Time to get it back and fast for Raonic

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Milos Raonic has been oh-so-close to winning a major. He is very tall, can knock off his massive first serves with aces and nail gigantic forehands for winners. He is “only” 24 years old, so he is still relatively young, but it is time now, and he played the right way to upset Kei Nishikori 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4) in the semis.

Raonic was very happy that he reached the final and guess who would meet there? The 17 Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer, who blew out Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-2.

nishikori 2012The world No 5 Nishikori was slightly better than the No. 8 Raonic last year. The Japanese was a bit more consistent, and went a little better deep into the big tournaments. Nishikori was faster, smarter and more confident, which is why, for example, that he overcame Raonic in five sets in the fourth round at the US Open. Nishikori kept on battling, eventually reaching the final where he went down to Marin Cilic. Nishikori then played Raonic in a couple more weeks, besting the Canadian, 6-4 in the final. Raonic was very close, but when he came into the crunch time, Nishikori ran around and went side to side, knowing that he could eventually out thought him.

But on Saturday in Brisbane, Raonic didn’t back off. Yes, he knows that Nishikori is substantially faster and has a more powerful backhand, but he served up huge and didn’t’ allow Nishikori to break him.

He lost the first set in a tiebreak, won the second set in a tiebreak and then went into the third. We all knew they were going to the tiebreak again. There was not other way.

Raonic could push the balls around and hope, but he didn’t. This time, he went for the balls early and often. He leapt as hard as he could with his forehands, winning with the contest when he crushed it into the corner 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4).

“I felt like we both played really well,” Milos said. “The level of tennis was very high, especially the beginning. I felt I served really well. That’s held me around, especially in the beginning, because I felt he was getting more and more on top of me at the beginning from the baseline. That sort of kept me in it and sort of gave me a chance, and then I was able to create some opportunities in the beginning of the second. After that, it was pretty much straightforward holding from both of us. I felt like with my serve I put a lot of pressure on opponents in tiebreaks, and I was able to use that.”

Now Raonic has to go up against Federer, who he has beaten him only one time, in Paris last year. Federer has a 7-1 head to head, four ATP World Tours and two Grand Slams, in 2013 Australian Open in the fourth round in straight sets, and in 2014 Wimbledon in the semis, when Federer won 6-4 6-4 6-4. He absolutely has to find out away he can get some solid returns. Plus, he has nail one after another.

“I got to serve well,” Raonic said. “That’s always been a key. Last few matches I started poorly. I would get broken right in my first service game, which is not the way to really go about things, especially against a top player and especially against Roger. So I got to keep that pressure on him and then sort of step up when I can create my opportunities. I think that’s a good.”

Raonic didn’t spend much of the off-season, or much of a vacation either. He did go for six days on a beach vacation but after four or five days he was ready to go back.

“I wanted to get back into things,” he said. “I had a lot of things that I wanted to do more than I did in 2014, so I wanted to get back in the swing of

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?

Stosur MALT7761

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.

King again for the day: Hewitt downs Federer to win Brisbane


Lleyton grabbed his first crown in two and half years


BRISBANE – Some 15 years ago, at the tender age 16, a flying Lleyton Hewitt won the title in his home town of Adelaide, stunning Andre Agassi in semis. He eventually won two Grand Slam titles and reached the No.1 ranking, but coming into the 2014 Brisbane International, he looked nothing like the player he was back then.

Yes, he is still scrappy and when his body is feeling right, he fights like hell, but he has had to reconstruct a large part of his game just to be competitive. In his 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory over Roger Federer to win his first title in Queensland and his first ATP crown in three and half years, Hewitt did not merely counterpunch and attempt to grind the Swiss down.

He certainly was very steady, but he also consistently attacked the Swiss with a varied first serve, bullet returns, deep backhands and sharp forehands. Without question, the Swiss was way off in the first set and looked half asleep framing one shot after another, but it was Hewitt’s relentless attack that suffocated him.

“For the first set I was seeing the ball like a football<’ Hewitt said. “It didn’t matter where he served it, I was on it. I felt great out there.”

But Federer did not quickly fade way in the second set and dug in.  Serving at 3-4, he pushed himself forward, cracking three big forehands, approaching the net and nailing an overhead winner, no small feat considering that Hewitt had launched some gorgeous topspin lobs prior to that that invoked hesitation.

He finally broke the Australian to 5-4 with a sharp chip crosscourt and then played his best game of the match in holding at love to win the second set 6-4.

While the Aussie group The Fanatics were quite loud sitting courtside cheering for their native man, the Federer fans erupted after their guy won the second set and at least at that moment it appeared that the foreign player was the more popular one in Pat Rafter Stadium.

But not for long.

Federer had chances early in the third set, but couldn’t not break Hewitt in two marathon games. The 17-time Slam champ debuted a new 98-inch racket this week, but his backhand was weak for the most part and he went to his slice on too many occasions, often floating them instead of keeping them low and making sure they bit hard.

Hewitt was called for a couple foot faults during the set and argued with chair umpire Mohammed Lahyani about it, saying that his foot was not dragging across the line and that it was actually in the air ( ‘I’m telling you it’s wrong, mate!’ ) be he kept calm and it was clear that he knew that he was deep into Federer’s game.

Serving at 1-2, Federer flew a forehand long and was broken and from then on, all he realty did  was sweat and strain and he never could string together enough points to hurt the Aussie again, despite the fact that he had won 16 of their last 17 matches coming into the contest.

Federer did hold a break point in the seventh game and charged the net and even though he anticipated another Hewitt topspin lob and pedaled backward, the Aussie hung one high and deep and Federer shanked it off the top of his frame, way long.

Hewitt had not won a title since 2010 Halle and has had trouble closing out matches over the past few years, but he did not on a sticky afternoon in Brisbane, ending the contest when he clubbed an inside out forehand winner,  forced Federer into a return error with a sharp serve and then on match point, he hit a deep forehand that Federer dumped into the net with his backhand.

Former No. 1 Federer was not thrilled with on Sunday, but was pretty pleased with how his body held up playing singles and doubles and how his form is coming along.

“I played consistent,” he said. “I didn’t play great today which is a bit unfortunate, but also Lleyton was the best player I played this week.  He made it toughest on me.  So I have a clear idea what I need to work on, and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is that. I’m very hungry and eager to attack the Australian Open next week… I think I can play very well.  Depends on how I play more than anything right now. I think I was able to sort of serve better overall, more consistent this week than I have in a long time.  So that’s very good…I definitely needed a little bit more confidence to play well and hopefully win the tournament.”

If Brisbane ends up being the last title of the 32-year-old Hewitt’s career it would be a perfect Aussie bookend to his Adelaide triumph,  but he has no intention of stopping there. Winning the Aussie Open would be a stretch, but a run to the second week would feel very good indeed.

“It means a lot with the caliber of players here,” Hewitt said. “Look at the start of the week.  It’s not an easy tournament to win.  I wasn’t one of the top four seeds, so I had to win all five matches to get through.  Roger only had to play four to win it here. There are pleasing parts and massive positives to take out of it…A lot [of my Australian Open] depends on draws and how I play.  I’m not looking at what round or whatever.  I go out there an I’ll compete exactly the same as I’ve competed here this week.  If I play like I did this week, then I have a chance of doing some damage against serious players.”

ATP Team of the Day

Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Daniel Nestor had a fine team debut and won the title by besting Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-7. Nestor will play with his old partner, Nenad Zimonjic, at the Australian Open


WTA Team Of the Day

Canada’s Sharon Fichman and American partner Maria Sanchez won their first title together, upsetting third seeds  Lucie Hradecka and Michaella Krajicek to win Auckland.

Salute of the Day

Hewitt gave a heartfelt acceptance speech thanking Federer for helping the tournament break an attendance record with 105,730 fans coming through the gate.


Sharapova vs. Serena 17: No love lost, but Serena won’t make off court jabs

sharapova serena nike 13

Sharapova wants to mute her off court conflict with Williams.

BRISBANE: –  Maria Sharapova can be a very self-reflective person, but talking about her history against a woman who has all but dominated her and whom she does not get along with off court are not subjects she wants to ponder publicly.

On Thursday after her three-set win over Kaia Kanepi, she was asked a series of questions about Serena Williams, whom she will face in the semis, and she wouldn’t go into depth with any of them. She didn’t want to talk about whether she had made up ground on Williams in 2013 when she pushed her both at Miami and Roland Garros in losses. She didn’t want to talk about whether she has watched tape of her two wins against Williams, which occurred back in 2004 at Wimbledon and Miami. She didn’t want to talk about their 2005 Australian Open semifinal, which is perhaps the best match they contested when Williams tipped her 8-6 in the third set in a contest the Russian had huge chances in.

And she certainly did not want to talk about her off court relationship with Williams, which has largely been a negative throughout their long careers, even though she has done so in the past and recently told the New York Times Chris Clarey that “On the court, I have the utmost respect for her; I really do. [Off the court] it’s different…”

As Sharapova herself said in defending her comments made at Wimbledon when she was went after Williams for allegedly making comment  about her  in Rolling Stone, ‘everyone’ in the tennis industry knows they don’t get along.  They are the two biggest women’s athletes in the world by a long shot, they play the same sport and both have type-A personalities. It would unusual if they were close.

Sharapova  wants to book to be closed on her comments regarding Williams’s alleged romantic relationship with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, even though she won’t apologize for them. Serena has claimed to have apologized to Sharapova for the comments made to Rolling Stone. Sharapova certainly felt like she was aiming at her and her boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov when Serena was quoted as saying “ if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

Sharapova says that she is an open book when it comes to her feelings and for the most part she is, but she also feels like she is the one making the calls on closing the book when she feels like the issue should be put to bed.

Unfortunately for Sharapova,  that not how the media world works, even if she says, as she did on Thursday: “I thought it was really important to clear the air, and I think I said everything I had to say about it.”

She might want the issue to die, but not when she is about to face Serena in another match, and not when the bone of contention was over and her rival’s respective  romantic relationships. These type of disputes don’t settle easily.

Are they capable of being cordial to each other? Perhaps on occasion. Can they ever be BFFs? No.

“It’s very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you’re so competitive,” Serena said. “But I don’t have a problem with anyone.  I get along with everyone.  I have respect for people not only on the court but as well as off the court.  I don’t have any problem when it comes to anything like that.  I don’t take jabs or anything.  I am who I am and I don’t hide anything. I’m totally fine.”

Within their so-called rivalry, she is more than fine, owning a 14-2 edge over Sharapova. They have played one classic before in Australia, in the 2005 Australian Open semis, when coming off two losses to Sharapova in 2004, Serena fought off three match points down 5-4 in the third set and took the contest 2-6 7-5 8-6. She eventually went on to win the title.

Sharapova has no good recall of the match, or at least that’s what she said  on Thursday, but Serena did:

“I remember a forehand inside out.  That’s all I remember.  I was down match point and I hit this winner and I didn’t even blink.  I hit the a winner and walked right to the other side and was ready for the next return as if it was just a 30‑15 point. It was pretty amazing.”

Yes it was and she hasn’t lost to Sharapova since then, winning their next 12 matches. Even  though four-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova is dangerous to anyone on any given day, she has always claimed that Williams brings her A-plus game again her. Time and time again, that game has proven better than what Sharapova brings to the table and unless Williams’ level drops, it is likely that they American will march into the final. In her 6-3, 6-3 win over Dominika Cibulkova on Thursday, Williams looked better than Sharapova did in 4‑6, 6‑3, 6‑2 over Kaia Kanepi.

Sharapova has only contested three matches since Wimbledon due to shoulder injury and while her level was fairly high in her win over the Estonian Kanepi, it was not at a level that she’ll need against Williams, which would be a near perfect one.

“There is no substitute for getting ready for at Grand Slam competing against the best,” Sharapova said. “She’s been on a roll the lost couple of years with her level and the way that she’s been able to play.  I’ve competed against her a few times last year; didn’t work. You always hope that you can go out and give yourself a chance to do better next time.You’re going up against a great champion that’s playing great tennis at the moment.  You know that you have to raise your level in order to beat her.  That’s the excitement you feel, is you know have you to step up on the line and expect yourself to raise that level.”

Injury of the day

It did not occur in Brisbane but in Perth at the Hopman Cup when former top 10 player Flavia Pennetta’s retired down 4-0  to Eugenie Bouchard in the first set with a right wrist injury, the same body part that she has surgery on in 2012.

“I don’t know. This wrist is crazy. It’s coming, some pain, from nothing,” Pennetta said. “I think it was what I had to do, to try and go on the court and at least I was thinking maybe with some warm up it will get better but it was not like this. “I will have some treatment, some reforming and try to, maybe don’t play for one or two days to help because I think it’s more something, inflammation, it’s not like a tear or ligament, I mean I had all my ligament already operated, so hope it’s nothing worse.”

Development of the Day

Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou is not only pleased with Williams play but that of Jeremy Chardy who has reached the ATP quarters in Brisbane. Another player he has been working with, Peng Shuai, has made progress at the tournament in Shenzhen.

What to Watch for, Friday

Roger Federer is playing doubles with Nicolas Mahut in Brisbane and they took down Grigor  Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy 11-9 in a match tiebreak to reach the semis. Federer has clear shot at a singles & doubles double in Brisbane. If he manages the feat, it would be the first time that the Swiss has won singles and doubles titles at the same tournament since 2005 Halle when he partnered with Yves Allegro.


Brisbane Day 3: Serena ankle deep in injury fears

Serena 2012 Aussie

Serena is hoping that her legs stay healthy


BRISBANE:  After her scrappy and somewhat scratchy 6-4, 6-4 victory over Andrea Petkovic in her opening match of her 2014 campaign at the Brisbane International on Tuesday, Serena Williams has won 91 of her last 95 matches dating back to loss to Angelique Kerber at 2012 Cincinnati. In that stretch, she has been more dominant than two great males, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Clearly, she does not have a rival as good as those two do when considering how evenly matched the Spaniard and Serb are. But while the ATP’s Big 4 (which also includes Andy Murray and Roger Federer) is certainly more impressive and more accomplished than the WTA ‘s other top 3 players are, the women’s tour has far more depth, and it’s not like Williams can cruise to victory when she has to face top drawer competitors with hefty resumes like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka own. Both are in the Brisbane field, as are players like Petkovic, a former top 10 player who when in good health is very fast, has hard and deep groundies and a bullet return,

But returning serve against the woman who clearly owns the hardest and most accurate serve of all time? That’s a big ask, especially in the clutch. Petkovic hung with her from the baseline at times, but Williams showed more variety there, whipping short angled groundstrokes to pull the German off the court and then powering balls down the line. Williams later said that this was the type of match at she wanted:  a stern test a again a very good player when she knew she would have to play at a high level from the first ball. So she was quite satisfied with the win.

“It was an intense match, which was really good,” the 32-year-old said.

In the past two years in Australia, Williams has suffered ankle injuries that dashed her dream of winning a sixth Aussie Open crown. In 2012 she twisted her ankle in Brisbane and couldn’t move in an upset at the hands of Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne. Last year, she ended Brisbane healthy and with a title but then hurt her ankle at the Australian Open and eventually went down to Sloane Stephens.

So on Tuesday afternoon on Pat Rafter Arena, Williams had her ankle strapped high and tight. She admitted that the potential of another injury is in her head.

“I put extra wraps on them today,” she said. “ I told my physio, Let’s do some extra ones.  I don’t want anything to happen.  Please.  I think it is [mental].  But at the same time, definitely wasn’t mental when I took those falls and my ankle was like this big.  I just don’t want that anymore.”

Subscribers get daily emails which today also include more on this story, and reports on Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios


Brisbane Report, day 2: Vika invokes “Girl Power’

azarenka new team

From left, Azarenka’s longtime manager Meilen Tu, her new physio Stephanie Turpin, a friend in Thailand, Azarenka, and new fitness trainer Christa Pryor


BRISBANE:  Belarussian Victoria Azarenka has been Ms. Australia during the past two seasons, winning back-to-back titles at the country’s Grand Slam. In 2012, she came of age by devastating Maria Sharapova for the crown, which keyed her ascent to the No. 1 ranking. She became the second player of her generation to hold up one of her sport’s biggest trophy, following Petra Kvitova, who win Wimbledon in 2011. She surpassed her then good friend Caroline Wozniacki by reaching No. 1 and winning a major, something the Dane has yet to do. She left another member of her generation, Dominika Cibulkova in the dust, and then after winning her second major at the 2013 Australian Open, eclipsed Kvitova (whom she hasn’t played since 2011), as the tall and powerful Czech has been  unable to win another major due or reach No. 1 to her often poor health and erratic play.

Azarenka is a tough, in-your-face sort who is an interesting character and is endearing to some, but she can ignite controversy. That’s what occurred last year in Melbourne when some accused her of gamesmanship in her semifinal win over Sloane Stephens when she took a medical timeout at a critical moment in the contest. She was not penalized severely on court, but off the court; she was put through the ringer. She faced the music the day before the final, meeting the press head on while at the same time her coach, Sam Sumyk, called some critics vultures.

Subscribers get daily emails which today include more on this story as well as Roger Federer’s thoughts on his new racket and more…



TR Insider, Brisbane 2014, Day 1: Sharapova on Sven

sharapova groeneveld


FROM THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL: Four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova hasn’t played match since early August and arrived in Brisbane with two new team members, coach Sven Groeneveld and physio Jerome Bianchi. Sharapova split with her coach of two and half years , Thomas Hogstedt, right after Wimbledon and then had a briefly experiment with former No. 1 Jimmy Connors, which didn’t work out for a few reasons, one because they had had a different idea of which style  she should play, and two, because she was so upset that her shoulder was aching that she couldn’t listen to anyone.

Groeneveld has worked with a slew of top players including Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, and  Andy Murray, among others. The Dutchman seems to suit Sharapova personality as he is calm, well mannered and smart. She is already impressed and is optimistic about their future..

“From the first time we met I really liked what he had to say,” Sharapova said of Groeneveld. “ He came in as a very experienced person, player.  He started from the very beginning of the game, and one of the things I’ve always liked in a coach is when he coached against me ‑ and he’s been there for many years coaching against me ‑ and I like when someone comes in and is honest and truthful and says it like it is.He’s that.  He puts it all out on the table.

Subscribers get daily emails which today include Sharapova talking about her boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov, Caroline Wozniacki’s troubling pull out, Victoria Azarenka return to the site of “Pedicure Gate” and more


Murray gets tough in downing Dimitrov for Brisbane title


Murray is a  master return of server

Murray is a master return of server

By Matt Cronin

BRISBANE – In a little more than a week