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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calm & collected: Azarenka d. Kerber to win Brisbane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dimitrov outlasts Troicki, can he actually beat Federer?



BRISBANE, Jan. 7, 2016 – In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov was rising fast. He reached the Wimbledon semifinal, stunning Andy Murray in the quarters. He was right there against Novak Djokovic, but he fell 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6. The Bulgarian had tremendous variety, and he loved bending down low and sweetly touching a few drop shots that trickled right over the top of the net. However, Dimitrov would get anxious when the big points arrived, which is why Djokovic sensed it and he yanked him around until he fell over.

Nonetheless, the flashy Dimitrov wouldn’t back down – yet. At the US Open, he reached his career high at No. 8 when he made it to the fourth round, going down to the electric Gael Monfils. In the fall, he really wanted to go very deep, upset the big foes and make it into the top 8 in ATP Finals. He couldn’t do it. He was close, but even though he mixed up his attacks, his balls would land too short. He lost against Djokovic again, Murray got him back and Roger Federer did also, too.

In the start of 2015 in Brisbane, Dimitrov said he was ready to go. He was more mature now; he knew exactly what to do as he had more experience. But then Federer absolutely crushed him 6-2, 6-2 in the semis. After that, he began to be overly emotional. He did manage to reach the fourth round at the Aussie Open, but Murray out-thought him, winning 7-5 in the fourth set. At Monte Carlo on clay, he woke up when and he blew out Stan Wawrinka in the third round. However, Monfils smoked him and, after that, Dimitrov did almost nothing the rest of the season.

In November, he hired a new coach, Franco Davin, who worked with Juan Martin Del Potro for years. Maybe the Argentine will help him significantly, or maybe not.

This week though, Dimitrov has dug in in Brisbane, knocking out the cagey Gilles Simon in the first round and on Thursday, he outlasted the improved Viktor Troicki 5-7 7-6(6) 6-2. Has Dimitrov radically changed? No, he has not. But, if he wants to win a major some day, he was to be more aggressive and more consistent, but he seems to be just fine.

“I think I’ve always been aggressive when I play. I think that’s my style, I think,” he said. “But consistency is always the key. I think if you play well and have consistent results everything else come with it. Just want to play. That’s all I want to do right now. And focus one match at time, and whatever the outcome is, to put my head down and just keep working again until one day everything just becomes better and better.”

Now, he will face Federer, who destroyed Tobias Kamke 6-2, 6-1. The greats Swiss was impenetrable. Dimitrov has yet to beat him yet, and he is well aware than in 2015, Federer has been pretty consistent, even though he is ‘only’ ranked No. 3. Federer won six titles, and he did reach the finals at Wimbledon, the US Open and the ATP Finals, all going down to the amazing Djokovic. But Federer was pretty close. In fact, ‘Rog’ is pretty amazing, too.

“The results speak for themselves,” Dimitrov said. “Everything is just said and done out there and he’s still one of the best competitors out there. I mean, the greatest player out there. I’m sure there is still a lot to come. It’s just how it is. If you love the game and obviously you’ve achieved a lot, everything becomes pretty natural after that.”


Thankfully, all the women completed their matches, as they were healthy andno one retired. It had been a brutal day across the world with five out of top six pulled out. But on Thursday, they looked pretty spry.

Carla Suarez Navarro edged Varvara Lepchenko 4-6 6-4 7-5, Victoria Azarenka stomped Roberta Vinci 6-1 6-2, the U.S.’s 20-year-old Samantha Crawford stunned Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-0, and Angelique Kerber beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-4. For the first four months in 2015, Suarez played terrific ball and cracked the top 10 for the first time. But then she slipped badly. Now, she says that she is mentally strong again.

“After [reaching the final] Rome I feel tired mentally,” she said. “Not too much physical, but mentally, because for being in the top 10 or top 5 of the best players in the world you have to be focus all the time. Not only one week. There is a lot of weeks and big tournaments and Grand Slams.

“I was there all the time, all the weeks, and after Rome, or after Wimbledon – I lost confidence also with the match that I play in Wimbledon. At this level is not easy have again confidence or feel good on court. So after US Open, in Asia I start to play a little bit better, a little bit not too nervous, just more relax than after Wimbledon. In the off-season I was good.”

Bernie Tomic edges great volleyer Stepanek, to face Kei Nishikori


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It’s time for Tomic to step up. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

BRISBANE, Jan. 6, 2016  – The so-called younger males should rise up this year. It’s not like this group are teenagers, and they all have been around on tour for five years or more. But, these days, the veterans continue to improve — the Big 4-plus 1: Novak Djokovic (28 years old), Andy Murray (28 years old), Roger Federer (34 years old), Rafa Nadal (29 years old) and Stan Wawrinka (30 years old).

Clearly, the kids have to improve greatly if they want can actually win a major this season.

On Wednesday night, the 23-year-old Aussie Bernard Tomic went on court to face the old-but-not-tired veteran Radek Stepanek. The Czech is now 37 years old and he missed most of 2015 due to injury. He was 3-0 against the Aussie, but they are never played on hard courts before.

This time, Tomic hung in there. Stepanek sliced and diced, coming to the net constantly, volleying 55 times with 37 winners. Not bad at all.

Here is what Tomic had to say: “I think he has for sure the best volleys going around now. The feel, the way he covers the net, shows why he’s an amazing athlete the last 10 years on the tour. I cannot think of another person that volleys that great like him.”

However, the former No. 8 Stepanek hiccuped late, spaying the ball at the very end. Tomic won 7-6(6) 4-6 7-6(4).

At times, Tomic can disappear, but he can be extremely steady and he doesn’t mind mixing up his pace. Even though he is tall and muscular, he rarely goes for the lines right off the bat. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t, but against Stepanek, he stepped in when he needed to. He moved around his forehand and backhand and ,when he lulled Stepanek to sleep, he whacked winners down the line.

Now he has to face Kei Nishikori, who beat him 6-0 6-4 in the quarters of 2015 Brisbane. The Japanese started very well today when the 25-year-old beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-4.

Nishikori reached the 2014 US Open final, and he looked like he was ready to race past Marin Cilic in the final. But he could not and he went down quietly. Last year, Nishikori was fairly solid, but he was not spectacular. This year, he has to take more risks.

“Mentally I have to be a little more stronger. But I been doing really good things from last year, and very happy to finish top eight again last year,” Nishikori said. “Try to have good confidence and try beat all the top 10 players. That’s going to be a big challenge for me.”

Here’s a big challenge for Tomic: Can he take down one of the better competitors out there? ‘Bernie’ always comes to play in Australia. To take down Nishikori, he must to dominate early, because Nishikori is certainly faster than he is.

“He’s the top in the world. Not easy,” Tomic said. “I have to earn my position to be there. Obviously beating me last year on these courts it’s showing me he can play amazing on this surface. It’s not just to me. He’s beaten everyone on the tour and everyone fears to play him. Even Rafa, Novak, Roger. He’s had so many wins over these guys, and I have to play well from the start to have any chance of beating him.”

The 25-year-old Milos Raonic has yet to play yet, but on Wednesday he talked with the press and said yes, he can snare at the major, if the tall and strong man can move forward.

Cilic won his match, besting Chung Hyeon of South Korea 7-5 7-6(3). The 27-year-old Croatian said that last year his serve was spotty so he changed it up a bit. He will face the 22-yeard-old Dominic Thiem, who won three titles last year on clay. The Austrian says that he likes the hard courts too, so we will see if he is ready to dance.


Petkovic is more playful after the match is over. Mal Taam/MALTphoto


On Tuesday, with Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova pulling out due to injuries, it looked like that No. 3 Garbine Muguruza was the favorite. Nope. On Wednesday night, the Spaniard pulled out after losing the first set 11-9 in the tiebreak against Varvara Lepchenko. Muguruza’s left foot was too painful and she didn’t want to risk it. What a strange week indeed.

Victoria Azarenka was hurt too much last year, but now, she looks a little thinner and she is quicker on her feet. She took down the Belgium Ysaline Bonaventure 6-3 6-2. She has to face Roberta Vinci, who is red-hot, but Azarenka has won two Slams at the Aussie Open, so if she is feeling right, she could certainly win the tournament. It’s been a long time.

Here was a real shocker when the 20-year-old Samantha Crawford of the U.S. beat the Swiss Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5. The 6-foot-2 Crawford can the crack ball but she is still has miles to go. She will place a smart veteran Andrea Petkovic who beat Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-4. The always laughing and smiling Petkovic (off court, mind you) has never played Crawford before.

Everyone is happy: Halep stronger, Cilic steadier, Azarenka changed



BRISBANE, Jan. 4, 2016 – Every year, the grass is always greener, especially for the players in the first week of 2016 New Year. Just about everyone is happy, because they were able to take a break at the end of the year. They were able to get healthy, and then they started practicing with their coaches to try to freshen up their game.

Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are always trying new wrinkles. The 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer wants to continue to rush the net more, while the 5-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova wants to mix it up more. Both Federer and Sharapova are the defending champions at Brisbane. The Swiss says that on occasion, he is “totally Zen.”

There are plenty of fine players in Brisbane, with the tournament growing and growing each year.

Look at Marin Cilic, the one-time champion who won the 2014 US Open and it looked like that it was possible that someday, he could win another major. But he grew hurt during the fall and he didn’t return until last March at Indian Wells. He wasn’t ready yet. He continued to improve and while he was unable to take down the other excellent players, he was more or less OK, ending the season ranked No. 13. Now he says he is healthy again and he would love to win another title. But he isn’t sure yet.

“I want to be there. If I’m going to be a winner of Grand Slams in the future, I think hopefully with that kind of tennis I played at the US Open, I think I have pretty good shot,” Cilic said. “That’s what drives me. It’s not that I’m going to be thinking too much about stuff around. Of course, the motivation is really there. That is good road for me to follow. I know what things I need to work on with my game, what things really worked. So I think that’s positive. I don’t have as many questions as before.”

The world No. 2 Simon Halep is also playing at Brisbane. She has yet to win a major, but outside of that, especially on the hard courts, she is super fast and lethal. In early October, Halep had announced that she will stick with her coach, Darren Cahill. The Australian coach and broadcaster Cahill stopped with adidas on December 31. According to Halep, now they can work with each other full-time.

Last month, he came to Romania to work with the very intense Halep.

We practice very hard,” Halep said. “I was working on what we had in our mind to improve in my game, so everything went well. I was feeling great that I had new things to work on. He came very relaxed and showed me what I have to do, what I have to improve. I accepted and I worked really hard on them. On everything. I want to be stronger. I want to improve, of course, my serve because it’s not very strong, but now I feel that it’s better.”

Interestingly, Halep said that at the 2014 US Open, she struggled a bit because Cahill could not sit in the Friends Box if she was playing against another adidas competitor. Halep lost in the semifinal against Flavia Pennetta. She was pretty upset.

“I can say that was a little bit difficult also in US Open because he couldn’t show up for Pennetta’s match,” Halep said. “I knew that and accepted before, so it was okay. Now it’s different, so it’s good. I learned many things from that collaboration, and now because he’s only with me, it’s much better and I’m more relaxed.”

Before that lost, Halep did take down the former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals. Azarenka was essentially done after that, becoming hurt once again during the fall.

A year ago in Brisbane, Azarenka said that she wanted to become No. 1 again. She was OK throughout the year, but she couldn’t take down most of the top players, like Serena Williams, Sharapova and now Halep.

Currently ranked No. 22, Azarenka has miles to go. But, if she beats Halep on Wednesday, then perhaps she will rise again. She admits that she didn’t have a great season in 2015, but she is very happy now because she is no longer depressed, as she has said.

She won the Australian Open twice, so maybe she can be back on track.

“Definitely feeling in control of my movement, not thinking about pain, that’s a huge element,” Azarenka said. “Also, I worked a lot on getting my movement a lot more efficient, being much more mobile and flexible. So for me, that work that has not ended. It’s still just a big process. But I like the improvement that I’ve been able to do in those months. I think it’s the right way.”

The 1,000 Club: Federer wins major mark, takes down Raonic


With his last Wimbledon crown more than two years ago, Roger continues to conquer.

Brisbane International – There was Roger Federer in another final, and he won again. This time it’s a huge win. He has won all sorts of incredible victories like, for example, grabbing a record 17 Grand Slams. You cannot touch that.

But on Sunday night in Brisbane, he walked on the court knowing that he had a great chance. Yes, he was favored to beat Milos Raonic in the final. The tennis world has been buzzing about his 999 wins and fans talking about his rich history. One more win and 1,000 victories.

The Swiss has scored wins against 12 No. 1 competitors: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Marcelo Rios, Carlos, Moya, Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That’s a heady accomplishment.

He showed up first in 2000 in Australia, when he was still a baby, only 18 years old. He had a very good time, but he wasn’t ready to take over yet. He ran around and he was smiling all over the place. He lost to Thomas Enqvist in Adelaide, to Ferrero in Auckland and to Arnaud Clement in the third round of the Australian Open. Eight months later, he was back down in Australia, when he played the Sydney Olympics, where he met his now wife, Mirka Vavrincova, when she was still playing on the tour. Quiet a night.

Mirka eventually retired. They now have four kids. But, Federer went on and on. He was not perfect, but he’s been excellent, capturing his first Slam in 2003 at Wimbledon. Then, he took off. He won majors at Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open all over place, and he even grabbed a Roland Garros once. Sure, Rafael Nadal has dominated in Paris (nine Slams at Roland Garros, thank you very much) but Federer did manage to grab one extremely important one on the dirt. He has won dozens of hard court trophies, and he understood exactly how to play on grass as well.

He has not won another Grand Slams since 2012, but he is right there with the other so-called Big 4 – Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. Even though the 33-year-old is older than they are and hanging No. 2, he still matters a great deal. Because he keeps trying.

Federer bested Raonic in a very close match 6‑4, 6‑7, 6‑4. The Canadian wanted it badly but Federer knew exactly how to step in.

“I think the way he’s come back and just all aspects that Roger does, from the sets of twins he has, everything he does is unbelievable,” Raonic said.

Federer says that he is not sure how long he will last. You would think that he will play this year, and certainly next year when the Olympics will arrive again. By that time, he could definitely pass Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Slams champ. Lendl retired with 1,071 career wins.

“You work hard and prepare hard to play consistently,” Lendl told the ATP. “I remember when I played over 100 matches per year in the 1980s and never thought about it. Obviously, getting to 1,000 wins is more difficult than it seems. It’s really rare. But I looked at it as a by-product of winning so many matches and being consistent for that long.”

Jimmy Connors played until he was 40. That was a very long time. He ended at 1,253 wins. Who know if Federer will be around for another five to seven years and keep swinging away as more and more young player arrive. Even if he doesn’t, he achieved another victory – just trying as hard as he could, year after year.

“Never even thought about it, because like I said it’s not been a goal of mine to reach any of those guys,” Federer said. “Next thing you know you’re in the top 3. I know how well they’ve played over the years, how much they’ve played, and how successful they’ve played.

“So it’s not a goal of mine in any way. Clearly at this point I doubt that it’s going to happen, but you never know. I have no idea, like I said, how long I’m going to keep on playing. The goal is to remain in the game as long as possible. For that I need to stay injury‑free. I need to be hungry, motivated, and all that. For the moment I am, so that’s more of a concern than reaching that number.”

Ivanovic: 2008 Aussie final ‘quite disappointing’

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Ana competes in Indian Wells in 2011, the site of her first huge title. Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Ana Ivanovic had it, didn’t she? During 2008, she and Maria Sharapova were in the final of Australia Open and they both had ripped the ball over the past two weeks. Sharapova had never been as confident before then, smacking apart four excellent players to reach the final: Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic without even losing a set.

She was just 21 years old, had won two Grand Slams but wanted another more. Badly, but so did Ivanovic.

Ivanovic was just 20 years old then, but she was already pushing very hard. She had reached the 2007 Roland Garros final and you could tell that she was right there. Six months later in January, she was ready to roll. She took out the very young Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, shocked Venus Williams in the quarters and then played very smart in upsetting Daniela Hantuchova 6-4 in the third in the semis.

Ivanovic was ready to win her first major.

“I remember that match, very vividly,” Ivanovic told Tennisreporters.net. “I felt like I had a lot of chances in the first set.  It was my second Grand Slam final and I really thought I could do it, you know.  It was quite disappointing the way the second set finished.  I remember it was 6‑3.  I didn’t really sleep much after that.  That was tough loss, but it made my stronger.  After this I won Indian Wells and French Open.”

She did, shaking it off and winning her first huge title at Indian Wells and grabbing on clay and her first (and only) first Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros.

But she’s still thinking about it. It has been six years, since Ivanovic’s challenge was to sneak in, change it up, get into Sharapova’s head. But she did not. She had some key points in the first set, had a couple of looks right in front of her but she could not convert. Sharapova was more powerful, more composed and a bit smarter.

Sharapova won the title 7-5 6-3. Ana cried all night long while No. 1 Maria could smile up and down the street. Ivanovic admits that she was in there for the taking, that she felt like she would win it. Uh uh.

“Yeah, definitely.  The year before against Justine in French Open [in 2007] it was first time and the nerves overwhelm me,” Ivanovic said.  “Against Maria I really felt confident going into the match, and all the way through I felt like I could do it. That’s why it was really, really tough loss for me.”

Ivanovic is so much more mature now. She has had her ups and down since 2009, when she went down, but she battled and battled and, since 2014, she been much more consistent. She has cracked the top 5 and now will play a final again, when she plays Sharapova in Brisbane.

Here, this week, she bested two tough foes, Kai Kanepi and Varvara Lepchenko. She didn’t panic, but knew that she could mix and match. Or just swinging her favored forehand super hard.

“I really feel I have different mental approach to it,” Ivanovic said. “I struggled to be in the spotlight.  For me, this is something to take time, to get used to because I was very shy.  It was really overwhelming for me and all the pressures.  I always play tennis as a game and not all these pressures and expectations.

“It takes time to learn about yourself, to mature.  Now I really try to take my time and enjoy on the court and off the court.  The time I spend on court it’s more quality.  I really focus 100% on that.  And then when I’m off the court I can relax and enjoy.

“This is something that I was lacking in the past, because coaches really tried to control and I didn’t feel like I had time for myself.  It was all about tennis and just spending time on court or this.

“I felt like I had no time to go to movies with friends, you know, and this is what every person needs.  So I really feel since maybe year and a half I found this balance.  Then obviously it takes time for things to get in place and change, and I really feel I found that now.”

Sharapova is 9-4 head to head against Ivanovic, but the two split their matches in 2014. Ivanovic pulled out a classic win over Sharapova, 7-5 in the third set of Cincy. Perhaps they will do it again.

“Yeah, I enjoy playing against top players and having these kind of battles, because that’s what you want to test yourself against,” Ivanovic said. “She’s in great form.  Last year we had really close battles, and that match in Cincinnati was actually one of my favorite wins probably because it was really tough match and I managed to save match points and actually win.

“So it’s going to be I think a great tennis for both of us tomorrow to also see the level of the game we are at.  But I look forward to it.”


The Aussie had a good week for the guys, but once they faced the top men the going got too tough. Roger Federer destroyed Aussie James Duckworth 6-0 6-1, and will face Grigor Dimitrov, who cruised Martin Klizan  6-3 6-4. Kei Nishikori was terrific in beating Aussie Bernard Tomic 6-0 6-4, while Milos Raonic overcame the Aussie Samuel Groth 7-6 in the third.

Dimitrov believes he has a good shot against Federer and appears to be very confident. But he actually has to do it, rather than just pretending.

“It’s very close and I am excited against players like him,” Dimitrov said. “I am looking forward to it. It’s not going to be an easy.  I have quite experience now and I have learned every match. I’ve played against him and I like my odds. I have had more wins and performing, more experience of tournaments and at 30-30 or deuce, or you know how to play better, or the structure of the game is different. I am sure he is going to be on the other side.”

New days, happy days as 2015 seasons starts

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – It’s the first day and on the first ready to rock and roll – or we think, that is. Tennis has begun, a fresh new start on brand new courts. It’s the New Year smf everyone is ready to play perfectly. There is hope, there is potential, there are aces one after another.

The players are quite excited in the first tournaments, thinking they can beat anyone. While the top players rarely go down fast and quietly, it can occur, which is exactly what appended on the first day in Brisbane.

On Sunday the young WC Ajla Tomljanovic took down Jelena Jankovic 7-6(6) 6-0. The Croatian – but now to be soon Australian – Tomljanovic was thrilled, but the former No. 1 Jankovic says that she almost retired at the end of last year due to her aching back. (Here’s the full report.) Who would have thunk it?

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Will Sam Stosur ever reign in Australia. Photo by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Then Kaia Kanepi upset No. 13 Andrea Petkovic 6-4 5-7 6-4. Kanepi had won the tournament back in 2012, but she has fallen over the years, very up and down. But, here she is a star again, at least on one day.

“Winning this tournament, I will always remember that, even if I come back here in ten years or doesn’t matter,” the smiling Kanepi said.  “So I still have the feeling, and I feel, I think, better because of that.”

Late at night, Samantha Stosur, of Australia, was very hopeful. She won the US Open four years ago, and was so close at the Roland Garros a few years ago. She can be very, very good when she clicking in, but can she play her best at home Down Under? No, not at all. She is very nice and has the weapons for the most part, but she can panic and that’s what she did. Sam was up 5-1 in the third set against Varvara Lepchenko, but the American began to lock it, and she was very steady. Lepchenko could see that Sam’s eyes were getting glassy. And she did, racing to the net, not knowing why and when she was going. It was obvious she was going to fold. She went down as Lepchenko was very smart and meaningful, winning 4-6 6-4 7-5.

“So, look, 5‑1, match point, you get yourself into that winning position there is not too much you’re doing wrong,” said Sam.  “I don’t feel like I did too much wrong even from that point. I think she played a fantastic last set from that position and absolutely went for it. She obviously had nothing to lose at that point in time, and tonight it all came off for her. I don’t feel like I went away. I kept trying my guts out, and unfortunately I came out on the wrong end.”

If Stosur is really playing well at the most part, everyone will really see how well when she heads to Sydney. She has never won an Australian title, but she did reach two finals, way back in 2005 at Gold Coast and Sydney. She has never reached the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open, but the current world No. 21 has another chance, so perhaps she can finally do it. Perhaps.

While three seeded women went down on Monday, the others who won deserved it and all of them – Tomljanovic, Kanepi and Lepchenko –want to climb up the ladder and are good enough to make runs in the rankings.

Keys has substantial potential.

Keys has substantial potential. Photo by Ron Cioffi/TennisReporters.net.

On Monday, another youngster came to play. The 19-year-old Madison Keys of the US smacked the balls and upsetting Dominica Cibulkova in straight sets. “Domi” reached the Aussie Open final last year, and didn’t play badly, but Keys was on fire, nailing 32 winners and six aces. She has her new coach, the former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, and while it is clear that the coach knows what she is talking about, but Keys can become nervous, or irritated. But as she said later, she is trying to be more consistent and on that day, she was looking calmer and playing smart. As she said, it’s time for her to enter the second week at the Aussie Open.

On Monday, the youngsters and the veterans all looked good. Angelique Kerber beat down Caroline Garcia; Yaroslava Shvedova stunned Sabine Lisicki 0-6 7-5 6-4; another soon-to-be Aussie Daria Gavrilova bested Alison Riske and Jarmila Gajdosova won.

It’s only January 5, but it’s a new day and, on the looks of it, 2015 has a fine start.

Serena’s Calm before a Needed Storm

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Williams has been untouchable since August


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