Situation normal: Roger Federer is in control

INDIAN WELLS – Once again, Roger Federer is a seriously favorite to win another huge title. It is possible that someone will play perfectly, and the Swiss is a little bit off, and at the third set, the guy hits the lines all the time while Federer cannot keep his first serve in, and soon enough, he will get frustrated and he will miss point after point. 

Not these days, though. However, even though Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, and 97 victories overall, there have been losses. All the great champions have a few in the “L” column.

So this week, Federer can lose, but who exactly can run past Roger?
He will face Jeremy Chardy on Wednesday and while the Frenchman is pretty wily, he won’t be able to out-hit him, especially with the forehand. In the quarters, Federer would face either Hyeon Chung or Pablo Cuevas. The young Chung likes to be on the big stage, so he will put together some intense rallies, but in the end, Federer will confuse him. Unless …

One more terrific match coming up Wednesday is American Taylor Fritz versus Borna Coric. That is almost a tossup, but Coric is more driven this year. … How about this: Dominic Thiem and Gail Monfils retired. Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori pulled out last week. Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are all injured and couldn’t come, while Grigor Dmitrov and Alexandra Zverev both lost. Wow, is playing tennis that difficult for everyone?

Federer and DelPo talk about worrying Djokovic 
Many of the top American players are hurt, and couldn’t come to compete at Indian Wells, and a few retired — important players, too. But at least three very significant guys are here: Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and the former No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian lost early. He had a ton of unforced errors and, as he said, he was very shaky. He hadn’t played for months, but he really wanted to get back on court and swing away.  H  is struggling mentally, but that doesn’t mean that he will panic forever. He just has to be patient.  

Here is Federer’s take on Djokovic’s situation: “When you do come back, it’s like, ‘Oh, those break points; oh, those deuce points; those 30-all points; 15-30s; first point of the game.’ Where normally, when you’ve played a lot of matches, you just rock up, you hit a good serve, play a good point, 15-love, you just move along with the score.

“But you put extra effort to manage all that’s happening in your head. I feel like when you do come back from injury or when you haven’t played in a long time, it just takes extra effort. That’s probably also what he’s also feeling. And maybe was tired in the end a bit because, the focus you need to have is greater. Look, still such early stages for Novak coming back and the first one after surgery. He’s only going to get better from here. He knows that. We all know that. But it was nice to see him playing again.”

Del Potro has been there, too. Over the last eight years, he was in and out all the time. Multiple surgeries, leaving, coming back, winning, some big wins and some mediocre losses. He could have retired, but he has not. He is still very good, and he might be able to win a major again, but as he says, it can be difficult. Del Potro says that Djokovic just has to be patient,
“It’s not easy to come back and play good tennis, as everybody expect Novak’s game. And mentally you must be strong enough to deal with these kind of losses in this big of tournaments,” del Potro said. “It’s only time to get where he deserve to be. And if his body feels good, the tennis come along and the confidence come along, too. But is not easy to deal with this kind of frustrations after injuries or when you always be the favorite to win a tournament, you come here and you lose in first round. Is not easy. But he’s strong enough to deal with that, and I love him and I want to see him in the top positions very soon.”

The Women
No. 1 Simona Halep was very happy after beating Qiang Wang in straight sets, and she joked a lot in the press conference.
On Monday, she actually watched Serena and Venus Williams playing each other. Some people almost never watch the matches, but many of the players stop and watch the famous Williamses. Their matchups are pretty darn intense.
“I’m the world No. 1 in this moment, but I just watched the best player in the world,” Halep said. “I just do what I feel. I felt to come because I admire a lot the sisters.”
Venus knocked down Serena in straight sets on Monday, as the younger sister couldn’t control her ground strokes. Venus was pounding the ball very deep and hard. Plus, she was running well. 

On Tuesday, Venus rose up again, beating Anastasija Sevastova. Serena is gone, so Venus has an opportunity to win it all, but most of the very good players still left. Like Karolina Pliskova, who beat the 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in straight sets. Anisimova is already tall and strong, so watch her, if you get a chance. She does need a few more years to improve, but she is already very talented. “I think this will change a little bit in the future, but for sure the game is good and not really any weakness,” Pliskova said. The Czech will play the Japanese Naomi Osaka, who lives in the United States. What a basher.  

Stephens knocks down Azarenka, rising again?

INDIAN WELLS – American Sloane Stephens finally looked very good, turning around a nasty stretch of losses following her 2017 US Open victory. Over the past six months, she was out of it, physically and mentally. But finally, her body feels OK, and a little bit more confident. She beat Vika Azarenka 6-1, 7-5, which is very good, given that Belarusian had knocked Stephens out of the Aussie Open three times without dropping a set. But this time, Stephens was not only consistent, but lethal.

She says that this year, she won’t push herself because in 2016, she became seriously injured and she was out for almost an entire year.  Stephens doesn’t want to do that again.

“I’m going to listen to my body and make sure that I can do everything possible not to get injured again and make sure that I take care of myself mentally and physically the best way I know how,” she said. “Whatever schedule I play is what I play.

Obviously nothing’s ever set in stone. You can say, ‘Oh, I want to play here,’ and then not get enough matches and you want to play a different tournament. It’s kind of up in the air. My main priority is just making sure that I’m good and just staying happy.”

The two-time major champ Angie Kerber wore down Ekaterina Makarova, and on Monday, she will face defending champ Elena Vesnina. Kerber is the fav, but the Russian Vesnina has improved a lot in the past two years. … The 22-year-old Maria Sakkari upset Coco Vandeweghe, a great win by Greek, but a sloppy day by the American…
Karolina Pliskova dug deep to win in three sets over Shuai Zhang, who was seeded 32. The Czech stood strong, even though they went into a brutal third set. Can she go deep? Impossible to know with her, but if she does, watch out. …  20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko is skidding, losing against to the vet Petra Martic is straight sets. Maybe the Roland Garros champion need to relax once in a while.

The Men
Novak Djokovic showed up and did little more than that. He walked on the court against Taro Daniel and made so many errors, try 62. He lost and as he says he is mentally all over the place. However, he just started playing again, so give him some time, like a few more months. Then we will know how good he can really be again. … Gael Monfils took down John Isner. When the Frenchman is playing well, the fans will love watching him play. Isner has only won one match this year and seven losses and lost his confidence. … Brit Kyle Edmund returned after five weeks off due to injury, and he lost Dudi Sela. Still, Edmund should continue to improve. … Another difficult turn of events when Kei Nishikori pulled out. He is hurt all time. “I’m still not strong enough to go play a match. I’m very sorry as I love this tournament,” he said. Will he try to play Miami? Maybe not.

Serena: ‘I just felt like my story wasn’t over’

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

INDIAN WELLS – It felt like forever that Serena Williams couldn’t play last year when she stopped because she was going to have a child. She did, her first baby, in September,  and she was having a great time being a first-time mother.

When it was time, she started to practice again, but in January, she knew that her legs wasn’t ready to compete, so she didn’t play at the Australian Open. So she waited and as she said, she practiced all the time. “The timing was so hard, but I wanted to get back,” she said.

On Thursday night she beat Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3.  It has been 14 months, the last time that she has played on court. She looked pretty good, moving fairly well, her serve was strong and she hustled. As she said,  she is trying to be very calm and not push herself.  When she was not playing last year, she actually watched a ton of matches on TV.

“I was really surprised, and I watched it a lot, the women and the men, but when I started practicing a lot, I stopped,” Serena said. “The minute I realized that I was going to take some time off, I just wanted to stay fit and stay ready the best I could. It just wasn’t my time to retire yet, even though it would have been a great way to retire. I just felt like my story wasn’t over. … I am going to go with the flow.”

Azarenka emerges
Vika Azarenka finally played again at Indian Wells. The former two-time champion is living in Los Angeles; she has a new child, and with that, she feels pretty happy. She hadn’t played inthe past eight months, which was a pretty long time. Off court, she is still battling with her ex-boyfriend, and the lawyers, so she may not be able to leave the U.S. until they can settle it. When will that  happen? It is very hard to say. At least she is playing Indian Wells, and then she will play Miami, and very likely, at Charleston.

On Thursday night,  Azarenka looked very decent, beating Heather Watson  6-4, 6-2. The 28-year-old wants to be there as much as she can, but as she said, there are days when she cannot play, having to do with her body and other things. Really important things. 

“Unfortunately, this situation is a little bit out of my control, so I have to go with the flow and continue to be positive, continue to be optimistic and continue to just fight, because that’s what I’m best at — fighting,” Azarenka said. “One day, I’ll write a book about this because it’s Hollywood-worthy for sure. It truly means the world to me just to be here, and to play, and enjoy myself and do what I love to do.”

The men
The top men players aren’t playing yet, but it will happen very soon. However, there are a number of young competitors who are here, like Taylor Fritz, who overcame Reilly Opelka 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. He thought he was going to lose, but he hung in there. But, he wasn’t sure why.

“I’m pretty lucky,” said Fritz. “I could have lost the first set 6-0. He almost broke me in the first three games I served. There wasn’t much I could do. I felt I was hitting my spots, but he was lasering returns back. I told myself, ‘Just play your game. If he keeps doing this, it’s too good. He’ll beat anybody playing like that.’ I was down a set and a match point in the second-set tiebreaker and I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. When somebody is playing like that, you just have to weather the storm … When someone like [Opelka] is on, someone who plays a big game, you just have to weather the storm as best as you can.” And he did, and then he won.

The 20-year-old from nearby San Diego is picking up his game. He won Newport Beach (an ATP Challenger Tour event), he reached the quarters at Delray Beach, upsetting Sam Querrey before he lost against Denis Shapovalov. Last week, he reached the semis at the Oracle Challenge Series in Indian Wells. Now he is ranked No 74. He believes that he is getting better all the time, as he can really listen when he is practicing with the coaches, Paul Annacona.  

When Fritz is playing, he says he can adapt his different styles. “Now, when I play somebody, if they hear that [I made that change], I can use reverse psychology and just go down the line on every one. It is mind games,” said Fritz. Fritz will face another very good young player, Andrey Rublev, on Saturday. 

Short shots
The Canadian Shapovalov won here and he will face Pablo Cuevas, which should be some long, tough rallies. … Borna Coric blew out Donald Young, which is a fine by Coric, but the American is way down mentally. Maybe he should take a break. He has been playing for a decade, all the time, and his body is breaking down. …Ryan Harrison went down, losing to Federico Delbonis 7-5 in the third. So close, but so far. … Props to Jared Donaldson, who overcame Evan King 6-4 in the third.

Throw in some other victories by the WTA players like: the vet Sorana Cirstea upseting Monica Niculescu, and it looks like Cirstea is getting quicker. … I keep thinking that the former No. 2 Vera Zvonareva was ready to rise, but Natalia Vikhlyantseva tooled her. Who knows why by the Russian decided to return. Ekaterina Makarova also won, and the former top-10-er will be back in the top 20 this season. She hopes. … Three good wins by the Americans such as the 18-year-old Catherine Bellis, who is ranked No. 45, as well as Jennifer Brady and Danielle Collins.

Teenager Auger-Aliassime ready to rock against Raonic

Felix Auger_Aliassime
INDIAN WELLS–Twenty years ago in Canada, there were a few very good players, but not that many. Now, there are a bunch. The teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime upset the veteran Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 7-6, and now he will go up against Milos Raonic on Sunday. Raonic has reached the final at Wimbledon a couple years ago. Without a doubt, he wants to win a gigantic tournament, but he gets hurt frequently, so the only way to do it and stay healthy this season, because if he doesn’t, he won’t be able to take down the big boys. 

Plus, Raonic must know that already Auger-Aliassime is very good, fast and strong. He is young, so it is hard to tell how great he will be over the years, but many folks that he is already darn good.   

He can’t wait to play Raonic at Indian Wells.

“I am exciting to see someone I have looked up to growing up. I’ll try do everything I can to return the serve and hang in there. It’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to it, yeah,” Auger-Aliassime said.

When you are young, there is a lot to learn. Even if you are practicing everyday, you still have to try new shots. And stay with it. Look at Roger Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slams, but it took him 35 years to accept his leaping backhand. The Canadian has a ton of things to practice and learn. But already, he likes a few important swings.

“My strengths are probably my serve, forehand. I’m an aggressive player, but I think the coverage of the court is something I have been working on. And I think it’s paying off now with the big guys, you know, to be able to cover the court, to move well, and then to defend and stay in the points,” Auger-Aliassime said. “That’s something that helps me a lot. As a player, you try and be as complete as you can, so there is a lot of things I want to improve and just that consistency that I want to get over the matches and over the tournaments.”

The women
The two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza is once again struggling, up and down. She was pretty decent in Europe in February, reaching the final on Doha and in the semis in Dubai. But now, she is floundering. In the third set against Sachia Vickery, the American hustled and banged away, while Muguruza overhit and was inpatient. Good for Vickery, but so-so for Muguruza.

As the Spaniard said, there is a lot of depth now and almost anyone can be upset. Perhaps not, but maybe things are changing. Vickery is ranked No. 100, while Muguruza is ranked No. 3.  

“We always say that there are so many players that can be dangerous, that can be motivated and have a great day and face an opponent where maybe they don’t have a lot of pressure and play good,” Muguruza said. “Maybe the top player exits early. And we have seen this so many times.”

Muguruza says that before she played with Vickery, she watched her a little bit, but in the match,  the American jumped on the ball. Plus, Vickery was very motivated.

“I think she has a great physical skill. I just think that when players with not a lot of experience play against top players, they are very motivated,” Muguruza said. “They elevate always their game. She was getting a little bit more excited, and the key points went her way, and she was getting more into the match and, at the end, she had a lot more confidence.”

More notes
It is very surprising that Aga Radwanska lost early again, losing against Naomi Osaka. Aga is already outside of the top 30 and she could be unseeded at Roland Garros in a few months. Radwanska needs to rest, for a while, until her body is fully heals. …Venus and Serena Williams both won on Saturday. They will face each other on Monday, which should be a fascinating contest. Obviously, Serena hasn’t beaten her many times, but given that the younger sister hasn’t played on court for the past 14 months, she’s a little rusty. Venus has played a fair amount in 2017, and this year, too. So yes, if Venus plays extremely well, she can upset Serena. But to beat her, Venus must serve very big, return with depth, and control her forehand. … How about the unknown Danielle Collins who upset Madison Keys? Collins changed it up a lot, while Keys lost her touch. She needs to step it up — again. … Dominic Thiem overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 3-6 6-3 and now he will face Pablo Cuevas on hardcourts. Neither of them loves hardcourts, but they can move well on the courts and they can whack it away. Three sets for sure. … That was a quite a win by Fernando Verdasco, who took down Grigor Dimitrov. Verdasco might be a little bit older, but he is focusing, again. Plus, as he said, he still loves playing tennis. 15 years later. That’s a lot. More tomorrow …     

Indian Wells coming: Svitolina, Serena, Vika, Caro

Notes on A Draw Sheet, March 4, 2018

It was good to see Elina Svitolina win the title at Dubai, and as she says, she never gives up. Which is more or less true. But, at the Slams, she can mentally back off. Still, she is only 23 years old, so in the next decade, she can figure out and to go the right places. And nail it. 
In Dubai, she jumped on the resurgent Angie Kerber, and in the final, she beat the good, young player Daria Kasatkina. At Indian Wells, Svitolina will be one of the favorites, but the field is very close, as almost the entire top 10 can beat each other. 
It looks like Serena Williams will walk on the court and play again. It’s very hard to gage how her difficult childbirth and the demands of motherhood are still affecting her. Let’s hop she is ready to compete and win match after match, tournament after tournament. My guess is it will take her a few months to get comfortable. One way or another, it should be a lot of fun …

Vika Azarenka will return at IW, after not playing this year because she is battling with her ex-husband in a custody battle over her young child. Before she stopped playing, Azarenka looked pretty darn good. I would assume that she is very healthy, and she would love to win another major, but the same thing goes here: She needs sometime to understand how she is striking the ball, day after day…

The No. 1 Simona Halep is hurt again, but she always tries to play, pain or nothing at all. She is a true grinder…

The No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki finally won a Grand Slam at the Aussie Open. It took her so long to finally grab it, but now she has and I would think that this year — as she loves to play — she will have a chance to win another major, specifically at the US Open, because she gets frustrated on clay and on grass…

The former two-time champion Petra Kvitova look pretty darn good, winning Doha. She is another one who wants to win so badly she can taste it. She likes fast hard court, but if it is very windy, she can get frustrated. Kvitova does like Indian Wells, the weather, almost everything, so if she is feeling it, she could go very deep, and win it. That would be huge, mentally.
Once again, Juan Martin del Potro is on fire, which is terrific, because when he is healthy, he can knock down anyone. How about this: in Acapulco, he beat the vet Mischa Zverev, the grinder David Ferrer, the flashy Dominic Thiem and the young brother, the No. 5 Alexander Zverev. In the final, he knocked out the 2017 Us Open finalist Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4. Very good stuff.

It is all about Delpo’s health. When his arms start to break down, then he leaves and he cannot play. But when it isn’t so bad, he can hit his two-hander, rather than just his one-hander, which he can only slice. That is why, among other things, that he could not beat the best players at the Grand Slams and come up short in the past eight years. He can hang in there in two out of three, but in the Slams, it’s three out of five. Towards the end, in the second week, he gets tired and he cannot find the lines. He looked very good this past week, with his huge serve, his massive forehand, his decent return and improved net game. He is a darn good player.
Even though he lost, the same goes with Anderson. Yes, he isn’t that fast because he is very tall, but he really hustles and whenever he gets a chance, he can jump on it. Both of them will be extremely confident heading into IW next week.

Federer, Raonic, the Americans, Kvitova, Garcia and more…

Notes on A Draw Sheet, Feb. 20, 2018

Roger Federer keeps going, and going, and going. Last Sunday, he won Rotterdam, crushing Grigor Dimitrov. The 36-year-old Federer is No. 1 again!!! He’s been at the top for a record 303 weeks and counting … and he started 14 years ago after he won Wimbledon for the first time. Last year, he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon. This year, he won the Aussie again. He has won 97 events. Ka-boom.

I cannot imagine that he won’t reach 100 victories, assuming if he stays healthy. He is trying not to play too much this year. He decided not to play in Dubai, but he will return at Indian Wells and very likely Miami. After that, he won’t on clay until very late, if at all. In 2017, he skipped the spring clay-court season, including Roland Garros. Federer says that he isn’t sure whether he will head to Paris again. That is a toss-up — a big toss up — for now …

Milos Raonic has been hurt forever, but when he is feeling good, he can beat the top almost anyone, except for the top 5. He just won his first match this year, beating Taro Daniel in Delray Beach. He has improved a lot over the past two years, especially his backhand. But, he has to figure out why his body breaks down all the time. I am sure the doctors know what he has to do, but the Canadian doesn’t know how he can fix it, and really listen what they are saying. We know this week in Florida … 

American John Isner beat Radu Albot, which is good, because in January and early February, he really wasn’t there on court. He just won his first win of the season on Tuesday, except for Davis Cup. That is pretty surprising. Hopefully, he will begin to win more regularly …
Juan Martin del Potro also won, and will face American Frances Tiafoe, a young player who can really run, but needs to be more aggressive …

Ryan Harrison had a taxing week at the inaugural NY Open. He successfully dealt with Donald Young’s accusation that Harrison had made a racial comment. The two feisty and long-time competitors got into a heated argument during their match and the chair umpire had to step between them. But, an ATP investigation did not uncover any missteps by Harrison. In Delray Beach, Harrison lost yesterday against countryman Reilly Opelka 7-6(5), 7-6(6). It may take some time for Harrison to put it all behind him …

What a triumph by the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who won in Doha, knocking out the No. 3 Garbine Muguruza in the final. She is back in the top 10. She also beat Elina Svitolina and No. 1 Caro Wozniacki 7-5 in the third. Kvitova is so powerful, and now she isn’t giving in. She is on a roll, also winning St. Petersburg and the Fed Cup. Without a doubt, she can win a major again. At RG — yes, she did reach the semis once before — and of course at Wimbledon, and at the US Open. Bu,t she has to be healthy all the time …

Angie Kerber was not happy after she lost against Wozniacki, but still, over the past seven weeks, she has become substantially better. Last year, she couldn’t find her game. Now, she is settled and defending with her blazing speed. Watch her come back into the top 5 during March. She smoked Barbora Strycova 6-2, 6-1 …

Another fine win by Anett Kontaveit, who beat Sam Stosur in three sets. She is pretty young and she is improving week to week. Caroline Garcia continues to display a blossoming game , beating Lucie Safarova. Frenchwoman Garcia realizes that she can move up to the net and put away easy shots. She does it frequently, transferring her doubles talent to singles. If she continues to do so, she will have a chance to win a major this year. Maybe at RG?

Can anyone rival Federer in 2018?

Roger Federer rolled back the years winning his 20th Grand Slam title when he lifted the Australian Open crown just days ago but already people are talking about what the current  No. 2 could achieve over the course of the rest of 2018. Many have labelled the 36-year-old as the greatest male tennis player of all time for a number of years, and even more so after victory in Australia. But will anyone be able to rival him over the course of the year or will he once again be the dominant force?

Many people had written Federer off, especially in 2016 when he shut down for the second half of the year. This, in the eyes of many, shows just how remarkable Federer has been since. He’s won three Grand Slam titles in just over a year and is proving that age is no barrier. He was around when the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were playing and he still has the ability to mix it with the likes of Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic today. This sets him apart right now.

Federer knows his limitations, he knows that he’s no longer in his prime and when approaching tournaments he has said himself that in no way should a 36-year-old be declared as favourite. However, he looks after himself healthwise, staying fit but taking breaks when necessary. Federer has struck the balance of training, competing and resting and this has allowed him to in some ways keep up with the younger crowd.

You could say that Federer’s success in his younger days came through an unbelievable ability to play tennis. Federer is one of, if not the most naturally gifted tennis player of all time, and this is what has taken him right to the top and seen him stay there for a number of years. However, Federer’s success now is determined on discipline. Discipline to look after himself, to train and to rest. It is this discipline which is driving him through his twilight years in the sport, and this has seen him topple a lot of younger players who lack that necessary mental toughness in some way. 2018 has started in great fashion for Federer and it could certainly be a superb year for the Swiss.

However, he is going to face stiff competition over the course of the season no doubt, especially from those slightly younger than him who will have the fitness to go the distance in tournaments. The likes of Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic, Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov will all be hoping to pick up some Grand Slam wins in 2018 and this could be at Federer’s expense. Federer and tennis fans can check out all the latest news and betting opportunities at the home of online betting:, especially if you fancy placing a bet on the Swiss player winning at Wimbledon.

You can’t write Federer off though as he looks to pick and choose the events he plays at. This means he should be far more durable than expected over the course of the year and as fit as those he ends up facing at tournaments. If he can stay injury free, fit and disciplined over the next 12 months, there’s no reason why he can’t yet bag further Grand Slam glory.

Provided article written by Hans Peter Fritz who studied journalism at the at the University of Stellenbosch.

Fed Cup winners – USA, France, Czech, Germany – on to semis

United States d Netherlands 3-0
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams has been playing for 20 years, and at times, she breaks down, but this weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, she was into it and very excited. She won two singles, and she bested Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands. Her backhand is incredibly strong, she returns very well and her first serve is massive.

Williams was in a tough first set until Richel Hogenkamp seems to lose concentration, banging a ball into the stands at 5-5. Once that game slipped out of the Dutch player’s grasp, she didn’t offer much opposition. Venus finished off the clinching match 7-5, 6-1.

Yes, she has aged. When she walks on court and she is feeling good mentally, then she can be patient. Venus not only won twice in singles. The still rising CoCo Vandeweghe grabbed won her match, crawling her way back to win Saturday in three sets.

Believe it or not, Serena Williams returned, one year after she had a child and she couldn’t play. She and Venus lost in doubles, with Serena looking rusty and not ready for competition, even against Lesley Kerkhove/Demi Schuurs, playing together for the first time.

On April 21-22 in the semis, the U.S. has to travel to France, which beat the Belgiums. Do the Williamses want to play in the Fed Cup again?  Possibly, but they have to go to Europe, and while Venus goes everywhere, Serena doesn’t like to travel all the time. That is a toss-up. And yes, even though France is always very good, the Americans are favored. At least for now.

France d Belgium 3-2
It was very close, but finally, Kristina Mladenovic got her head straight and she won all three matches. During the last six months in 2017, she couldn’t play at all, losing and losing, after she had a tremendous first five months. And then she fell down, and further down, and even more further down.
But now, Mladenovic is more comfortable, at least in the Fed Cup. At home in France, she will be very pleased to be in front of the massive crowd. The talkative Alize Cornet couldn’t play this weekend because she was suspended after she missed three out-of-competition doping tests. It is unlikely that she would be able play in April. With Pauline Parmentier losing, maybe the French will bring in the 21-year-old Oceane Dodin? Possible.

Czech Republic d Switzerland 3-0
The Czechs win every singles easily, as they have an incredible depth. Once again, in Prague, Petra Kvitova cracked Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-4 and they took it easily. It appears that Kvitova has become more consistent, she is moving the right way, and she is returning very well. This season, she has a chance to win another major as she is very motivated. In the next round, they have to play Germany, which advanced without its two top players, Angie Kerber and Julia Goerges. We would think that against the Czechs, who have been very strong for years, the Germans will be challenged. It should be a terrific contest.

Germany d. Belgium 3-2
It came to the very end, and the Germans with the longtime veterans Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Tatjana Maria overcame Lidziya Marozava and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4. As Groenefeld said, “We just kept going. … For me this is the best win for my country.” But the Germans will need to bring their best to deal with the Czech Republic.

2018 Aussie Open, the Picks, Day 14, the men’s final

It is pretty obvious that Federer is a big favorite against versus Cilic. Yes, the Croatian did upset the Swiss in the 2014 US Open semifinal. Marin played spectacular, while Roger played below his high standard. But props to Cilic, who won the event, the first time and the only time. However, mentally, he was so focused and he swung away, anywhere he wanted to do.

But beyond that, Federer is clearly better than he is. He has beaten Cilic eight times. Last year, he crushed him in the 2017 Wimbledon final — although Cilic was physically hurt — and the Federer knocked him off in the third set during the ATP Finals in London.

At the Australian Open on Sunday, the battle is on the hard courts and, for the first time, that they will face off in Melbourne. They have played each other many time – at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000s. Federer beat him in Paris, Monte Carlo, China and Canada. So really, the tall and his huge serves can be very good, but how is Cilic going to fool him when they start to rally? That is a huge question.

Cilic does have a small opportunity, but he is going to have to be much more aggressive, hit the balls very deep and put it away whenever he gets a chance, when he goes for it.

Federer has an incredible variety as he covers the court, dominating both with his forehand and his backhand, slicing, with spin, and flatting it out. The 19-time Grand Slam Federer almost knows everything. Well, not everything, but darn close.
But you know what, once in a while, you can go on court and you can play like garbage. Even if you try so hard, still, your racket doesn’t want to play today, it wants to go home now. It has happened to everyone — even with the great Roger Federer.

Will that happen with the Swiss who has shown some anger and upset? I doubt it, because that has been very rare. But let us imagine that Cilic will come on court and begin to play as well as he can. And then, he wins the first set. Now he is thinking that he has a real chance to win. He can feel it. But, if Cilic loses in the first set, see ya.
Let’s imagine that after the first set, the Croatian was really into it. However, Federer will be composed, he will begin to improve rapidly, and then all of sudden, he was right there, kissing the lines, all the time. Federer wins the second set easily, and in the third set, it was darn close. Fed can use his sweet serve and it will beimpossible for Cilic to touch them. In the fourth set, Federer will fly away. 

Mr. Rog will win the Aussie Open again, and he will have 20 Grand Slams. Just, as many people say, ‘A-maaazing!”

2018 Aussie Open, The Picks, Day 13, the women’s final

I am not sure that it is a toss-up, but it will be super close. Over the past decade, they have been two excellent competitors. They are fast, with strong legs, and they will always compete until the sun goes to sleep.

However, they have yet to win a Grand Slam, which is in quite surprising, considering the quality of their groundstrokes.
This match will get one of them to the promised land. One of them will smile so high into the sky, and the other will weep.

Both of them do not love coming to the net, and the second serves are marginal, but they have two amazing backhands, crosscourt and down the line, and there forehands have a lot of spin and bite. They both have terrific returns, and they can mix it up when they are poised.

Here is the reality: Both of them have gone deep at the Grand Slams, yet they have frozen up. Halep did that in the final at Roland Garros against Maria Sharapova. It was 4-4 in the third, Maria rose, and Simona backed off. She also let last year’s French slip away to Jelena Ostapenko, who still has only two WTA titles.

The same thing goes with Wozniacki: In the semis of the 2011 Aussie Open against Li Na, she had a match point in the second set, she couldn’t convert. After that, she began to push the ball. She had just one more winner. And she lost.

Yesterday, both of them admitted that this time around on Saturday, they won’t be afraid. In the third set, they promise to … attack, attack, attack. Halep proved that even when she isn’t playing well, she can hang in there. In the semis against Angie Kerber, Halep just kept battling and when she had an opportunity, she went for it. She won 9-7 in the third. That was spectacular. Will that match and the 15-13 third-set win over Lauren Davis have drained her? We will see.

The Romanian Halep will do it again, beating Wozniacki in three tough sets. The No. 1 will finally become the true champion.