Archives for January 2019

De Minaur versus Nadal: youngster takes on the superstar

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, January 18: The young Aussie Alex de Minaur is rising very fast. He has a long way to go, but he is very quick, on the top of the ball, and then he explodes.

He has won seven matches in a row. He lives in Spain, half of the year, when he isn’t on the road. Before, he had to learn how to play. He is 19 years olds and he has watched Rafa Nadal on TV. Now, he can see him a lot in person. He just won Sydney and here at the Australian Open in the second round, he won a five-setter over Henri Laaksonen.  

De Minaur said he has admired the 17-time Grand Slam champ Nadal has admired him for a long time. They will face each other Friday night.

“Well, Rafa is pretty much like the king in Spain. He’s done so much amazing things for the sport,” De Minaur  said. “He’s had that many achievements. It’s pretty incredible. It’s going to be fun for me to get out on court and be able to test where I am. I think this is what you play for: toplay the biggest guys and the best guys at the top of their level on the biggest stages. You just got to go out there, enjoy, just thrive off the atmosphere.”

De Minaur moved to Europe  when he was just 5 year old. His mother grew up in Spain, so when she saw that her son loved tennis, it was a good idea to go there, to learn. That is the same thing in Australia: so many people are hooked on tennis, and there are a lot of fine coaches, so it is fine to split it up, in different counties.  

De Minaur did watch Nadal win the Australian Open, in 2009 — 10 years ago. That has been a long time ago, but it is pretty fresh. At least when they face off.  

“Yeah, well, you watch that many matches of Rafa, he’s won that many Grand Slams. I remember that one, watching it,” he said. “He’s still Rafa. Whenever he steps out on court, he always has that presence. No one can take that away from him. I just got to go out there, try to focus on my side of the court, generally just go out there, have fun, just hopefully take it to him.”

Halep advances, more comfortable now

Simona Halep

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN – No. 1 Simon Halep, who won the 2018 French Open, began to get hurt during October, and she had to pull out for the rest of the year.

That was then,  this is now.

In the first round at the Australian Open, she beat Kaia Kanepi 6-7, 6-4, 6-2. Even though last year she was thrilled that she finally won a Grand Slam at the French Open, still, as she said, “There is nothing to lose,” because her health is not 100 percent — yet.

The Romanian won the Canadian Open, beating Sloane Stephens in the final. The next week, she reached the final in Cincinnati, finally losing against Kiki Bertens. She lost, but it is almost impossible to win two huge events, two weeks in a row, because it was in August and it was darn hot outside.
 
Her body began to struggle. She was sore, she was hurt, there was some pain. She began to struggle, losing in the first round of the US Open. In Beijing, she had to retire. She pulled out and she couldn’t play for the rest of the year.

It happens to everyone.

Gradually, in December, she began to practice and hit some balls. Slowly. Finally, was ready to play again.  

“I just took the risk coming late here, staying home more, because I wanted. I said that no expectations coming here,” Halep said. “Just giving my best to find the rhythm, which was a great level of tennis. I feel like I am one step forward.”

While Halep has won 18 titles, it took her 10 years to grab a major. She was close at the Grand Slams, but in the second weeks, she would back off. Last year in the Australian Open, in the final, she lost to Caro Wozniacki 6-4 in the third. Last June at Roland Garros, she finally achieved it, beating Stephens in the final.
 
Even though she wore down towards the end of the year, now Halep feels more comfort.

“We’re going to see in the future what is going to happen with me this year. But comfort, for sure,” she said. “I’m not putting pressure on myself any more with the results. But I’m still motivated. What it comes now, it’s a bonus. I still the things in that direction. I feel better.”

Madison Keys talks about being healthy

Madison Keys

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Day 2 — Four years ago, Madison Keys, who advanced to the second round, reached the semis at the Australian Open, stunning Venus Williams then she finally went down to Serena Williams.

The same thing occurred in the 2017 US Open final when she was incredibly nervous and she lost quickly to Sloane Stephens. Last year, almost out of nowhere, at Roland Garros, she never loves clay, but finally, she understood her strategy, so she reached the semis. But Keys again lost to Stephens in straight sets. At the 2018 US Open, she was at the semis, playing well, smoking the ball, but she couldn’t not return very well and Naomi Osaka waxed her.

All in all, in the Slams, Keys has played very well overall, staying on top of the ball and digging in. She hasn’t won a Slam yet. But, if she can stay healthy all year, she will have a real chance to win it. Her first serve and forehand are gigantic.

But will she be healthy during the entire year? She wants to, but that doesn’t mean that it will happen, year after year. However, in December, she decided not to play early in Australia; she didn’t play Brisbane or Sydney. She wanted to wait and feel healthy. On Tuesday, Keys beat Destanee Aiava, easily.

‘I started being able to do some stuff at the beginning of December, but I was still a little bit limited, and it was still seeing, if we did something physical one day, had to back off the next day,” Keys said. “It was definitely managing that still for the first probably 10 days, so it was middle of December before I really got to ramp things up. We have been training a lot, so I’m glad you said that I looked fit. … There is a little bit of stress,
but at the same time, it is what it is. I couldn’t do anything about it. So, all I could do was prepare as well as I could and play as many practice sets. Luckily, things paid off, and I got the win.”

In 2018, at the AO, the 23-year-old Keys reached the quarters, going down to the former champion Angie Kerber. That was another tough loss, because the German is very quick, and can run side to side forever, while Keys cannot.

But she has worked her footwork and spped, so at the AO, she can look play even better. However, there are some difficult matches: against Elise Martens in the third round, perhaps against Elina Svitolina or Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, and in the quarters — hello — Osaka, the US Open champion. As Keys said, her defense has improved. Well, it has to get better.

“I think my movement is, it’s gotten a lot better. It’s something I have been very focused on,” Keys said. “I think it’s more what I do when I get there is my issue. So, I’m working on making the right decision once I have slid into the ball, that’s more my problem.”

Sharapova wins easily, but for how long?

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Day 1: Maria Sharapova won today, very quickly, crushing Harriet Dart 6-0, 6-0. That was a blow out, and the Russian/American played as well as she has over the past year, because she was injured, a lot. While she isn’t 100 percent, at least she can still crack the ball from both sides.

Her forehand and backhand are lethal, but her serve is spotty — more than spotty — because her right shoulder and arm are almost dead. She has tried to fix it for many years, but it hasn’t worked. I asked her whether it will get better this year, or will she fix it. She doubts that.

“That’s a good question. I have asked Dr. Altchek that many times,” Sharapova said. “I saw him beginning of December, and he says it’s a day-by-day pain management situation.”

She has won five Grand Slams, wonderful matches. Can she do it again? Right now, during the next two weeks, I would doubt that. It’s one thing to beat the mediocre players, but to take down the excellent players, she has to be spot-on. She could face AO champion Caro Wozniacki in the third round. Sharapova has to play extremely well to knock her off. She must be forceful, patient and creative. If she doesn’t, Wozniacki will gradually where her down.   

The 31-year old will not retire soon. For sure, she wants to play great tennis, and win some more events at the Slams, the Premier Mandatories, the little ones. As she says, even when she is ticked off, or tired, or frustrated, it doesn’t matter, because she walks on court to practice because she really loves it.

“That I still really have the passion for this. I enjoy it, seeing the effort that I’m able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface, not necessarily in maybe the specific, say, it’s tennis or something else. But I do feel that it’s really shaped the way that my career has been in and my life has been. If I put an effort into a certain category, sometimes it doesn’t come overnight, doesn’t come in a year, and sometimes it comes maybe in very unrelative things in your life, and I believe in that,” she said. “The way I handle my career today is the way I’ll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that’s extremely important to me.”

The Draws: ’19 Aussie Open women

Elina Svitolina
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

1st Quarter –
No. 1 Simona Halep can be super solid, her legs are strong, and her forehand and backhand have a lot of variety. That is why she is No. 1. But. the reality is she has only won one Grand Slam. Yes, last year, she looked spectacular at Roland Garros, breathing deep in the third set in the final. She won, and she cried and tears of joy. So now, she is smarter and more experienced. In the first week at the AO, there likely will be some very tight match. In the third round, she will likely play against Mihaela Buzarnescu or Venus Williams. Buzarnescu had a solid year and when the aging Venus goes on court, she could still be a damn good player. But she couldn’t play during the fall, and the 38-year-old has to rest as much as possible. Early on, in the first round, Williams can knock off Buzarnescu with her gigantic backhand, but even if she wins, Venus could face Halep in the third round. It could be a marathon, and at the end, the Romanian will beat the seven-time GS champ Venus in three sets.

Halep has no idea who she will face in the fourth round. Perhaps the 23-Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, Carla Suarez Navarro, or Sam Stosur? Suarez Navarro likes to hustle. Aussie Stosur has played great at times, but not in Australia, where she has lost early for many years. Nerves. Serena might be a little bit rusty, as she just started practicing a couple weeks ago, so she will struggle for a while. But, against Halep, she has to focus and be calm, seriously, because in 2018 she became very irritable. She cannot do this year. Serena will mentally where down Halep to reach the quarters.
 
This part of the draw is unbelievable. Three players with real game are very dangerous: Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Daria Kasatkina. They can all play great, or they can play lousy. It just depends. The two-time GS champ Muguruza did not play well in 2018, but if she is healthy, she can hit it so deep. Pliskova has a huge serve, she has so many aces, plus she can smack it down on the lines. Kasatkina is very young, and she hustles, too. Between all three, Pliskova will get through, and against Serena in the quarters, the American will rise up when she needs it to.  

Second Quarter
Naomi Osaka won last year’s Miami and the US Open. While she can be a little bit crazy on court, she is so wonderfully good. There are times when she over-hits, and she needs to return better, but she moves well, and she can jump on her forehand and her backhand. Without a doubt, she is one of the favorites. She could face Daria Gavilova in the second round, and if Osaka starts making errors, that could be a grinder, because the Aussie can bang it up. Still, Osaka will smack her in the third set. She will beat Su-Wei Hsieh in the third, and also pound Anastasija Sevastova to reach the quarters. 
 
The other 16 players in the bottom have a incredibly equal shot to reach the quarters. It will be either Elise Mertens, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova or Elina Svitolina. Belgian Mertens has improved over the past year, and while Keys gets hurt a lot, but when she is healthy, she is very powerful, reaching the semis here a few years ago. Cibulkova likes to pump his fist and reached the final at the AO. Outside of the Slams, Svitolina is one of the best players out there. While I realize that Svitolina has been shaking at the Slams. With last year’s WTA Finals win, the No. 6 has become mature. We hope. Svitolina will reach the semis, beating Osaka with some amazing rallies.

Third Quarter
At some point, Petra Kvitova will win another Grand Slam, but this is on the hard courts in Australia when it can be very hot. The Czech has won Wimbledon on grass twice, blasting the ball, and recently in Sydney, she grabbed it, edging past Ash Barty 7-6 in the third. She prevailed even though she was cramping. So, maybe when she gets to Melbourne she will find another level.

In a couple days, perhaps Kvitova will feel better, and push past Belinda Bencic in the third round. Then in the fourth round, it is likely that she will face Aryna Sabalenka, who rose up high last year. The 20-year-old is very aggressive, and she thinks well, too. She will upset Kvitova to reach the quarters. Barty rarely gets tired, because she legs are robust, so once again, she will take out the big swinger Jelena Ostapenko. 

And guess who in the fourth round? Either Maria Sharapova and the 2018 AO champion Caro Wozniacki. The five-time GS champion Sharapova is hurt once again, which is not surprising considering how little she has played since coming back from a drug suspension. While Wozniacki is slightly injured, she will play more consistently and trip Sharapova. Even though Barty can panic at the Slams, but this time, she will slice Wozniacki until she drops down. Every day, the Aussie will surge, but in the quarters, Sabalenka will pound her again and again. The Belarussian will reach the semis.

Bottom Quarter
Angie Kerber has won two majors, at Wimbledon and here at the Australian Open in 2017. She can win it once again, as she goes to the left, the right, and forward. However, she’s hard to read. Will she be directed, or will she stop thinking about which way she is going? If she does, she certainly go deep again. In the third round, Kerber will likely play Donna Vekic, who is climbing now. Kerber will twist her around and reach the fourth round against Julia Georges. The German has upgraded a lot over the past two years. On clay, she could stun Kerber, but not here on the hard courts and move into the quarters.

Even though Sloane Stephens started a little off, in the first two weeks, still she has won a major at the 2017 US Open and also she reached the 2018 Roland Garros final — and she lost to Halep. She was upset, pretty darn upset, but even though she can be cagy, in the press conference, you can tell that she dissects her game. So on the hard courts, she is dangerous. She should be just fine until the fourth round, likely against Kiki Berntens. That is very tough match, that both have to scrape, ball after ball. Stephens will finally push her way back and win it. Now she will have to go up against Kerber, reduce to power and she has to commit that the contest could take hours. Somehow, at the end, the American will nail it into the corners and snag it. Another semis in the majors for Sloane.

The Draws: ’19 Aussie Open men

Stan Wawrinka

Top Quarter-
The No. 1 Novak Djokovic has won this tournament many times. He tends to focus, he can be calm or a little bit angry, and he runs forever. Yes, he is the favorite, as he won 2018 Wimbledon and US Open, but he has lost a couple matches at the end of the fall, and last week, he went down in the semis against the quick Roberto Bautista Agut. 

But this is the Grand Slams, this is 3 out of 5 — not 2 out of 3 — so to upset Djokovic, you have to be on top of it all the time. He could face the Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the third round. Shapovalov is pretty powerful, off both sides, and he is aggressive a lot, but he can sink. Djokovic will win. In the fourth round, he might play Daniil Medvedev or David Goffin. The Russian improved a lot during the fall, pretty quick and very intelligent. Medvedev will exhaust Goffin, but against Djokovic, he is still a little bit too inpatient. 

Who will Djokovic face in the quarters? Perhaps Fabio Fognini, Philipp Kohlschreiber or Kei Nishikori. The veterans have all played very well at times, but can they actually stun Novak? I cannot see it. Djokovic moves into the semis, the main man.

2nd Quarter
It’s a big tossup: Who will to reach the semis?

Perhaps Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka. No one is immune from an upset. Outside of the Grand Slams, Zverev has been so good, jumping on the ball or being patient. He has yet to go deep at the Slams, but thsi young player will eventually learn what to do on the court. Perhaps he can do it in the hot heat, as he has a decent draw. In the third round, he might face the smart veteran, Gilles Simon, which could take three hours, minimum. Even before that, Zverev might have to play Jeremy Chardy, another patient veteran. The German has to be swinging very hard, and deliver a bunch of aces. He will and reach the fourth round. Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios will face off in the first round. That is a heck of a match. They have played each other a fair amount of times, with both men hitting ace after ace. When they have to hit a second serve, there will be some fun rallies. Kyrgios lives in Australia, so at least in the first match, he will feel mentally solid and move ahead. 

Can Kyrgios reach into the fourth round to face Zverev? Who knows? He is so good when he is healthy, but when he isn’t, he retires. Plus, in the second round, he has to go up against the three-time GS champion Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss is getting healthy again and if he is 100 percent, clearly he is better than Nick. However, on some points, Kyrgios will surge and begin to be more consistent. Eventually, he will reach the fourth round and play against Zverev. What a match, and it will go five sets. Zverev will survive.   
Two more will reach in the fourth round: Dominic Thiem and Borna Coric. Late in the summer, the Belgian decided to whack the ball hard, which is why he reached the final at Roland Garros and lost to Rafa Nadal in three sets. At the US Open on the hard courts, he locked in and he went for the lines. Thiem lost again, but that time, he pushed himself for five sets, which was long and brutal. He can do it again, and while Coric is smarter now, Thiem will out-stroke him. Then, in the quarters, he will be patient, and he will beat Zverev, and reach the semis.

Third Quarter
It appears that the injured Andy Murray will retire this year. Very soon. Maybe next week. Read this…
http://www.tennisreporters.net/archives/15602
In the first round, the humbled Murray has to face Bautista Agut. Roberto is a grinder, who just upset Djokovic, and Murray says that he can barely run. Roberto will grind him down, and quickly. Roger Federer is looming, he should beat Denis Istomin in the first round, and could face Gael Monfils in the third round. That could be fun, but Federer will destroy his backhand. The famous Swiss will likely play either two very good, young competitors: Stefanos Tsitsipas or Nikoloz Basilashvili. The winner will play Federer on the main court and he will be fired up. There should be a couple hours, celebrating, but Federer knows what to. He will reach into the quarters. We all knew that. 

Up at the top, Marin Cilic will play the Aussie Bernard Tomic in the first round. Cilic is consistent all the time, but the odd Tomic disappeared for months, in 2018, but now he is hitting again. He is ranked No. 85. Not terrible. When he is feeling good and in good shape, he can reach the top 20 again. But he is way down, so Cilic is favored, and he will bash him. 

Next up, Cilic could face the talented kid, Andrey Rublev. That could be tough, and assuming he wins, then he will likely have to go up against the rising Karen Khachanov in the fourth round. There, Khachanov will hit extremely hard and grab it. Can he upset Federer in the quarters? It will be close, but still, the Russian is learning how to play. Federer will win in four tight sets.

Bottom Quarter
Rafa Nadal seems to be pretty good in the first two matches, and then maybe in the third round, he will play against the Aussie Alex de Minaur. The super young player concentrates well and can be forceful. But, can he step in and bash the ball all the time? Nadal can push people way back behind the baseline with his heavy forehand. He will win, and then in the fourth round, it is possible he will face either Kyle Edmund or Tomas Berdych. At some point, Czech Berdych will climb up again, and beat the Brit. If he reaches into the fourth round, Berdych knows that he has to be threatening, but Nadal — assuming he is healthly — will yank him around. Clearly, Nadal can reach the semis, but recall that in the fall he couldn’t play because he was injured — for at least 10 times over the years — but if his legs are not too sore, then he will move on.

What will be lively, though, is that four of the good players will try to reach the quarters: John Isner, Grigor Dimitrov, Steve Johnson and Kevin Anderson. Isner had a very good year, as did Anderson, obviously. Those two have played each other a lot, the very tall and crunch huge serves. It is tough to break them, especially on grass at Wimbledon, when Anderson edged Isner 26-24 in the semis in the fifth. A true marathon. But, does it really matter against Nadal who returns deep, on the first and second serve, while the other two can’t really return much. That is why Rafa has won 17 Grand Slams, while Anderson and Isner have won zero.

A frustrated, injured Andy Murray says he might retire very soon

Andy Murray, Australian Open
Andy Murray, Wimbledon

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN — It was a very tough day for Andy Murray. In a press conference, he cried and teared up. Why? He said, he cannot make the pain go away. He’s dealt with it for almost two years. He has tried as much as possible, but he isn’t fast anymore, cannot sprint, and cannot bend down due to his chronic hip. He limps, he yanks it, shakes it, but still, his head explodes.

Murray has won three Grand Slams, and he has won a bunch of other titles. When he was healthy, he was so steady, he was powerful and creative. But, once your body starts to crack, there is not much you can do. You can wait for a while, rest and change it up. If you work on it every day for many hours,  you can fail. In one leg, his two bones are destroyed and they won’t come back.

 He can try to fix it, to re-generate on court, when he is running, left, right, forward, backwards, and pounding it, there is no chance. For a few hours, he feels OK, but then the leg starts aching, the pain returns, and it just doesn’t want to hear it.
Murray knows that, or maybe as the frequently injured Juan Martin del Potro said, don’t leave yet, it is possible that eventually you can come back. It took DelPo seven years or so to get healthy again. However, with Murray, he is already 31 years old. If he wants to win a major again, seven years is way too long. If it takes a couple years, then maybe — given that the science improves every year — Murray can win some important wins. But he is very frustrated and in the next few months, he could wave goodbye, soon. Like maybe next week.    

“I’m not feeling great,” Murray said. “Been struggling for a long time, I’ve been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months. I’ve pretty much done everything I could get my hip feeling better. I’m in a better place than I was six months ago but I’m still in a lot of pain. It’s been tough. The pain is too much really. I don’t want to continue playing that way. I think there is a chance this is my last tournament. There’s a chance for sure. I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for another four or five months.”

Notes of the Draw Sheet: Happy people in January

Caroline Wozniacki

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN — Just before the Grand Slams open, so many people will be fresh, fast and happy. Tennis-wise, in January, most of the people had decided to rest for a couple weeks — at least — not hitting the ball, just thinking about new things.

But when they finally walk on the court again and swing, will he or she pay attention? And listen to their coaches. And really try.

In a few days, we can talk about who will actually win the AO? Will it be Novak Djokovic, who has won it so many times? Caro Wozniacki, who won it last year. While she isn’t playing great right now, she loves to play on the hard courts? Maybe Roger Federer again, or Serena Williams, etc. …
 
Sloane Stephens lost pretty early, last week. This week, she went down against Yulia Putintseva 3-6, 7-6(4),6-0. The No. 5 doesn’t play fantastic outside of the Slams, but she sure has had success since the 2017 US Open.
 
Petra Kvitova won in Sydney on Wedneday, and she is ranked No. 8. Win or lose, when she gets here to the AO, she has to be more consistent and determined. That is the only chance to win it for the first time in Australia. She is more mature, so maybe she will be very focused. Maybe.

Sam Stosur lost again. At the AO, for a solid decade, she has had no real success. After she leaves Australia, she can play damn good, especially by blasting her forehand and her big serves. But here, she is so nervous, all the time. I would be surprised if she reaches the second week. I really do. Sometimes, people just cannot change.

In Hobart, 20-year-old Sofia Kenin upset Caroline Garcia 6-3 6-2, and of Thursday, she took down the 33-year-old Kirsten Flipkens. Once again, the American women are rising. Slowly.

There have been some fine wins by the Aussie Alex de Minaur in Sydney. He is only 19 years old, and he is coming up pretty fast. He beat Jordan Thompson, and he has reached the semis. Next week, guess who will he play assuming he is moves through the first two rounds: Rafa Nadal. Now that will be a blast to watch on Rod Laver Arena.

Some note on a few American seeded men: Steve Johnson could play against the big basher Kevin Anderson, and the improved John Isner could play the struggling Grigor Dimitrov. Isner has said that he has really been affected by very tough losses at the AO — five setters — but now, he is more directed. BTW: Isner lost to Taylor Fritz in Auckland. The Californian hung in there, but then he lost against Cameron Norrie. Oh well.

Believe it or not, Jack Sock received a wild card. He will face the Aussie Alex Bolt, and if he wins — and that is a very big if — he might have to go up against the tricky player Gilles Simon. After that, in the third round, it could be going against the No. 4 Alexander Zverev. Impossible, or potentially very exciting. …   

A good move by the USTA, choosing the new Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish. That is super interesting. I cannot wait to see the new Davis Cup this year. …


On Friday and Saturday, we will dissect the men and the women’s draws. There are already a bunch of compelling matchups: like Raonic vs Kyrgios,
Cilic vs Tomic, Edmund vs Berdych, Gorges vs. Collins and Halep vs. Kanepi. It is always fascinating, the fabulous first rounds.

Top 30s in 2018: Men, 5-1

Novak Djokovic

No. 5: Juan Martin del Potro
When he is healthy, and he has no pain, then he can beat anyone. However, every year, the Argentine gets hurt and he cannot play up to his potential. In 2018, in the first nine months, he was just fine. His body was OK, which is why he won a bunch of matches against some very excellent players. At the US Open, he reached the final, he beat Fernando Verdasco, Borna Coric, John Isner and Rafa Nadal (who retired) but lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. It was pretty close, though. For the first time, he won an ATP 1000 at Indian Wells, outlasting Federer 7-6 in the third. He also won Acapulco, beating Kevin Anderson. DelPo is so committed. Now, he has regained his two-handed backhand because, for years, after he underwent his surgery (three times), he could only hit a one-hander, slicing a lot. Now, he can hit both of them. He has won a major before, in 2009 at the US Open. But, can he do it again? I would think that the 30-year-old still has a chance, but he has to stay healthy in 2019 and truly focus for two weeks.

No. 4: Alexander Zverev
The youngest player in the top 10 is spectacular when he is on. He is only 21 years old, and the German can crush his first serve, forehand and backhand. He can be very focused. He has yet to go very deep in the Grand Slams, and while he really tries, he still doesn’t get it because there are moments when he starts to get foggy. Eventually, he panics and he loses focus and matches. But Zverev is so young and each year, he will get better. But, he has to learn how to excel at the Slam with their three-out-of-five-set format. At the end of the year, he won the ATP Final, upsetting Roger Federer and Djokovic to grab it. That was super impressive. In 2019, we will find out how calm he is at the Australian Open. If he does, he has a legitimate chance to snag it.

No. 3: Roger Federer
I would think that the 37-year-old Swiss had a pretty good year, but I am sure he was not happy at times, because he still wants to win everything. But he is aging, a little bit, so he cannot be expected to run over everyone. He has been around for a very long time, and most people have watchd him for so many hours. He brilliantly mixes it up on his serves, his forehand is one of the best ever, his returns are phenomenal, his backhand has improved a lot of the past two years, and he is very intelligent at the net. He won the Australian Open again, and he won three more, at good events. But, he was not delightful when he lost in the quarters at Wimbledon, and then he lost in the round of 16 at the US Open. The same thing at the ATP Finals in London. At times, he was pissed off. Regardless, Federer will try super hard to win a major again in 2019. In a couple of weeks, he will be in Melbourne, and right there, his confidence will rise immediately. Because of that, he is one of the favorites, but to win it, he has to figure out about how to beat Djokovic, who has beaten him a lot. Fascinating.  

No. 2: Rafael Nadal
Through Roland Garros for five months he played about as well as he could, when he was healthy, that is. The Spaniard rarely retires, but he was forced to do it, retiring at the Australia Open against Marin Cilic. On clay, he was unbeatable, winning Paris at the Grand Slam, 11 times now. Totally locked in. He came very close on grass at Wimbledon, losing 10-8 in the fifth to Djokovic. Nadal certainly had some chances there by he barely missed it. The 32-year-old admitted that. This has happened many times. He went back on hard courts again, and he looked good, winning Toronto. He went to the US Open and, unfortunately, in the second week, he had to play for many hours against Dominic Thiem. Nadal won, but it was 7-6 in the fifth. So, in the semis against Del Potro, he couldn’t move. He yelled. There was tremendous pain, so he retired. That was it and he stopped for the rest of the year. Nadal knows his body is breaking down more and more, you have to wonder if he will retire in the next couple of years. But even so, when he is playing wonderfully, he will win another Grand Slam — one of two. His heavy forehand is his best, ever. No doubt about it.  

No. 1: Novak Djokovic
In the first five months, the Serbian was unsure of himself. He had been hurt in 2017, and he returned in 2018, but he was shaky. On court, he had to trust himself and go for it on the lines. Finally, at Wimbledon, he was more comfortable, he ran and ran, hit it deep, crosscourt and down the line, he pounded it, especially with his backhand. He would wait until he had a legitimate opportunity, and would jump on it. He won the Big W on grass, and after that, he was the best player once again. He won Cincy, the US Open and Shanghai. He beat the Slam winners, so many great players such as Nadal, Federer, Cilic and Del Potro. He didn’t win Paris Masters or the ATP Final, but so what? He came back, he was right in there, and while he can get frustrated, still, he is so darn good. Try to pass him, really try, because he is so quick that he can pick the ball up and crack it. Djokovic is No. 1. He has done that for a long time. Can anyone pass him again in 2019 if he is healthy and playing when he wants to? Right now, that will be extremely difficult. At this point, he will win a major again, and maybe two this year. That’s how good he is.

Top 30s in 2018: Women, 5-1

Simona Halep

No. 5: Naomi Osaka
At the start of the year, very few people knew who she was when she was ranked No. 68. In January, she began to step up and began working with the brilliant coach, Sascha Bajin, who was around for many years with Serena Williams. Osaka reached the fourth round at Australia, upsetting Ash Barty before losing against Simona Halep. And ka-boom, the spirit rose quickly. She won Indian Wells, and at times, the now 21-year-old was up and down, but at the US Open, she was incredibly confident, banging the ball, with her terrific first serve, her forehand and her backhand. In the final, she jumped on Serena in the third set, and in the last game, instead of becoming nervous, she was very cool and she hit three amazing serves. She won it all, and she cried a lot. During the fall, she looked pretty good, but at the WTA Final, she was emotionally exhausted, and didn’t win a match. In a sense, that didn’t matter, because she is young and she needs to understand what she needs to do, week after week. Osaka is a darn good player and she will get even better in 2019. Will she win another major? I think so.       

No. 4: Elina Sviolina
There are times when it is so hard to figure out the Ukrainian. Some weeks, she looks spectacular, and other weeks, she was maudlin. But at the end of the year, she won the WTA Final, beating Caroline Wozniacki, Katrina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens. She was so locked in, attacking fast, digging it out and hitting deep. She is very strong and she can stay out there for a very long time. But, that hasn’t helped her at the Grand Slams, because then, her brain explodes. She has yet to reach into the semis at the majors, which was difficult. In 2018 at the Aussie Open, she managed to reach the quarters, but Mertens out hit her. At RG, Wimbledon and the US Open, she did almost nothing. Eventually, Sviolina will figure it out, just like Wozniacki did. Patience is the key. In 2019, she has to breath and hold it.        

No. 3: Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki is the committed grinder. She finally won a Grand Slam, grabbing the 2018 Australian Open, beating Halep 6-4 in the third. That was an amazing story. As she has said, she will remember that, forever. The 28-year-old has been around for a long, long time, 13 years, in fact. She plays a lot, and her backhand is one of the best in the world, crosscourt, especially. She has improved her so-so forehand, and she can chase down any ball, running left, right and straight. However, there were many months that she didn’t play terrific from February through September. Then, she won Beijing, which was solid, but at the WTA Final, she lost two matches and she was gone. It is pretty clear that Wozniaki is addicted to tennis. However, soon enough, perhaps in the next couple years, she will retire. She has won 610 matches, and she has lost 247 matches. She has been No. 1, for a long time, and she has won 30 titles. So what’s left?  Another major, absolutely.   

No. 2: Angie Kerber
When she is happy, the German played extremely well in 2018, winning Wimbledon and reaching the semis at the Aussie Open. The 30-year-old has been so stable, she rarely gets tired, and she races back and forth. Over the years, she was steady, but there were times that she wouldn’t go for it, and eventually, against the great players, she would lose. But, since 2016, she decided that if she is going to win a Grand Slam, she has to push herself, and go for the lines. And she did. She has won 12 titles, which is not huge at all, but it is respectable. Kerber has won two majors, and she certainly wants more. She won the Australian Open in 2016. Can she do it again in 2019 at the end of January? Sure, she can as long as she can smack the ball, frequently.  

No. 1: Simona Halep
It took so long for the Romanian to rise up at a Grand Slam. She was always very good, but at the majors, she would be so close, but right at the end, she pushed back. However, in early June, she reached the final at Roland Garros, and in the third set against Stephens, she kept pounding on the balls, swinging hard and hitting the lines. She kept her cool. She won, and she took a huge breath. Without a doubt, Halep can get hurt and complain about it, but she always stays in there. She is so strong and she can run and run until the sun goes down. Yes, she has only won one Slam, unlike Serena and Venus Williams, but the 27-year-old Halep can grab another major, on clay and on the hardcourts. At the Australian Open, she will be favored, not because she is much better than the rest, but because finally, she truly believes in herself. In 2019, she will push ever harder.