Archives for January 2014

Kerber goes on the Offense, while Tomic Learns to Focus

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Angie is trying to become a risk taker.


FROM THE APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY – Angelique Kerber has been a very good, but not great player since 2011, when she came out of nowhere and reached the US Open semifinals. After that, and a very solid 2012, it appeared that lefthander really did have Grand Slam winning potential. She is naturally strong, is a terrific mover and  is a standout defensive player. She has good but not great serve, but that is not uncommon on the WTA tour. She has world class two-handed backhand that she can slap into the corners.  But her forehand has lacked some oomph, as has her return. Playing standout defense propelled her into the year-end top 5 in 2012, but her lack of improvement in 2013 saw her drop to the No.9 ranking, which is where she is now.

Pro tennis is not all about aggression, but if you look at the WTA’s top three of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, it does require some high octane offense.

That is what Kerber knew she had to bring to the table this year and it was that attitude and style that saw he blitz the powerful teenager Madison Keys 6-4, 6-2 in the Brisbane semis.

“I was working very hard in my off‑season and trying to play more aggressive in my practice sessions,” Kerber said.  “I think right now I try to make it in my matches, so it’s good I have like very good matches also before Melbourne. I’m feeling good, and I try to going for my shots.  That’s also what I improve in my game.  I think that it’s good right now.”

Much of a player’s willingness to go for her shots has to do with confidence, and a willingness to make mistakes and move on. On Thursday in Sydney, Kerber actually attacked Keys’ big serve and let loose with her forehand ,which looked much improved and dangerous. She still needs to put balls back in play, but she has to go for openings.

“ I have [going back to defense] sometimes in my mind, but I try to not thinking about this,” she said.  “I really try to focus then from point to point and not thinking about the past, and just trying to go then for my shots.  Also when I make some mistakes not thinking about this too much.  Going for my shots for the other point.”

Kerber will be the favorite going into the final against the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who played  an excellent match in upsetting Petra Kvitova, but even if the German goes down, she knows that she has to keep attempting to change her mentality. Not too many players can claim wins over Serena, Sharapova, Aga Radwanska and Li Na, but she can. She also played Azarenka very close they last time they faced off.

That indicates that some day, the 25 year old  will have a legitimate chance to win a major, if she takes her gloves off.

“I think you need to play for sure aggressive to be in the top 5, because it’s not easy to play against them when you’re just a defensive player,” Kerber said. “So I try to mix it a little bit and improve my game like to be more aggressive.”


Men’s story of the day: Tomic focuses

Defending champion Bernard Tomic came into his Sydney quarterfinal with a 1-5 record against his foe, Alex Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian’s one-time Aussie coach, Jack Reader, once attributed that to ‘Bernie not liking how Alex plays.” Both guys are squirrely, unorthodox players who are quite talented, but not known for their large hearts or killer instincts. But this time around, at home in front of a very supportive crowd, the Aussie Tomic stayed patient when he had to, didn’t get caught in Dolgopolov spider web and took big rips at the balls when they were in his wheelhouse. The result was a 6-4 6-3 win by Tomic, who once again playing at home looks very good. He also appears a good deal smarter as he managed to smash the mirror of himself into pieces. That would be “The Dolgo.”

“When I play him now I know what it’s like when players play me,” Tomic said. “It’s very different, because the balls that come to me are very unusual.  I struggle with a lot of his balls. I’m like, What the hell was that?  It’s his tennis, and that’s something I do well.  Obviously he’s a difficult player. I’m happy I won.”

Tomic  appears to have gained a bit more foot speed during the off season, is better balanced than he was last year and is clearly motivated to show his home country fans that he really is better than his world No. 51 ranking. On a cool night in Sydney, he also showed them that he can keep his head in a match that he was quite concerned about.

“I knew I had to stay focused with him, “ Tomic said. “ It’s not so much about playing amazing or that good.  I just needed to stay focused and do what I needed to do against him. Against him you can be winning and feel so uncomfortable, and you might lose in one or two games against, like your rhythm and everything.  So it’s difficult to find that timing against a player like that.”

Tomic could very well be better than his ranking, but outside of his fine Aussie summers, the 21 year old had never been a force on tour except for one strong Wimbledon. But that does not matter this week and won’t in the next two weeks in Melbourne.

He has the tools to win Sydney again — although Juan Martin Del Potro, who bested Radek Stepanek and will face Dmitry Tursunov in the semis — will be the favorite to do so. And if Tomic can defend his title, or even reach the final and play the elite likes of Del Potro tough, then he will be worth a long look at the Aussie Open.

Development of the Day

Juan Martin Del Potro says the Sydney courts are very fast and is hoping that the Ausralian Open won’t be as quick.  “I think the bounce are really low,” he said.  “Looks like a grass court, because very low bounce and very faster bounce, too. It’s not easy to play on the baseline and feel good on the lines, but I’m trying to do the best I can… I’m not training for this kind of conditions.  I been practicing in hard court, regular hard court, and I was expecting different conditions for this tournament. Hopefully for Melbourne the courts and balls are slower to play long rallies, to feel the ball like I want.  If not, I will have a couple days before start to change my mind and try to play the best tennis I can.”

Quote of the Day

The vanquished Petra Kvitova on her Aussie Open prospects: “I think the matches what I played was great, and I have three in my back.  I think it’s really good to have this record coming to Australian Open.  It’s a new week. I just hope that I can bring something good from Perth and from Sydney.”

What to Watch for on Friday

Can the cagey Pironkova finally realize her dream and win her first WTA title?



Picture of the Day: Tomic goes Disco style after his win in Sydney

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‘Unlucky’ Wozniacki in questionable form for Aussie Open

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Despite loss, Caro feels she’s ready for Melbourne


SYDNEY – Caroline Wozniacki may be in slightly improved form heading onto the Australian Open than she was last year, but the former No. 1 does not appear to be playing substantially better. The newly engaged Dane is in a happy place in her personal life (she is wearing a diamond the size of the Rock of Gibraltar on her finger, which is the engagement ring that her pro golfer fiancée Rory McIlroy gave her), but she can’t be terribly pleased about her career, as she is struggling to beat very good players. After pulling out of Brisbane due to shoulder injury, she decided to played the Apia Sydney International, taking out Julia Goerges in three sets on  Monday night, but then falling 6-4 7-6 (7) to Lucie Safarova on Tuesday afternoon.

The lefty Czech has cracked the top 20 before and is no pushover, but under a new coach, Thomas Hogstedt, No. 10 Wozniacki did not look much  better than last season. Her serve is rarely a weapon, her forehand doesn’t have enough depth or pop and her style is currently is one of  “tweener:” stuck between playing standout defense and headstrong offense. Her defense is still there – that’s what brought her to the No. 1 ranking – but her offense is still a work in progress. Her forehand has improved, but she still has trouble hitting it for winners and she can’t belt it down the line. Her flat first serve is pretty decent, but her slice and kicker are nothing to write home about. She isn’t a bad volleyer, but does not attack the cords enough. She is an accurate return of server. but doesn’t take an enough big rips at the ball.

She held four set points in the tiebreaker and had she won one of those, the lefty Safarova might have faded in the third set. Wozniacki  could have pushed herself  harder in rallies and taken more risks, but she didn’t see it that way.

“The first one we have a really long, good rally and I really felt like I put pressure on her there.  She just really stepped it up and won that point,” Wozniacki said. “She served me to the backhand where I miss‑timed it a little bit and missed it by a little.  And then I served on the third set point, and again we have a very long rally.  Again I felt like I put pressure on her, and then it was going back and forth.  I think it was at least 12 or 15 shots going back and forth. You know, again, she hit the line a few times as well.  Just unlucky really.  Fourth one I had a chance.  She served a second serve but it attacked me right in the body.  I misread the ball a little bit and it got too close to my body. Yeah, unlucky really. I feel like I did everything right.  What I could have done, maybe one of the returns of the returns if I had returned it differently, but, again, you can always say that.”

If the Dane feels she was just unlucky, than maybe that will aid her confidence headed into Melbourne, the one Grand Slam tournament that perhaps she should have won back in 2011, when she held a match point against Li Na in the semis and then pushed the ball around in a three set loss. She says she feels good going into the 2014 edition, which begins next week. Perhaps she make a mini run, or maybe her campaign will end in the fourth round, like it did last year when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Against Safarova, she looked no better than a potential quarterfinalist, but she doesn’t seem to feel that way.

“I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” she said. “I should be ready for Melbourne.  I just need to push hard and I need to serve and return well.  I think those are the keys. Then obviously try to put the pressure on the opponent.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY Defending champion Bernard Tomic discussed having his banned father and coach John be allowed back on a site this year. John Tomic, who was banned from the tour last May for assaulting his son’s former hitting partner, was allowed to attend Bernard’s 6-3 6-0 wipe out of  Marcel Granollers as a fan on Tuesday. “Having my dad there a very good feeling.  Obviously winning my first title here gives a lot of memories to me.  I’m happy the way I played today.  Having my dad there for the first time in a while, it’s good. I know his ban will finish very soon, in a few months, and back to helping me.  I’m happy.  Today that was the position.  I played very good.  Felt very good.  I’m happy to be back playing like this.”

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DAY The US men continue to struggle Down Under, with qualifier Ryan Harrison falling to Nicolas Mahut and Lucky Loser Albert Ramos of Spain upending Sam Querrey. There are no US men left in the Sydney singles draw.

What to watch for on Wednesday American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands takes on US teenager Madison Keys, whom she mentors a bit. “She’s a great upcoming player,” said Mattek Sands “Plays aggressive shots, big serve. “She goes for her shots.  She’s not afraid.”

King again for the day: Hewitt downs Federer to win Brisbane


Lleyton grabbed his first crown in two and half years


BRISBANE – Some 15 years ago, at the tender age 16, a flying Lleyton Hewitt won the title in his home town of Adelaide, stunning Andre Agassi in semis. He eventually won two Grand Slam titles and reached the No.1 ranking, but coming into the 2014 Brisbane International, he looked nothing like the player he was back then.

Yes, he is still scrappy and when his body is feeling right, he fights like hell, but he has had to reconstruct a large part of his game just to be competitive. In his 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory over Roger Federer to win his first title in Queensland and his first ATP crown in three and half years, Hewitt did not merely counterpunch and attempt to grind the Swiss down.

He certainly was very steady, but he also consistently attacked the Swiss with a varied first serve, bullet returns, deep backhands and sharp forehands. Without question, the Swiss was way off in the first set and looked half asleep framing one shot after another, but it was Hewitt’s relentless attack that suffocated him.

“For the first set I was seeing the ball like a football<’ Hewitt said. “It didn’t matter where he served it, I was on it. I felt great out there.”

But Federer did not quickly fade way in the second set and dug in.  Serving at 3-4, he pushed himself forward, cracking three big forehands, approaching the net and nailing an overhead winner, no small feat considering that Hewitt had launched some gorgeous topspin lobs prior to that that invoked hesitation.

He finally broke the Australian to 5-4 with a sharp chip crosscourt and then played his best game of the match in holding at love to win the second set 6-4.

While the Aussie group The Fanatics were quite loud sitting courtside cheering for their native man, the Federer fans erupted after their guy won the second set and at least at that moment it appeared that the foreign player was the more popular one in Pat Rafter Stadium.

But not for long.

Federer had chances early in the third set, but couldn’t not break Hewitt in two marathon games. The 17-time Slam champ debuted a new 98-inch racket this week, but his backhand was weak for the most part and he went to his slice on too many occasions, often floating them instead of keeping them low and making sure they bit hard.

Hewitt was called for a couple foot faults during the set and argued with chair umpire Mohammed Lahyani about it, saying that his foot was not dragging across the line and that it was actually in the air ( ‘I’m telling you it’s wrong, mate!’ ) be he kept calm and it was clear that he knew that he was deep into Federer’s game.

Serving at 1-2, Federer flew a forehand long and was broken and from then on, all he realty did  was sweat and strain and he never could string together enough points to hurt the Aussie again, despite the fact that he had won 16 of their last 17 matches coming into the contest.

Federer did hold a break point in the seventh game and charged the net and even though he anticipated another Hewitt topspin lob and pedaled backward, the Aussie hung one high and deep and Federer shanked it off the top of his frame, way long.

Hewitt had not won a title since 2010 Halle and has had trouble closing out matches over the past few years, but he did not on a sticky afternoon in Brisbane, ending the contest when he clubbed an inside out forehand winner,  forced Federer into a return error with a sharp serve and then on match point, he hit a deep forehand that Federer dumped into the net with his backhand.

Former No. 1 Federer was not thrilled with on Sunday, but was pretty pleased with how his body held up playing singles and doubles and how his form is coming along.

“I played consistent,” he said. “I didn’t play great today which is a bit unfortunate, but also Lleyton was the best player I played this week.  He made it toughest on me.  So I have a clear idea what I need to work on, and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is that. I’m very hungry and eager to attack the Australian Open next week… I think I can play very well.  Depends on how I play more than anything right now. I think I was able to sort of serve better overall, more consistent this week than I have in a long time.  So that’s very good…I definitely needed a little bit more confidence to play well and hopefully win the tournament.”

If Brisbane ends up being the last title of the 32-year-old Hewitt’s career it would be a perfect Aussie bookend to his Adelaide triumph,  but he has no intention of stopping there. Winning the Aussie Open would be a stretch, but a run to the second week would feel very good indeed.

“It means a lot with the caliber of players here,” Hewitt said. “Look at the start of the week.  It’s not an easy tournament to win.  I wasn’t one of the top four seeds, so I had to win all five matches to get through.  Roger only had to play four to win it here. There are pleasing parts and massive positives to take out of it…A lot [of my Australian Open] depends on draws and how I play.  I’m not looking at what round or whatever.  I go out there an I’ll compete exactly the same as I’ve competed here this week.  If I play like I did this week, then I have a chance of doing some damage against serious players.”

ATP Team of the Day

Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Daniel Nestor had a fine team debut and won the title by besting Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-7. Nestor will play with his old partner, Nenad Zimonjic, at the Australian Open


WTA Team Of the Day

Canada’s Sharon Fichman and American partner Maria Sanchez won their first title together, upsetting third seeds  Lucie Hradecka and Michaella Krajicek to win Auckland.

Salute of the Day

Hewitt gave a heartfelt acceptance speech thanking Federer for helping the tournament break an attendance record with 105,730 fans coming through the gate.


Serena’s Calm before a Needed Storm

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Williams has been untouchable since August


FROM THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Serena Williams may not go down in history as the greatest player ever, but she continues to challenge for that claim and in Brisbane, she began the new season as ended the old one, showing the rest of the world’s elite that they are at least a step behind her. In the final, the No. 1  came up with the goods when she had to and stopped the women who is considered her greatest rival, Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 in an entertaining and hard fought match. Williams is now 14-3 against the player who threatens her the most, and is 15-2 against another top slight woman who is supposed to threaten her, Maria Sharapova, whom she bested in the semifinals. Serena is still a more secure than either and a better all around player than Azarenka is. Her first and second serves are bigger weapons, her forehand does not break down nearly as much and she can pound her in crosscourt rallies and while Azarenka’s backhand might be bit better and she returns just as consistently, she doesn’t rip return winners with the force of Williams and has more extensive mental walkabouts, even if they are brief. She essentially let go of the first set when she committed three unforced errors including a double fault to be broken to 4-3. Serena did sputter up after going up an early break in the second set, when she grew nervous for some off reason and began to hit off her back foot and saw the strong legged Belarusian tie the set up at 2-2. But even though Azarenka is terrific inside the baseline ball striker her serve is vulnerable. Williams talks a lot about how she is playing better when she is calm, but in this instance she pushed herself to be more aggressive, yelling and chiding herself and she broke back to 3-4 with a booming overhead. “One of my goals is to stay relaxed, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of not having the intensity,” Williams said. “So I wanted to make sure I had the intensity. Seeing someone on the other end that does have a lot of intensity, I don’t want my level to drop.  For me, it was just kind of important to stay not only focused but to stay pumped as well. There is a title on the line.  I wanted to be holding the winner’s trophy at the end the of the day.” The 17-time Slam champ looked in a little trouble down 4-5, 0-30, but gutted out a couple of points and then nailed down a 177 KMH ace to hold to 5-5. The pressure was on the former No. 1, who couldn’t stand the heat. Serena outlasted her in marathon rally and on break point, engaged in another slug fest until she had a look at a corner. She launched a gutsy backhand down the line that Azarenka couldn’t touch. Williams then served the march out, ending it with a  182-KPH flat serve out wide and then a slice serve into the deuce court that her foe could barely get her racket on. Against a healthy Williams, dips in form and concentration are not tolerated “I think she gives you less chances, definitely,” Azarenka said. “But I can never underestimate any other opponents.  The matter is to be focused on yourself than your opponent.  I think that’s the better view for your game.” Two-time defending champion Azarenka will now head to Melbourne where she says she “hopes” to meet Williams in the finals. “I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I want to play better.  I want to win.  I can’t say I’m satisfied today, but I want to take the positive, what I’ve done today, and build from here towards the next week. This is the first week where you really test yourself where your game is at, and from here you can take the positives and the things that you have to work on and really go after that.” Williams has won 22 straight matches and took her 58th career crown, but she has been unable to raise an Aussie Open title for the past two years, partly due to ankle injuries. She badly wants title No. 5 and another crown in Brisbane was a good indication that she is well prepared for it. “It was a great test,” Serena said. “It showed me where my level was, and I feel like I definitely have some room for improve and things that I want to improve on going into Melbourne. I’m happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria, because they brought their A games against me.  I know now what I need to do for Melbourne.  I look forward to it.”

Clash of the old Titans



Federer and Hewitt will play for the 27th time


FROM THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt are both 32 years old, more or less grew up together on tour and once had a tremendous rivalry. Hewitt peaked early than the Swiss, winning his sole two majors at in 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimble, while it took Federer until 2003 Wimbledon to win his first crown.

An early chapter of their rivalry was written in the 2003 Davis Cup semifinals, when the Aussie snarled and counterpunched the Swiss into the turf for a 5-7 2-6 7-6 7-5 6-1 victory in Melbourne. It’s still match that is talked about in Davis Cup circles and is certainly one of the most dramatic played between two former No. 1’s in the competition.

After that victory, Hewitt led the rivalry 7-2, but oh-so-quickly, Federer turned the tables on him, besting the then counterpuncher in three 2004 Grand Slams. Federer’s level soared that year, as he tightened up his all round games, was no longer just a pretty player with bursts of brilliance, but a very effective and steady competitor who was a light-footed shotmaker. He was almost impossible to trip up. He would win 16 of their next 17 matches and clearly became a better player.

“I had the tough match where I lost the Davis Cup here in 2003 in the semis,” Federer said.

“I think it really proved to me that I could play great tennis not just for a set, two sets, but three sets or maybe even longer against the toughest guys out there.  Lleyton at that point probably the toughest to beat in the best‑of‑five set match also physically and mentally. And for me to be able to not just do it tennis‑wise but physically and mentally gave me the big belief that I could hang with the best, and especially with him.  Then I went on a run like I did.  I never thought that was going to happen, because he has the game to cause me a lot of problems. I just think the confidence I had and the amount of then variation I could bring to the court was just difficult for Lleyton.  But I always felt like it was just not only my racquet.  The moment I dip my level he was going to be there and take it.”

They played against each other in five more Slams post 2004, all wins for the Swiss, who owns a much stronger forehand and serve and avoided being caught in death spiral crosscourt backhand rallies with the Aussie.

Hewitt was able to hang in matches, but actually winning sets proved difficult as he only managed three in nine matches in their 2005-2009 period Then in the 2010 Halle final, Hewitt struck again on his favorite surface, grass, and pulled off a three set upset. They have played only once since then, in a 2011 Davis Cup clash, again In Australia but this time, Federer took him down on turf and helped lead his team to victory

“My rivalry with him was pretty intense,” Federer said. “Never nasty or anything, but just good matches.  We’re total opposite from one another the way we play.  I play with the one‑handed backhand; he plays his double‑handed.  His attitude on court is totally different to mine. I think that’s why it’s always an interesting matchup for both of us.”

Now the two practice together constantly and on occasion hang out off court. While they are no longer at their peaks, with Hewitt hovering outside of the top 50 and Federer outside of the top 5, they are both smart, resourceful players, which is why they will meet in the Brisbane finals. On Saturday, Federer bested Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-7 6-3, and Hewitt overcame Kei Nishikori as 5-7 6-4 6-3.

Lift your glasses high for the old guys:

“I keep putting myself through it.  Must like punishment,” Hewitt said. “I reckon nearly everyone had some kind of run against Roger those years.  He lost two or three matches for the year.  Apart from losing to go Rafa a couple times, he didn’t lose too many matches. Roger is obviously through that period where he dominated.  He was very tough for anyone to beat. In Halle I got a little bit lucky, but I did play a really good three‑set match there. I prefer to play him in finals rather than round of 16 or quarters or third round of slams, so…


Developments of the Weekends

It is highly unusual for have some so many Grand Slam champions facing off in finals at any given week of the year. In the three WTA events, five women with a combined 28 Grand Slam titles reached the finals, perhaps an all time first.

Both finals in Brisbane featured former major champs and in Auckland, 2008 Roland Garros titlist   Ana Ivanovic claimed her first title in more than two years with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory over seven-time Slam champ Venus Williams. “It’s amazing,” Ivanovic said. “Coming into this week I didn’t really have any expectations. I didn’t even think about making the finals or winning it. I just tried my best, and I felt very comfortable here. Today was a great match. Venus is always very tough – she’s a great champion and showed that again today.

In Shenzhen, 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na overcame fellow Chinese Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-5. The fans there were overjoyed to see two of their own facing off.

The Doha ATP final is a very attractive one, too, with 13 time Slam champ and No. 1 Rafael Nadal set to face Frenchman Gael Monfils.


Brisbane semis: Sharapova pretty close, but still far way from beating Serena

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Serena is now 15-2 versus Sharapova


Serena is now 15-2 versus Sharapova

BRISBANE – Maria Sharapova will more than likely have more shots at Serena Williams in the future, but in the past few years she hasn’t had many opportunities as she did in the second set of her 6-2, 7-6 (7) loss to Williams in the Brisbane International semis. Williams didn’t serve well at all, only putting in 41 percent of her first serves, which game the Russian chances to break time and time again. And after a first set that saw Sharapova contest some gorgeous but too few great points, she actually broke the world’s greatest server on plenty of occasions in the second set.

But Williams returned competently and viciously all match long and in a second set that featured numerous end-to-end rallies with searing  laser shots and great defense by two women who are primarily known for their offense, Sharapova couldn’t hang on to an early break. While her forehand was just as heavy as Serena’s and she stood strong slinging low backhands, she couldn’t push Williams back enough on her own service games and that proved her undoing.

But some of the points were delicious to take in. Williams, who hasn’t lost a match since August, had a blast. “I think it was fun,” she said. “Some of those points were really long and the intensity level was so high.  Maria was hitting the ball extremely hard and I was retrieving a lot of balls.  So was she.  My gosh, she was getting so many balls back. So, yeah, few times I smiled out there because I was really enjoying myself.”

Stroke to stoke, Sharapova is close to matching Williams, but she doesn’t her vaunted serve and that is what has led to Williams 15-2 record against her. With that said, she should have been able to bring the match into a third set, especially after Williams double-faulted twice to go down 5-4 lead in the tie break. And then what did the towering blonde do? She double faulted herself to 5-5. Serena then took over a long rally when Sharapova landed a crosscourt forehand short, and then Williams skied up in the air, smoked a forehand crosscourt winner and then screamed and fist pumped right in the direction of Sharapova’s Friends’ Box, which included her new coach Sven Groeneveld and her boyfriend (and Serena’s former friend) Grigor Dimitrov.

Serving with a match point , Williams went with a drop shot-lob combo, but Sharapova scooped up the dropper, Serena’s half volley lob was not deep enough and Sharapova- who disdains standard overheads – actually got some hang time and put one away to tie it at 6-6.

But then she dumped a routine backhand into the net, which was critical error number one. Serena gave the advantage right back by flying a backhand long. At 7-7, Sharapova had a another big chance and couldn’t convert when she missed a wide open inside out forehand. “Obviously I can look back and say it’s great to be at this level and compete against her and put myself in a good position after not playing for a few months,” she said. ‘But in the moment I’m pulling my teeth out because I missed that shot.”

On Williams’ second match point, she boomed a 171-kilometer per hour ace to win it. Sharapova, who only managed to contest one match post-Wimbledon due to shoulder trouble, was happy and remorseful at the same. She loved the intensity of the battle and can put the loss in perspective, but those kind of chances don’t come along every week against Williams.

“A few missed chances,” she said. “You know, tough being a little, a small break up in that tiebreaker and also missing that forehand just a little bit wide Overall, happy that I can compete at this level in my third match back.  I really have to take the positives out of this, because I have been struggling for a few months.  To be able to come out on the court and put myself in good positions out there against someone that’s been playing amazing tennis is a good sign for me. It was definitely a good week and a good test.”

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Aussie Open title and last year, went down to Li Na in Melbourne in the semis, said that she did gain a bit of confidence during her week in Brisbane. But if she plays Williams at the Aussie Open, will she give herself another real chance? 14 losses in a row to the game’s most accomplished player is tough to figure out.

“I just found 14 ways how not to win,” she said. “ That’s the only way you can look at it.  I could be in a worse position and never face her, which means I would be losing much earlier in tournaments than I want to be. So if I’m giving myself opportunities to go into tournaments and fight through matches to get to a position to play against her, I consider myself very lucky to be able to play against her and give myself another chance to try and beat her.”

Williams will face her main rival, Victoria Azarenka, who took a trying 1-6 6-3 6-4 win over Jelena Jankovic, who was disappointed in how she lost control of a contest that she dictated in at times. Yet Azarenka became No. 1 largely because she is confident that she can unlock the key to her inside the baseline attack against anyone. Her serve has been largely ineffective during the week, but if she can get a high percentage in against Williams, she should be able to go toe to toe with her from the back court, just like she did every time they faced of on hard courts last year.

A Serena vs. Vika final to start the year is perfect start to the 2014 WTA season and perhaps a prelude to their first Aussie Open final.

“It’s a good [rivalry],” Serena said.  “She’s so intense on the court, and then off the court she’s so cool.  So I think that’s what makes the rivalry the best, is because when you step on the court I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me and we fight like crazy. When it’s over it’s over.  There is a lot of mutual respect there.”

Sharapova vs. Serena 17: No love lost, but Serena won’t make off court jabs

sharapova serena nike 13

Sharapova wants to mute her off court conflict with Williams.

BRISBANE: –  Maria Sharapova can be a very self-reflective person, but talking about her history against a woman who has all but dominated her and whom she does not get along with off court are not subjects she wants to ponder publicly.

On Thursday after her three-set win over Kaia Kanepi, she was asked a series of questions about Serena Williams, whom she will face in the semis, and she wouldn’t go into depth with any of them. She didn’t want to talk about whether she had made up ground on Williams in 2013 when she pushed her both at Miami and Roland Garros in losses. She didn’t want to talk about whether she has watched tape of her two wins against Williams, which occurred back in 2004 at Wimbledon and Miami. She didn’t want to talk about their 2005 Australian Open semifinal, which is perhaps the best match they contested when Williams tipped her 8-6 in the third set in a contest the Russian had huge chances in.

And she certainly did not want to talk about her off court relationship with Williams, which has largely been a negative throughout their long careers, even though she has done so in the past and recently told the New York Times Chris Clarey that “On the court, I have the utmost respect for her; I really do. [Off the court] it’s different…”

As Sharapova herself said in defending her comments made at Wimbledon when she was went after Williams for allegedly making comment  about her  in Rolling Stone, ‘everyone’ in the tennis industry knows they don’t get along.  They are the two biggest women’s athletes in the world by a long shot, they play the same sport and both have type-A personalities. It would unusual if they were close.

Sharapova  wants to book to be closed on her comments regarding Williams’s alleged romantic relationship with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, even though she won’t apologize for them. Serena has claimed to have apologized to Sharapova for the comments made to Rolling Stone. Sharapova certainly felt like she was aiming at her and her boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov when Serena was quoted as saying “ if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

Sharapova says that she is an open book when it comes to her feelings and for the most part she is, but she also feels like she is the one making the calls on closing the book when she feels like the issue should be put to bed.

Unfortunately for Sharapova,  that not how the media world works, even if she says, as she did on Thursday: “I thought it was really important to clear the air, and I think I said everything I had to say about it.”

She might want the issue to die, but not when she is about to face Serena in another match, and not when the bone of contention was over and her rival’s respective  romantic relationships. These type of disputes don’t settle easily.

Are they capable of being cordial to each other? Perhaps on occasion. Can they ever be BFFs? No.

“It’s very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you’re so competitive,” Serena said. “But I don’t have a problem with anyone.  I get along with everyone.  I have respect for people not only on the court but as well as off the court.  I don’t have any problem when it comes to anything like that.  I don’t take jabs or anything.  I am who I am and I don’t hide anything. I’m totally fine.”

Within their so-called rivalry, she is more than fine, owning a 14-2 edge over Sharapova. They have played one classic before in Australia, in the 2005 Australian Open semis, when coming off two losses to Sharapova in 2004, Serena fought off three match points down 5-4 in the third set and took the contest 2-6 7-5 8-6. She eventually went on to win the title.

Sharapova has no good recall of the match, or at least that’s what she said  on Thursday, but Serena did:

“I remember a forehand inside out.  That’s all I remember.  I was down match point and I hit this winner and I didn’t even blink.  I hit the a winner and walked right to the other side and was ready for the next return as if it was just a 30‑15 point. It was pretty amazing.”

Yes it was and she hasn’t lost to Sharapova since then, winning their next 12 matches. Even  though four-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova is dangerous to anyone on any given day, she has always claimed that Williams brings her A-plus game again her. Time and time again, that game has proven better than what Sharapova brings to the table and unless Williams’ level drops, it is likely that they American will march into the final. In her 6-3, 6-3 win over Dominika Cibulkova on Thursday, Williams looked better than Sharapova did in 4‑6, 6‑3, 6‑2 over Kaia Kanepi.

Sharapova has only contested three matches since Wimbledon due to shoulder injury and while her level was fairly high in her win over the Estonian Kanepi, it was not at a level that she’ll need against Williams, which would be a near perfect one.

“There is no substitute for getting ready for at Grand Slam competing against the best,” Sharapova said. “She’s been on a roll the lost couple of years with her level and the way that she’s been able to play.  I’ve competed against her a few times last year; didn’t work. You always hope that you can go out and give yourself a chance to do better next time.You’re going up against a great champion that’s playing great tennis at the moment.  You know that you have to raise your level in order to beat her.  That’s the excitement you feel, is you know have you to step up on the line and expect yourself to raise that level.”

Injury of the day

It did not occur in Brisbane but in Perth at the Hopman Cup when former top 10 player Flavia Pennetta’s retired down 4-0  to Eugenie Bouchard in the first set with a right wrist injury, the same body part that she has surgery on in 2012.

“I don’t know. This wrist is crazy. It’s coming, some pain, from nothing,” Pennetta said. “I think it was what I had to do, to try and go on the court and at least I was thinking maybe with some warm up it will get better but it was not like this. “I will have some treatment, some reforming and try to, maybe don’t play for one or two days to help because I think it’s more something, inflammation, it’s not like a tear or ligament, I mean I had all my ligament already operated, so hope it’s nothing worse.”

Development of the Day

Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou is not only pleased with Williams play but that of Jeremy Chardy who has reached the ATP quarters in Brisbane. Another player he has been working with, Peng Shuai, has made progress at the tournament in Shenzhen.

What to Watch for, Friday

Roger Federer is playing doubles with Nicolas Mahut in Brisbane and they took down Grigor  Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy 11-9 in a match tiebreak to reach the semis. Federer has clear shot at a singles & doubles double in Brisbane. If he manages the feat, it would be the first time that the Swiss has won singles and doubles titles at the same tournament since 2005 Halle when he partnered with Yves Allegro.


2013 TR Annual Readers Poll: final results

Thanks to our very loyal and active readers and for the thousands of votes we received. We love the responses.

Don’t forget to vote in our (Nearly) Daily Poll, that shows up on our home page and all posts.

Sexiest Male Player


Grigor Dimitrov 61%
Rafael Nadal 17%
Ernests Gulbis 10%
Novak Djokovic 2%
Feliciano Lopez 2%
Tommy Haas 3%
Benoit Paire 1%
Fernando Verdasco 1%
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 1%
Pablo Andujar .2%

Sexiest Female Player


Maria Sharapova 40%
Caroline Wozniacki 23%
Victoria Azarenka 21%
Maria Kirlenko 6%
Julia Goerges 3%
Daniela Hantuchova 3%
Alize Lim 2%
Elena Vesnina 1%
Sloane Stephens 1%
Bojana Jovanovski 1%
Zheng Jie .2%

Tweeter of the Year


Laura Robson 25%
Roger Federer 24%
Serena Williams 19%
Tomas Berdych 13%
Stan Wawrinka 5%
Maria Sharapova 4%
Andy Murray 3%
Ivo Karlovic 3%
Caroline Wozniacki 2%
Sofia Arvidsson 1%

Coach of the Year/ATP


Toni Nadal/
Rafael Nadal
Magnus Norman/
Stan Wawrinka
Ivan Lendl/
Andy Murray
Marian Vajda/
Novak Djokovic

Coach of the Year/WTA


Patrick Mouratoglou/
Serena Williams
Carlos Rodriguez/
Li Na
Sam Sumyk/
Victoria Azarenka
Marko Jankovic/
Jelena Jankovic

Coolest Male Player


Roger Federer 64%
Novak Djokovic 15%
Tomas Berdych 14%
Dimitry Tursunov 7%

Coolest Female Player


Andrea Petkovic 48%
Laura Robson 35%
Marion Bartoli 11%
Bethanie Mattek-Sands 5%

Brisbane Day 4: A new beginning for Marin Cilic

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Ivanisevic is helping Cilic reconstruct his serve, as well as his volley


BRISBANE:   Marin Cilic played just his third match in the past five months on Wednesday when took down 2013 Brisbane International finalist Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-5 at Pat Rafter Arena on Wednesday.  The Croat was a very happy man, saying that while it’s his same career, it’s new start after what he called the worst period of his life in 2013 when he was banned for allegedly doping.

The former top 10er Cilic was banned for nine months by an independent tribunal in September after testing positive for the stimulant nikethamide at the Munich Open in May, but his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful and his suspension was cut to four months. He chose not to play post Wimbledon in order to give is lawyers time to prepare and to rack up time served. One his appeal was okayed, he managed to get in two matches at the Paris Bercy Masters. But that was it for the rest of 2013 as his ranking was too low to get into the ATP World Finals.

The 25 year old enters the 2014 ranked No. 37 with an outside shot of being seeded at the Australian Open. Some folks feel bad for him as they believe his explanation that he did not purposely ingest the nikethamide is the truth. Others may still think he cheated. But whatever the case, he does have a new lease on life and that now includes the full time coaching help of former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, whom he has known since he’s been a kid.

“Feels still the same career, but feels like a new beginning for me,” he said. “Just with the new team and everything, I’m thinking about everything around myself in a different perspective. I had a lot time to think about everything and time to work. I improved my serve.  That was something special from Goran.  We worked a lot on the serve during the off‑season.  I feel it’s in really good place and it could help me to play much better, especially against top players.  So overall, of course I’m excited to be in the season and to play, to be back on the tour after all that misery last year.”

Despite being 6-feet-6, a pretty good mover for his size and a man who  can crack it from the back court, Cilic he has never become a major threat to the elite, while a guy of the identical  height with weapons that are not much bigger, Juan Martin Del Potro, has.

Cilic owns nine career titles, all at the ATP 250 level. He has never reached the final of Master Series, but back in 2010 when he advanced to his first Grand Slam SF at Australian Open (upending Andy Roddick before going down to Andy Murray) and cracked the  Top 10, it sure looked like he was ready to make a push.

But he did not. In 2011, he went 1-8 vs. Top 10 opponents. In 2012, he posted the same mark against the top 10. He was sliding backward

“I felt that I lost my way a bit after [2010],” he said. “ I was struggling couple seasons.  2011, 2012 I was bit better, but still not at the right place with the game.  I was all the time searching myself.  Overall looking at the seasons, the performances I wanted to have.  In couple tournaments I had great results, but overall I was not too satisfied with it, especially after that great success in Australia and also four, five months before Australian Open where I played pretty good tennis. So I think now when I went through it, I felt what I need to do.  I think I took that as a lesson.  Next time I hope that I’m going to be there I know how to deal in that kind of situation.”

In 2013, Cilic  was essentially mediocre. He lost a five setter to Andrea Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open, but he did avenge that loss in a Davis Cup win over Italy. He won the  Zagreb title , but the field was spotty. At the spring Masters Series he went down to Raonic (Indian Wells), Murray (Miami), Gasquet (Monte Carlo), Madrid (Andujar) and Anderson (Rome).  At Roland  Garros he fell to Victor Troicki. Oh and let’s not forget what occurred in Munich when he tested positive- he lost to countryman Ivan Dodig on clay.

On grass he briefly revived.  At Queens he took down  Dodig, Feliciano Lopez. Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt and before falling to Murray. At Wimbledon, he claimed that a knee injury forced him out the competition prior to his second round match, even though he knew he was going to be suspended. He still sticks by that story.

Due to the long break, he feels physically  refreshed now which is  good for any player. Against Dimitrov, he showed off a huge serve and consistent serve, a stroke that has been very sporadic since 2010. His groundstrokes were strong and had depth and he was competent around the net.

Ivanisevic had one of the best serves of all time and while he and Cilic’s motions are totally different, he managed to convince his student that his motion was too complicated. He also has given him a set of broad shoulder to lean on

“To simplify.  Throw the ball in the air and hit it<’ Cilic said of the left handers advice to him. “  For me before, I was a lot thinking about the serve. To be more relaxed, nothing unusual.  But we worked a lot on it, and it seems that it fit in the right place.

Goran showed me already a lot of things.  I feel my game is improving.  Goran say all the things that he went through many more times than I did already in my career he can show me and tell me in front, Okay, be careful of this.  He’s going to be one step ahead of me in some kind of situations.”

Injury watch

The Brisbane International may only have a 28 draw but already, in the WTA First Premier level event of 2014, it has seen four causalities. Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova became the third and fourth players to pull out, Lisicki with gastrointestinal illness and  Pavlyuchenkova with a left thigh injury. They  Ashleigh Barty and Caroline Wozniacki, who pulled out earlier in the week.

Match of the Day

Britain’s Ross Hutchins, who battled cancer last year, returned the tour and he and his partner, Colin Fleming, played very respectably in a 0-6, 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak) loss to Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy.

What to Watch for, Thursday

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both open play during the day session, with the Russian going up against the heavy-hitting Kaia Kanepi, and then the American taking on the dangerous Dominica Cibulkova. Should both Williams and Sharapova win, they will contest their 17th match. However, it is not a great rivalry by any stretch as Williams owns a 14-2 edge and Sharapova has not beaten her since 2004, although she did play Williams tough the last time they faced off in the 2013 Roland Garros final.