Australian Open final pick for Saturday, January 31

1-Serena Williams vs. 2-Maria Sharapova

Can anyone, much less Maria, stop Serena?Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Can anyone, much less Maria, stop Serena?
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

This is almost impossible, isn’t it? Maria Sharapova is 2-16 against Serena Williams?

Clearly, Williams has been better since Sharapova won 46 62 64 at the 2004 WTA Tour Championships and the match before, Maria’s first Slam crown at that year’s Wimbledon. But Williams fought off a couple amazing points, grabbed the semis and won the 2005 Australian Open. After that, Serena knew that she could out hit her. Sharapova wasn’t sure how she overpowered Williams in those early matches. From then on, she could not, losing in all sorts of places.

One cold fact: Sharapova lost her confidence when playing Williams. She has not been consistent against Serena, who does not like Maria very much and she wants to beat her pants off every time out.

The Russian/LA player has to play as well she can, and even better. Serena has a substantial first serve, and even her second serve is dangerous. She is a little faster and is more accurate her volley, too.

But Sharapova is right there with her forehands and backhands, as she hits just as hard as she can. When she is on fire, she might be a bit better smoking the down the line.

But, in order to get there, Sharapova is going to have to lock in immediately. She has to hold serve time after time and not panic. Once she is in her rallies, she is fine, but if she cannot return better and serve well herself, she is in deep trouble.

Someday, Sharapova will upset her and grab a win. But Maria is 27 years old and Serena is 33 and they both are thinking about how long they will continue. Beyond the 2016 Olympics, they may wave goodbye.

Whatever the case, Sharapova and Williams are in the final at the Australian Open. This time, Maria will play better; she won’t go nutty early on and allow Serena to push her to the wall.

But in the end, Serena will win again, this time in three dramatic sets. The evening will be terrific final and maybe, just maybe, they can give each other a big hug.

Perhaps not, but at least they can give each a big cheer. After all, they are great champions who are proud, right?

Picking the semis: Djokovic v Wawrinka

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic v 4-Stan Wawrinka

It is pretty unusual to watch two of the big guns go out against each other and play two Aussie Open match-ups in a row and put together two fantastic five-setters. Djokovic won it in 2013 who went on to the title. Wawrinka did the exact same thing and won the crown last year. Now they will face each other again in Rod Laver but this time it will be in the semis

Both men are playing beautifully, smartly and ambitiously. Their serves have been strong and creative; their forehands can find the lines; their backhands are artful; they aren’t afraid to go anywhere they want. They can mix it up, spin it or flatten it. They can slice or chuck in some drop shots. It’s is all there, for both of them.

What we do know is that the Slam champion Djokovic owns seven Slams and Wawrinka has one. The Serbian is much more consistent, because he rarely loses his head, while Stan has done it many times.

But Wawrinka can get on rolls and he will be into it. Stan has been terrific during the past 12 days, but he will have doubts. They may only be small ones, but those matter. Let’s say they will go into the fifth again. In 2013, Djokovic won 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10. In 2014, Wawrinka pulled out 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7.

This time, they will grind away, deep into four hours. and. Let’s say Djokovic 14-12 in the fifth. Won’t that be sweet?

Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 29

The Semis

2-Maria Sharapova v 10-Ekaterina Makarova
Makarova has played very well this tournament. Every day it seems like she would crack but she did not, notably wasting Simona Halep in the quarters. She doesn’t fear the occasion, rarely pushes the ball and understands immediately when she has to go for it or knows when to wait for the right shot. The problem is: Sharapova is 5-0 against her and having beaten her in the Aussie Open twice and pretty easily. Maria doesn’t wait, but will immediately pound at Etkaterina until she is on her heels. That’s what happened when she eliminated Eugenie Bouchard, pushing her back from the get-go. Sharapova dictated every point, even if she misses some balls. All she needed to do was to handle her foe about 60 percent of the time and that was all good in the end. Maria will use the same strategy against Makarova, who will take some risks, but not enough to diminish Sharapova’s dominiance. Sharapova will win the semifinal in straight sets and reach the Aussie Open once again.

serena wins wta champs 12

Serena is favored against anyone at this time, especially against a youngster like Keys.

1-Serena Williams v Madison Keys 
Ms. Williams is very sick do to a flu and Keys has her left leg all banged up. Still, someone will prevail. It depends who is feeling OK and who is not. However Serena has done this plenty of times. She knows the ropes and even when she has been feeling bad, she forgets about it and swings away.

Keys did a good job of maintaining her pain against Venus Williams and out-hitting her. Her first serve is almost as big as Serena’s, and can slug her forehand about as well as Williams. But overall, Serena is just about better in every facet of the game. Maybe Keys will eventually get there, but William has the tools. Keys still has a lot to learn, while Serena in one of the most intelligent people around – ever. Serena will win in straight sets and face her foe Sharapova in the final.

6-Andy Murray v 7-Tomas Berdych
Who thought that Tomas would shock Rafa Nadal for the first time in 17 matches? I sure didn’t. The Czech played extremely well, jumping on the Spaniard’s backhand and coming into the net at the right times.

Murray had better choose the right tactic or Berdych will get him again. Interesting fact: Berdych is 6-4 head to head, with wins in the last two matches in 2013 in Madrid and Cincinnati. For whatever reason, his serve and his forehand bother Murray. The Brit is very smart, but sometimes he gets irritated and loses his focus. He has to nail his first serve and try to hit his forehand with conviction. His backhand is better, as is his net play. He mixes it up, too. But when he was feeling good, Berdych can be patient until he gets the right shot and when he is ready, to boom his first serve. He can find the lines off both his first and second serves. The Czech can reach a Slam final for the second time, but he can become nervous and he will against Murray. Andy will win the match in five sets and reach to the final once again.

Australian Open picks for Wednesday, January 28

Rod Laver Arena / Day

18-Venus Williams v Madison Keys
Williams wasn’t afraid at the age of 19 in 2000 and she’s still out there, now at the age of 34. She still believes in her Grand Slam ability. She won her last Slam at 2008, which is a long time ago, but she still keeps trying to add new things. Her forehand has improved, especially when moving to her left and cracking her shot down the line. She may have slowed down a bit but she has confidence that she can take over at the net and put away her volleys. Williams says she is happy with her life right now.

We know that Venus will play reasonably well, but will Keys? The 19-year-old is hitting super hard, especially with her first serve and her forehand. She hasn’t been around for years, but she battling in the pros for the past three years now and has settled in. She is showing more confidence and at least over the past 10 days, she hasn’t lost her head.

Keys might become nervous, but not yet. She is pretty determined and thinks she can out hit her elder. It’s a tossup, but I will take Keys in three sets.

Last year's finalist Cibulkova has a big test.Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Last year’s finalist Cibulkova has a big test.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

1-Serena Williams v 11-Dominic Cibulkova
Serena has started very slowly. But no matter, you can win in three sets and that is what she did over Garbine Muguruza. However, Cibulkova is playing very well again, hitting forehands side to side and kissing the lines. Domi can take anyway one if she is on a role, or she could go down to anyone if she is emotionally down.

In this quarterfinal, Cibulkova will try to jump on her returns and control the match. But unless she mixes up her serves and backhands, Serena will knock her out quickly. Serena knows that she can’t start slowly again or one of the better players can stun her. She knows that, which is why she will beat at Domi’s to a punch and knock her out in straight sets.

4-Stan Wawrinka v 5-Kei Nishikori
Is this going to five sets again? Why not? The two played five sets in the US Open, when Nishikori got him at 6-4 in the fifth. It was darn close, but the Japanese hit a bit harder at the end and was more confident – that time.

Will it be the same, or will it change? Not much. Now in Australia Wawrinka thinks he can out think him and change it up. But that does not mean that he has gotten better than Kei has since last May until now? Nishikori has everything: speed, forehands and backhands, aggressive style and a much better volley. Wawrinka will push him for three hours plus, but in the end the 25-year-old Nishikori will take him out, winning in five emotional sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic v 8-Milos Raonic
The Canadian Raonic is ready to play ball. His serve is massive, he hits his forehand as hard as anyone and he doesn’t mind charging up to the set. But Djokovic is almost perfect – again. So few players can even get a set, much less a win. He is so steady and so relentless. It’s hard to find where to attack him because he will take it from anywhere and turn it around.

Yes, Raonic can serve gigantic and take him into the tiebreaks, but how is he going to get into his head? Yes, Djokovic has disappeared at times in the past two years (like in the 2014 US semis) but that is extremely rare. It may occur in the semis this week, or in the final, but not in the quarters against Raonic, as Novak can see the Canadian in his sites. Djokovic will win in four sets.

Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 27

Rod Laver Arena

3-Simona Halep v 10-Ekaterina Makarova
The Russian has become so much more important, rarely losing to mediocre players and raking the ball with power. Makarova isn’t super-fast but she moves better than she used to, can rip her forehands and backhands and is very consistent at the net. She can be had and can get nervous at times, but she is more mature now. But Makarova is not as talented as Halep, especially compared to what Simona has done over the past year and a half. The Romanian is quicker, more aggressive and steadier. There are times that she loses her control, but that has been the past now. Yes, Halep has to prove that she won’t back off a little bit, but she is too aggressive and thoughtful to go away. Halep will win in three sets.

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Sharapova is looking to beat Bouchard again in a Slam.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

2-Maria Sharapova v 7-Eugenie Bouchard
The Canadian has hit her stride again and she really believes she can take down Sharapova for the first time. They have played three times, all wins for Maria. But the now 20-year-old Bouchard was basically a rookie. Yes, last year in the Roland Garros semis, Genie was old enough at that point to win. Still, Sharapova was smarter and she never backed off, winning 6-2 in the third set. The other day, Bouchard said she didn’t play that well overall, even though she almost beat her. Oh really? Now Sharapova will have heard about it, so she will go at her super hard.

Clearly, Bouchard is ready to rumble, She is faster than Sharapova, but the Russian/American does so many other great things that against many other top players, speed really doesn’t matter. Sharapova hits as hard as she can off the baseline, inside and out. Bouchard says that she will go for it and not back off. I believe that as she has been super-solid since the start of the tournament. But that does not mean that Genie can kiss the lines at crush time. Sharapova will and take the contest in three tough sets.

3-Rafa Nadal v 7-Tomas Berdych
As the ITF notes, “Nadal going for 18th straight win over Berdych tomorrow. If he wins would be longest h2h (head-to-head) winning streak in Open Era history.” So does Tomas have a real chance? I doubt it, although sometimes, (remember Vitas Gerulatis vs. Ivan Lendl) it’s possible once or twice. However, Nadal had a tough 2014 after winning Roland Garros due to injury – again. But he has looked darnn good during the last two matches. He’s running like the wind, his forehand is phenomenal and he is returning super steady. Yes, Berdych is a huge hitter and he owns a gigantic first serve. But he is not good enough from the nets, he can’t depend on his forehand and is not much better than his backhand. There is nothing he can do unless Nadal falls apart. The Spaniard won’t and will win in four sets.

6-Andy Murray v Nick Kyrgios
Murray looked wonderful and intelligent and took down the ambitious Dimitrov. The Brit knew that the only way he was going to take down the creative Dimitrov was to change it up and that is exactly what he did.

Murray is 27 years old and loves watching his own sport, which means that he knows just about everything and exactly what he has to do. That does not mean that he is perfect, not being able to hit every shot. But against most of the guys outside of the Big 3, he knows what he can do. That means that if Murray is healthy and is playing well, the young excellent player will have a lot of trouble. Without a doubt, the teenage Aussie Kyrgios has played excellent ball. He is tall, strong, can bash his first serve and can stroke his forehand and backhand. He appears to be a big deal. However, Murray is very good on his returns, even when he has to deal with a gigantic bomb that Kyrgios has. Yes, the Aussie will be loving the thousands of fans screaming for him on Rod Laver Arena, but Murray is too good for him now. Maybe the kids will be right there with him soon, but not yet as Murray will confuse him. It will be fun, but the Brit will win in four sets.

Australian Open picks for Sunday, January 25

Rod Laver Arena / Day
Eugenie Bouchard v Irina Begu
The Canadian keeps chugging along, not being perfect, but smart and aggressive. She loves to go out and bang the ball, and, even though she is only 20, she doesn’t seem to get nervous at the Slams. That is highly unusual amongst the kids. Begu has looked pretty darn good, shocking Angie Kerber in the first round, but she has yet to go deep at the Slams. Bouchard wants to go against Maria Sharapova in the quarters, which is why she will crush Begu in two sets.

2-Maria Sharapova v 21-Shuai Peng
Sharapova and Peng have known each other for a long time. The Chinese has settled down mentally over the past two years and now has a different look with her volleys. She can hit hard on both sides, but Sharapova is more powerful and can mix it up more. Peng might be able to find the zone and shock Maria somewhere, but its not going to be at the AO. Sharapova will win in straight sets.

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Kevin Anderson has a tough task today.
Photo: Tom Grason

3-Rafa Nadal v 14-Kevin Anderson
Nadal almost went out in the second round due to a sour stomach and Tim Smyczek playing in the zone. But two days later, he looked much better and he crushed Dudi Sela. This time, he is going up against the huge serveing Anderson, a very tall guy who isn’t slow and has improved his speed gradually. He has a big forehand, his backhand is pretty consistent and not bad with the volley. But how can he unearth Nadal now, given that the Spaniard is ready to begin playing extremely well again? Rafa isn’t quiet there yet, ashe missed much if the second half of last year to injuries. Now, he has turned the corner. As long as he can push his balls deep, then he will yank Anderson around. If he doesn’t, the South African can push forward and hurt him. Anderson will take a set, but in the end, Nadal will grab in four sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night
3-Simona Halep v Yanina Wickmayer
Halep is in fine form. She will be super steady and attack the ball when she can. Her backhand is wicked and her forehand is deadly. It’s hard to understand why she keeps changing coaches, but at least during the past few weeks she has looked very good. The Belgian Wickmayer once was a potential top-5, but she never got there. She can crush the ball and move fast, but she has been so erratic. Her game worked fine in the first three matches, but Halep is way too good right now and will win easily in two sets.

6-Andy Murray v 10-Grigor Dimitrov
These two have played very close over the past two years, with Dimitrov winning Acapulco and Wimbledon, and Murray winning Brisbane, Miami and Paris. While Murray is obviously more solid, Dimitrov has as much more variety than the Brit does. The Bulgarian has a beautiful one-handed backhand and mixes it up, but he can be impatient and that can hurt him. Dimitrov thinks he can take out the best of them, but he can lose control. Murray has had an easy draw in the first three rounds, but he has played very well. He struggled in 2014, but now he looks like he is ready to challenge the Slams again. Dimitrov will push him in five sets, but in the end, Murray will shine.

Margaret Court Arena
7-Tomas Berdych v Bernard Tomic
Berdych has been here, many times, both good and bad. He has a terrific first serve, his forehand and his backhand, which is good but not spectacular. He isn’t very fast but more or less OK. It’s up to the Aussie Tomic to play great and take him out without getting upset or tired. But I really have felt over the past three weeks that Tomic has been very impressive overall. Yes, he wasn’t perfect, but he was getting there. He has a lot of variety and if he stays in there, mix it up and takes big swings than he can win. I could be wrong, but Tomic will play out of his mind and win in five sets.

10-Ekaterina Makarova v Julia Goerges
Makarova has really come to play. I thought that the young Pliskova was ready to rise and take down Makarova, but the Russian was a cool customer. She is tall, can smoke the ball, can defend and go into offensive and take over the nets. Her German foe, Goerges, has improved overall. Not only can she swing as hard as she can with her famous forehand, but she has played a lot of doubles, and as a result, she is much more consistent up at the net. Goerges believes she can win, but she has yet to prove that at a Slam. Right now, Makarova is more assured and will win in straight sets.

Hisense Arena
Nick Kyrgios v Andreas Seppi
The teenage Aussie is rolling through this tournament. His back has bothered him, but his massive first serve and gigantic forehand continue to carry him. He is enthusiastic and loves a big court. At this point, if he says healthy, Kyrgios will be in the top 20 by the end of the year – or better. Seppi played his best match stunning Roger Federer, but he is a veteran guy and he is not a fantastic player. Kyrgios will out hit him and win in four sets.

Australian Open picks for Friday, January 23

Rod Laver Arena

Lucie Hradecka v Julia Goerges
Theee two must be thrilled they are on Rod Laver as they thought that they would be put far outside. But, they are on center court. The Czech will attempt to strike aces one after another while the German will try to whip her big forehand. A few years ago, Goerges looked like she was ready to reach the top 10. She did not, fell and she has been more suited of doubles. But she looks more composed and she will run around Hradecka and will triumph in three sets.

7-Eugenie Bouchard v Caroline Garcia 
The Canadian is already looking good again. She looked lost in the fall (too much hype and publicity) but now she looks fit and is moving forward and showing off an aggressive posture. She can smoke both wings, has a pretty good first serve and jumps on the returns. However, the young Frenchwoman Garcia can mix it up, is fairly fast and believes that she can get into Genie’s head. She might be for a while. But Bouchard is ready dance and will do so in straight sets,

2-Roger Federer v Andreas Seppi
Federer has to face two Italians in a row? Yes he was upset after dropping his first set against Bolelli, but he turned it around, charged inside the baseline and twisted the match to his favor. Now he can be more patient against Seppi, who is very steady but who isn’t a huge hitter. Seppi will try to trouble Federer’s backhand, but the Swiss has way too many weapons and will win it in straight sets.

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Berdych faces a test against Troicki.
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

2-Maria Sharapova v Zarina Diyas
Sharapova nearly fell to Panova; a very talented Russian who played one of her best matches ever. Still Maria survived and while she was up and down, she still went at the lines. Fortunately she did it at the right time and now she will be more patient. Diyas is very consistent and can run from side to side. But, she hasn’t proven that she can smack the lines. Sharapova will win in two sets.

3-Rafa Nadal v Dudi Sela
The Spaniard almost went down when Tim Smyczek, who had him on the ropes. As usual, Nadal never gave in and pulled off an incredible five-setter. This time though, Sela is a different player. The Israel is intelligent and can mix it up, but Nadal should feel better physically and overwhelm him with some massive forehands. The lefty will win in straight sets.

Margaret Court Arena

10-Etkaerina Makarova v 22-Karolina Pliskova
This is an intriguing contest. The Czech Pliskova has improved vastly over the past year while the Russian Makarova has finally come of age. Makarova reached the 2014 US Open semifinal, while Pliskova just reached the Sydney final, nearly upsetting Petra Kvitova. Makarova can move from side to side, while Pliskova can hit it anyway she wants to. The Czech can sense that she is almost there and can go deep here. She will win in three sets.

7-Tomas Berdych v Victor Troicki
The tall Czech hasn’t been specular in 2014 and the start of 2015, but is he really ready to make a move of the Aussie Open? I doubt it, but Berdych could slip into the quarters. He usually does that, right? The Serbian Troicki played very well to win Sydney, but we will have to play much better to beat a top-10 guy. He is fast enough to bring it in five sets, but Berdych will grab a break and hold on to win it.

3-Simona Halep v Bethanie Mattek-Sands
The Romanian has improved quite a bit over the past year. She believes that she can win a Slam, and perhaps she has a true shot, but Mattek-Sands has beaten her before and she can take over the net. The American likes to get the ball on the rise and she loves to attack. She can pull it off, but Mattek-Sands was hurt a lot of last year and needs a few months before she hits 100 percent. Halep will live in three sets.

Hisense Arena

6-Andy Murray v Joao Sousa
The Brit has had a very easy draw and will yank Sousa in less than two hours and win in three sets.

Bernard Tomic v Sam Groth
Both of the Aussies have played well over the past weekend and a half. They know each other very well, and both can smoke first serves. But they are different in other areas. Tomic can change it around, while Groth is more straight forward, going to net any chance he has. Groth would be thrilled to reach a fourth round at a Slam, but Tomic knows what he is going to, pulling him around side to side and back and forth until he caves in. Tomic in four.

Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 21

Rod Laver Arena / Day

6- Agnieszka Radwanska v Johanna Larsson
The Polish ‘Aga’ went up to world No. 2, and make it all the way to the final Wimbledon, but she has yet to win a Slam. She came close last year, playing terrific back until she reaches the semifinal Aussie Open, but then she was too tired and was wiped out by Domi Cibulkova. She was upset and mad. Now she is being coached by Martina Navratilova, who knows her game inside and out, but they just started together so she will likely take some time. Nonetheless, she is too smart for Larsson and will win it in straight sets.

Vera punched out Ana |

Vera is back and in form.

1-Serena Williams v Vera Zvonareva
Remember Zvonareva who once pushed up to No. 2, reaching two Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open against Serena in 2010? Serena destroyed the Russian in both sets.  Zvonareva has been seriously hurt and she has been pretty darn good in the Aussie, reaching the semis in 2009 and 2011. Hopefully she will eventually come back at 100 percent, but not yet. Williams will easily push past year in two sets.

1-Novak Djokovic v Andrey Kuznetsova 
The Serbian has been sick over the past two weeks but he played reasonably well in the first round and is feeling much better. Kuznetsova has improved over the past year or so, but he isnt strong enough or smart enough to battle the big boy. Djokovic in three sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

Lleyton Hewitt v Benjamin Becker
Hewitt was inconsistent at best on Tuesday night but, once he got over, he struck with the ball for more purpose. Hewitt is super at anticipating where his opponent is going, but he does not hit as strong as the younger players overall. However, he and Becker are around the same age and he knows that he can fool his foe with the help of a raucous pro-Aussie crowd. Hewitt will win in four sets.

20-Sam Stosur v CoCo Vandeweghe
The Aussie Stosur was very pleased to take her first match – actually any win at the Aussie Open – but this is different. Now she will be on the tournament’s biggest stage in front of a packed house. American Vandeweghe is finally coming her own. Vandeweghe has a gigantic serve – just like Stosur does – and can smoke the forehands that bounce up high. If Stosur plays as well as she can, she will take it in front of fans screaming for her. But she consistently becomes nervous in her homeland’s Slam and will again. Take Vandeweghe in three.

Margaret Court Arena

18-Venus Williams v Lauren Davis
Williams has gone on and on. She began the AO back in 1998, reaching the quarters as a baby. Now she is 35 years old and still playing well, looking like she still has a threat. Maybe that is possible, but you never know depending on whom she has to play. We know is that she is very smart, which will help her against younger foes. Davis runs forever and never gives up. But Williams has the tools. Venus will win in two long sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Victoria Azarenka
Without a question, Wozniacki has played much better since last August. She is more aggressive, her forehand in stronger, her first serve can kiss the lines and will move forward to attack her returns. But, you’ve got to wonder if she is feeling comfortable against Azarenka, who pretty much disappeared last year and wasn’t as motivated as she once did for years. Perhaps, but what we know is the two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka is ready to challenge the rest of the best and she is very close to racing up the tops. Azarenka is as fit as she was here in 2012 and 2013 when she won the titles. While she is not as fast as before, she can smoke the balls side to side. Vika will win in three tremendous three sets.

Other matches

8-Milos Raonic will take out the American Donald Young in four sets, because the Canadian is crushing his forehand, which is as powerful as any on tour.

4-Petra Kvitova thinks that he is ready to win the tournament, which means that she has to lock in quickly. She will defeat Mona Bartels in three sets, even though the German is a big swinger, too.

17-Gael Monfils almost went out against a French kid in five sets, but he hung in there and now he will do it again. He will survive the big hitter Jerzy Janowicz in a marathon.

Australian Open picks for Wednesday, January 21

Rod Laver Arena

10-Etkaterina Makarova v Roberta Vinci
The “other” Russian has quietly become much more consistent; she can rip her forehand and smack her shots to the corners. She is a pretty good net charge, and while Vinci used to mix up her one-handed backhand and trouble opponents, she is declining very quickly in the singles. Makarova will win easily.

2-Maria Sharapova v Alexandra Panova
The 2008 Aussie champion pines to win the Slam again and has looking very good since October. She has thrown much more variety in the past and is very self-assured in her mental game. She will smoke Panova in straight sets.

2-Roger Federer v Simon Bolelli
The Italian Bolelli can mix it up and who move around fairly quickly, but he cannot penetrate Federer’s forehand or crack his own forehand unless the Swiss is way off. Federer will struggle eventually in Australia, but he won’t be challenged in the second round. Fed will win in straight sets.

3-Rafa Nadal v Tim Smyczek
The American qualified for the Aussie and won his first matches, which is pretty good overall. He hustles and fights hard, but if Nadal is clicking away, he is too good overall. However, Nadal is still rusty, so Smyczek will take a set; the Spaniard will win in four.

3-Simona Halep v Jarmila Gajdosova
This should be an interesting match, given that Halep believes that she can win a Grand Slam but the Aussie Gajdosova thinks she is playing well enough to shocker her at home. Gajdosova is very powerful and will try to out hit her, but Halep is more consistent and stable. Halep will win in three sets.

Margaret Court Arena

6-Andy Murray v Marinko Matosevic
The Aussie Matosevic knows his buddy Murray very well. He also knows that he has to jump on the Brit very quickly and play lights out. But, even if Matosevic does, he doesn’t have enough oomph against Murray, who is smarter and better overall. Figure on Murray winning in straight sets.

7-Eugenie Bouchard v Kiki Bertens
While Genie isn’t ready to shine this week, she might be in better shape in the second week, if she catches fire again. Even if the Canadian doesn’t play incredibly well, she is simply better overall against Bertens and will win in straight sets.

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Tomic looks to have the edge over Kohlschreiber.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Bernard Tomic v Philip Kohlschreiber
These two matched up last week in Sydney and Tomic got through. But, Tomic says they are neck and neck right now. However, to me, I like how Tomic is finally settled in and perhaps he will crack the top 20 – or better – this year. The Aussie will win in five tough sets over Kohlschreiber.

Hisense Arena

21-Peng Shuai v Magdalena Rybarikova
Peng finally looked like she was comfortable playing singles, moving well and she was in much better condition over all. She can strike inside the baseline and will do it again, easily pushing past Rybarikova in straight sets.

Sam Groth v Thanasi Kokkinakis
The Aussies will be extremely excited with this matchup and will pack the grounds. The 18-year-old Kokkinakis pulled off a terrific win over Gulbis in five sets, but he is very young and could be tired. Groth has been more composed over the past two weeks, is crushing his first serves and taking over the nets. Groth will push him around and win it in four sets.

Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 20

Rod Laver Arena

Stosur MALT7761

Sam Stosur can’t seem to get going in front of her country audience.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

20-Samantha Stosur v Monica Niculescu
It is almost impossible to know how well Stosur will play. She has been terrific on times, but rarely in Australia. Sometimes she is very nervous, other times she is not, but that doesn’t mean she will be playing her best either way at home. She will find a way to best Niculescu, but after that, who know?

4-Stan Wawrinka v Marsel Ilhan
The defending champion Wawrinka appears very happy in Australia and did win Chennai the week before last. At times, he can lose his head, but he loves his somewhat slow hard court. The Turkish Ilhan wants the fans to notice him and perhaps they will, but the Swiss is much more bravado.

1-Novak Djokovic v Aljaz Bedene
The Serbian has been sick over the past week but he is feeling better and he is the man to beat. While Djokovic is not perfect at the Grand Slams, he almost always gets close. He will take down the Slovenia Bedene in straight sets.

Lleyton Hewitt v Zhang Ze
Hewitt admitted that he did not play well in Brisbane, but he has been at Australian Open many, many times before. However, he has aged and even though he is very smart, that doesn’t mean that he can crack the ball. Hewitt will win the match, but it will take him five long sets against China’s Ze.

Ajla Tomljanovic v Shelby Rogers
The young Tomljanovic is now an Australian … so that’s why she’s on the Rod Laver Arena schedule. The once Croatian is powerful, and moves fairly quickly, and played a solid win over Jelena Jankovic in Brisbane. However, the American Rogers has slowly rising and she outlasted Tomljanovic in Montreal last year. Rogers wouldn’t be nervous, while Tomljanovic will be. Take Rogers in three sets.

Margaret Court Arena

5-Kei Nishikori v Nicolas Almagro
The Japanese is a real threat to win the tournament, but finding out the former top 10 Almagro is back in the court after being hurt much of the year could be troubling. It could be, but the Spaniard isn’t ready for prime tie yet. Nishikori will win in straight sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Taylor Townsend
Wozniacki has been pretty darn good since last August, but she hasn’t won a big title in a long time. However, if her wrist is hurting she could be in trouble. The 18-year-old Townsend still has a way to go, but she is very strong and ambitious. But she is not ready yet, as Wozniacki will win in two interesting sets.

17-Gael Monfils v Lucas Pouille
The flying Monfils can be so good – recall his amazing win over Roger Federer in the Davis Cup final (although the Swiss won the title) – and so impossible to figure out. Monfils has a lot more experience against 20-year-old fellow French Pouille, but is the kid ready to shock him? Perhaps, just not yet. Monfils will win in five aching sets.

Hisense Arena

Sloane Stephens v Victoria Azarenka
Imagine these two are not seeded when two years ago they played in the semifinals here in the Aussie Open. Azarenka says that she essentially wasn’t around much at all during 2014. Stephens faded quickly after June. So who know is ready to make a serious push again? Stephens might this year but she didn’t start during the past two weeks. Azarenka lost to Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane, but the Czech is very good now and it went 3 hours and 20 minutes. Azarenka is ready to battle again. She will take it in two sets.

8-Milos Raonicv v Ilya Marchenko
The Canadian is ready for prime time. Yes, he still needs to improve his return and his backhand, but his forehand is massive and so is his first round. The Ukraine Marchenko can hit the ball, but he won’t be able to hurt him enough. Raonic will win in straight sets.