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.

The Pick: VENUS WILLIAMS VS. VICTORIA AZARENKA, QATAR OPEN, FEB 27

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Williams is 4-0 versus Azarenka, which is pretty surprising. Four years ago, Williams discovered that she was ill and it was very difficult for her to play at all. During the last year overall, she looks a lot better, which is why the 34-year-old is about to crack the top 10 very soon.

The former seven-time Grand Slam may never be able to win a major again, but playing one week vs. two weeks, she does have a chance. Yes, she isn’t dominating her opponents and plays for hours upon hours, but she is very smart and guile.

But why has she been able to take down the two-time Slam champ Azarenka in all four matches? Well, when she faced off the first time was in 2008, when Venus had just won her last Wimbledon and was cracking the ball. A couple months later, she played the baby at the Olympics in Beijing in the fourth round and she won easily. In 2010, Azarenka was a bit more mature and they played at 2010 Dubai in the final, and Williams won 6-3 7-5, which was pretty close.

By 2013, Azarenka was flying high, winning the Australian Open and reaching No. 1. However, they played each other in Tokyo in October and Venus whipped her 6-2 6-4. Vika looked very tired and slow.

Last summer at the 2014 Stanford, they played in the second round. As Azarenka admitted, she was pretty depressed last year and was out of shape. Venus was more happy and much more consistent and won 6-4 7-6.

So what about this time in Qatar? Azarenka was terrific in beating Caro Wozniacki, while Venus overcame Aga Radwanska in a fine win.

The 25-year-old Azarenka really wants to beat the best again. She is not perfect by any means, but her forehand has been very solid and her rushing to the net is getting better and better.

The problem there is that her serves have been so-so at best. If she is going to push her second serves down the middle and hope that Venus isn’t going to attack, she is going to go down pretty quickly.

Venus knows how to punish the balls down on the lines, rushing to the net when she knows that the Belarussian has a hard time passing with her forehands (Vika’s backhand is better), and she can confuse her by mixing up her first serves. Plus, Venus can still nail her first serves and pocket her aces.

However, Azarenka wants this win more than Venus does. As long as she can stroke the balls deep and go at Venus’ problematic forehand, she will be OK. However, Vika cannot be too nervous because if she is, Venus will win again. Even if she is shaky, Williams can take a deep breath and move ahead.

It’s a toss up, but Azarenka will out-stroke Williams at the end, winning in three sets.

 

THE PICK: ROGER FEDERER VS. RICHARD GASQUET AT DUBAI, FEB 26

Federer IW 11 MALT5875

The great Federer took off when he bested Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-3 in Dubai. For a while, the Spaniard was on top of the ball, but then he went quickly and quietly. Federer dominated the net, and he was crushing his one-handed backhand.

Federer is very confident against Gasquet … and who wouldn’t be when you owne a 13-2 head to head. The last time they played each other, Gasquet was a bit hurt and Roger smoked him at the Davis Cup final, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. The Swiss said he felt a lot of pressure in France, but he concentrated and took over with his fabulous forehand.

Can Federer do it again easily? Perhaps, as he feels relaxed and is mixing up his attack. Gasquet has a tremendous amount of strokes, his serve and his net. However, he is erratic, which is why Federer has he won 17 Slams and the Frenchman has none. At times, Gasquet can play wonderfully, but he isn’t quite right yet and Federer will win in straights.

NOTES

There are three ATP tournaments this week: Dubai, Acapulco and Buenos Aires. All the three tournaments look good, but it is not easy to give a huge amount of cash to the top players when they put up $1.5 million-plus. However, this week has a been pretty good overall. Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in Dubai, among others. Rafa Nadal, Tommy Robredo and Pablo Cuevas are in Buenos Aires, and Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer and Grigor Dimitrov. That’s impressive…

Here are two shockers in Dubai today: Marsel Ilhan of Turkey beat Feliciano Lopez 3-6 7-5 6-3, and the 18 year old Borna Coric beat Marcos Baghdatis 6-4 3-6 6-6 (retired). Apparently, Baghdatis was legitimately hurt.

In Acapulco, Ryan Harrison stunned Dimitrov 7-5 4-6 6-0. It was the American’s first top 10 ever. He is only 22 years old, but he has been around since 17 or so. He is smart and strong, but he has been up and down during the past two years or so. He is currently No. 169 and will move up to at least the top 140 or better. He cracked the top 50 in 2012 and he looked like he was going to charge into the top 20. But while his first serve is excellent and untouchable, he wasn’t able to hit his strokes stronger enough and with depth. At least against Dimitrov, he looked very good overall. He has a long way to go, but he was extremely satisfied…

By the way, Harrison beat Donald Young 4-6 6-2 4-2 in the first round as he retired. Young has been named to the Davis Cup next week against Britain. He must have been hurt but hopefully he will be fine after a few days…

Remember the former top 10 Nicolas Almagro? He is healthy and bested Pablo Andujar 6-3 3-6 6-2 in Buenos Aires. He will be heard from again…

Back in Acapulco on the WTA,     Magdalena Rybarikova beat the Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3 6-4 and then Johanna took out Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-2. Stephens has a long way to go. She hasn’t looked right since last July…

At the Qatar Open, Caroline Wozniacki beat Alexandra Dulgheru 6-1 3-0 (retired), and Victoria Azarenka defeated Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-7(4) 6-1. Guess who plays against each other?  That is ‘Caro’ and ‘Vika’ who last played in the Australian Open second round, when Azarenka played extremely well and won in straight sets. Vika is not quite there yet – especially on her serves – but she is getting better and better. However, the No. 5 Caro wants her revenge here and should she be able to out-stroke her and win in three sets. However, she has to swing her forehands much more powerfully, like she did the last half of 2014…

Here were two significant wins in Doha: Carla Suarez beat Karolina Pliskova 7-6(2) 6-4 as the Czech has played too many matches this year, but still that was a very good win by the Spaniard; Lucie Safarova upset the Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3. Safarova is coming on stronger and stronger.

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 Feb. 23: Simon wins Marseille, but how about the Slams?

Young is trying to climb back |

Young is trying to climb back |

Gilles Simon played extremely well in Marseille, fast, in control and hitting the ball viciously. Simon smacked Gael Monfils 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4) to win the title for the second time.

Simon has not been overwhelming over the past year, but the 30-year-old has been quite good at certain tournaments, reaching the 2014 ATP Masters 1000 final in Shanghai by taking out Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych. The week before last, he upset Andy Murray to reach the semis in Rotterdam.

In France, he overcame the talented young Borna Coric in the second round. Yes, he could have played better in the third round at the Aussie Open, losing to David Ferrer 2-6, 5-7, 7-5, 6-7(4). Some days, he is on fire, while on other days he is nervous when it’s tight.But,, perhaps this year, he may make real progress at a Grand Slam again. Last year he lost to Marin Cilic, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga—somewhat close, but no cigar. The former No. 6 has only reached a Slam once in the quarters. He’s won 12 ATP World Tour titles, but how about a major semi, or winning an ATP Masters 1000 like, I don’t know, Indian Wells or Miami next month? Possible, but he needs some more success before we believe it.

Monfils has reached the Roland Garros semis twice, but was unable to leap forward. The 28-year-old is now 5-17 record inthe finals, which makes his head spin. He is a lot of fun, but Monfils committed 54 unforced errors against Simon. That was way off when it mattered the most.

Donald Young had a heck of a tournament in Delay Beach, upending Alexandr Dolgopolov and Bernard Tomic to reach the finals, but Ivo Karlovic clocked in and won the tournament 6-3, 6-3. The 6-foot-11 giant nailed 13 aces and saved seven break points. And guess what, he will turn 36 years old this week. The Croat is the oldest winner since Jimmy Connors in 1989 at 37 years.

“Last year, I was in four finals and I lost all of them, so I really wanted to do this one good,” Karlovic said. “I was focused; I was doing my thing and it paid off.”

Young said he didn’t play very well in the final, but still, the American looked forceful in Memphis where he reached the semis, and in Delray Beach, taking the rising Tomic (finally, again) when his lefty was cracking the ball.

Last year he was named to the Davis Cup against Great Britain in the first round. He fell to Andy Murray, but he wasn’t bad and obviously, the two-time champion Murray was the favorite. This time, they will play Britain again, this time oversees. It appears that John Isner, and Bob and Mike Bryan are locked in, but captain Jim Courier has yet to decide who the other singles player will be. Perhaps Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson or Young. It’s a close one, as one of the guys have to beat James Ward (assuming he will play along with Andy and his doubles brother, Jamie) as it is going to be very tough if Andy plays singles and doubles. But on Friday, if Isner beats Ward, then Murray bests Querrey/Johnson/Young, then Andy might decide to play dubs with his bro against the Bryans. That will be delicious. If the Bryans win on Saturday, Murray will be favored against Isner. Assuming the Brit Murray will win, then Ward will have to play the fifth tie against Querrey/Johnson/Young. Now that will be a heck of a time. Good fun.

Rafael Nadal has rarely lost on clay. In fact, even though he didn’t play all that well in Australia and is still coming back from his various injuries. Still, you thought he would show up and win Rio de Janiero. But this time, he lost, falling to Fabio Fognini in the semis, 7-5 in the third. Check out the video of Fognini chasing down a net cord shot to win match point, which showcases his blinding speed.

The night before, he had to play against Pablos Cuevas that ended past 3 a.m. He was very angry and upset, and he had a legitimate point, but he still had to go back on the court and out stroke Fognini. The Italian has played better this year and out hit him. That is unusual, giving that Nadal is 321-25 wins/losses since 2002, so the 14-time champion was been lights out on clay. However, he is not all back yet and now he’s No. 4. If he is going to the top again, his body has to feel much cleaner.

By the way, the old vet who never steps down, No. 9 David Ferrer won the tournament over Fognini. The 32-year-old Ferrer won Doha, was smoked by Kei Nishikori in Australia, and moved the ball around very quickly in Rio. He just doesn’t go quietly into the sunset.

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.

The Top 10, February 7-15: the winners and finalists

Stan Wawrinka: The Swiss said that he felt dead when he walked on the court against Novak Djokovic in the Aussie Open semis and lost in five sets, somehow disappearing in the fifth when he couldn’t run and went down 6-0. But against Tomas Berdych in the Rotterdam final, he shined, coming through 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and capturing his ninth title. He was very aggressive, fast and confident. Maybe 2 out of 3 is easier than 3 out of 5?

Tomas Berdych:  The tall Czech shocked Rafa Nadal in the quarters of the Aussie Open, then falls to Andy Murray in the semis when they were arguing, but he got back right up and looked stellar until the final at Rotterdam, taking out Andreas Seppi, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon. Sure, he could have been smarter in the third set against Wawrinka, but he is very consistent this year, which is a good thing.

Kei Nishikori: Even though he is ranked No. 5 and well above the other competitors in Memphis, it is difficult to win the tournament year after year. On the court, he was very fast and the striking serves that bombed away indoors. The Japanese struggled day in and day out, as now everyone wants a piece of him. He needed three sets to best Ryan Harrison, Austin Krajicek and Sam Querrey, but in the final against Kevin Anderson, he was very clean. Nishikori has won the tournament three titles in a row. And now he wants to learn a guitar? Sweet.

Kevin Anderson: The tall and huge server has been pretty consistent over the past year or so, but he has to start beating the top 10 opponents. In the semis, he was calm and cool over Donald Young, but in the final against Nishikori, he didn’t return well at all. If the 28-year-old will ever reach a Grand Slam final, he has to get better overall.

Pablo Cuevas: The Uruguayan has improved quite a bit over the past two-years or so, winning the Sao Paolo tournament on clay over Luca Vanni in the final 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4). Cuevas is now ranked No. 23. Believe it or not, he is 29 years old, which means he had worked and worked to be competitive. But he has yet to go far at the Slams. Maybe in RG this year?

Luca Vanni: How the heck did he reach the final? He is now ranked No. 108 at 29 years old, which is not very high. It took him forever to be good enough, but the 6-foot-6 played extremely well at some Italian Challengers on clay last year and was ready to rumble Sao Paolo. He was darn close.

Andrea Petkovic: Over the past nine days, the German has been terrific overall. She came through in marathons over the Aussies in Fed Cup, and then in Antwerp, she pushed past three women in tiebreaks. Fortunately or unfortunately, Petkovic won the title because Carla Suarez couldn’t play the final due to her neck, but the German cracked the top 10. As long as she super consistent, she will never get tired.

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A rare resurgence for Dani Hantuchova. Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Carla Suarez: It’s too bad that the Spaniard couldn’t walk out for the final because she was hurt, but she did take some but she did take out with Camila Giorgi, Monica Niculescu, Francesca Schiavone and Karolina Pliskova, which was excellent work.

Daniela Hantuchova: Out of nowhere, the one-time No. 5 won the Thailand Open title again, upending the young Ajla Tomljanovic. The 32-year-old Slovak isn’t what she used to, but on some days, she is feeling right, and mixes and matches to fool her opponents. She has won three titles in Thailand. Can she do it against at Indian Wells next month? Doubt it but you never know when she is on.

Ajla Tomljanovic: The 21-year-old has now reached the top 50, which is good overall. Why she is up and down? Is it because she is very powerful and is still learning to play. The new Aussie resident is working with her coach, David Taylor, who helped Sam Stosur at 2011 US Open. Tomljanovic has a long way to go, but you will see her upset some notable during the big tournaments in 2015.

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: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic vs. 6-Andy Murray

It’s Murray, Murray, Murray again! Or is he actually playing well enough to finally win his first Australian Open title? The Brit has been playing very well, in fact, better than anyone else during the tournament. He was very smart and aggressive against Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych, while Djokovic was so-so in besting Stan Wawrinka at five sets. Andy was a little upset after losing the first set against Berdych, but then recomposed.

However, Murray has played three Aussie Open finals so far and has gone down to Djokovic twice and Roger Federer once. He has also been there, but then pulled back.

The only way Murray will win is if the two-time champion (US Open and Wimbledon) jumps on Djokovic’s serves and races around as fast as he can and whales away. Murray can race from side to side and paste the ball with his backhand (and occasionally his volley), but Djokovic is harder off his forehand, his serve and might be a might bit faster. Frankly, Djokovic has been overlooked during the past year and a half.

These two have played against each other since their junior days … so they know each other’s games inside out. Novak is 15-8 head to head, so they know who has been the better guy overall.

But Djokovic seems a little off and not as focused as in the past. Maybe I am off, but that’s the way I read him. Murray seems to be happy and ready to capture another Slam. He is going to have to play excellent all night, but in the end he will. Murray in five sets.