Ana Ivanovic: ‘Young girls, they’re fearless.’ To face Madison Keys

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN, DAY 4, JAN. 21, 2016 – Ana Ivanovic has been around a long time now, so long that the 28-year-old is now one of the respected statements.

Since she won her first Grand Slam – her only major title – she has been very good at times, and at other times, very bad. Now, she has reached the third round, which is pretty good, but at this point, the Serbian has to go super deep in order to satisfy herself. Once you win a major, like she did when she won the 2008 Roland Garros title and became No. 1, she wante to stay there. She wanted to win more Grand Slams at the other three. In 2007 and the first half of 2008, she was on fire, reaching the final of the Australian Open, but lost to Maria Sharapova in a hard-fought match.

But she hasn’t been able to find her way to the finals again, largely because she will panic when she is so close to the finish line.

However, Ivanovic continues to battle and changing up her tactics, and the always-happy person hasn’t given up yet.

“I think throughout your whole life, there is areas you always want to learn and improve,” she said. “In tennis, in my game, I still feel there is room for improvement. That’s my challenge every day. I really try to push myself and to try to get better. There was tough moments. I tried to improve, tried to push myself. It is also fun, you know, that’s why we are here.”

Every 10 years, the players change. Even though Serena Williams is dominating now, many of the very good veterans realize that the youngsters aren’t afraid and many of them are more effective. And they can attack early, too. On Thursday, Ivanovic beat the Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-3. It was competitive. Zhang Shuai of China beat Alize Cornet 6-3 6-3; Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic bested Sabine Lisicki 6-3 2-6 6-4; and Naomi Osaka of Japan beat another youngster Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-4. Who did that and how did they get so good?

“You see it through the years now, so many new players coming up,” Ivanovic said. “Their feel is they have powerful game and they are just dangerous. It’s completely different to when I started. I remember even myself would get to third, fourth round without dropping too many games. So if you had 6-4, 7-5, they were like, ‘What’s going on?’ And now every match it’s a battle, you just have to try and push yourself, because it’s all challenge. They are young girls and they’re fearless.”

Talk about very good young players, Ivanovic will face Madison Keys in the third round. The American reached the semifinals at the Aussie Open last year, and right after that, it looked like Keys would jump into the top 10. But she was spotty for the rest of the year. She played excellent ball to reach the final at Charleston, and reach the quarters at Wimbledon, but after that, she was very inconsistent. She is a huge hitter, but she can become frustrated. Perhaps this season, she will be calmer. Ivanovic will find out on Saturday.

“She’s very dangerous; big game. We played once on clay when she was just coming up and we had tough second-set tiebreak,” Ivanovic said. “She played well last year here; a big serve; a big, powerful forehand actually on both wings. It’s going to be the first shot, and I’m going to have to be composed also in my service games if I do face her. It’s not going to be easy matchup, I think, but it’s all about, trying to find your way.”


Victoria Azarenka is playing fantastic, winning Brisbane and then crushing two players at the AO. On Thursday she blew apart Danka Kovinic 6-1 6-2.

The No. 3 Garbine Muguruza played so-so but beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-4 6-2. The pressure is on for the young Spaniard and could struggle against Barbora Strycova. The American Varvara Lepchenko beat Lara Arruabarrena 7-6(7) 6-4 and she does have a real chance to reach the fourth round when she faces Zhang Shuai, even though the Chinese did play very well to upset Simona Halep and Cornet.


Andy Murray hit six beautiful lob winners in the first set over Sam Groth 6-0 6-4 6-1. Groth is tall and he constantly comes into the net, but even though he would try to climb way up in the sky he couldn’t touch him.  The American John Isner was pretty consistent and smart to beat Marcel Granollers 6-3 7-6(6) 7-6(2). His backhand really has improved over the past year, but now he will have to face Feliciano Lopez, who overcame Guido Pella 7-6(2) 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-7(8) 6-4 in a marathon.

Back in 2012 at the Aussie Open, Lopez beat Isner 6-3 6-7(3) 6-4 6-7(0) 6-1 in the third round. At the 2014 Wimbledon, the Spaniard beat Isner 6-7(8) 7-6(6) 7-6(3) 7-5. The lefty bothers him. But fortunately, Isner defeated Lopez 7-6(5) 6-7(9) 7-6(4) in Queens last year. Maybe he can turn the tables.

Here is another big contest on Saturday, when the Brisbane winner Milos Raonic will go up against the Sydney winner Viktor Troicki. On Thursday, Raonic beat Tommy Robredo 7-6(6) 7-6(5) 7-5, while Troicki beat Tim Smyczek 6-4 7-6(5) 7-6(4). Both are confident, but the Serbian must be a little tired.

Another American, Steve Johnson beat Thomaz Bellucci 6-3 6-2 6-2 and will play David Ferrer. Johnson knows they could be on court for hours and hours.

Bad day: Serena, Sharapova, Halep & Kvitova pull out with injury

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BRISBANE, Jan 5, 2016 – Just before the first tournaments began in 2016, everyone was ready to rock. They seemed to felt healthy and they couldn’t wait to begin. Three days later on Tuesday, No. 4 Maria Sharapova and No. 2 Simona Halep pulled out with injuries. A couple of days before in the Hopman Cup, No. 1 Serena Williams said that she was still sore and she wasn’t ready to get on court yet. On Tuesday night, she played for a set and a few games before she retired against Aussie  Jarmila Wolfe. Serena could barely move.

Over in New Zealand, Venus Williams lost against the 18-year-old Darya Kasatkina, and Ana Ivanovic went down against Naomi Broady. And let’s not forget that No. 6 Petra Kvitova retired against Saisai Zheng at Shenzhen due to illness. Of the top 6, only Garbine Muguruza and Aga Radwanska remain.

Bloody Sunday. Or is it?

Whatever the case, it’s anybody’s ball game at the Australian Open.

All of a sudden, there are huge questions. Serena hasn’t played in a tournament since early September, when she was stunned in the semifinal against Roberta Vinci. She pulled out of the rest of the year, saying that she needed to heal, physically and mentally. She did manage to play a couple of exos in November and December, with her friend Caro Wozniacki and with the IPTL. It looked like she looked OK, more or less, but apparently her leg hasn’t fully healed. Serena is the defending champion and given that she won three majors in 2015, she will be the favorite everywhere she goes. But, if she can’t run at all, the rest of the healthy players will attempt to yank her around until she gives in.

Sharapova injured again

The defending champion Sharapova at Brisbane was scheduled to play Ekaterina Makarova. Sharapova was injured a lot during last summer and during September, but in October, she began to feel better and she played fairly well at the WTA Finals and the Fed Cup final. The five-time champion wanted to continue. Instead, she played a few exos and practiced at home on California.

But today, she tried to practice and her left forearm was sore. She didn’t want to risk further injury. Last year in January, she was very healthy, winning Brisbane (beating Ivanovic) and reaching the final at the Aussie Open, losing against Serena in a tight match.

That is exactly what she wanted to do once again. But all of a sudden, she couldn’t crack her two-handed backhand because her left arm was painful. Will she accept a wildcard at Sydney next week if she is feeling better so she can get in some matches? It’s possible, but doubtful because the 28-year-old doesn’t want to take any risk.

The same goes with Halep, who has yet to win a major. A few days ago, Halep said that she felt stronger, her first serve was bigger and she was more in control. But, she says that for the past five months, she has a sore Achilles heal. She hopes to play Sydney and the Australian Open, but she isn’t sure what will occur and she can barely sprint.

“I hope and I want to play [at the Australian Open],” Halep said. “I have couple of weeks already again with the pain. I did an MRI and it’s nothing dangerous, but it’s still an inflammation. … I don’t want force it because it’s a tough injury.”

Halep is thrilled that her coach, Darren Cahill, will be in her camp full-time this year. He can help her calm down. That is true and, if she is fully healthy, she will have a legitimate shot to win a Grand Slam in 2016. But if she’s can’t run at full speed, she won’t be able to win the Australian Open. She isn’t very tall or extremely powerful, so when she is winning, it’s because she can run all day long and she is super steady. If she can’t, then she has no answer against the top competitors.

Kvitova is almost always hurt, but like the Czech played pretty well in the WTA Finals and the Fed Cup final. But today, she was ill once again. Hopefully, the two-time Wimbledon champion will feel better super fast. She is the defending champion at Sydney. Last year she really thought she could win the Australian Open for the first time and rise to No. 1. She wasn’t even close. She is extremely talented, but so hard to predict.

venus_mt_uso_082813On Venus and Ivanovic: at least the American and the Serbian were healthy, even though they lost in New Zealand. Can they turn it around and catch fire at the Aussie Open? It’s hard to say. Both have reached the final before (Venus lost to Serena in 2003 and Ivanovic lost to Sharapova in 2008) and both have been around for a very long time, so they know exactly how they are feeling. But really, it’s about quality and the only way they can win again is to take tremendous risks.

Very soon, the young kids will be coming up very fast. In Brisbane, the No. 3 Muguruza is still there, as is the excellent 18-year-old Belinda Bencic.

With these nagging injuries and illnesses, we’re on to the Australian Open, where it’s wide open.

The WTA top 32’s in 2015: former No. 1 Ivanovic slides, Bencic could win a Slam (No. 16-13)

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WTA from Nos. 16 through 13

No. 16

Ana Ivanovic

The Serbian is better than that. She reached No. 1 in 2008, winning Roland Garros, and even before that, she took down a number of her contenders, including Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova and Maria Sharapova, among others. She was improving all the time, and hitting her phenomenal forehand as hard as she could. It looked like she would stay inside the top 5 forever.

But alas, she was unable to be consistent enough and, while she has attempted to improve overall and change her tactics, she is still up and down. This season, she woke up at RG, reached the semifinals and went down 7-5 7-5 against Lucie Safarova. She was so close, but yet so far. After that, she tumbled, managing to reach the semis of Beijing, but other than that, she lost very early.

Can the 28-year-old go very deep at another major once again? Sure she can, but to win another one is another question. For the first time, I would say that I would be very surprised. She has a very long road once again.

No. 15

Roberta Vinci

Without a doubt, the Italian played her best season ever by far. With the entire world watching, she stunned the famous Serena Williams in the semifinal of the US Open, not backing off or becoming afraid. She went into the zone. A few weeks later in Wuhan, she knocked out Petra Kvitova and Katarina Pliskova to reach the semis, going down 7-6(7) in the third against Venus. She may have lost, but at the very least, she pushed as hard as she could.

The 32-year-old Vinci says that she will retire at the end of 2016, but the wicked slice backhand could keep her in the top 20 all year-long. Sure, she has been competing for the past 16 years, which is a very long time, but if she is still healthy, maybe she will think that she can go further.

No. 14

Belinda Bencic

If the 18-year-old Swiss hadn’t been hurt early in October, she could have ended in the top 10. However, after Beijing she had to stop, which is good because she is super young and has miles to go. Without question, she is already intelligent and wise, plus she can smoke the ball and mix it up.

She has upset a number of fine competitors over this year, but just one of the tournaments made the fans turned and stared: Bencic beat Genie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ivanovic, Serena and Simona Halep to win the Toronto title. Right there, you knew that she is coming incredibly strong. If Bencic is healthy and she improves a little bit, she could win a major in 2016. She is that good.

No. 13

Carla Suarez-Navarro

From February through May, the Spaniard was on a roll. She reached the final at Miami, beating Aga Radwanska and Venus before Serena drilled her. She reached the quarters at Madrid and at Rome, she bested Kvitova and Halep before falling against Maria Sharapova in three sets.

But in Paris, she lost in the third round to Flavia Pennetta and, after that, she went on the boil. She managed to reach the quarters at Birmingham on grass, but then, she lost seven matches in a row. She was done.

However, the Spaniard with a one-hand backhand can dominate inside the baseline. She is super strong, but mentally, she has to be in much more control.

Report Card, women at Roland Garros. Serena gets an ‘A’ but what about Safarova?

A+ Serena Williams

In 2015, she has never had to struggle as much as she did at Roland Garros, very sick and completely out of it. But, when she came on court, one way or another, she was going to find the right place. Serena has won plenty of Slams over the years, but she has never played three-setters in five matches, which were all against the hot and ambitious players. She didn’t just blast huge serves, but she mixed up her attack, ran down the balls even though it appeared to be out of reach and when she was down 2-0 in the third set against Safarova, she woke up, yelled at herself every second and quickly rose to the heaven. Yes, Serena can be had if she isn’t feeling right, but she wants to tie against Steffi Graf at 22 majors this year and when she faces Wimbledon and the US Open, she will be locked in.

A Lucie Safarova

The 28-year-old lefty has been around for a long time and for the first time in Paris, she didn’t get nervous or stop thinking. Both her forehand and backhand are more powerful, she has found much better angles and she knows how to strategize. Her biggest win was in the fourth round when she upset the defending champion Maria Sharapova in two excellent sets. Maria tried to stare her down and she could not, as Safarova looking right back at her and said, “I am still here.” Now the question is, can she go deep at Wimbledon once again?

A Timea Bacsinszky

The Swiss isn’t that young (she is 26 years old) so it’s not like she has come out of nowhere, but when you watch her you can see that she ripped both sides down the line and she has a pretty good first serve. She upset the defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, which was huge, and she didn’t stop there, reaching the semis before Serena stepped on her in the third set. But now it looks like we will see her in the top 20 for years to come.

Ivanovic IW 11 MALT4950B+ Ana Ivanovic

The Serbian had a real chance to reach the final again, but she wasn’t there against Safarova. She fought very hard during the tournament and she was dominating with her ferocious forehand, but she was nervous when she knew that she could win the title. Can she recover?

B+ Alison Van Uytvanck

The 21-year-old’s performance was completely unexpected, as she upset at the Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic and beating the other unknown Andreea Mite to reach the quarters. She has much more belief now.

B+ Andreea Mitu

It’s not easy to gain to a fourth round when you entered the tournament ranked No. 100, but she did, stopping Karolina Pliskova and Francesca Schiavone. It appears that the 21-year-old from Romania is now here to stay.

B+ Garbine Muguruza

She played very well to beat Giorgi, Kerber and Pennetta, but she wasn’t quite there when she lost to Safarova. Still, the 21-year-old is coming along nicely.

B+ Elina Svitolina

The 20-year-old did a fine job reaching the quarters, outhitting Cornet. Little by little she will stay in the top 20 – or the top 10 – for a long time to come.

B Alize Cornet

Yes, just reaching the fourth round is not the biggest deal, but being able to play in front of the Frenchy crowds during the second week made her cry with a wide smile.

B Sara Errani

The Italian looked shaky entering the RG as she lost early in Madrid and Italy. But in Paris she scored wins over Germans Petkovic and Goerges to reach the quarters, but then Serena crushed her.

B Sloane Stephens

Yes, Sloane was unable to upset Serena in the fourth round, but at least this time she was very close and she showed that now she doesn’t fear the top players.

B Julie Goerges

The German pretty much owns Wozniacki, out slugging her in the second round, but she was anxious when she lost 6-2 6-2 against Errani in the fourth round.

B Irina Falconi

The 25-year-old American hasn’t loved clay over the years, but she did good job in Paris, reaching the third round for the first time.

C+ Ekaterina Makarova

OK the No. 8 Russian doesn’t love clay, but at least she managed to get to the fourth round, where she lost to Ivanovic. That is about as good as she could get.

C+ Maria Sharapova

Sure she was super sick, but she had opportunities against Safarova in the fourth round. The 2012 and 2014 champion was disappointing, but at least she tried as good as she could. However she needs a huge win at Wimbledon.

C+ Flavia Pennetta

The former top 10-er had a big win over Suarez, but then the veteran was so-so in losing against Muguruza.

C Petra Kvitova

It was cold during the first week and she struggled. However she had battled and reached the fourth round, looking she had a real chance to reach the semis or better. But, during the third set against Bacsinszky, she melted. That is Petra, you never know where the ball is going.

Madison Keys

The promising American has yet to figure the red clay, which is why she went down to Timea Bacsinszky in the third round. Patience, please.

Victoria Azarenka

Ye,s the former No. 1 is trying this year, but she is not there yet, falling against Serena in three sets. She had chances, but she lost her cool.

C Andrea Petkovic

The German has been hurt over the past two months, so reaching the third round wasn’t so bad.

C- Carla Suarez

So much expectation for the Spaniard coming in to Paris, so much disappointment after fell to Pennetta in the third round

C- Angie Kerber

It looked like the German could go far until she fell apart in the second and third sets against Muguruza. Where is she going now?

C- Venus Williams

It has been a rough year on clay for the elder Williams and, while she tried against Sloane Stephens, she was all over the place.

D+ Karolina Pliskova

I really like the No. 12 this year overall but she is too slow on the clay, which is why she was stunned by Mitu.

D Simona Halep

Yes, her opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, can go for it and she was super aggressive, but Halep was unconvincing in the second round and didn’t change up at all. That was a serious blow to the 2014 finalist.

D Carolina Wozniacki

Caro looked OK to best Karin Knapp in the first round, but then she hit way too short and she was punched out against Goerges. She just does not know how to play the clay.

D- Genie Bouchard

Clearly the Canadian is trying very hard but it is in her head now and she gets super nervous when she is out there playing.

F Aga Radwanska

As she admitted she can’t handle the clay, but she is better than that when she is into it. She wasn’t at all when she loss to Annika Beck in the first round. Trying hard is mandatory.

Lucie Safarova vs. Ana Ivanovic reach Roland Garros semis, who will be calmer?

Safarova 2012


Roland Garros, June 4: Lucie Safarova and Ana Ivanovic have known each other for a long time, since 2007. Back then few knew who they were and they played each other in front of almost no one on a hot, smoggy day in Los Angeles, where Ivanovic prevailed 6-2, 6-2. There was no way to predict whether the teenagers would ever meet in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament, but if you looked them in the eye, you could tell they were burning for desire.

In 2008, Ivanovic was already coming hard and she was at Roland Garros, crushing Safarova 6-2, 6-1 in the fourth round and eventually won the tournament. Ivanovic was never nervous; she was flying high, she was No. 1 and she could stay there forever.

But the world now knew who she was and there was tremendous attention and pressure. Within a month or so when she hurt her hand, she thought about every match, every moment, what she should be doing and what her opponent were thinking. She became was too emotional — too much and she began to slide, way down.

Safarova wasn’t moving up the charts quickly, but the left-hander knew how to handle herself.   On hard court, she pulled Ivanovic around, attacking her backhands, winning in Toronto and Tokyo in 2009. In 2012, Safarova had improved her first serve and forehand, beating Ivanovic in Sydney and then in the Fed Cup final at home in Prague, she won it 6-4 6-3, with aggressive net play. Safarova was the hero, taking down Jelena Jankovic and Ivanovic when the fans were very loud and she knew that the pressure was on top of her. But she loved the glory because the Czech Republic does not have a big WTA tournament and many knew about her compatriot Petra Kvitova, who had won Wimbledon twice. But Safarova wanted the fans to know about her, too.

She was gaining, little by little, and by 2014, both players were feeling confident. They were not playing perfectly every week, not by a long shot, but their self-reliance was growing.

In the 2014 French Open, Safarova was ranked No. 22 while Ivanovic was ranked No. 13. They met in the third round and for the second time they faced off, where once again, Safarova was very comfortable and on clay, she beat the 2008 champion 6-3 6-3. The right-handed Ivanovic slugs her forehand about as hard as she can and she moves left quickly, ready to jump. But sometimes she gets caught and hits the ball the wrong way. She gets anxious and then she isn’t sure how to attack.

In October, though, on hard courts, Ivanovic smashed Safarova 6-2 6-2 in Tokyo.

Ivanovic could reach the top 5 again, ifshe wasn’t up and down all the time, became calmer, came to the net more and found more consistentency with her backhand. She went 2-1 at the WTA Final (although she wasn’t able to reach the semis) and at in the beginning of January, she reached the final of Brisbane, where she was close against Maria Sharapova. But after that, she slipped again, changing her tactics way too much. She left her coach in early May, and she decided she would be out on her own, making her own way. In the last 10 days at Roland Garros, she fell in love in Paris and now she is the favorite at the semifinal as she has been here before.

However, Safarova takes a long time to decide when she would go for it against the very good players. Last year, she reached the semifinal of Wimbledon falling to Kvitova, but this time she was willing to knock off very sharp angles and also go down the lines. Last November, she and the Czechs won the Fed Cup at home again, over Germany. Here in Paris, Safarova knocked out two huge hitters, Maria Sharapova and Garbine Muguruza, and she isn’t getting nervous at all. She still in the doubles too, with her partner Bethanie Matter-Sands, who upended top-seeded Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis.

The semifinal will be super close, but in the end, Safarova will kill the corners and overcome Ivanovic in three sets.



What a nice story by Timea Bacsinszky but Serena Williams is a substantial favorite to win her 20th Grand Sla title. The Swiss is pretty fast and she seems to understand the court, but is she ready to win a very important semifinal and not be nervous? Even if she is having a great time, that’s doesn’t mean that she can actually beat Williams.

Novak Djokovic was spectacular. Mentally, he was finally able to play the right way, he wanted to play against Rafa Nadal, beating him on his own punch. His serves were much bigger and closer to the lines, his backhand was deeper and more consistent and he was just as good if not better with his forehand. He did everything right. The Spaniard Nadal finally let down deeply at Roland Garros for the first time. Yes, the nine-time RG champ did lose to Robin Soderling in 2009, but he was a bit closer and this time, after the first set, he wasn’t confident enough and by the third set he was completely gone. If he wants to have a chance at Wimbledon or the US Open, he has to play much better. He has to step up and believe in himself again. Perhaps it will take him the rest of the year.

Djokovic is a substantial favorite of Andy Murray, who beat David Ferrer 7-6(4) 6-2 5-7 6-1. Yes, Murray has improved on the dirt, but he hasn’t beaten Djokovic since 2013 Wimbledon and that’s almost two years ago. If Murray doesn’t play a super aggressive contest and mix it up from all the angles of the court then he will have no real shot. He will try hard though.

Federer will face Monfils: the Frenchman thinks he can rip Roger

Federer has hit his stride under the radar

ROLAND GARROS May 30 – Roger Federer mixed up his entire game to beat the unknown Damir Dzumhur 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. He stayed back, he went to the net frequently, he swung hard, he threw a bunch of drop shots and he leaped high to put away his drop shots. The guy had little chance to upset the Swiss, and Federer knew it, so essentially he practiced. Federer is Dzumhur’s idol and he was just happy to be out there.

The 18-time champion Federer will face Gael Monfils, who won two five setters, the 13th time at RG. That is a lot. Fortunately, it will only be in the fourth round, so he couldn’t be exhausted after 3 hours or so. Federer has owned Monfils   at the RG, beating him three times, which we never really close except in four sets in the semifinal of 2008. But during the last eight months, it’s change a bit, or a lot of bit. At the US Open, Federer had to come from two sets to defeat Monfils. But in the Davis Cup final, Monfils was out of his head, crushing the Swiss on the clay in straight sets, perhaps his best match ever. In Monte Carlo in April, the Frenchman took Federer again and you could tell that her was giving him fits. He changes constantly. So now on Sunday, Federer could become frustrated very quickly.

“Roger is very comfortable on couple of shots or couple area that I try to manage to put him out of this comfort zone,” Monfils said. “And then also I try, to find a rhythm also with Roger that I’m happy with, because Roger always wants to dictate the match the way he wants, the way he make you wait or speed up the match, the way he will select his shot. And me, I really try to change out of him, and sometime Roger get pissed a little bit. And also, whether I will — and I know he will respect it, but when he’s good — actually, when I saw it the most it was in US Open, you know, Roger was very unhappy when the crowd is not behind him. And that will help me a lot, for sure.”

Federer has looked just fine, winning the three rounds without sweating, but now on Phillip Chatrier where it could be raining and dizzily and he is going to have to be very patient. The same goes with Monfils who can be way up, and way down. Federer knows that it will be difficult.

“Davis Cup was rough,” Federer said. “Monaco was so early in the clay court season it was always going to be tough, even though I wasn’t hitting ball so bad, but still not quite understanding how passive or aggressive I needed to play. I thought he played a good, solid match, and me, too. It came down to a few points. It was a pity for me not to get through that one. He’s played me tough, throughout my career, I thought. Especially the last four, five years now. He’s been tougher for me to play against. We have played against each other here on a few occasions as well. Semis, quarters, some of my big years here. So clearly I’d love to play against him.”

His buddy, Stan Wawrinka, beat the American Steve Johnson 6-4 6-3 6-2 and will face the Frenchman Gilles Simon who bested Nicolas Mahut 6-2 6-7(6) 6-7(6) 6-3 6-1. The two know each other and there will be tremendous rally and super long points. For the past two years, Wawrinka has been much more intelligent. Simon is very smart, but he can go off.  “Gilles is always a tough player. He’s difficult to handle. You do not want to precipitate your game. You have to be aggressive and really catch opportunities when they’re there. I think Gilles, his play will depend on me and on how I play. He tries to get you to come to the net, and you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t go when he wants you to go. You have to go when you want to do it yourself, when you feel like it. That makes a big difference.”

Jo Tsonga made it through to the fourth round and will face Tomas Berdych, who hasn’t lost to anyone outside of the top 10 this year. Tsonga used to be in the top 10, but he has been injured during much of the fall and part of the season, but he is back now. Tsonga says that he is playing better and better and he has a chance, but in order to win, he is going to have to dominate his serve and forehand. Plus he is going to run extremely fast.


Cornet IW 11 MALT4600It’s early at Roland Garros, but there were tears. Alize Cornet beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6 6-3 7-5 and wept, as it’s the first time ever she reached the fourth round. “It’s magic” she said. If she can reach the quarters she will have to play better as Elina Svitolina is rising.

Then the defending champion Maria Sharapova beat Samantha Stosur 6-3 6-4. The Russian has a bad cold and she was fearful, even though she is now 15-2 against her foe. “I knew it was going to be a tough one going into the match,” Sharapova said. “And considering the start of the week was really tough. I knew I had a tough opponent, and I just wanted to be as ready as I could. I was really happy to win it.” She will play the lefty Lucie Safarova in the next round, which could be very close if the Czech steps in early.

Flavia Pennetta has said that she might retire at the end of this year, or she may not, but what she does know is she is very good and doesn’t get too nervous. Pennetta downed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3 6-4. The Spaniard has played well this year but she had a real shot to make it in the quarters and now she didn’t. That will really hurt. … Speaking of which, another Spaniard player,     Garbine Muguruza, scored a huge win and upset Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-2 6-2. The powerful Muguruza can take down Pennetta, but she will have to understand which way the bounces are going.

Ekaterina Makarova has been pretty darn good over the past year, having reached the US Open semi and the Australian Open semi. She has made it into the fourth round, which made her happy considering that she hasn’t loved clay overall. She beat her good friend and doubles partner Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-4 and now will play Ana Ivanovic, who blew out Donna Vekic 6-0 6-3. That is a toss-up. The 2008 RG champ is happy now again, but she hadn’t done much since the start of January, but she is thrilled she won three straights matches. Ivanovic can grab the match, but she has to be smart and not panic at all.

The First Quarter, the women: Serena snaps an A+, but Aga was at a D. Who else and why?

Radwanska IW 15 TR MALT4192

Serena Williams A+

She won everything except when she was hurt, she came back to Indian Wells when she didn’t have to ever again but she did anyway, and now, she is so steady and smart that she doesn’t even have to dominate her first serves and she still win. Wow.

Simona Halep A

Yes, Halep froze in Australia, but outside of that she has been so consistent and never backs off. She won Dubai and Indian Wells and came very close to beat Serena in Miami. If she continues to believe in herself, she will win a Slam this year.

Carla Suarez Navarro A-

While the Spaniard did not win a tournament this year, since February she has gone deep everywhere. In Miami she upended Radwanska and Venus Williams in two tremendous three setters. Yes she was scared against Serena in the final, but the smaller Carla moves forward all the time now.

Maria Sharapova B+

The veteran Maria started off the year with a bang, winning Brisbane, reaching the Aussie final where this time she was close against Serena and she looked tremendous in Fed Cup to beat Poland. While she did not play at Indian Wells or Miami, she was almost perfect in Australia.

Sabine Lisicki B+

The German was out of it until Indian Wells and Miami, and then she appeared again and looked much better, snaring wins over Errani, Garcia, Pennetta and Ivanovic. She was close against  Serena when she fell in three sets. She is crushing the ball – inside the court.

Garbine Muguruza B

The young Spaniard has been very good for the most part, but as powerful as she is, she can become wild. However, she did win both matches at Fed Cup in Romania and beating Halep there, which is good enough.

Madison Keys B

Clearly Keys put together a tremendous tournament at the Australian Open, reaching the semis by beating Kvitova and Venus before losing to Serena. However, she has been hurt and is now struggling, and did not play well in Indian Wells or Miami. But when you are 20 years old and reach a Slam semi, you earn it at least a B.

Ekaterina Makarova B

Speaking of which, the Russian reached the Aussie semifinal, which was eye-popping. Beyond that though she has not played her singles very well at all, but her doubles has been excellent overall.

Karolina Pliskova B

Every week, the younger Czech was about to rise and grab a big tournament, because she has one of the biggest serves out there and can also crush her forehands and backhands. However, she is not quite there yet mentally, but she’s close.

Lucie Safarova B

It was nice to see the veteran winning a big tourney by grabbing Doha. She may not ever reach the top 10, but she will continue to try as had as she can before she retires.

Jelena Jankovic B

The famous “JJ” was nowhere and then all of a sudden she rose and reached the Indian Wells final. She then fell apart quickly in Miami, but at least she seems enthusiastic again.

 Andrea Petkovic B

She did nothing in January, but she won two marathons at Fed Cup against Australia, she won Antwerp and reached the semifinal at Miami. She loves the media and is well liked with the players, but she can lose her temper on court.

Venus Williams B-

Here is the reality for Venus: she is intelligent and always tries, but she is 34 years old and she is not as fast as she used to be. Yes, she can reach into the quarters and semis at the big tournaments, but against the better players (this year she has lost to Keys, Safarova, Azarenka and Suarez) she will continue to struggle. Good, but not great.

Petra Kvitova C

The Czech looked terrific by winning Sydney, but she folded after that, largely because she has been injured or ill once again. That’s too bad because if she can’t stay healthy there is no way that she will ever be able to reach No. 1.

Sara Errani C-

OK Errani won Rio, which is fine, but she didn’t have to face anyone in the top 65. She did beat Muguruza, but that is it.

 Ana Ivanovic C –

She looked great after reaching the final in Brisbane and she was ready to rock again, but she has done almost nothing since then and appears shaky. She is a great person, but she has to calm down on court.

Genie Bouchard C-

If Bouchard hasn’t reached to the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, she would have totally bombed. She looks very nervous and she is all over the place. Genie doesn’t have all the tools yet, but she’s very close – if she listens to her coach.

Carolina Wozniacki C –

“Caro” did very little after reaching the Auckland finals, losing to Vika Azarenka twice and falling fast at Indian Wells and Miami. OK she won Malaysia, but she didn’t have to beat anyone in the top-80. Where does she go from here? Nobody knows.

Agnieszka Radwanska D

This is the toughest and worst three months ever. She is so good, but apparently she is changing her tactics and/or her strokes, so she hasn’t looked confident at all. She is intelligent and can mix it up, but she is not sure when and where she is going. Maybe soon, but she didn’t show up at any tournament during the last three months. She is better than this.

Angelique Kerber D

The lefty German looked OK but not fantastic during Brisbane and Sydney, but then she plunged. She has been absolutely wild, which is surprising given that she used to be super steady. It’s all about where her head is.


Miami, first week, Who is in, who is out? Pennetta, Monfils, Murray win; Nadal, Azarenka, Ivanovic lose

Ivanovic IW 15 TR MALT2696THE WOMEN

No. 15 Flavia Pennetta d Victoria Azarenka 7 -6(5) 7-6(6):

Given how well Azarenka has been rising again and playing better overall, it looked like the Belarussian was ready to take out anyone expect for Serena. But Pennetta is in the zone again, upsetting a former No. 1 Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells and now she stunning another No. 1, Azarenka. Pennetta wants to possibly return at the end of the year? She can be so good that there is no absolutely no chance if she stays healthy.

No. 27 Sabine Lisicki d No. 5-Ana Ivanovic 7-6(4) 7-5:

The German is finally playing better again, crushing her forehand and booming her first serves, but coming into the New Year, she thought that she might be able to win a Grand Slam again, but after nearly taking down Maria Sharapova at Brisbane, Ivanovic looked nervous again and she is now all over the place. She is not happy, at all.

No. 11 Sara Errani d beat No. 21 Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-4 6-1:

The Italian really needed the win because she hasn’t been able to best the better players, so now she will attack more often due to her confidence factor. The Spaniard has had a good last three months and now needs to rest and get ready for the clay, which she loves.

 Belinda Bencic d Tatjana Maria 6-4 7-5:

The young Swiss has turned it around now she isn’t panicking. If Bencic stays healthy, watch her crack to the top 20 by Wimbledon.

No. 1 Serena Williams d Catherine Bellis 6-1 6-1:

Bellis is very, very young, and Serena is very, very excellent and more mature. Bellis has years ahead.

No. 24 Svetlana Kuznetsova d No. 13 Angelique Kerber 6-3 3-6 6-3:

“Sveta” has a lot of guile and guts but Kerber has had an awful three months this year. Simply put: she has to remember that a top player who can grind down anyone if she actually believes. Try it.

 No. 3 Simona Halep d No. 30 Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5:

Halep is so confident right now that she thinks that even if she isn’t playing well, she can also figure out how to win. She doesn’t get wild like Giorgi does at times.

Sloane Stephens d Johanna Larsson 6-4 6-4:

Stephens is getting better and better and if she matures, she can be in the top 10 – or the top 5 – at the end of her year.



 No. 29-Fernando Verdasco d 2-Rafa Nadal 6-4 2-6 6-3:

Clearly, Nadal isn’t at 100 percent. He hasn’t won a tournament since last Roland Garros and he admitted that he is lacking confidence. Verdasco has lost to Rafa so many times, but he could tell that his fellow Spaniard was a bit shaky. He was correct and now Nadal has to sit down, talk to his parents and uncles, take a breath and just grind until he feels 100 percent again. And then he can yank every other player, especially on clay. The clay is coming very soon.

No. 17 Gael Monfils d No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 7-6(4):

As expected, Monfils was cool and calm and was more accurate when Jo returned after four months due to an injury. Tsonga will have a tough time on clay courts, but the big man he has to try. His body is ticking.

No. 28-Adrian Mannarino d No. 7 Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6(4) 7-6(5):

The lefty Frenchman hasn’t been able to threaten to beat the big boys, but he did in Miami, stunning Stan, who has been so-so this year. Dominic Thiem d Jack Sock 6-4 6-3: The Austria youngster took out another up and coming player, when Thiem stopped the confident USA Sock. We will see both of them for years to come.

No. 15 Kevin Anderson d No. 24-Leonardo Mayer 6-4 6-4:

Anderson is very consistent on the hard courts. Yes, it’s hard for him to beat the top-10 guys, but he can beat anyone below him, witness over Mayer. No. 3-Andy Murray d No. 27-Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-4: The Colombia has been pretty impressive over the past year, but Murray seems to have watched everyone, so he knows exactly where he can go.

No. 8-Tomas Berdych d No. 25-Bernard Tomic 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-1:

Tomic was right there in the second set, but Berdych nailed a couple of huge shots and repelled him. The Aussies has played almost every week since the start of the season and needs to rest – badly. He has improved a lot but he does not want to burn out.

The Picks, Monday, March 30, Miami

Carolina Wozniacki vs. Venus Williams Venus has been better over Wozniacki essentially forever, owning her head to head 6-0, beating her in three sets in the final at Auckland at the start of the year. Caro has not had a good year and she knows that this time, she has to play much more aggressive and forceful or Williams will beat her in straight sets.

Even though Venus’ forehand can be great or bad, it’s thick and stronger over Caro, who frequently pushes her forehand. Why she doesn’t step into her forehand using her left leg out in front doesn’t allow her to crunch the ball.

The Dane is faster than the 34 year old Venus is, but she is substantially better at the net. Let’s say Caro’s backhand and Venus’s backhand are even – their best serves down the line and cross court – but when the American is clicking with her first serve, she can hammer them at 120 MPH. Caro’s first serve improved during the last half of 2014, but she has regressed in 2015.

Really the only way that Wozniacki can upset Venus is that she has to go for her shots, smoke the balls, mix it up and hit sharp angles. Winner or lose, the 24 year old has to try and not push the ball around because if she does, Venus will beat the heck out of her. Venus is not as great as she was say 10 years ago, but she is still very good. She is fresh, she loves Miami and will figure out how Caro is playing. It will be close, but Venus will win, in three long sets.

A TR Classic: At 2007 Wimbledon Ivanovic overcame Vaidisova and Nadal beat Youzhny, they showed grit

Ivanovic is coming alive.

Ivanovic is coming alive.


2007 WIMBLEDON – Just a month ago in Paris, two dazzling brunettes, Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic, stormed through their first six matches, with the Spaniard winning his third straight crown and the Serbian reaching her first Grand Slam final.

But at the French Open, neither player had their back planted firmly against the wall as they did on Thursday at Wimbledon, when they shoulders were pinned so firmly against the hedge that they had green ivy marks on their shoulders.

Both came through with incredibly impressive victories, with Ivanovic saving three match points and overcoming fellow teenager Nicole Vaidisova 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to reach her first Wimbledon semifinal, and Nadal zoning to another planet in a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Russian Mikhail Youzhny to reach the quarterfinals.

This Wimbledon has been all about negotiating the soaking wet conditions and not dying from utter boredom while waiting for your name to called again in the locker room.

It’s been very difficult for players to establish any particular rhythm, other than counting how long it takes to walk down two flights of stairs from the dining room, across the slick walkways, onto a misty court, and back again.

Nadal has been the biggest victim of the flood of 2007, as he went out to warm up for his third round match against Robin Soderling last Saturday and didn’t complete that five-set victory until Wednesday. If the weather holds up, he’ll will have had to play five straight days in order to win the crown, which will be a monumental feat

“You like my schedule,” he asked with a broad smile. “But if you play a tournament like Wimbledon, even if it’s raining one month, I going to be motivated hundred percent, no?”

Yes, and it a bit of cruel irony, his great rival, top seed Roger Federer, received a bit of the Spaniard’s bitter medicine, as for the first time in six days, the Swiss took the court and after playing 37 minutes against Juan Carlos Ferrero with the score tied at 5-5, the rain came and his match was eventually suspended. Federer had received a benefit of a walkover from the injured Tommy Haas in the fourth round, but now like Nadal, it looks like have to play every day to retain his crown.

Nadal’s draw has been difficult, but not impossible and with each passing match, he’s showing himself to be a worthy challenger to Federer once again. He withstood a blood spat with Soderling, who mocked his on court habits at the beginning of their fifth set, and then an incredible barrage from Youzhny, who had upset him at last year’s US Open and taken him down two other times on hard courts.

But the 21-year-old is resilient and is a great deal smarter than he was few years ago. He’s no longer stubborn and understands what he has to do when his typical style isn’t making a dent. Youzhny was all over him with flat, hard driving shots and Nadal wasn’t going to win the match retrieving.

So the lefty began to go his groundstrokes and went for more with his serve and return. He became the bully and pushed the Russian flat on his back.

” The last three sets, I never played better,” said Nadal. “I never play like this on grass. “Very aggressive all time, serving well, returning very well, especially the second serve. I was there all time. I just played aggressive, moving faster the legs. Better movements all time. Every ball I always try to do something. Every time when I touch the ball, try to have painful to the other one. Try to put the ball close to the lines every time and, serve hard all time. That’s the decisive moment in the game.”

Nadal is now two more steps from the final, but they are very long ones. He’ll play have to play another man who has given him fits in the past, tall Czech Tomas Berdych, whom he has never beaten off clay and suffered three sizeable losses to on hardcourts.

“If we going to play clay court, I can be ahead 5-1 and still it’s like nothing,” said the seventh seeded Berdych, who thrashed Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden) 6-4 6-0 6-7(6) 6-0. “But if we playing hard or indoor something, then I have chance.”

Nadal knows that his fellow 21-year-old is going to bomb serves at him and try to keep the points as short as possible. No one defends as well as he does, but if the Spaniard doesn’t muscle up on enough balls, his hopes of reaching another final and stopping Federer’s run of four straight finals will go out the window.

“I think for the surface, for everything, he is favorite,” a modest Nadal said. “I’m going to try my best and try to play like today. I know going to be a very, very tough match.”

Ivanovic has a slightly bigger task than Nadal does as she’ll have to go up against the red hot, three-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, who took a quick victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova and is showing all of her championship form again.

But that Ivanovic has even reached the semifinals shows how quickly she’s matured. She’s a grass court novice, but after her disappointing loss to Justine Henin in the Paris final, the 19-year-old was able to put that aside and apply her strengths to the green blades.

She was extremely nervous contesting her first match on Centre Court, but began to trust her shots in the second set, pounding big returns, forehands and closing out at the net. She’s didn’t serve brilliantly, but well enough to keep her ambitious fellow teen from feasting on soft balls.

The 18-year-old Vaidisova was in prime position to reach her third Grad Slam semifinal, but leading 5-3 in the last set, she couldn’t shut the battling Serb down.

She had three match points, but Ivanovic ripped a forehand crosscourt winner, hit a huge serve and forehand down the line and then after Ivanovic finally served up a lollipop of a second serve, Vaidisova buried it into the net.

The Czech then faded and a fist pumping Ivanovic roared, running off four games and winning the contest when Vaidisova double faulted.

“It was an unbelievable match,” said Ivanovic. “I wanted to win so much. In the third set, even when I was a break down, I just knew I could do it. I had the feeling I could win this match. Coming into the tournament I didn’t expect this. But I’ve played some good tennis when it counted the most.”

There is no way that Venus is going to allow the sixth seeded Ivanovic back into the match like Vaidisova did, so like Nadal said about his approach to playing Berdych, she’s going to throw big upper cuts at the American to have a chance. Ivanovic may have frozen up in the Paris final, but now believes in her big match capabilities.

“It’s going to be very tough match. Venus is in a great shape,” she said. But I have experience. I played on Centre Court already. So I just want to try to play the best I can and see who will be better.”


Australian Open picks for Monday, January 19

The 2015 Australian Open is here and ready to roll. Here are our picks for the opening day.

Rod Laver Arena

3-Simona Halep v Karin Knapp

The Romanian believes she is ready now to win a Slam. She played excellent ball at the WTA Final, very aggressive, fast and full of life. She will out steady Knapp, but she cannot be conservative against the big women.

5-Ana Ivanovic v Lucie Hradecka

For the first times, you can feel Ana playing smartly and not becoming nervous. She has improved a ton overall and will be heard from during the tournament, bashing the huge server Hradecka.

kerber 2013 pre champs

Kerber should get by Begu.

3-Rafa Nadal v Mikhail Youzhny

Who knows how well Rafa will play, saying that he isn’t right yet and still a little sore during the last half of 2014. But as he says that should he reach into the second week, then perhaps he will be competitive again. You know he will, nailing Youzhny side to side.

2-Roger Federer d Lu Yen-hsun

Here goes Roger again and in Brisbane towards the end he looks very, very good. Federer does not lose to the smaller guys in the Slams, so he will out think Yen-hsun, but Roger will have to be spot-on to win another Slam, as it’s been two-and-a-half years since his last triumph.

2-Maria Sharapova v Petra Martic

Sharapova had added a few new things, such as coming into the net more (I know, I know: it’s taken 10 years) and drop shots. She hasn’t played great in the past two years at the Aussie, but she is ready to rumble and knock the Croatian right off the court.

Margaret Court Arena

Jarmila Gajdosova v Alexandra Dulgheru

The Aussie Gajdosova looked very well in Sydney and while she can become wild, she wants the fans to see her again and take down a couple of seeds. She will begin run down Dulgheru in straight sets.

6-Andy Murray v Yuki Bhambri

Murray isn’t sure whether or not he can take out the best yet, but he doesn’t want to tell the big boys that, at least not yet. The young India Bhambri looked very good as a junior but isn’t strong enough. Murray will beat him down.

9-Angelique Kerber v Irina-Camelia Begu

Angie is all over the place. She tries super hard, but she doesn’t commit enough, which is why she can be had. But not yet, as the lefty will outlast Begu.

7-Eugenie Bouchard v Anna-Lena Friedsam

The Canadian has come a long way over the last year and wasn’t afraid to go after anyone, but she struggled the last four months in 2014. Now everyone knows who she is, which means it’s going to get even harder. Genie will hit through against Friedsam, but right now, she could be in for a fall.

Nick Kyrgios v Federico Delbonis

The Aussie Kyrgios is only 19 so he still has a long to go, but he has a gigantic serve and can crack his forehand. His back in hurting, meaning it is going to be very tough to reach very deep into the tournament. However, he could win a few rounds, like over the Argentine in four tough sets.

Hisense Arena

32-Belinda Bencic v Julia Goerges

I really like the Swiss teen overall as she is very smart and mixes it up, but she is a little up and down. The German Goerges has fallen in the singles but she can crush her forehand. How about an upset, stunning the Swiss in three long sets?

28-Sabine Lisicki v Kristina Mladenovic

I am not sure exactly where Lisicki is going (if she’s not on grass), but she will win in three long sets, as neither the German nor the French Mladenovic moves well enough.

Bernard Tomic v Tobias Kamke

The Aussie Tomic has been very good at times in Brisbane and Sydney, but he has not been able to take down the good boys. He is rising again, but he doesn’t want to get caught by a ton of up-and-coming Aussies like Sam Groth or Thanasi Kokkinakis. We don’t know yet, but Tomic will be good enough to best Kamke in straight sets.

Sam Groth v Filip Krajinovic

Speaking of which, Groth was also pretty darn good in Brisbane and Sydney. He has improved quite a bit over the past year or so. He has a massive serve and consistently charges to the net. The problem is, will he be too nervous at the AO? Perhaps, but not yet as he will edge Krajinovic in five sets.