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

Kvitova USO 13 TR MALT8353

 

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.

 

The Pick, Barcelona, April 22: Cilic vs Burgos, is Marin ready to play well again?

Marin still has potential, but will he show it in '12?

The US Open champion is trying to play well again.

Marin Cilic vs Victor Estrella Burgos, Barcelona, April 22

It is pretty incredible that Burgos is now 34 years old and he is still out there, currently ranked No. 52, which is pretty darn good considering that the Dominican Republic has very few players who have even made it on the ATP World Tour. Baseball, anyone? Regardless, Burgos has hung in there at the singles. He is fast, but small at 5-foot-8 and isn’t powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with lots of players. But on clay, that’s an entire matter all together. He won Ecuador in February, upsetting Feliciano Lopez in the final. He then won a Challenger in Morelos, Mexico.

Last week in Monte Carlo, he bested Simon Bolelli in the first round and then he retired against David Ferrer. So while he was been playing well, and he thinks he has a real chance against Cilic, who might be a little hurt. If he isn’t running up and down everywhere than he will have no chance.

Is the US Open champion Cilic is ready to go now? It’s hard to say. He did return at Miami and he lost in the first round. But last week, he won two contests over Mayer and Tsonga, which was terrific, but then he was blasted by Djokovic.

It will take the tall man a while to be completely ready. He has never loved clay, but when his forehands are blasting two and fro and he attacks on his foes’ second serve then he can be threatening. At the 2014 US Open, he could do anything he wanted to. But now he has to have tremendous patience. Let’s assume that the huge server Cilic will believe in himself again and win it over Burgos in third set.

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.

The Pick, April 14: Dimitrov vs. Verdasco, is Grigor ready to turn around and win matches again?

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9-Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fernando Verdasco

Without question, Dimitrov has been struggling big time. He has so much potential that if he can right his ship, than slowly he can come back to form. He has a terrific variety, can mix up his one-handed backhand, and he can take over the net. However, this year he is changing where he is going and what he is trying to do. Whether or not he is trying to be more basic, or he is using every shot to mankind, he has to find something that works soon.

Now they are on clay, playing in the famous, idyllic Monte Carlo. Dimitrov lost to David Ferrer in the fourth round last year, but after that, he was fairly decent on clay, winning Bucharest and reached the semifinal in Rome, where he lost to Rafa Nadal. Of course, Ivo Karlovic shocked him in the first round at Roland Garros, but the Croat can bomb away, any time, anywhere.

Fernando Verdasco loves the clay, but he has had a so-so this year, losing in the semifinals at Houston when he lost to Sam Querrey. Two days later, he had to fly across the ocean so he could have been exhausted in the late afternoon. The lefty has a tremendous forehand, a pretty good first serve and, when he is feeling right, he will go for his backhand down the line. But after his long trip he will be spaced out and Dimitrov knows that he has to start winning now. He will win in three sets.

Jack Sock is coming alive, wins Houston title

Jack Sock won his first big Challenger title.

Jack Sock won his first ATP title.

The young American males haven’t won a title in quite some time. But the 22-year-old Jack Sock is moving very fast, making progress in Indian Wells, Miami and now winning the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, beating Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2).

Not only were many fans were surprised how good he was on the hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami To see the 22-year-old running back and forth on the clay, they were definitely surprised.

Some of the players can’t handle sliding all day, but he actually likes it.

“It feels incredible,” said Sock. “Clay is my favorite surface. It feels surreal. It feels incredible, and to have friends and family here to share it with me feels even better.”

The 22-year-old played OK last season, reaching the Challenger final in Savannah and he qualified at Nice, where he lost to John Isner. He did reach the third round at Roland Garros, going down to Dusan Lajovic.

He wasn’t perfect and, as he admitted recently, he should have been in better shape. However, he kept plugging away, reaching the semifinal at Newport and Atlanta, before he skidded a bit, losing in the first round of the US Open. But he played well in the fall, upsetting Kei Nishikori in the Masters 1000 Shanghai and qualifying at the Masters 1000 Paris, where he almost beat Milos Raonic.

This season, he missed the first two months due to an injury but when he came back at Indian Wells, he felt like he was faster and  concentrating more. He reached the fourth round before falling to Roger Federer, and in Miami, he upset the No. 22 Fabio Fognini before going down in the third round.

“This is the best I’ve felt physically by far off the court and on the court,” Sock said.

In the doubles, he shined, when he and his Canadian Vasek Pospisil won Indian Wells over the legendary Bob and Mike Bryan and in Miami, they reached the final, and barely lost to the Bryan Brothers

He has a massive serve and a big forehand. He’s a fine volley but he knew in Houston that he had to be patient because on the clay courts, it takes time to set it up and then go for his shots.

That is what he exactly did in U.S. Men’s Clay Court. He beat No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 32 Santiago Giraldo and No. 16 Kevin Anderson before besting his fellow American Querrey.

He beat a series of solid players and he never looked nervous at all. Sock has climbed to a career-high 36th and he is now the No. 2 American, behind Isner. Very likely, he will continue with rapid rate.

“I put in a lot of hard work before I came back,” said Sock. “I had almost nine weeks in a row off the court in the gym getting my body ready to come back. To come here and win is a very incredible feeling and I’m going to savor it for a while.”

The First Quarter, the men on the top 20: Djokovic an A plus, but Gulbis an F?

Ferrer IW 15 MALT1366

Novak Djokovic A+

OK Djokovic lost to Karlovic in Doha and to Federer in Dubai, but when he was ready to rock and roll again in the three biggest tournaments – the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami – he was faster and nearly perfect inside the baseline. On hard courts he is phenomenal.

Roger Federer A- 
The great Swiss fought hard to win Brisbane, he was stunned by Seppi in the third round at the Australian Open, he was super consistent at winning Dubai over Djokovic, and reached the final at Indian Wells, when he lost to Novak in three entertaining sets. OK, he is not perfect by any means, but he is 33 years old and if he is close versus the 27-year-old Djokovic then you have to clap your hands and say ‘The old guy still has a real Slam left in him.’

Andy Murray B+
The Britain has been pretty consistent this year, reaching the final of the Aussie Open, the semis of Indian Wells and the final of Miami. He is whipping his backhand, his forehand is stronger and he is willing to charge the net. However, he fell to Djokovic in all three big matches, and lost 6-0 at the end of the Aussie and IW encounters. He looks better
than he was in 2014, but he hasn’t figured out exactly how he can bother Novak when it’s crunch time.

David Ferrer B+
Just when you thought that the 33-year-old would start to sink he is right back in there. He won Doha, Rio and Acapulco. He wasn’t great at the Aussie Open, IW and Miami, but he is hacking away, every time out.

 
Kei Nishikori B
If this was last year, maybe he would be given an B+, but during the last few months, the Japanese 25-year-old was OK, but not great. When you are ranked No. 4, it means being ready to win some big titles, but he hasn’t been able to challenge the big boys, losing to Wawrinka, Ferrer, Lopez, Isner and splitting with Raonic. Yes he won at Memphis against Anderson, yes he was ambitious at the Davis Cup but at the Aussie Open, IW and Miami, he was so-so.

Rafa Nadal B 
In the second half in 2014, the Spaniard had a very tough season. He was very hurt and he knew when he would come back he wasn’t going to be 100 percent in 2015. In the past three months, he has been OK, but as he said, he is a little scared. He is not swinging away with his backhand, his forehand is up and down and he needs to be more aggressive.He lost to Berdych at the Aussie Open, he lost to Raonic at the IW and to Fernando Verdasco at Miami. Unusual, but the former No. 1 is trying hard.

Milos Raonic B 
The Canadian was oh-so-close, winning some fine players, and barely losing to the top competitors. He lost against Federer twice at Brisbane and Indian Wells, Djokovic had his number at the Aussie Open, and he was right there against Wawrinka at Rotterdam. But he split with Nishikori and upended Nadal at Indian Wells. Raonic and Isner played a terrific match at Miami where the big boys went at it all night. If the Canadian improves a little bit, he could be besting the Big 4 frequently.

Tomas Berdych B
The 29-year-old Czech has been pretty consistent, only losing to the top 10ers:   Ferrer, Murray (twice), Wawrinka, Djokovic and Federer. None of the guys outside of  top 10 were able to twist Tomas, but he was only able to stun one of the majors, shocking Rafa at the Australian. Pretty good, but not spectacular.

Stanislas Wawrinka B 
The bazooka backhand came outof the gates in January, winning Chennai, reaching the Aussie semis (although he disappeared in the fifth set against Novak) and then he won Rotterdam. But he flamed out during Marseille, IW and Miami. He can be terrific, but he overplays.

John Isner B 
The American had lost a lot of confidence after Davis Cup against Britain, but he vowed that he was coming
together and he was, beating Anderson at IW and at Miami, he bested Dimitrov, Nishikori and Raonic before falling to Djokovic. That saved his season.

Feliciano Lopez C+
‘Feli’ is 33 years old and he is so much more intelligent on court. However while he did reach the final of Ecuador on
clay and he upset Nishikori at IW, he’s lost fairly early overall.

Gilles Simon C+

The French veteran started very slowly, but he did win Marseille in a terrific final over Monfils. But other than that, you tell me.

Kevin Anderson C
The tall hard hitter rarely loses to the unknown players, but he only won one against of the top 30 – Richard Gasquet – and you know he has to play better if he ever is going to knock down the big boys.

Gael Monfils C- 
OK, Gael was hurt again (stunner) and he did reach the final of Marseille. He also won a big match over Kohlschreiber in the Davis Cup, but he was in and out all the time.

Roberto Bautista Agut   D+ 
The 26-year-old Spaniard had a   terrific year in 2014, but he has done very little in the first three months, not playing on clay in South America.   He didn’t win a notable contest on the hard courts either.

 
Grigor Dimitrov D+ 
Admittedly , the Bulgarian is changing his strokes and that takes time. At least he is being honest, so you can’t expect him to be winning tournaments. However, he gets frustrated and he has done nothing during the first three months. At all.

Tommy Robredo D
The 32-year-old Spaniard went 4-6, beating three guys outside of the top 90 and one top 11 in the slumping Dimitrov.   He is slumping, too.

 
Ernests Gulbis F  
He is 1-7 this year and he lost to anywhere, anytime. He has to go back to square one.

Marin Cilic – Incomplete
After the Croat had a shoulder injury, the US Open champion just came back in IW, losing in the first round.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Incomplete
The Frenchman is also just coming back from injury, returning in Miami, where he lost in the second round. He is very good, but he is always hurt.

The First Quarter, the women: Serena snaps an A+, but Aga was at a D. Who else and why?

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Serena Williams A+

She won everything except when she was hurt, she came back to Indian Wells when she didn’t have to ever again but she did anyway, and now, she is so steady and smart that she doesn’t even have to dominate her first serves and she still win. Wow.

Simona Halep A

Yes, Halep froze in Australia, but outside of that she has been so consistent and never backs off. She won Dubai and Indian Wells and came very close to beat Serena in Miami. If she continues to believe in herself, she will win a Slam this year.

Carla Suarez Navarro A-

While the Spaniard did not win a tournament this year, since February she has gone deep everywhere. In Miami she upended Radwanska and Venus Williams in two tremendous three setters. Yes she was scared against Serena in the final, but the smaller Carla moves forward all the time now.

Maria Sharapova B+

The veteran Maria started off the year with a bang, winning Brisbane, reaching the Aussie final where this time she was close against Serena and she looked tremendous in Fed Cup to beat Poland. While she did not play at Indian Wells or Miami, she was almost perfect in Australia.

Sabine Lisicki B+

The German was out of it until Indian Wells and Miami, and then she appeared again and looked much better, snaring wins over Errani, Garcia, Pennetta and Ivanovic. She was close against  Serena when she fell in three sets. She is crushing the ball – inside the court.

Garbine Muguruza B

The young Spaniard has been very good for the most part, but as powerful as she is, she can become wild. However, she did win both matches at Fed Cup in Romania and beating Halep there, which is good enough.

Madison Keys B

Clearly Keys put together a tremendous tournament at the Australian Open, reaching the semis by beating Kvitova and Venus before losing to Serena. However, she has been hurt and is now struggling, and did not play well in Indian Wells or Miami. But when you are 20 years old and reach a Slam semi, you earn it at least a B.

Ekaterina Makarova B

Speaking of which, the Russian reached the Aussie semifinal, which was eye-popping. Beyond that though she has not played her singles very well at all, but her doubles has been excellent overall.

Karolina Pliskova B

Every week, the younger Czech was about to rise and grab a big tournament, because she has one of the biggest serves out there and can also crush her forehands and backhands. However, she is not quite there yet mentally, but she’s close.

Lucie Safarova B

It was nice to see the veteran winning a big tourney by grabbing Doha. She may not ever reach the top 10, but she will continue to try as had as she can before she retires.

Jelena Jankovic B

The famous “JJ” was nowhere and then all of a sudden she rose and reached the Indian Wells final. She then fell apart quickly in Miami, but at least she seems enthusiastic again.

 Andrea Petkovic B

She did nothing in January, but she won two marathons at Fed Cup against Australia, she won Antwerp and reached the semifinal at Miami. She loves the media and is well liked with the players, but she can lose her temper on court.

Venus Williams B-

Here is the reality for Venus: she is intelligent and always tries, but she is 34 years old and she is not as fast as she used to be. Yes, she can reach into the quarters and semis at the big tournaments, but against the better players (this year she has lost to Keys, Safarova, Azarenka and Suarez) she will continue to struggle. Good, but not great.

Petra Kvitova C

The Czech looked terrific by winning Sydney, but she folded after that, largely because she has been injured or ill once again. That’s too bad because if she can’t stay healthy there is no way that she will ever be able to reach No. 1.

Sara Errani C-

OK Errani won Rio, which is fine, but she didn’t have to face anyone in the top 65. She did beat Muguruza, but that is it.

 Ana Ivanovic C –

She looked great after reaching the final in Brisbane and she was ready to rock again, but she has done almost nothing since then and appears shaky. She is a great person, but she has to calm down on court.

Genie Bouchard C-

If Bouchard hasn’t reached to the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, she would have totally bombed. She looks very nervous and she is all over the place. Genie doesn’t have all the tools yet, but she’s very close – if she listens to her coach.

Carolina Wozniacki C –

“Caro” did very little after reaching the Auckland finals, losing to Vika Azarenka twice and falling fast at Indian Wells and Miami. OK she won Malaysia, but she didn’t have to beat anyone in the top-80. Where does she go from here? Nobody knows.

Agnieszka Radwanska D

This is the toughest and worst three months ever. She is so good, but apparently she is changing her tactics and/or her strokes, so she hasn’t looked confident at all. She is intelligent and can mix it up, but she is not sure when and where she is going. Maybe soon, but she didn’t show up at any tournament during the last three months. She is better than this.

Angelique Kerber D

The lefty German looked OK but not fantastic during Brisbane and Sydney, but then she plunged. She has been absolutely wild, which is surprising given that she used to be super steady. It’s all about where her head is.

 

The Pick, Miami final: Djokovic has owned Murray in nearly two years, but is Andy ready to beat him?

The injured Andy played on.

Andy hasn’t beaten Novak on hardcourts since 2013

1-NOVAK DJOKOVIC VS. 4-ANDY MURRAY

Once again they face off and this time Murray is a bit nervous off court as he and his soon-to-be wife, Kim Sears, will be wed next Saturday and the last thing he wants his friends to pat his backside and say ‘Andy I am sorry but you will best Djokovic someday I’m sure.’

Instead, if he upends Novak on Sunday at Miami, people in Scotland will come up to him, shake him with two hands, say he is sounding great with a large smile, go grab a thick beer, and raise a glass or two. They will merely say ‘Cheers Andy!’ while they wink-wink, with everyone thinking that Murray has returned by winning a major tournaments again.

At this point, if Murray wins, it will be huge for Andy, because he hasn’t beaten Djokovic since 2013 Wimbledon and that has been a long time. The Serbian has beaten him six times in a row, wasting him at Indian Wells in the semifinals. During the first three sets against Djokovic in the final of Australian Open, Murray had it right there, but then in the fourth set, the world No. 1 turned on the gas while the world No. 4 looked like he was asleep and was blasted 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-0. Murray simply didn’t believe in himself.

Fortunately, Murray has played Miami extremely well, so much so because he owns a house there and works out during November and December. He practices in Key Biscayne regularly and he knows how hot the weather is, whether it’s stick and muggy or have it just right. He has put together some tremendous tournaments, but here is the problem: Djokovic has been better overall.

In 2007, when the now 27-year-old Murray was an up-and-comer at Miami, he reached the semifinal, but he faced the now 27-year-old Djokovic in the semis and the new Aussie Open champ smoked Andy 6-1 6-0.

However, in 2009, Murray played as well as he ever did, playing Djokovic and out thought him 6-2 7-5 to win the final. But in 2012, the two faced off in the final again and this time Novak out punched Murray 6-1 7-6. In 2013, Murray won the Miami title, blasting David Ferrer in the final.

But last year when he and Djokovic went at it, the Serbian won 7-5 6-3 over Andy. Clearly, Murray loves the area, but Djokovic has been better on hard courts, at Miami and elsewhere, owning a 17-8 edge over Murray overall.

Murray and Djokovic have known each other since they were young teenagers so they know each other’s ups and downs. There are no tricks to be had. Yes, they can change tactics here and there, but it’s all about who plays better and who does not. Djokovic owns eight Grand Slams, while Murray owns two. That is enough to say that the Serbian has be better than Andy, but Murray can eventually catch him, if, and I mean if, he stops being conservative and let it all hang out.

After he fell to Murray in the semifinals, Tomas Berdych said that Andy played more aggressively that he usually does so think if exactly what Andy has to against Djokovic. He knows that he can go stroke-to-stroke with his backhand, but he has to go often and early, not waiting to see if Novak will try and crush a winner immediately. The same goes here with his forehand: Murray cannot hit his forehand against Djokovic, but he can move inside the box early and try to get him way out wide. Obviously, he must move his first serves around and, with his second servers, he cannot push the ball in, which has been his weakness for years. Perhaps most importantly, Murray has to come into the net more often, because he has beautiful hands and it’s to his advantage to shorten points.

Djokovic has been extremely solid since the start of the year. He is so confident that even when he isn’t playing great he’d figure it out and race away. Murray looked pretty good this year overall and he certainly has looked better than last year, when he was coming back due to a serious back injury. Eventually, Murray will get there and beat Djokovic somewhere, someday, but until he actually stuns Novak, I can’t see Andy full of bravo.

Djokovic will win in three sets.

Nonetheless, regardless of his win or loss, Murray will go back home to Scotland and have a great time next Saturday for his wedding. It’s not always about the tennis, it’s about pride. Regardless, he will be back. ‘Cheers Andy and Kim’

The Pick, Miami: Serena Williams vs. Simona Halep. Is the Romanian ready to upset the near perfect American?

Serena IW 15 TR MALT8371

 

1-Serena Williams vs. 3-Simona Halep

This is a gigantic match because Halep wants to show the world that she is good enough for anyone, which includes the world No. 1, Serena Williams. The Romanian has said that she wants to win a Slam and become No.1 but in order to do so, she has to knock off the queen, assuming that Serena stays healthy.

At the age of 33 years old, Williams can’t be at No. 1 forever, but right now, she is the best player by a long shot and there is no one, and I mean no one, has proven that they have beaten Serena if she is playing 100 percent.

With that said, Halep has been more consistent over the past two years and on the hard courts, she seems exactly what to do. Of course she hasn’t won every tournament and yes Maria Sharapova has troubled her, but she hasn’t taken one loss, become extremely emotional and disappear. Now she is calm and after a loss, wake up the next day, lift her chin up and moved on. That’s why she has won 14-matches in a row at Doha, at Indian Wells and now in Miami.

Unfortunately, Williams pulled out of Indian Wells prior to their semifinal and Halep was unable to take her gloves off and seize the day. Two weeks later, the 24 year old will have another chance with even more confidence.

Interestingly, the last time they played was in the 2014 WTA Finals in Singapore. Halep was on fire and super consistent and Serena had not woken up yet. Simona crushed her 6-0 6-2 in the Round Robin. Serena was very upset, saying that her serve was so bad that she was worse than the 10-and-unders. Then she locked in and by the time for the final against Halep, she was ready to nail the lines everywhere and got her right back, smoking Simona 6-3 6-0. Mentally, Halep wasn’t there, as she knew that Serena was going to play very well and she was nervous at the first ball.

That was in late October and now it is April 2. Serena hasn’t lost a match since then and outside of the Australian Open quarterfinal against Makarova and at Fed Cup when she went down to Muguruza, Halep has been very smart. She hasn’t played great every match but she has imposed herself, winning seven matches in three sets, which means that she isnt panicking.

The 19-Grand-Slam Serena rarely panics, so if Halep can win the match she has to fight all the way from the finish line. Williams is a much better serve, as she can boom the ball, ace after ace. Halep’s first serve has improved and can kiss the lines, but if she has to hit her second serves frequently, she has to take her chance because if she just pops it into the middle Serena will crush her returns where Halep cannot even touch them.

Halep can run all day and she is super fast, so if she can start the points 50-50 she will be right there, but she cannot push the ball and merely hope. She has to attack almost immediately and go for her favorite combo – her backhand crosscourt sharp and her foe is stretched to her left and then hammer her backhand down the other side and on the line – and any time Serena is out of position she has to move forward.

Serena is more powerful and can certainly out slug her with her forehand, which is heavier and deeper. If Williams is feeling well, then she will charge the net and end the points quickly.

Really, if Serena plays great she will win the match, even if Halep plays a terrific contest. Serena is still just better than she is. However, even though Serena has dominated Miami over the years, she is due to lose this year – right?

Serena won’t play fantastic, Halep will and grab it in three tremendous sets.