Archives for January 2016

Aussie Open: Serena returns at 4 months off, Wozniacki skids again




AUSTRALIAN OPEN, DAY 1, JAN 18 – Serena Williams played reasonably well to beat Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5 in the first round at the Aussie Open. The No. 1 hadn’t played for four months – which is a long time – but as she said, the older you get, the easier it is to understand how you will preform at the Grand Slams. As Serena said, she has been playing tennis for 30 years (she is 34 years old) so she knows how to play. That is true, but her knee was hurt 10 days ago so it’s possible that it could become super sore, which could threaten her.

Fortunately, Serena won’t play against the seeds until the quarters. No. 27 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova lost against the Russian Darya Kasatkina, No. 17 Sara Errani went down against another Russian Margarita Gasparyan. The youngsters are rising.

No.16 Caroline Wozniacki lost against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. But what about the former No. 1 Wozniacki? How did she go down so ridiculously? As the Dane said, she “played like shit.” In 2014, she looked like she was coming back, reaching the final of the US Open, hitting harder, faster, stronger and with much more confidence.

But last year, after she reached the final at Stuttgart against Angie Kerber, she was right there in the third set. But towards the end, she backed up, she pushed the ball, she lost and after that, she skidded. Big time. If Wozniacki doesn’t change, she is not going to be able to win a major at all. Her backhand is always phenomenal, but beyond that, her forehand is spotty and isn’t very powerful; her serve is mediocre; and his return is spotty. She is simply not aggressive enough. Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova have all won multiple majors, and they all can be aggressive when they need to. Wozniacki doesn’t. She really needs to bring in a new coach, not because her father and coach Piotr doesn’t understand tennis, but his daughter isn’t listening. Caro can ignore her coaches. If she is going to change and return to the top 5 someday, she has to start listening very soon.

Here were some good wins on Monday: Sharapova, the now healthy Kvitova (or she says), Genie Bouchard, Sveta Kuznetsova, Belinda Bencic (who is no longer sick), Carla Suarez Navarro, and a few more Americans: Nicole Gibbs, Laura Davis and Irina Falconi.

The most telling loss was by Samantha Stosur, who went down against ‘the other’ Kristyna Pliskova 6-4 7-6(6). The former US Open champion Stosur played at night on Rod Laver and while she didn’t freeze up, she didn’t mix it up at all. The Aussie was way too predictable and she didn’t yank the somewhat slow Croatian around. Credit for Kristyna (her better twin sister is Karolina Pliskova) who hung in there, but Stosur looked lost. It is amazing that during the past 10 years, she has done almost nothing playing in Australia. At the US Open, and at Roland Garros, she has been tremendous, but at home, she swallows up. Maybe next year…

Aussie Open 2016 Draw: Can Serena win another majors? Nope

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No. 1 Serena Williams hasn’t played since the US Open, so she is pretty raw. Plus, she was hurt 10 days ago due to her knee, so it’s very hard to tell whether she will be ready. She said that she feels “130 percent.” If so, she can win seven matches winning 6-0, 6-0. She is that good.

However, I don’t think she is 100 percent, not even 90 percent. She is super vulnerable. She could lose against Camilla Giorgi in the first set, yet while the Italian can strike the ball, she is inconsistent mentally. She could be troubled against Su-Wei Hsieh in the second round, or Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the third round, but she scrape past them. But in the Round of 16 – she is gone against her close friend Caro Wozniacki. Time after time, Caro has been close but she has seasoned up. This week, the Danish will finally yank her around and make her very tired. Serena will throw a few dozen unforced errors and she will wave goodbye. It happens – for everyone.

Maria Sharapova will be in the quarter, and if she had to face Williams once again, she could be shaky on court as she has lost so many times against her. But no matter. Sharapova has to reach the quarters first and she became hurt [everybody seems to be hurt] in Brisbane While she is feeling fine, she might not be 100 prix vrai cialis percent. We will see. However, Sharapova looked very good at the WTA Finals and the Fed Cup final. She seems relax and eager. She has a fine draw until the fourth round, when she will have to face Belinda Bencic or Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 18-year-old Bencic is coming hard, while Kuznetsova played a terrific contest in Sydney. Sharapova wants it more though, but she knows that if she can win a couple more majors, she has to do it soon.

SEMIFINAL: Sharapova


Bencic vs. Alison Riske

Allegedly, Bencic said she was ill a couple of day ago and had to pull out in Sydney. Now she has to face the hard-hitting American Riske who is playing well on the hard courts. A true toss-up.


During the fall, Aga Radwanska really came alive, winning the WTA Finals. She won a tournament last week, too. While she certainly is not the out-and-out favorite, she is way up there. It’s time for the No. 4 Radwanska to finally shine and win a Slam. However, it won’t be easy. She will open up against Christina McHale, who can by super steady, then against Genie Bouchard, who can be super aggressive, and then against Sam Stosur, who can crush her heavy forehand. But the cagey Radwanska will figure it out. In the Round of 16 she will face Sloane Stephens, who won Auckland and that could be tough, assuming whether the American can figure it out. Let’s assume she will, and they will contest a very long match, but in the end, Radwanska will kiss the lines when it counts the most. Who will the Polish face in the quarters? In the other section, no one is playing healthy or playing well. (Petra Kvitova is ill once again.) How about Carla Suarez Navarro?  but it doesn’t matter as Radwanska will beat her easily.

SEMIFINAL: Radwanska


Dominica Cibulkova vs. Kristina Mladenovic

The former finalist Cibulkova loves the tournament and will go all out to prove that she can reach top 10 again. The No. 28 Mladenovic is improving slowly but surely, plus she is a fine net charger.



Vika will find her old form in Melbourne. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Vika will find her old form in Melbourne. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

The bottom half is substantially weaker, but there are some excellent competitors. Here, Vika Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza will face each of the in the Round of 16. The No. 7 Angie Kerber has a very easy draw until the quarters, unless she gets nervous, which she won’t – yet. Azarenka will have to face Elina Svitolina in the third round, which could be tough as the Ukrainian can be very fast and hustle. But Azarenka was extremely impressive in winning Brisbane and she’s ready to try and win a Slam. No. 3 Muguruza has been hurt, but she is so strong and smarter now. Caroline Garcia can trouble her, but the Spaniard doesn’t disappear at times, which the Frenchwoman does. Yes, Muguruza can reach the final here, but Garbine appears to be a little bit nervous, while Azarenka seems very happy. The two-time Grand Slam champion at the AO will stop Muguruza, and then chop up Kerber, whom she beat in the Brisbane final. Azarenka can hit the hell out of the ball.



Elina Svitolina vs. Victoria Duval

The 20-year-old Duval is now ready to dance. Svitolina thinks she can reach the top 10 this year. It should be a true battle.


Even though Simona Halep lost in the semifinals of Sydney in three long sets against Kuznetsova, at least she felt like her body held up and she didn’t feel hurt anymore. Time will tell, but if she is feeling good, she can actually win the Aussie Open for the first time. At first, she will have to run for a long time, against Alize Cornet in the second round (who won Hobart) and No. 31 Lesia Tsurenko in the third round. Halep will reach the Round of 16, when she will face Madison Keys (I would said Ana Ivanovic, but the Serbian did nothing at Auckland and Sydney), who can crush the ball. Keys haven’t done much since the summer and she will have to prove that she is ready to knock out the elite competitors. Halep will dig her out. In the quarters, Halep will go face Karolina Pliskova, who has so much potential, but the Czech can get down on herself, just like when she lost against Halep in Sydney. It was close, but Pliskova wasn’t patient enough. The No. 9 Pliskova could lose early because she can up and down mentally, but she will topple No. 8 Venus Williams in the fourth round. The 35-year-old Venus can reach the quarters, or even the semis, but it’s hard to see that. So many years ago, in 2003, Venus reached the final at the AO against Serena and she was right there. She was so close in the third set and just let it go. After that, she never reached a AO final again. I would be shocked if Venus manages to dominate during the next two weeks. Halep will get through into the semis, out stroking Pliskova once again.

SEMIFINAL: Simona Halep


Venus vs. Johanna Konta.

Remember when the Britain stunned Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic at the US Open before she lost to Kvitova? Pretty good stuff. She will push Venus super hard—and then she will lose in three sets.

The Australian Open 2016 Draw: Can anyone upset Djokovic?





Novak Djokovic is a heavy favorite, essentially dominating the hard courts. He has won the Aussie Open five times, having won in 2015 over Andy Murray in the final. Last year on the hard courts outdoors, he also won Indian Wells, Miami, the US Open, Beijing and Shanghai. Last week, he won Doha, destroying Rafa Nadal. Can anyone touch him? Probably not, but eventually, everyone can lose.

Djokovic will face the rising Hyeon Chung in the first round, which could be interesting, but Novak has much more experience. He should face Ivan Dodig, who can grind you, but he is simply stronger. He should thrash Andreas Seppi in R3, and in the R4, throw in Gilles Simon, who can be cagey, but he can’t out hit him. In the quarters, he will likely face Kei Nishikori, but the Japanese could go down against Benoit Paire, who beat him Tokyo. Jo Tsonga is around ,but he hasn’t done anything lately. Djokovic will clash against Nishikori and he realizes that if he wants to win a major for the first time, he really has to go for it and make sure not to get hurt. Djokovic will outlast him in five dramatic sets.

SEMIFINAL: Djokovic.


Nishikori vs. Philip Kohlschreiber with the German loves to slug.


Roger Federer could face Grigor Dimitrov in the 3rd round, which it will certainly be a tremendous match, assuming that they get there. The Swiss loves variety and cialis veritable he will get that, likely playing Alexandr Dolgopolov in R2. Dolgopolov loves to slice and mix it up, but Federer has a bigger forehand and serve. Then he should play Dimitrov, who he beat him in Brisbane in 3 tough sets. The Bulgarian is improving once again and without a doubt, he doesn’t back off at all. However, Federer knows how to attack him and when he needs to back off. In the fifth set, Federer will know which way to go. In the fourth round, he will have to face another youngest, Dominic Thiem, whom he out stroked him in Brisbane. It is possible that the flashy David Goffin will get there, but while Thiem can sit way back in the court, he can rip his strokes. This time, the Austria will grab a set, but Federer will get into the quarters.

Who will face him in the quarters? The controversial Nick Kyrgios can go off, but he is an excellent young player. Kyrgios doesn’t have a coach, but somebody must be talking to him during the AO, perhaps with the soon-to-retire Lleyton Hewitt? The super-powerful Kyrgios will overpower Pablo Carreno Busta, then Pablo Cuevas, and then knock out No. 6 Tomas Berdych. Then Kyrgios will face the 2014 US Open champ Marin Cilic, which will be very physically. The fans will be going crazy, cheering for Kyrgios, who will out-stroke him in five sets.

Can the 21 year old stun Federer? Yup. Even though Kyrgios didn’t play particularly well in the fall, and he hasn’t played a match in the ATP this year (even though he played in an exo at the Hopman Cup), he loves to battle at the Slams. He can crush his forehand and backhand, he has a huge serve, he can charge the net, and he can mix it up. Obviously, the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer is still a better player than he is, but he is slightly aging and in three out of five sets, he can slip down.


GREAT FIRST ROUND: Thiem vs. Leonardo Mayer. The Argentine has slumped a bit, but he commander viagra generique youtube can drag Thiem all over the place.



Without a doubt, this is the most enticing quarter. There are a slew of big names that can reach the semis, including Stan Wawrinka, Rafa Nadal, Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils and Jack Sock.

The No. 4 Wawrinka is slightly leading, as he won the 2014 AO [he beat Djokovic and Nadal] and last year, he reached the semifinal, going down to Novak. The fiery Wawrinka has much improved at the majors of the past two years. But still, he can be vulnerable. Sock has reached the final in New Zealand, and at this point, the American is ready to jump. He will stun Wawrinka in the third round, but it’s Raonic who is ready to go super deep: the Canadian will nail serve after serve and take down Sock in the Round of 16.

Then what? The 14-time Grand Slam viagra sans ordonnance Nadal is fighting hard, even though he can’t figure out Djokovic. Nadal has to go up against Fernando Verdasco in the first time, and while Rafa knows him well, in 2009, they faced off in the semifinal at the AO and the two bangers played over 4 hours. Nadal out-lasted Verdasco, and then he won the tournament, beating Federer.

Can he do it again? I can’t see it, but he should beat Verdasco, knock down Jeremy Chardy in the third round, and in the fourth round, he will club Anderson – assuming that Kevin had overcame the flashy Monfils.

But in the quarters, assuming Raonic is healthy, that he will negate Nadal in four sets. His time is come.



Chardy vs. Ernests Gulbis: because Gulbis is always crazy – and some times, a whole lot of fun


Andy says that he badly wants to win an AO for the first time, losing four times in the finals. He certainly has a chance, but he has to keep his head in the game. In the first time, he will face the super tall and rising 18-year-old Alexander Zverev. Murray will win, but the German will come out swinging. He should control Sam Groth in the second round, and he will out-think Joao Sousa, but in the fourth rounding, it’s anybody’s guess. He should face Bernard Tomic, who has been playing better over the past 13 months, but he should not have retired on Friday at Sydney because he wants to make sure that he is totally healthy in AO. Tomic loves to mix it up, and he can crack the ball. Plus, at least on court, he is much smarter. But so is Murray, who knows how to attack him and mix it up. The Britain will take him down in four sets,

Who will meet Murray in the quarters? David Ferrer, who just loss against Sock and is aging. Maybe the wily Feliciano Lopez, the former USC standout Steve Johnson, or the huge-server John Isner? It will be Isner, who has been way overdo at the AO, losing some very tough losses over the year. Isner will get there, but once he gets on court against Murray, he tends to lose his head. Murray will get through once again.

SEMIFINAL: Andy Murray

GREAT FIRST ROUND: Lleyton Hewitt vs. James Duckworth. The former No. 1 Hewitt will retire at the end of the tournament. What better to go out on the bright lights at Rod Laver Stadium.



So much smarter: Kuznetsova wins the title in Sydney

Sveta is primed to upset Vika.

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 15, 2016 – Svetlana Kuznetsova has been around for a very long time, with 2004 the first year she served notice on the tennis world.

She lost early in New Zealand, losing in the second round, and she was not considered the favorite at Sydney. But she got her feet wet, took out Sabine Lisicki and Sara Errani, and on Friday, she had to knock out two competitions to win the title, No. 2 Simone Halep and Monica Puig.

On a bizarre day on Thursday, it was hot and sunny in the morning, but then the whipping rain came and pretty much wiped out play. Halep was on serve 5-4 in the first set. In the other semis, Puig was up 4-0 over Belinda Bencic.

On Friday, the rain was coming in and out, so the women came on court ASAP. Bencic said she was ill and she was throwing up, so she was retired down 6-0. But even though Halep has been a little bit afraid due to her sore Achilles Heel, she wanted to run around as fast as she could. The Romanian fought very hard, but the Russian won the match 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3. Kuznetsova has so much variety. She twisted, she sliced, she spun and she blasted inside the lines.

A few hours later, she and Puig went on court and before the youngest competitor new it, she was gone, 6-0, 6-2. Kuznetsova was in the zone. These days, she is so much smarter than she used to be.

“I’m mature. I know how to listen to myself,” the 30 year old said. “That’s probably the biggest improvement. I just listen to myself. Because sometimes you look for other people to tell you what to do or kind of expecting the opinion of somebody. What’ most important is what you are inside, what you feel like and what’s important to you. When you know more or less yourself, you don’t get angry when you don’t do so well. Just some balance which is within you. This is what I feel, and I feel that my game is in different stage. I can do this different variety, whatever it is, of my shots because I’m able to. So I kind of analyze more myself.”

Back in 2004, few people knew who Kuznetsova was outside of Russia, but once people saw her, they could see how powerful she was and how much spin she put on the ball. At Roland Garros, she was running around, slicing, chopping, and rolling his thunderous forehand. In the fourth round, she held a few match points against the No. 5 Anastasia Myskina, but she could not push her way. Her now very good friend Myskina won the tournament, and it looked like Kuznetsova was down in the dumps, but after a few weeks later, the then 19-year-old picked up where she left off.

At the US Open, she was a thoroughbred, streaking past Mary Pierce, Nadia Petrova, Lindsay Davenport and Elena Dementieva to win the title. She had risen quickly.

However, in the next year, she began to slump because there was too much pressure, too soon. Too many people were talking about her and she didn’t like it. It took her four years to rise up again. In 2008, she reached five finals, including Sydney. She wasn’t totally there yet, but she was much more consistent. In 2009, she took off, winning Roland Garros.

How good was she in Paris? She knocked off Aga Radwanska, Serena Williams (7-5 in the third set), Sam Stosur (another dramatic three sets) and Dinara Safina to snare the crown. She knew exactly what she wanted to do.

But the reality is that since then, she has been pretty darn good, but overall, she has not been great. She has won 15 singles title and 16 doubles title, which is just fine, but she has been so unpredictable. Look at the 30-year-old in 2015: in the first four months, she didn’t win three matches in a row until May, when reached the final in Madrid, stunning Lucie Safarova and Maria Sharapova. She looked terrific, moving fast, mixing it up, and smacking her balls deep and skipping around. In the final, her legs were gone and she couldn’t move against Petra Kvitova.

But it looked like she was going to charge again.

Kuznetsova has a load of experience, but she can drop off fast. That she did, for no reason at all. She lost early at Wimbledon and at the US Open. Kuznetsova didn’t go deep either in Asia. She was getting a little tired and ready for the season to end. But the tournament directors asked her to come to Moscow. She hemmed and hawed. She decided to go and all of a sudden, she was happy. Who knows why? She wasn’t glum as she had a huge smile on her face when she won the event.

Moscow get my confidence in the end of the year, so probably that’s why also an easier start this year,” she said. “I still remember the feeling playing good and comfortable against players on the court. To explain something why it’s really hard. First of all, I didn’t want to play Moscow. I was in China three, four weeks. I was just like, Oh, my God. I can’t wait until this season will be over. But then I came back home and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s one of my favorite events. I would like to play it. Last moment I decide, Okay, I’ll play.’

Then when I get win and win and win, and when you win, and then they offer me to go to Zhuhai [in China] to play. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go to Zhuhai.’ So in end of year I was just going with the flow. Whatever wind was blowing I was going. So it just happen like that. I don’t know. I just decided that it’s easier for me than force something.”

Kuznetsova says that she played too many events last year. She wants to be calmer and not be playing every week. We will see. But, when she on, she can be lethal and she will battle until the last ball. Remember the 2011 Australian Open? In the third round against Francesca Schiavone, she survived 6-4 1-6 16-14 after holding six match points and finally winning after four hours, 44 minutes. She just wouldn’t give up.

Kuznetsova has yet to win the Australian Open, but she has reached the quarters three times. She has a very tough draw. She has to face with the former No. 4 Daniela Hantuchova in the first round. She might have to face Bencic in the third round, and maybe have to go up against her friend, Maria Sharapova, in the fourth round. If she shocks Sharapova, then she might face Serena in the quarters. Wow, now that would be difficult, but whomever she plays, she just likes to strike the ball.

I never dream of winning one. I never thought winning one,” she said. “It just happens behind hard work, effort, and just having pleasure playing tennis. To me. I’m not saying it’s good way for somebody else. If I have this opportunity and I can take it, I would love to. I would be extremely happy. If not, my life not going to end on it. But still, I love the game. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. It’s great I can still win titles.
I don’t feel old at all.”


Tomic progresses in Sydney vs. top players: ‘Gives us confidence’

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APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 13, 2016 – Everyone is talking about Novak. In 2014, it seemed like everyone thought Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka could still win a Slam, or an ATP 1000. But in 2015, it changed, radically. Djokovic won 11 titles, three of which were Grand Slams, six ATP 1000s and one ATP 500. With the exception of falling to Wawrinka in the final of Roland Garros, he won every time he needed to.

Last week, the Serbian crushed everyone to win Doha, blowing out Nadal in the final. Now, according to almost every player, Djokovic is dominating.

On Wednesday in Sydney, the Aussie Bernard Tomic said that other than downing Djokovic, the young guys are finally ready to upend the elite, veteran players. Tomics, who beat the fellow Australian Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarters, just shook his head.

“Novak, it’s just a joke now. It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Tomic said. “That’s the reason why he’s the best player in the world. I think even Roger and Rafa are just — when you step on the court against Novak now it’s like, ‘How can you beat him?’ Even Rafa playing that final in Doha, it was amazing tennis to watch, but so comfortable, and on score just shows how much Novak is dominating the sport. I think he is a different level, Novak, now, and there is a reason why he’s there. I think the other players, there are a little bit more weaknesses. There is a reason why Novak is the best. No weaknesses. I can’t think of any. He deserves to be there.”

Tomic, who had reached the semifinal of Brisbane and then lost against his buddy Milos Raonic, agrees with Grigor Dimitrov that the very good young players can beat the Big 4 plus 1 this season. But maybe not against everyone.

“[Milos beating Federer in Brisbane] that’s a good sign for us,” Tomic said. “Not just for Milos winning that tournament. It gives us confidence stepping on the court against Federer, Murray, and against these other guys.”

He then laughed: “Except Novak.”

By the way, Tomic is now ranked No. 16 at the Aussie Open. In one way, it’s more important to win the tournament in Sydney again because he will continue to get more confidence. But it is also important that he won’t be able to play against the highest player until at least the Round of 16. He is very pleased.

“It gives me an opportunity now playing I think 17 to 24 seeds in the third round,” he said. “There are dangerous floaters out there, as well, first and second round that you can get, so can be difficult as well. Hopefully I get the right draw to save energy to play well in the first few rounds and confidence getting to the third, fourth round. What I’ve noticed the past year or so, you need to get to those third, fourth rounds and be ready and physically fresh. You have to beat the top players. You have to be physically ready. If you play top matches first, second round, not a good thing.”

Dimitrov, who lost against Federer in three sets, says he is getting closer and closer – even though he thought he should have won. On Wednesday, he beat Pablo Cuevas 7-6(2) 6-4. Dimitrov will face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarterfinal, which should be a fun match, as both men have a tremendous amount of spin. A few years back, Dolgopolov reached the second week at the Aussie Open. He had enough variety that most thought  he would eventuallycrack the top 5. He was unable to do so and he may never reach the top 10. He is just not strong enough. But next week when the Aussie Open begins, there are plenty of players who can punch their tickets into the second week. Three of the interesting veterans are still alive in Sydney: Viktor Troicki, Gilles Muller and Jeremy Chardy. 

Dimitrov wants to win a major some day, and soon. He truly believes that someone can play as well as he can – or he is locked into the zone – and stun Novak.

“You just never know when you’re going to get the chance and the opportunity in general,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what tournament you’re on or which round you’re playing. In a way anything is possible if you have the will and the faith.”


Halep continues to deal with an injury. Photo: Jimmy48

Halep continues to deal with an injury. Jimmy48 Tennis Photography

Whether or not Simona Halep wins the title here in Sydney, or at the Aussie Open, give her credit for sticking in there. The world No. 2 has been dealing with an inflamed Achilles heel for months and she was forced to pullout of Brisbane. But all she wanted to do was to simply play again, so she went on court and even though it could hurt her, she has been running as fast as she can. On Wednesday, she beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4 7-5 in a very close match. She yanked the Czech around time and time again until she frustrated her.

She’ll face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis, who beat Sara Errani 7-6(1) 6-0. The Russian veteran said the reason why Halep has risen over the past two years is because she is simply more consistent. It is hard to know if Kuznetsova will play great on Thursday. As she said, she pushed herself too much last year so now she wants to be calmer and more relaxed this week. ‘Whatever wind was blowing,” she said.

Here was the big upset: the 22-year-old Monica Puig took out Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. Stosur had a decent draw, but she looked pretty slow. If she reaches the second week at the Aussie Open, Australians will be crying in joy.

The Puerto Rican Puig slumped last year, so during the off-season she decided in 2016 she would actually have fun. At least this week, however.

“You always put pressure on ourselves because we want this so bad. Every single one of us wants to be the No. 1 in the word; we want to win titles. We want to win,” Puig said. “It’s a really competitive sport. Kind of putting it into perspective. I’m traveling the world and seeing so many new places. On top of that, I’m doing what I love for a living. It’s pretty amazing. If I take time to look back at where I’ve come from and all that I’ve done to get here, why not enjoy it a little bit more and have some fun while I’m doing it? Doesn’t hurt to crack a smile on the court every now and then.”

Puig will be the underdog against Belinda Bencic, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 2-6 6-4. There were a lot of fans watching Bencic during the match, including her friend/coach Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza. In the doubles, the No. 1 Hingis/Mirza haven’t lost in months.


The excellent Swiss: Belinda Bencic, 18, rising up again


APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 12, 2016 – Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but last year, the Swiss was already rising fast and she managed to beat the unthinkable Serena Williams and the super steady Simona Halep to win Toronto.

However, even when she was only 17, she felt like she was pretty much right there and able to compete with the best. She has tremendous variety, she has beautiful strokes, she is fairly strong and she can be ambitious. She can get mad – very mad during a bad day when can’t keep the balls inside the court – but she keeps improving and seems to listen to her parents and coaches.

The former junior champion came right out of the box. On the start of 2014 season, she was ranked No. 187 and then she moved quickly. She qualified at the Aussie Open, and lost to the now-retired Li Na. She qualified in Charleston, reaching the semis after she stunned Sara Errani in the quarters on green clay. At the US Open, she shocked Angie Kerber and Jelena Jankovic before she lost against Shuai Peng – quickly. She could get tired at times, winning a few terrific matches and then falling because she couldn’t run at her fastest. But she was young and, eventually, her body would get stronger and stronge, As long as she is working out, she wouldn’t be exhausted unless she had to play for multiple hours.

Last January she was ranked No. 33 but she couldn’t get going for the first five months. She did nothing at all, on hard courts or on clay. But then once she got on grass, she decided that she would be more consistent, more aggressive, more patient and lethal. She reached the final of Netherlands, she won Eastbourne and then she lost against Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

She won Toronto, beating Genie Bouchard, Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic, Serena and Halep. She lost to Venus Williams in the third round at the US Open, but she did reach the final in Tokyo. Her legs were strong and she could mix up her attack. Then, everyone knew she could really play.

But, in Beijing, she had to retire with a hand injury. She wanted to continue and reach the WTA Finals, but she couldn’t.

However, she became healthy during the off-season and with the start of year, she said she is feeling wonderful.

Maybe Bencic will reach the top 10 very soon. But, as she said, she doesn’t want to think about – yet.

“I am not trying to find out where the counting points are, or the points are automatically,” she said. “I still have a lot of time, if it’s top 10 it doesn’t matter now or later, but I hope some day.”

Bencic laughed that the only good thing about Australia in 2015 was thatshe doesn’t have to defend the points because she couldn’t win anything, meaning there won’t be any pressure on her this year. But if she goes super deep in the next two and half weeks, everyone will pay attention again.

In Sydney, she has to face Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals – a very tough match – perhaps against the Aussie veteran Sam Stosur in the semis, or maybe against No. 2 Simona Halep or the tall and rising Katarina Pliskova in the final.

If Bencic wins that title, the pressure will be intense once again.

Raonic rises, upsets Federet to win Brisbane title: ‘Cherry on top’

Raonic SJ 13 3 TR

BRISBANE, Jan 10, 2016 – Milos Raonic had been tired about losing against the big boys. Here and there, he had won a few matches, but he had lost to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer so many times that it would make his head spin.

Last year, the Canadian was in the final in Brisbane against the Swiss and he was neck and neck. They split sets and he had a real chance there. But he couldn’t close. Federer knew that he could yank him around once Milos couldn’t place his bombing serves on the lines, allowing the Swiss to win the title 6-4 in the third.

But, this year in the final against Federer, Raonic out-hit and out-stroked him, winning the title 6-4, 6-4. This time, the normally stoned face Raonic even grinned side to side. Given how important it was to win a significant event against the greatest of all time showed him that maybe he can begin to win the ATP 1000s as well as the Grand Slams. Last season he was hurt for months and he was unable to take down the elite players. Now he is knocking at the door.

“It feels great considering how the last nine months have been. It adds a sort of cherry on top to all that,” Raonic said. “I feel like maybe there was some attention to other things brought in the off-season due to changes and so forth [he has hired his new coach, Carlos Moya], and at the end of the day, want to focus on my tennis and do better. I feel like I’m doing that. I stepped up and was able to show that to myself and everybody else. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

The 25-year-old Raonic was much more solid, much more directive against Federer, who was still recovering from being ill during the week, and the Swiss was a little slow and erratic, especially with his backhand. But Raonic was extremely clean, and he was so, so powerful. He bombed his first serves all day, even reaching 143 mph, while even twisting his second serves at an incredible 130 mph. As always, he crushed his big forehand, but his backhand has improved quite a bit. He rushed the net whenever he could, which is also intelligent. Federer wanted to drag him into long rallies, but he could not for the most part. Any time Raonic had a chance, he would go for it, hoping that he could kiss the lines. Good enough.

Moya has been talking with Raonic everyday. The former No. 1 told the Canadian not to back off Federer for one single second.

“It was, ‘Keep playing the way you’ve been playing this week. Pull your game together, and you can be better than him on the court,’ ” Raonic said.

Federer said that he even though he lost, he was pretty happy. He almost pulled out of the tournament because he had a high fever, and he wasn’t quite there, saying “definitely felt tired in my legs throughout the week, so then you feel that in defense. When you feel it in the most important moments, every time I had a chance to create some better plays, it just wouldn’t be happening. So it wasn’t going naturally. I had to force myself. When you force yourself things become more complicated. Often was also under pressure. How come I was so often under pressure was because of the serve. One leads to another. Yeah, he did well. It was a tough match. The legs were a little bit wobbly throughout the week.”

What Federer did say is that before Raonic became hurt last spring, he was getting better and better. He thinks that Raonic has added to his game and he hasn’t been stuck in the mud.

“I just think his consistent power is something that’s so impressive. The focus he brings to every single serve. I’ve always said it’s amazing that he can do that,” Federer said. “For a big guy he moves well, you know. He’s improved his fitness the last few years. Also tactically I think he’s better now than he’s ever been. He’s made a conscious effort of playing close to the baseline, which before when he was working with the Spanish coaches he was way back.

“It also may be an option, but if you really want to make it to the very, very top, maybe that’s not quite the play. You don’t want to hand over the play every time to the best guys. I think like this it’s more on his racquet and it’s probably not a bad thing. I thought he was playing really good tennis here last year and in also Indian Wells when I played him. [Federer beat him in straight sets in the semis.] I was quite impressed how good he was. Unfortunately he got injured and he had some issue, which then didn’t allow him to play anymore since. So it’s a great start for him. I’m very happy for him.”

Can Raonic win the Australian Open? Perhaps. He did reach the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal. Obviously, the nearly unbeatable Novak Djokovic is the big favorite, but at least today, Raonic is riding high.

“That’s maybe another step away, but I definitely feel I have it within myself to step up with play great tennis for two weeks,” Raonic said.

Calm & collected: Azarenka d. Kerber to win Brisbane

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BRISBANE, Jan. 9, 2015 – Three years ago, Victoria Azarenka was nearly dominating. Yes, Serena Williams was going hard then and Maria Sharapova was healthy and strong, but the Belarussian was lethal on the hard courts. She had won two Australian Open finals, and until she was knocked out, she was the favorite.

But towards the end of the season, she had badly slipped and her confidence disappeared. It has taken her two years to be fully healthy and mentally sound once again.

In the final, Azarenka tore apart Angie Kerber 6-3 6-1 to win the crown at Brisbane. She played nearly perfect. She clubbed 23 winners and made just nine in forced errors. She rushed the net 13 times and won 10 points. Her serve can be up and down, but she moved it around the box. Her forehand and backhand were hard and deep. Last year, she wasn’t quite fast enough, but now she is faster and she sprints quickly side-to-side.

“Definitely a lot more comfortable, a lot more calm, a lot more aware. Happy. Very happy,” she said

In 2013, the then 23-year-old looked like she would be at the top for a long, long time. In January, she was No. 1. In Brisbane, she got hurt and pulled out before the semis against Serena. It didn’t matter because she recovered, winning the Aussie Open once again, beating Sloane Stephens and Li Na to win the title. The two-time defending champion could be controversial, but on court, she was fearless.

She won Doha by upsetting Serena, but a few weeks later at Indian Wells she lost her No. 1 ranking. She didn’t really seem to care, because she would get it back. She lost to Serena in Rome, to Sharapova at Roland Garros, and then she got hurt again and pulled out at Wimbledon.

On hard courts, she reached the final at San Diego, and at Cincinnati, she reached the final again. In a classic contest, she edged Serena 2-6 6-2 7-6 (6). Right there, it looked like Azarenka could finally win the US Open. Uh-uh. In the final, she got a little crazy in the third set, and Serena was much more composed, winning the title 7-5 6-7 (6) 6-1.

Bye-bye Vika, who began to slide – fast.

In 2014, she only played nine tournaments. In Australia, she said that she was raring ago. She reached the Brisbane final, losing against Serena, but it was a very decent contest. However, in the quarters against Aga Radwanska in Australia – whom she had beaten her so many times – she folded in the third set, going down 6-1 5-7 6-0.

After that, she was pretty much done. She lost early everywhere, except for the US Open, when she managed to grind and reached the quarterfinal, but she looked like she was out of shape and Ekaterina Makarova out-hit her.

At the start of 2015, Azarenka admitted that last year that she was depressed after she and her ex-boyfriend broke up. However, she wanted to play better again, so badly that she could feel it. But Azarenka couldn’t beat the best players that year. She was close at times – even against the phenomenal Serena—but she was a little bit short. Now she says that the reason why was because she was hurt continuously.

“I was hurt the whole year actually. There was not a moment where I felt good,” she said. “I have no pain. There was a lot of medication last year which made me feel crazy actually at some moments. I don’t respond well to medication. It was a constant battle with pain, with my own fear. Like is it going to hurt again? I don’t want to go through that. But it took me to a point where I decided, Okay, I got to stop and try to figure out and actually change my life around the tennis court.

“I had a lot of changes last year, so it took a little bit of time to regroup, reorganize, mature a little bit, understand how to organize yourself. I’m like a freak right now. Like I’m super organized. Like my bag has to be a certain way. I’ve never been like this. I was a little bit messy. I just didn’t care. I would throw things around. My mom was getting so pissed off with me. Now I found what works for me, what makes me feel comfortable, calm, at peace. So it’s good.”

This was only one week and there is a lot of matches to go, but at least now, she knows that if she can be calm and she can continue to mix up the pace, she can go very deep once against at the Aussie Open.

Can she win it again? If she is playing as well as she can, she can be right there against anyone. But as she said, there is no come back, she just needs to continue on.

“I don’t really call it comeback. I don’t think there is a name for it,” she said. “I think it’s more for you guys to put it as a headline. For me, it’s like you’re reading a book and you just turn the page. That part of it was over. You just flip the page. I think that’s exciting. I can’t wait the to read the next page.”

Federer to face Raonic on Brisbane final: ‘Lots of different things’

Raonic SJ 13 TRBRISBANE, Jan 9, 2016 – All the very good young players want a piece against the Big 4-plus 1. On Sunday at Brisbane, Milos Raonic will face Roger Federer in the final.

Raonic beat Bernard Tomic 7-6(5) 7-6(5) in a fine contest, and Federer bested the flashy Dominic Thiem 6-1 6-4

The Canadian Raonic is 25 years old and, at least this week, he has looked a little better than last year when he was hurt from the spring until the end of the season. Now, he is saying that yes, he can win a major this year and yes, he really has improved during his off-season. His first and second serves are huge, his forehand is gigantic and when he can sense his foes, he can move quickly and crack his returns very deep. His backhand is a little more solid now and when he is feeling comfortable, he will charge the net and take it over.

But the reason why he has yet to win a Grand Slam is because he is too stiff, his could use some more variety, he can get stuck behind the baseline, and he can be too predictable.

Head to head, Federer has beaten Raonic nine times and the Canadian has won just once, in 2014 Paris/Bercy. OK, Raonic has been somewhat close, but he can’t push over the hill. Last year in the 2015 Brisbane final, Federer beat Raonic 6-4 6-7(2) 6-4. Raonic was nearly untouchable with his searing serve, but he just couldn’t break him. As Raonic said, it’s hard to figure out the great Swiss, because he can go whatever he wants to.

“He can do a lot of different things. If you play him yesterday and you play him tomorrow, you might have some ideas of what he might do and so forth,” Raonic said. “Just because of the variety, he can come in with a very different approach into the match. At the same time, for me, it’s more about what I need to do. If I can put those things in order, I can give myself an opportunity. That’s for sure.”

Federer has been a little bit sick this week, but now he is feeling better. The 34-year-old is aging, but last year, he won six tournaments and he was extremely efficient. He can chip and charge, he can spin his backhand so low and true, he can crush his forehand both ways, or he can chuck in a coupe soft drop shots.

Eventually, the young, very good players will beat the “old” veteran, but Federer is still ranked No. 3, he reached two majors finals as well as the ATP Finals, and the only guy who took him down in those events was impenetrable No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Can the No. 14 Raonic topple him? He certainly has the shot, but Federer is the favorite and he seems to be pretty comfortable. Raonic has to seize his opportunity – quickly.

“He’s been looking good,” Federer said about Raonic. “Clearly with a serve like that things are always complicated. When you speak about the match, it’s hard to see the match play out. You always focus more on your own game rather than thinking too far ahead, how you want to play tactically from the baseline once the rally is on. If he’s serving, he’s usually in the driver’s seat. Same thing. I hope it’s going to be the case for me when I’m serving. Last year I played very well, I thought, so we’ll see how it’s going to be this year. I have a little smaller expectation maybe just because of the toughness of the week it’s been. Still, once in the finals, clearly don’t want to lose that one.”

Kerber more aggressive, will face Azarenka in Brisbane final


BRISBANE, Jan. 8, 2016 – Beginning in April 2015, Angie Kerber had a terrific year – except for the Slams. Now, somehow or someway, she has to go out there and rip the ball when it matters most.

In Brisbane, Kerber out-hit the fast but tired Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-3  to reach the final. On Saturday, she will face Vika Azarenka, who clubbed the 20-yeat-old Samantha Crawford 6-0 6-3. Kerber has never beaten the former No. 1 Azarenka, losing five times, but nearly upending her in two extremely close classics, at the 2015 US Open 6-4 in the third set, and at 2012 in the WTA Championships, when the Belarussian came through 6-7 (13) 7-6 (2) 6-4. Kerber was so close, and she is so steady, but she could not kiss the lines when she needed it most.

Kerber is currently ranked No. 10 and by reaching the final, she will be ranked at least No. 8 when she arrives at the Australian Open. It’s hard to say right now how far she will go in Melbourne. But here is the situation: When she is feeling good, and she isn’t shaking in her boots, she can take more risks and exhaust her foes. Not only is she fast, but the lefty never gets tired. She can rip both her forehand and backhand, she loves to bang cross courts, and when she is super confidant, she will go down the line early.

However, her serve has been pretty weak over the years. She says that she is trying to improve that. But she has to prove that.

I feel that’s getting better,” Kerber said. “I worked a lot in my off-season on my serve, and I’m feeling that the serve is also a little bit faster. Also I’m trying to go for it with my second serve, not only pushing the ball. Of course that needs time. I think I’m on the good way. I’m feeling better on my serve.”

Even though Azarenka hasn’t won a tournament in two years, four months, the former No. 1 appears to be healthy and enthusiastic. On Saturday night, she is the favorite, but it should be extremely close. There will be dozens of long, hard-hitting rallies.

Azarenka know what’s coming, or so she says. “Not to say it in politically in correct way, but I think it’s kind of a trademark from Germany: steady and stable and tough,” the Belarussian said.