svetlana Kuznetsova upending Aga 64 26 62 on Saturday and the tie was pretty much gone. Had Aga down Kuznetsova in the first day and it would have been 1-1. Then maybe, and I mean maybe, and if Aga would have played great, had the crowd been screaming for her and she may have stunned Sharapova. Then, Ula may have risen again (she hasn’t played very well since 2012), she could have upset Kuznetsova and they could have partied in front of 15,000 fans. But, Sharapova out hit her 6-1 7-5 and it was over. Now Sharapova has to decide whether she will play in April at Moscow against  Germany, who is an excellent team. Sharapova has never played two Fed Cup teams in a row, but her new coach, Anastasia Myskina, has mapped it out smartly and it appears that the two are getting along now. They did not get along back in a decade ago when they both were playing against each other. Maybe “Nastia” and Maria will gel and bring the Fed Cup home.

Petkovic leads Germans to next round.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

GERMANY d AUSTRALIA 4-1

Stuttgart, Germany, hard

Andrea Petkovic loves her Fed Cup team and, once again, she has shined.  Her wins weren’t easy, but then nonetheless, she pushed ahead even though she had to battle for hours and hours.

The Australian had a good weekend, when Jarmila Gajdosova started by beating Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-2 6-4, as “Angie” continues to slump. But here came “Petko” who faced a match point but wore down Sam Stosur 6-4 3-6 12-10.

On Sunday, Kerber rose and beat Stosur 6-2 6-4, as the Aussie looked tired and the lefty finally moved forward. Then Petkovic had to stay awake again and did, besting Gajdosova 63 36 86 to win the title. Petkovic was overjoyed. Now she and the rest of them will go to Russia, which will be difficult. But, they reached the final last year (losing to the Czechs) and badly want to win it all. They’ll have a chance, against anyone.

OTHER NOTES
On the World Group II, the US beat Argentina 4-1, with Venus Williams winning two matches on clay. Serena won her first match, but then pulled out on Sunday as she was sick. Will they both in April to push the team back until the Wolrd Group 1? Hope so.

Romania played at home but had to go to the wall to best Spain 3-2.

No. 3 Simona Halep looked like she would win both matches but slammed into Fed Cup pressure. She beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa but then she went down to Garbine Muguruza, the talented young tean who won both matches. However, Irina-Camelia Begu (who also lost to Muguruza) beat Soler-Espinosa. The tie went to the doubles, where Begu/Monica Niculescu took down the vetreran Anabel Medina Garrigues/Muguruza 57 63 62. Good enough, but close.

The Netherlands beat Slovakia 4-1 , credit to two wins by Arantxa Rus … Switzerland won very easily with Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.

Untouchable: Djokovic wins 5th Slam in Aussie Open

djokovic 2013 Aussie opwon winFROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN – Novak Djokovic is now the best Australian Open men’s player ever, as he wins his 5th Grand Slam there.

Sure, the Serbian has been frustrated at other Slams; he’s been darn good and very consistent. On Sunday, Djokovic looked sore and injured but he kept getting up after falling down, he sprinted to and fro until Murray collapsed.

Djokovic is remarkably steady. He is almost impossible to out hit him. The Brit floundered again, as he began to get tired, lost his rhythm and his momentum. Djokovic took firm control in the last two sets, winning 7-6 6-7 6-3 6-0.

Murray has lost four finals in the Aussie Open, which is good because he actually made it there, but he has yet to come very close.  He is very smart, has a terrific backhand, can mix it and can boom his first serve. But, when he goes up against the rest of the Big 4, and he can go backwards at times. His forehand can go up and down, his second serve can be horrific and, while he is very impressive when he charges the net, he doesn’t come in often enough.

On the other hand, when Djokovic is feeling right, he can be terrific. He can belt forehands and backhands, run side to side so low and fast that it is almost impossible to nail a winner against him. Yes, Djokovic can he had when he isn’t feeling right, but for the most part, the No. 1 is almost always there.

In Australia, he has been the best since the beginning of the Open Era in 1969. A few fantastic players have won four Aussie Open Slams such as Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Ken Rosewall and others, but only Djokovic has nailed five Slams. That is pretty darn good. The 27-year-old Serbian may not be able to catch the all-time 17 major Federer, but you have to give him the rest of them. Rafael Nadal has 14 Slams (and predictable more to come), as does Pete Sampras. Roy Emerson has 12, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver have 11 and Bill Tilden has 10.

And guess who has tied 8 majors?  Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry and now Djokovic.

How much further can he go? He has owned Murray since last year and the start of this year. Federer looks OK, but he still must be stunned that Andreas Seppi shocked him.  Nadal is still not recovered yet. So until the younger players move ahead and quickly, Djokovic will be the favorite, everywhere until he is knocked off.

Australian Open final pick for Saturday, January 31

1-Serena Williams vs. 2-Maria Sharapova

Can anyone, much less Maria, stop Serena?Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Can anyone, much less Maria, stop Serena?
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

This is almost impossible, isn’t it? Maria Sharapova is 2-16 against Serena Williams?

Clearly, Williams has been better since Sharapova won 46 62 64 at the 2004 WTA Tour Championships and the match before, Maria’s first Slam crown at that year’s Wimbledon. But Williams fought off a couple amazing points, grabbed the semis and won the 2005 Australian Open. After that, Serena knew that she could out hit her. Sharapova wasn’t sure how she overpowered Williams in those early matches. From then on, she could not, losing in all sorts of places.

One cold fact: Sharapova lost her confidence when playing Williams. She has not been consistent against Serena, who does not like Maria very much and she wants to beat her pants off every time out.

The Russian/LA player has to play as well she can, and even better. Serena has a substantial first serve, and even her second serve is dangerous. She is a little faster and is more accurate her volley, too.

But Sharapova is right there with her forehands and backhands, as she hits just as hard as she can. When she is on fire, she might be a bit better smoking the down the line.

But, in order to get there, Sharapova is going to have to lock in immediately. She has to hold serve time after time and not panic. Once she is in her rallies, she is fine, but if she cannot return better and serve well herself, she is in deep trouble.

Someday, Sharapova will upset her and grab a win. But Maria is 27 years old and Serena is 33 and they both are thinking about how long they will continue. Beyond the 2016 Olympics, they may wave goodbye.

Whatever the case, Sharapova and Williams are in the final at the Australian Open. This time, Maria will play better; she won’t go nutty early on and allow Serena to push her to the wall.

But in the end, Serena will win again, this time in three dramatic sets. The evening will be terrific final and maybe, just maybe, they can give each other a big hug.

Perhaps not, but at least they can give each a big cheer. After all, they are great champions who are proud, right?

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.

Sharapova IW 13 TR MALT5578

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

Radwanska IW 12 TR MALT2950

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

Stosur MALT7761

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.