Miami, first week, Who is in, who is out? Pennetta, Monfils, Murray win; Nadal, Azarenka, Ivanovic lose

Ivanovic IW 15 TR MALT2696THE WOMEN

No. 15 Flavia Pennetta d Victoria Azarenka 7 -6(5) 7-6(6):

Given how well Azarenka has been rising again and playing better overall, it looked like the Belarussian was ready to take out anyone expect for Serena. But Pennetta is in the zone again, upsetting a former No. 1 Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells and now she stunning another No. 1, Azarenka. Pennetta wants to possibly return at the end of the year? She can be so good that there is no absolutely no chance if she stays healthy.

No. 27 Sabine Lisicki d No. 5-Ana Ivanovic 7-6(4) 7-5:

The German is finally playing better again, crushing her forehand and booming her first serves, but coming into the New Year, she thought that she might be able to win a Grand Slam again, but after nearly taking down Maria Sharapova at Brisbane, Ivanovic looked nervous again and she is now all over the place. She is not happy, at all.

No. 11 Sara Errani d beat No. 21 Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-4 6-1:

The Italian really needed the win because she hasn’t been able to best the better players, so now she will attack more often due to her confidence factor. The Spaniard has had a good last three months and now needs to rest and get ready for the clay, which she loves.

 Belinda Bencic d Tatjana Maria 6-4 7-5:

The young Swiss has turned it around now she isn’t panicking. If Bencic stays healthy, watch her crack to the top 20 by Wimbledon.

No. 1 Serena Williams d Catherine Bellis 6-1 6-1:

Bellis is very, very young, and Serena is very, very excellent and more mature. Bellis has years ahead.

No. 24 Svetlana Kuznetsova d No. 13 Angelique Kerber 6-3 3-6 6-3:

“Sveta” has a lot of guile and guts but Kerber has had an awful three months this year. Simply put: she has to remember that a top player who can grind down anyone if she actually believes. Try it.

 No. 3 Simona Halep d No. 30 Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5:

Halep is so confident right now that she thinks that even if she isn’t playing well, she can also figure out how to win. She doesn’t get wild like Giorgi does at times.

Sloane Stephens d Johanna Larsson 6-4 6-4:

Stephens is getting better and better and if she matures, she can be in the top 10 – or the top 5 – at the end of her year.

 

THE MEN

 No. 29-Fernando Verdasco d 2-Rafa Nadal 6-4 2-6 6-3:

Clearly, Nadal isn’t at 100 percent. He hasn’t won a tournament since last Roland Garros and he admitted that he is lacking confidence. Verdasco has lost to Rafa so many times, but he could tell that his fellow Spaniard was a bit shaky. He was correct and now Nadal has to sit down, talk to his parents and uncles, take a breath and just grind until he feels 100 percent again. And then he can yank every other player, especially on clay. The clay is coming very soon.

No. 17 Gael Monfils d No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 7-6(4):

As expected, Monfils was cool and calm and was more accurate when Jo returned after four months due to an injury. Tsonga will have a tough time on clay courts, but the big man he has to try. His body is ticking.

No. 28-Adrian Mannarino d No. 7 Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6(4) 7-6(5):

The lefty Frenchman hasn’t been able to threaten to beat the big boys, but he did in Miami, stunning Stan, who has been so-so this year. Dominic Thiem d Jack Sock 6-4 6-3: The Austria youngster took out another up and coming player, when Thiem stopped the confident USA Sock. We will see both of them for years to come.

No. 15 Kevin Anderson d No. 24-Leonardo Mayer 6-4 6-4:

Anderson is very consistent on the hard courts. Yes, it’s hard for him to beat the top-10 guys, but he can beat anyone below him, witness over Mayer. No. 3-Andy Murray d No. 27-Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-4: The Colombia has been pretty impressive over the past year, but Murray seems to have watched everyone, so he knows exactly where he can go.

No. 8-Tomas Berdych d No. 25-Bernard Tomic 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-1:

Tomic was right there in the second set, but Berdych nailed a couple of huge shots and repelled him. The Aussies has played almost every week since the start of the season and needs to rest – badly. He has improved a lot but he does not want to burn out.

The Picks, Monday, March 30, Miami

Carolina Wozniacki vs. Venus Williams Venus has been better over Wozniacki essentially forever, owning her head to head 6-0, beating her in three sets in the final at Auckland at the start of the year. Caro has not had a good year and she knows that this time, she has to play much more aggressive and forceful or Williams will beat her in straight sets.

Even though Venus’ forehand can be great or bad, it’s thick and stronger over Caro, who frequently pushes her forehand. Why she doesn’t step into her forehand using her left leg out in front doesn’t allow her to crunch the ball.

The Dane is faster than the 34 year old Venus is, but she is substantially better at the net. Let’s say Caro’s backhand and Venus’s backhand are even – their best serves down the line and cross court – but when the American is clicking with her first serve, she can hammer them at 120 MPH. Caro’s first serve improved during the last half of 2014, but she has regressed in 2015.

Really the only way that Wozniacki can upset Venus is that she has to go for her shots, smoke the balls, mix it up and hit sharp angles. Winner or lose, the 24 year old has to try and not push the ball around because if she does, Venus will beat the heck out of her. Venus is not as great as she was say 10 years ago, but she is still very good. She is fresh, she loves Miami and will figure out how Caro is playing. It will be close, but Venus will win, in three long sets.

The Picks, Miami, March 27: Murray v Young, Nadal v Almagro, Sock v Fognini

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Andy Murray and Donald Young once had a terrific year at the 2011 US Open and the American was very aggressive and caned with his forehand during the first week, but then the Britain was more composed and took him out in three sets. They know each other pretty well, and both know that Murray can attack with his deep backhand to the right and the left. Against Young, he also has a bigger first serve and with is cute volleys. Murray, who recently bested Young in Davis Cup last month, will win again, this time in Miami by winning in two sets.

Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro have played tons of ties, mostly on clay, and Rafa has beaten him every time, except last year, when Almagro stunned him at Barcelona. After that, Almagro was out of much of the year due to an injury, but he has looked fairly decent during the past six weeks. However, even though Nadal became hurt the other day, what he can eat him alive with his left forehand against Almagro’s one-handed backhand. Nadal is much more confident on hard courts and he win in straight sets.

Here is an upset: Stan Wawrinka is slumping again and Carlos Berlocq wants to show off in front of Argentina/Miami USA. Take Berlocq in three sets.

Late at night, the American Tim Smyczek will face Jo Tsonga who is back after an injury for the past four months. Yes, Tsonga is substantially more powerful, but Smyczek loves the large stadiums and will upset the Frenchmen in three sets.

Another American, Jack Sock, had a fine Indian Wells and already has a lot of confidence. He will go up against Fabio Fognini, whom he took him down in the doubles final. While the Italian has more variety, Sock has a bigger serve and forehand and win in three sets.

Nicole Vaidisova was ready to reach the top, but more than four years ago, the former No. 7 retired out of almost nowhere when she was only 21 years old. Now she is back and trying again but it is very difficult to figure out exactly how she can play. Back in the day, she always could crush both her forehand and backhand and also ran fairly fast. But is she ready to stun the No. 3 Simona Halep on Thursday? Not yet because the Czech just started last September and she still has miles to go. At the very least, Vaidisova will push her for a little while, but the Romanian will win in straight sets.

Two other picks, Victoria Azarenka vs. Jelena Jankovic and Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. Both are very difficult, because “JJ” rose again after she reached the Indian Wells final and then became scared at the end and lost. Keys, who reached the Aussie Open final, has been a hurt since February and has been erratic. Azarenka wants to become No.1 again and she knows JJ up and down and will out-slug her, winning in two sets.

At Indian Wells, Stephens played better than she did since 2014 Roland Garros so now it looks like she is ready to roll. She is an excellent player who is underrated – when she feels like playing. Keys has a substantial better serve, but Stephens can stay inside the box and whales away. She will best Keys in three sets.

‘We are human’ Novak Djokovic beats Roger Federer to win Indian Wells

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BNP Paribas, India Wells, March 22- For a moment, it looked like Roger Federer was right there. Novak Djokovic had choked in the tiebreaker in the second set and lost it. He was up 5-3; he grew nervous and double faulted twice.   Why was the eight-time champion shaking in his boots? The Serbian pulled himself off the floor and broke the great Swiss to go up 2-0 in the third set. He was going to cruise again. But he stopped, Federer went at him and Djokovic hit a couple ugly serves and was broken again. It was 2-1, they were even, and Djokovic walked toward his chair and smashed his racket so hard that he destroyed it in piece of meat.

But he moved ahead. Then he kept cracking his forehands and backhands, then he returned everything that Federer was handling, then he kissed the lines.

Djokovic won the title 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2 at the BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells. He has now won 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015.

Pretty easy.

Nope, but very impressive.

“The experience of playing many matches in the big stage and of this importance definitely helps in these particular moments to know what to play,” Djokovic said. “The right shot and stay calm and committed only to the next ball. We are all humans. We all fall under pressure sometimes. It’s completely normal, even though I have had so much experience. Roger, as well.

“Today 3‑2 in the third he made double fault to give me the break. So it does happen; it’s normal on this level with this kind of intensity and competitive spirit that is out there, it happens that you fail sometimes. It’s important to bounce back. It’s important to regroup, and, okay, let it go and move on to the next mission.”

The Swiss has played Djokovic so many times, entering the tournament 20-17 head to head. He had beaten him the past two times at Shanghai in October 2014, and at Dubai a months ago. Federer knew how to go straight at him. He was just fine mixing him up, but he knew that the only way to win is to pound him immediately. For the most part, Federer did, but he was un-able to stroke the lines. He had to over power him with his forehands because he cannot fool him with his one-handed backhand. His serves had to smoke inside this chest, or twist it outside the box. Federer was close, but not close enough.

“I thought it was positive for me,” Federer said. “Very positive physically and mentally. I think he smashed a racquet in the process. I felt like I was getting the upper hand from the baseline. I was making every return, first and second serve, so overall it was the perfect thing to happen. That’s why I’m even more disappointed that it ended up finishing the way it did. For me it was totally against the way the match was going. It was actually the comeback for me to really snap my authority on the match. He loosened up and tried to play a bit more aggressive and that worked. He did very well at that. After that he never looked back and he loosened up a bit.”

Federer acknowledged that Djokovic rarely falls apart. He will go home to Switzerland and will train, getting ready for the clay in Monte Carlo.

Djokovic has celebrate his 50th tournament win on the ATP Tour. He is now ahead of his coach, Boris Becker. He can buy a beer for his friend. Or drink a beer for himself. After all, at Indian Wells, he more than deserves it.

“It’s a great milestone. I don’t take anything for granted,” Djokovic said. “I believe that I have to earn everything that I do. I always try to look for additional motivation, because that’s something that is necessary, especially if you’re playing on the highest level.”

The Picks: BNP Indian Wells: Federer vs Djokovic – Again

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BNP Indian Wells, finals, Sunday, March 21

Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

These two seem to never stop and it appears that they can go on and on until eternity.  They have already played each other 37 times (thank you very much said Federer, who leads Djokovic 20-17 head to head). When they face off, they understand how the game is played. Yes, this is science, not a boring sport.

They are very intelligent, they think about each other all the time, and will change it up when they are losing. For example, if Novak has decided to smoke his two-handed backhand across the court and not push the ball down the line so the Swiss will grab his forehand and begin to fire away, then Federer will have to chop his one-handers very low so if he gets a chance, he can rush up to  the net and challenge his passing shots. If Federer is serving extremely well, he can use his serve and volley and put the ball away until Djokovic is crunching the returns super low and sharp where Federer has to back off until he can be sitting on top of the net and putting away his sharp volleys.

The reason why Federer has won their last two matches in Shanghai in 2014 and Dubai a month ago was because he dictated the most points. It was very close. At the 2014 Wimbledon final, Djokovic schooled him at the very end.

Who will win Indian Wells on Sunday? Last year in California, Djokovic barely beat Federer. This time, as both of the men who just said, it will be extremely close. Whoever is going to win will nail his first serves, mix up his backhands, jump on of his forehands and arrive at the nets knowing that you can put it away precisely. It’s a dead even, but once again, Djokovic will win at Indian Wells, this time over Federer in three sets.

 Simon Halep vs Jelena Jankovic

Jankovic is full of life again. The former No. 1 was fairly mediocre during the past two years, being OK at times, but she looked a little slower and wasn’t powerful enough on her forehand and serves. But over the past two weeks, she has been very solid at Indian Wells, attacking with her lethal backhand, mixing up her forehands, and coming forward towards the net and crisply pushing them away. The 30-year-old is smiling all the time, saying that she’s in the zone.

However, Simona Halep has looked much better over the past month or so and she owns the Serbian 3-1. The 23-year-old is quicker, she can crunches her forehands and backhands and, even though she is short, she has a very decent big serves.

Yes, Jankovic has more experience, but the Romanian has enough experience to bother her. Halep will be thrilled if Jankovic will try to out-run her, and when she has the Serbian way off the court, she will rise up and nail the balls into the corner.

Jankovic won Indian Wells in 2010 and truly deserved it. Then, she still had a real chance to win a Grand Slam. Now, she looks very good on occasion, but she isn’t strong enough to go all the way.

Halep has a real chance at a Grand Slam soon. But fi,rst and foremost, she has to win Indian Wells. Then we can talk grabbing Roland Garros in two months time. She must start in California, showing the world how talented she is. Halep will win in two sets.

The Picks: Another Classic between Maria and Vika, plus Murray vs Kohlschreiber

Stadium 1, March 16, BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells

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Eugenie Bouchard vs CoCo Vandeweghe

“Genie” hasn’t played very well since last July, but she was OK in the Australian and with her new coach, Sam Sumyk, she will compete every single ball. Vandeweghe has improved quite a bit since last year and has a gigantic first serve, but Bouchard will rank her around and win in three sets.

Andy Murray vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

The Britain really needs to win another Masters Series 1000 soon. He is over due. Yes, the German has a beautiful one-hander and he is cagey, but Murray knows exactly what types of shot. Murray will win in straight sets.

Madison Keys vs Jelena Jankovic

The young American can crack her first, can slug it from both wings and is pretty fair at the net. The former No. 1 “JJ” could play super steady and kissing at the lines with her backhand but she has slowed down. Keys will win quickly in two sets.

Maria Sharapova vs Victoria Azarenka

Sharapova has been much better over the past year and half, but Azarenka is coming back and trying very again. While Azarenka is not perfect yet, she is looking very aggressive and extremely good at the net. However, Sharapova doesn’t not like losing against her foe, especially because they cannot hang around together. Azarenka can pull Sharapova into the corners and keep her guessing, but the Belarussian isn’t blasting her serves in 2012-2013 and she can be attacked. Sharapova will nail her second serves and win in three sets.

Stadium 2

Fernando Verdasco vs Kei Nishikori

Six years ago, Verdasco was really slugging his lefty serve, but these days he hasn’t progressed. Nishikori can wipe out his foe on his backhand and is substantially quicker. Kei will win is straight sets.

John Isner vs Kevin Anderson

Isner has not had a good year at all and Anderson has been fairly solid. Both men are very tall, which means they can slam in aces after aces. Neither returns particularly well. Essentially, they will have three tiebreaks, and whom ever grabs two sets will win. Take Isner, only because he is way over due and he has played very well at Indian Wells. He just likes that sunshine.

 

2001 Indian Wells: Serena Soars Amidst Scandal

Editor’s Note: For most observers in the world of tennis, the story of Serena Williams’ emotional rejection of the Indian Wells tournament is a faint and distant memory. However, our coverage of the last 14 years of pro tennis is unrivaled in the world of online news.

Matt Cronin of TennisReporters.net was there.

With the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells, we are re-running Matt’s story written from the tournament that appeared on this site. Matt’s coverage of the event originally appeared in Inside Tennis. 

020415-TENNIS-Serena-Williams-Kim-Clijsters-SS-PI.vadapt.620.high_.0INDIAN WELLS — Meet cheerful and cheeky Serena Williams, four days into the Tennis Master Series Wells after a casual second-round victory where she wowed fans with blazing groundstrokes and her new hot pink dress. “Hot pink for a hot girl,” said Williams of her color of choice. “Attractive, a very attractive girl.”

Revisit Serena, 10 minutes after her sister, Venus, had caused the biggest hullabaloo the desert had seen since the discovery of the hot springs by pulling out of the sisters’ highly anticipated semi with a sore knee.

When informed that few people believed that Venus was too injured to play and that Elena Dementieva had stated the day before that it would be Richard’s decision as to who would win the sisters’ match, Serena wowed no one with her casual indignation and less than emphatic denials.

“People have freedom of speech,” she said. “They can say whatever they want. It’s going to happen. Obviously we’re sisters, we’re very close. People often speculate things like that. People are always just going to speculate things.”

God bless America, let the speculation ring.

Over the next few days, newspapers, wire services, TV, radio and the Internet were filled with more tennis-related stories than the sport has seen in a non-Grand Slam week during the Open era. Unfortunately, the stories were of the “Are the Williamses rigging matches?” veriety.

That Serena was able to fight off the most hostile crowd in California history and subdue hard-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 for the title is a minor miracle, if you consider that the debate that raged for four days over the Williams’ family affairs had ruinous implications for the sport. Serena and Venus rarely read the press and appear sheltered enough that they don’t yet comprehend what even the suspicion of matches being fixed can do to a sport — like the Black Sox scandal did to baseball.

If the Williamses did get this, then they might not have kept shrugging off questions for the two days leading up to the final and would have emphatically denied the accusations when they occurred. Instead, tennis was bloodied from the moment Dementieva let loose on Wednesday evening and didn’t come off the mat until Sunday morning, when the last newspaper hit the sidewalk with Serena’s denials. Without question, the Williamses are partly to blame for the scandal.

Who else is to blame? The players who speculated that the sisters’ matches have been fixed with no evidence save for how badly they usually play against each other. Senior Sanex WTA Tour officials, who ignored the significance of Dementieva’s comments until it was too late; and who have little or no personal connection to the Williams’ family despite the fact that the family has been on the tour for five years now. As a result, the situation got so out of control that the tour gave itself a gigantic black eye, one that may take years to repair. Why didn’t they act more quickly? Some claim that officials feel that any press is good press and that the players should be viewed more as entertainers than athletes — the integrity of the sport be dammed.
So why the meltdown here and why the first two weeks of March, rather than in some other month at some other tournament? Could it be because it was the emotionally volatile Richard who accompanied the girls to the desert, rather than their more mellow mother, Oracene, who is now separated from Richard?

Williams observers say that Venus and Serena are much more skittish when Pop is around and, given the numerous problems that have occurred between Richard and Oracene over the past six months, it’s no wonder that both Venus and Serena have played sparingly since last October. At Indian Wells, both the Williamses played reasonably well, but off court, they were as cagey and as defensive as they’ve been at any time during their careers.

Coming into Indian Wells, Serena had played in only three tournaments since being bounced out of the 2000 UAP C01 RICHARD 26 S TEN USA CA.S. Open quarters by Lindsay Davenport. She won Tokyo at the end of September, but took time off to go to school and suffered a stress fracture in her foot. She didn’t reappear on tour until early January in Sydney, where she lost to Martina Hingis in straight sets. At the Australian Open, Hingis took her down again, this time in three marathon sets.
Serena, who ended last year ranked No. 6 but failed to win a Slam title, wouldn’t let on to what her goals are this year.

“My dad and I already went over my goals and that’s where I’m really going to work harder,” said Serena, who crushed defending champion Davenport in the quarters. “My goal this year is to reach my goals…. But I like to keep them to myself so I don’t put too much pressure on myself or other people.”

Venus, who dominated the tour for five months last year, has yet to win an event this year and is playing nowhere near up to her capabilities. Yet in the quarters she slugged tough-talking Dementieva into the pavement in a 6-0, 6-3 victory.

That’s when the trouble began — KGB style.

When asked what the outcome of the semi between Venus and Serena would be, Dementieva said, “I don’t know what Richard thinks about it,” Dementieva said. “He’ll decide who’s going to win tomorrow.” Dementieva said she suspected foul play when she watched the sisters’ ‘99 Lipton final, which Venus won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. “I remember when they played,” said Dementieva. “If you saw the match, it was so funny.”

The sisters have played five times, with Venus owning a 4-1 edge. Serena’s won once — in a fairly inconsequential ’99 Grand Slam Cup final.
This wasn’t the first time that players have questioned whether the outcome of the Williams matches are decided by Richard. Hingis has repeatedly said that the outcome of their matches is a “family affair.”

At 2000 Wimbledon, Serena came into their semi red hot, losing only 13 games in five matches and was favored by many to win it. But Serena fell apart and Venus won 6-2, 7-6(3). “I thought Venus was going to win,” Davenport said in the desert. “I just thought that Serena had won a Grand Slam title, whether it was on purpose or subconsciously or whatever, Venus was going to win the match. That was my opinion.”

The Williams family chose not to respond to Dementieva’s comments during the day on Thursday and it wasn’t until after Venus’ withdrawal four minutes before her semi against Serena that they discussed it. But now the situation had been compounded, because most observers believed that Venus should have at least tried to play, despite patellar tendonitis in her right knee. WTA Primary Health Care Provider Michelle Gebrian did back up Venus’ claim, saying that Venus was unable to pass basic functional testing.

Pete Sampras rolled his eyes when questioned about Venus’ knee. “I guess it flared up, the tendonitis,” Sampras said, adding that he would have played if he had a similar problem. “Yeah,” he said. “There’s always something you’re feeling. Every morning you wake up, it’s a little stiff here, your arm is sore from serving. I don’t think any player on tour really walks out there feeling great.”

Because the match was canceled until most people had already taken their seats, fans reacted in anger, raining a loud chorus on to the court when it was announced that Venus was pulling out. A handful of fans went to ticket windows and demanded their money back. “I did everything I could do to be able to play tonight,” said Venus.

When asked about her peers’ suspicions, Serena said,
“We always go out to compete and that’s how it’s been,” said Serena. “I think if my dad would decide, then maybe Venus wouldn’t be up 4-1 [in their matches], maybe it would be 3-3 by now. So I don’t think so.”

Venus added, “It’s not a true opinion at all. Everyone makes their own comments. That’s how rumors get started. I guess rumors are more exciting than the truth.”

But neither Williams yelled, “No,” at the top of their lungs, even when they were specifically asked to do so.

The next day, the National Enquirer published a cover story that alleged that Richard had rigged their 2000 Wimbledon match. When approached by IT the day before the final, Richard said, “I don’t want to open my mouth anymore. Every time I do, all that’s printed is lies. I’m scared. I’ll never talk again. It’s all lies. I don’t speak English anymore.”

At the final, Serena faced Kim Clijsters. First the crowd raged at Serena when she walked on court, then booed and hissed at Richard and Venus Williams as they walked down the stair to the Friends Box. The crowd continued to hoot and holler with a vein-popping intensity throughout Serena’s three-set win.

So it wasn’t until after Serena’s ragged victory over Clijsters in the final that the issue was somewhat sorted out. But not before Serena was subjected a two-hour symphony of booing. Serena felt hurt. “I wasn’t happy,” said Serena, who nervously went down 3-0 in the first set. “I won here before. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that. But eventually you get over it and start playing.”

In her acceptance speech, Serena told the crowd, “You guys were a little tough on me today. I want to thank everybody who supported and everyone who didn’t. I love you anyway.”

For the past 18 months, Serena hadn’t shown the mental fortitude that she displayed in winning the ‘99 U.S. Open, frequently skipping tournaments and folding in big matches. But in the desert, she dug within herself and rediscovered the it’s-me-against-the-world mental toughness that made her the Queen of New York.

“I won a big battle today mentally, more than anything,” Serena said.

Serena then (finally) took the Enquirer’s Wimbledon claim head on.

“C’mon, it the National Enquirer,” Serena said. “Next thing you know, I’m going to be pregnant by some Martian. It’s just not true. It’s really kind of hurtful because it’s just lies, just scandalous lies…..Besides, I was really trying to make the singles competition in the Olympics, so I was really disappointed about that. I didn’t make the singles when I lost. That was heartbreaking for me.”

Davis Cup Picks: Can Young stun Murray, will Kohlschreiber take Monfils?

 

WIMBLEDON,UK, 1JULY2013, ANDY MURRAY SCEAMING, FIST, HEAD RACQUET

World Group First Rounds

GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Frankfurt, Germay

The new captain Michael Kohlmann chose Jan-Lennard Struff against the French Gilles Simon, Struff is playing better, but the veteran Simon is much more confident and will win in four sets. Philipp Kohlschreiber is a little bit sick, but the German will go out of the gates and knock out the tired Gael Monfils in five long sets.

GREAT BRITAIN vs. USA

Glasgow, England

Yes, the two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray will win at home, but the American Donald Young will play very aggressive and push him deep in four sets. Young won’t win, but he will threaten him big time.

The British James Ward stunned the USA last year when he took out Sam Querrey in California. This time, Ward has to go up against John Isner who has played extremely well at the Davis Cup and will nail his first serves, winning in straight sets.

CZECH REPUBLIC vs. AUSTRALIA

Ostrava, Czech

Tomas Berdych isn’t playing, but the Czech Lukas Rosol is much more consistent now and is about to reach the top-30. The 18-year-old Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis is talented, but there is tremendous pressure playing on the road and Rosol will kiss the lines to win in three sets.

However, the other Czech, Jiri Vesely, is vulnerable. The Aussie Bernard Tomic wants to be the man this weekend and will mix and match, winning in four sets.

KAZAKHSTAN vs. ITALY

Astana, Kazakhstan

The Italians have had a pretty good season, so the Kazakhstans could be in trouble early. However, Mikhail Kukushkin can find opportunities if he is smoking the ball. He will fire away for two sets, but the Italian Simone Bolelli will out stroke him and win in five sets.

Andrey Golubev must be thinking that Andreas Seppi played the best match of his career when he stunned Roger Federer at the Aussie Open. The Italian Seppi did on that day, but Golubev will play a fantastic match at home and beat Seppi in three sets.

ARGENTINA vs. BRAZIL

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Everyone here loves clay. It’s really about who is more consistent and who can run forever. Both the Argentines will win when Carlos Berlocq beats the Brazilian Joao Souza in straight sets, and Leonardo Mayer will out punch the other Brazilian, Thomaz Bellucci, in four sets.

SERBIA vs. CROATIA

Kraljevo, Serbia

Obviously, the No. 1 Novak Djokovic will crush the unknown Mate Delic of Croatia in three sets. But the other Serbian, Viktor Troicki, can become nervous. It will take him a long time, but Troicki will survive against the talented teenager Borna Coric in five grueling sets.

CANADA vs. JAPAN

Vancouver, Canada

The Canadian Milos Raonic loves playing at home and will destroy Tatsuma Ito of Japan in three sets. But the same goes for Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who loves to show off at Davis Cup, and he will be super aggressive and run past Vasek Pospisil in four sets.

BELGIUM vs. SWITZERLAND

Liege, Belgium

Look, none of the players are excellent competitors. However, the Belgium players are respectable. Without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka playing, the Swiss are nowhere. Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans will wipe Henri Laaksonen in three sets and Steve Darcis will waste over the Swiss Michael Lammer in a quick three sets.

The Pick: 1-NOVAK DJOKOVIC VS. 2-ROGER FEDERER, DUBAI, FEBRUARY 27

Federer IW 11 MALT5774

These two have played each other 36 matches, with Federer winning 19 matches and Djokovic having won 17 matches. It has been very, very close and while the 33-year-old Federer has slipped a tiny bit, in two out of three sets he is incredibly impressive.

Last year, Federer bested the Serbian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semis in Dubai, so why not do it again? Well, he might, but Djokovic was clearly not happy and some how, some way, Djokovic out toughs him at Indian Wells 7-6 in the third to win the crown.

However, Federer beat Djokovic on clay at Monte Carlo in the final. A few months later, Djokovic overcame Federer 7-5 in the fifth set at Wimbledon, perhaps the last chance for the Swiss. But he keeps trying, overcoming Djokovic at Shanghai.

It really doesn’t matter whether they are on clay, grass and hard outdoors and indoors: they are so close and capable that they can win or lose, be good or bad during the day.

Look what occurred in 2011 at the US Open semifinal between Federer against Djokovic. That year, Djokovic overcame “Rog” 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Finally, he was much more confident and much more mature. He never gave up.

Before the semifinal match, here is what I wrote on the USTA:

“When Federer bested Djokovic in the 2007 US Open final and in the 2008 and 2009 semis, Djokovic did not have the same strong and consistent serve that he has today, his forehand was not has accurate or hard, he wasn’t as confident at the net, and frankly, he didn’t believe in himself as much.

“Now he does and as his result, he’s won all but two tournaments he’s entered this year, he’s smiling all the time and is making many players outside of the top 10 look like rookies.

“Federer…is beautifully mixing up his deliveries. He seems more confident coming to the net and shortening points, and he is taking his backhand earlier.

“But what I don’t see in this match if the Serbian plays well is how Federer can open the court enough and crack winners because Djokovic is so fast and hits so deep that he squeezes the margins of the box to the point where his foes feel like they have no room to breath.

“Rather than blasting away with Djokovic from inside the baseline, Federer would be better serving to mix it up and take the Serbian out of his rhythm. But know this: Djokovic has revenge on his mind from his Roland Garros defeat and this time, he wont be caught sliding the wrong way as he will have his feet firmly planted on the cement. Since he won the 2004 US Open, Federer has only dropped two five setters, and one was to Djokovic in the 2010 semis. This time around, as hard as he tries and however much he has the crowd in his pocket, the Swiss won’t get that far as Djokovic will advance to his third US Open final in four sets.”

In 2015, things have changed a bit though now. Both have improved there volleys, Federer is more aggressive with his one-handed backhand and Djokovic is much more comfortable moving towards his left and whacking his forehand inside-out.

Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what their coaches say because the two players know each other like they are twins. It is all about who plays better. While Federer was not pleased that he was stunned by Seppi in Australia and badly wants a title, Djokovic won the Aussie because he is more comfortable. Novak will win the Dubai title in three sets.

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.