Muguruza smashes Safarova; Kerber canes Kvitova

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Super-aggressive Muguruza bashes Safarova. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Before the tournament began at the WTA Finals, it looked like every player amongst the top 8 had a real shot to win the title. But reality set in quickly when the more confident competitors won on Sunday – Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova – and on Monday, two players who have been looked intense in Asia, Garbine Muguruza and Angie Kerber, who won their contests.

Muguruza out-muscled Lucie Safarova 6-3, 7-6. The 22-year-old Spaniard has been on fire, winning Beijing, walking without fear and playing very smartly. Safarova has just come back due to a bacteria infection and, while at times she was striking the ball fairly deeply, she wasn’t as powerful as she did during the summer. Anytime she wanted to, Muguruza would attack. She was wasn’t playing perfect, but she was forceful. Both of them are in the doubles at the tournament, too, so they both are very confident at the net, and they can jump all over soft serves.

Muguruza was gutsy, and she was consistently better. She didn’t shake. Right now, she looks like she is super confident, just like in early July, when she was grinning all day, every day, when she reached the final at Wimbledon.

“I love the way she plays and her mentality,” said the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. “She’s a great player and person. It’s excellent.”

Safarova thinks that Muguruza is a “young very, very great player.” But for herself, the Czech isn’t quite there yet. She said that she was a little sad, because in the second set, she was very close, but physically, she wasn’t able to disturb her.

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Angie Kerber won the all-lefty battle.

“I’m slowly back in my game, but of course you need the wins,” Safarova said. Yes she does, when she will have to go up against Petra Kvitova on Wednesday.

The other lefty Czech Kvitova also went down, losing against Angie Kerber 6-2, 7-6. Kvitova had beaten Kerber the last three times they played, all long three-setters, including at the 2013 WTA Finals, and last November, in the Fed Cup final when Kvitova came through 7-6 (5) 4-6 6-4. In Prague, the fans were delirious.

This time on Monday, Kerber was slightly better. The German was more composed, she wanted to engage as many rallies as she could and if Kvitova happened to hit short, Kerber jumped on them. Over the past four years ago, when they both became very good, Kvitova was more courageous, which is why she has won two majors and Kerber has yet to do so. The Czech has a substantially bigger serve and her forehand is more powerful. However, Kerber can be more patient, is faster, can go side-to-side and whack her sharp backhands. When Kvitova gets into a zone, she can out hit anyone, because she absolutely crushes the ball. But, once again, she isn’t feeling right physically and she went down.

“It’s really tough to describe,” Kvitova said about her health. “I was just talking with my fitness coach and I was trying to describe it and it’s very difficult. I mean, it’s just something what I really can’t do anything against. My blood test was not the best one. So I couldn’t really do the one I wanted to be prepared for everything. I felt I wasn’t able to stay in the kind of good rally what she played. I miss so early. From that time I started to hit a little bit harder and I made some mistakes, so it was a little difficult to find a balance like between rallies and winners and some kind of volleys and anything. She still played very good shots out there today, and I am going to try to do my best the next match.”

Kerber has been very effected during the Asian swing, so this time around, she didn’t decide that she could engage a marathon – which she loves to do – but she would be aggressive whenever she could. She also wanted to make sure that she could get the balls back anyway she could. Next up is Muguruza and Kerber will have to change it up, because the Spaniard has her number.

I lost to her in two Grand Slams and also in the Asia swing,” Kerber said. “I’m looking forward to play against her. I will try to take my revenge now and try to go out there to beat her. She had an amazing year. She played unbelievable this year, so it will be for sure a tough match. But at the end I know a little bit how she’s playing. I will try to go for it. That’s for sure.”

Another classic in WTA Final: Sharapova overcomes Radwanska

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - OCTOBER 25 : Maria Sharapova in action at the 2015 WTA Finals

Maria Sharapova in action at the 2015 WTA Finals. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Maria Sharapova and Aga Radwanska have played each other numerous times, and for the most part, they have been fairly tight. But in the end at the WTA Finals, the Russian/American has come through every single contest. All of them have been phenomenally close. Try in 2012, when Sharapova came through 5-7 7-5 7-5 in 3 hours, 12 minutes in Istanbul. In 2014, Radwanska ran side to side, but Sharapova came though again in Singapore, winning in 3 hours, 10 minutes. On Sunday night, when she hasn’t play a full match since Wimbledon, the enthusiastic Sharapova pulled it off, defeating Radwanska 4-6 6-3 6-4 in 2 hours, 47 minutes. Was that too short? Too long?

Even though Radwanska has taken down just about every top competitor, when she is super close, she can back off a little bit. She held two break points at 4-5 in the third set, but when she rushed the net, she landed her volley in the middle of the court and Sharapova launched a lob for a winner. Then the Pole missed a standard forehand long. When Sharapova had her first match point, she blasted a forehand down the line for a winner. Game over. Radwanska can’t figure out how to pull it off.

“Very powerful. Solid player,” said Radwanska, who is now 2-13 head to head against Sharapova. “I think no normally weak points and pretty much everything which is on the same level. She’s really going forward from the first point. So you cannot really step back, because otherwise she’s going to pretty much kill you from every point. That’s why you really have to play aggressive as well from the beginning. As she serving well and first two serves and return she’s really going for it, so the way it is, just not to get back too far and trying have some control as well on the court.”

Sharapova later said that after she was hurt again in the end of September when she played her only match in Wuhan. She could have said OK, my body just won’t be healthy this year and it’s time to shut it down. But she didn’t, went to Europe, had a doctor who worked on her, she got back on the court in LA, and at least on Sunday night, she was moving around pretty quickly.

“I was very determined going into this match. I felt like I was focused and I did everything I could to be ready in the last three weeks,” Sharapova said. “I think it could have been quite easy for me when I was in Wuhan after that match to just contemplate and say, ‘You know what? I’ve had a few frustrating months. Be really easy just to skip this last one.’ But I made my way to Europe to try to get better as fast as I could. Flew back to the United States an, started training, and here I am. I feel like this match, as I look back, I know it’s still a long road to go in this event, but as far as a personal achievement, it’s nice to look back three weeks ago and think I’m glad I did that and got through it and gave myself a chance to play here.”

In the third set, it looked like Sharapova might grow wild. She isn’t fast as Radwanska, but she’s tougher. Look at their forehands and Sharapova’s is substantially better. Plus, over the past five years or so, her legs have become stronger. She rarely becomes too tired. She doesn’t mind coming into the net once and while and she can toss in a drop shot.

“I know we have pretty long ones. I know a lot of you look forward to them,” Sharapova said. “I do, too. I really do enjoy playing against her. I feel like those are some of the matches that I like to watch on TV, when different styles of games clash against each other. Becomes that bit of a cat and mouse game. That’s something that my father talked about so much when I was a young girl. Just have to figure out a way to win no matter how similar or different the games are. I think that combination just creates really good matches between each other. I think the game in the third set, I think it was my first service game to hold to 1‑all, that was a pretty big game. Very physical, a lot of long rallies, and I came through. Even though I hit some doubles, I came through with some aces.”

WTA Finals: Maria Sharapova finally returns, to face improved Aga

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SINGAPORE – Marie Sharapova says that if she manages to play three matches of the Red Group at the WTA Finals at Singapore, she will be happy, especially if she plays reasonably well. The five-time Grand Slam champion has played once since Wimbledon, due to various injuries, and clearly, she has been frustrated. But, the 28-year-old has been around for a long time and she knows that if she can be patient, she will eventually find her way back to top form. If she does, she will shake the rust off and go for her massive shots.

Sharapova has always been a force against Aga Radwanska, whom she will face on Sunday night. However, the Pole is very creative and she has been playing substantially better since the first half of the year, when she was very frustrated. She was pushing the ball frequently, wasn’t going for the lines and wasn’t attacking the net often enough. But, during on the grass season, she figured out what ailed her, mixed her shots, moved forward when she could and, over the past three months, she has rediscovered her shots.

As Radwanska said, she just didn’t want to fold her tent. The former No. 2 wanted to find a way to be back at the WTA Finals once again, and she did. Radwanska knows that she has legitimate shot to upend Sharapova, but even though the Russian will be a little wary given that she won’t be very confident. If the Pole plays very well for at least the first hour, ‘Aga’ will have to jump on her second serves quite a bit.

Back in February at the Fed Cup in Poland, Sharapova just blew Radwanska apart. This time, Radwanska cannot hesitate and must be aggressive. Sharapova is very pleased that her body is feeling much better now, but Radwanska has been playing seemingly every weekend and should grab it in three sets.

Simona Halep will go up against Flavia Pennetta on the first day in the afternoon on Sunday. Halep may not be 100 percent with her sore left ankle, but as she says she is ready to push as hard as she can as it’s the last week of the season. The Romanian played incredibly well in 2014, when she reached the final here at the WTA Finals. She stunned Serena Williams in their first match. But, in the final, the American was then locked in and beat her pants off.

Outside of the majors, on clay and on grass (which were pretty miserable), Halep was substantially better on the hard courts, except when facing Serena, who isn’t playing this tournament. She is so fast; she can zoom up and back and side-to-side, and she can rip both her forehand and backhand. Mentally, if she is in the right space, she can win this tournament. However, she can get angry and frustrated, which is why she can fall off against Pennetta.

The Italian played wonderfully winning the US Open, including when she blitzed Halep in the semifinal. Halep was the favorite, but she folded while Pennetta kept smoking the ball, very deep and true.

In a sense, Pennetta is just happy to be here in Singapore. She will retire after this week. She is as happy as she has ever been. While she will try hard, she isn’t going to go up over the wall and back down again. She just wants to have a great time, and doesn’t want to collapse after battling for three-plus hours. She won’t be nervous at all, while Halep will. It’s really up to the world No. 2 to win or lose, but if Halep gets frustrated early, Pennetta can dance around the court if she out-schools her.

Halep said that she and her coach, Darren Cahill, have yet to decide whether they will continue next year. Cahill knows his stuff inside and out. If Halep is very smart, she should give him a full year and realize how much she can improve.

Speaking of which, Garbine Muguruza said on Saturday that she and her new coach, Sam Sumyk, will continue in 2016. In the White Group, she will face Lucie Safarova on Monday.

Two lefties Petra Kvitova and Angie Kerber will face off on Monday.

Wimbledon: Serena clocks Sharapova, young Muguruza stops Radwanska

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It was inevitable. Maria Sharapova was going to hit the corner as hard as she could, but before she started, she had to return Serena’s massive serves and when she was serving, she had to be very unpredictable. She did not on both accounts.

Once again, Serena Williams thumped past Sharapova 6-2 6-4 to reach the Wimbledon final for the eight time. The 33-year-old Serena was cool, collected and lethal. She did not face a break points, she nailed 13 aces, and she won 86 percent of her first serves (25 of 29, thank you). She broke Sharapova three times. That was enough.

Yes, Sharapova had a few fine moments, but she was not close to being playing perfect, while Serena almost did. Essentially, it is all about why Serena has beaten Sharapova 17 matches in a row: Serena has a much better first and second serves, and Serena reads Sharapova’s serves substantially better. It is simple, but every effective. When Sharapova manages to get into the points it is 50-50, but that isn’t often enough, as she is frequently skidding around and she cannot dictate. Look at her percentage when Sharapova was hitting her second serve on Thursday: try 29 percent (6/21). Ouch and goodbye.

Perhaps someday, she will finally upset Serena, but she has to figure out where exactly Williams tends to go. She has to dash over quickly and get the ball into play and deep. Serena has a very good idea which way Sharapova is serving (such as down the T all the time), but maybe the Russian/American will finally find it. You know, all the so-called Big-4 (Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal) can return the big guys who serve 140-plus and winning those matches. Is it possible for the five-time champion Sharapova be able to return the 120 mph too? Not yet, but she will keep pushing on.

Eventually, a 21 year old was ready to jump up, and that is exactly what Garbine Muguruza did, when he took down Aga Radwanska 6-2 3-6 6-3. Yes, Radwanska could have played better in the third set, but the Spaniard out hit her and she was very intelligent. She knew that the Pole would try to be trick her, but Muguruza kept looking where the opponent was going. She was patient and when she had a legitimate chance, she went for it. She has a big first serve, she can crack her forehand and backhand and she isn’t shy at the net.

Yes, Williams is the favorite for sure, but Muguruza shocked her at the 2014 Roland Garros and Serena bested her in the Aussie Open, but it was three sets. If Muguruza isn’t very nervous, she can push her.

 

 

Wimbledon: Serena knocks down Vika again, Maria stops CoCo

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WIMBLEDON, JULY 7, DAY 8

1-Serena Williams d 23-Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-2 6-3

Azarenka came out firing, blasting her returns, nailing close to the lines and running like a wind. However, Williams knew that she wasn’t quite ready yet, especially with her serves and once she started clubbing, she began to wore her down. Yes, Azarenka kept trying, she kept deep, but she could not break Serena down, as Williams nailed 17 aces and won 80 percent of her first serve, 39 for 49. According to the stats, Williams had 46 winner and only 12 unforced errors, which might be a bit off, but still, she was darn good. When the 20 Grand Slam is on, she is impossible to beat her.

4-Maria Sharapova beat CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3 6-7(3) 6-2

I am not sure why Vandeweghe was upset that Sharapova had a ‘unsporting behavior,’ because regardless, the Russian/US out hit her in the third set. Yes, Vandeweghe has grown up a lot during the past nine day, upsetting four fine players such as Lucie Safarova, but on Centre Court, she was extremely powerful, but she was up and down and needed to be more calm in the big moments. The five-time champion was sloppy in the second set, but in the third set, Sharapova moved forward and was lethal. Sharapova will face Serena; the only time she has ever beaten her at a major, at 2004 Wimbledon. That was a long, long time ago.

13-Aga Radwanska beat 21-Madison Keys 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3

About three weeks ago, Radwanska was finally feeling good again after four months when she was in a panic. But now she knows exactly which way she is going and when she is prepared to go for it. For the smallish Radwanska, her first serve was excellent and she did a terrific job down the middle and extremely very deep. The 20-year-old Keys is getting better and better and she will be heard at the rest of the US Open summer series.

20-Garbine Muguruza beat 15-Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-3

In 1997, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario reached the semis (and final) and that was the only other Spaniard to go deep on grass. But the super-aggressive and fast learner Muguruza overcame the talented Bacsinszky in straight sets. Muguruza hiccupped at the French Open, but this time, she has been touching the line. Radwanska is favored, but the Spaniard moves extremely well and if she isn’t nervous, she can upend the Pole.

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

Federer has hit his stride under the radar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WOMEN

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

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

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

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

Roland Garros Draw, the Women: Will all the top 4, Serena, Sharapova, Halep & Kvitova get through?

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FIRST QUARTER

Top seed Serena Williams may be the favorite, but she has one of the most dramatic draws in memory. She could face the former No. 1 Vika Azarenka in the third round, when the Belarussian has matches against the American in Madrid and she began to shake and lost. Obviously, Serena was more aggressive and she didn’t panic, while Azarenka did. However, Azarenka believes she can come very close against Williams and this time, if they meet each other again she has to hit the lines immediately. Azarenka will be right there again but Serena will nail a few big aces and win it.

Assuming Serena Williams reaches to the fourth round, she could face her sister, Venus, who goes up against Sloane Stephens in the first round. That is a pick-em right there as neither have been played great in the last two months. The younger Stephens did play OK this week in Strasbourg until she got blown out in semis against Sam Stosur, losing 6-0 in the third set. Whether it’s Venus or Stephens, Serena will win but it could be stressful.

Serena might have to play her great friend Caro Wozniacki in the quarters, but the Dane has a long way to go on clay. It could be Andrea Petkovic, Sara Errani or Jelena Jankovic, assuming they are healthy, which is a big if. As Serena says, she struggled last year in Paris and she knows that if she is going to go deep again that she has to be healthly. It won’t be easy, but Serena will make it to the semifnals.

WHO CAN UPSET SERENA WILLIAMS & REACH THE SEMIS?: Caro Wozniacki

SECOND QUARTER

No. 4 Petra Kvitova is the favorite to reach the semis, not because she has been fantastic on red clay, but she played extremely well in Madrid, winning the tournament and running around as fast as she could and keeping the balls inside the box. This won’t be easy though. She might have to face Irina Begu in the third round, who can clock her strokes. She might have to play Madison Keys or Timea Bacsinszky in the fourth round, both of whom who went very deep this year and who won’t be afraid. Keys or Timea Bacsinszky can take out Kvitova, but you have to start very early because once she gets rolling, she is very hard to stop.

If the Czech reached the quarterfinal, it is between anybody’s game. Gene Bouchard is ranked No. 6, but she hasn’t played well all year, with the exception of the Australian Open, when she made it until the quarters. But now, everyone has been able to watch her break down. Yes the Canadian can be very close against Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, but the Frenchwoman can torch her, going strong and deep. The two others, Karolina Pliskova and Svetlana Kuznetsov, are ripped to reach the quarters. While Pliskova has looked very good this year for the most part, but not on clay. Kuznetsova looked spectacular in Madrid and she did win RG back in the day in 2009, so when she is feeling right she can power into the quarters. And then again, Kvtiova was hitting her spots into the corners in Madrid and she will doing it again reaching the semifinals.

WHO CAN UPSET KVITOVA & REACH THE SEMIS?: Svetlana Kuznetsova

THIRD QUARTER

It would be great if No. 7 Ana Ivanovic reaches the semifinals and then the 2008 champion just might recall that she never grew nervous that year. But she was a baby then and now she is thinking that she is deep into her head, especially this year where after she reached Brisbane in the final at the start of the year she became extremely nervous. Here at RG, perhaps the Serbian will make it by the third round but then the Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia will take her out. The No. 31 is not perfect by any means this year but on clay on Paris, she will shine, reaching into the quarters.

But who will face her there? No. 3 Simona Halep, that’s who. Yes, the Romanian was so-so at Madrid and Rome, but she wants to return again into the RG final. Last year not many knew her and she nearly won the tournaments against Maria Sharapova. This time, everyone knows her. She will have to work hard against Alize Cornet in the third round and the same thing against No. 19 Elina Svitolina in the fourth round who will upset No. 14 Aga Radwanska, but she will outlast her to reach the quarterfinals. However, even though Halep can be afraid at the Slams (look at how she stopped at the 2014 US Open and 2015 Australian Open) she will be able to dig deep and run past Garcia to reach the semis.

WHO CAN UPSET HALEP & REACH THE SEMIS?: Caroline Garcia

FOURTH QUARTER

Can anyone else knock out the top 4 and reach the semis? Nope, although everyone is vulnerable. The defending champion Maria Sharapova will face a tough draw. She has to open against the huge server Kaia Kanepi, but she isn’t fast enough. Yes, Sam Stosur has been very tough at Roland Garros, once reaching the French final, but she will have to play lights out to stun the Russian/American. Sharapova knows how she will hurt Lucia Safarova on her backhand in the fourth. In the quarterfinal, Sharapova knows she will have to mix up her shots in order to win. In all probability, she will face Carla Suarez-Navarro in the quarters, but who really knows as the Spaniard might have to play against Flavia Pennetta in the third round and possibly go up against her fellow countrymen Garbine Muguruza or the German Angie Kerber (who beat Sharapova at Stuttgart). All of those four love clay and thrive on it. If Sharapova has a bad day, she can fall against the Spaniards, the German or the Italian, but Sharapova has reached Roland Garros in the final in 2012 (d. Errani), 2013 (l. Serena) and 2014 (d. Halep) and she knows exactly what is coming. She will reach the semifinal again and handily.

WHO CAN UPSET SHARAPOVA & REACH THE SEMIS:: Carla Suarez-Navarro

 

 

 

Notes on a a Draw Sheet: Djokokic, Sharapova win Rome, but are they now ready for Roland Garros?

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MAY 17- Novak Djokovic won another huge tournament, beating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3 to win Rome. It was close in the first set, but the Serbian was almost perfect again, virtually not making errors, moving his service all around the box, out-hitting his backhand crosscourt and cracking his forehand.

The 33-year-old Federer looked pretty good too, but even though he mixed it up, he could tell that Djokovic was not going to make any serious errors and he would have to be near-perfect. He could not and in the second set, you could tell that Federer was not confident enough and he couldn’t not raise his level and sore way up high into the sky and out last him. The Swiss knows that Djokovic is better than anyone now and the rest of the field have to wait until he falls down.

Will that occur next week when Roland Garros begins? No one really knows, but that we do know is that Djokovic has never won Paris and at some point he will become nervous. Can he take a deep breath and feel good about himself and play outstanding? Perhaps, but if he plays Federer again when ‘Rog’ beat Novak in 2011 in the semis, we all knew that it’s 3 out of 5 sets, not 2 out of 3 sets, and everyone can be shaky, just like Djokovic did.

Last year, the same thing happened when Djokovic faced Rafa Nadal in the final and the Spaniard had much more depth and variety. Djokovic has looked substantially better up until right now, but in Paris, it’s a new tournament, new stories and new questions. Will he be asked whether he won’t be nervous when the heat is on? We will hear Djokovic’s answer very soon.

Maria Sharapova took a deep breath after she won the tournament in Italy, besting Carla Suarez-Navarro 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the final. She was up and down during the first two sets, and Suarez was quite confident with her heavy topspin, but at 5-5, Sharapova gritted her teeth, swung super hard and won eight straight points to win the second set. Then she was on-fire and won the third set quickly. Remember when Sharapova played Simona Halep at 4-4 in the third set at 2014 Roland Garros? She smoked eight points and won the title. Same thing. Deep inside she was ready to raise up and she did.

Now Sharapova is confident again, which means that outside of Serena Williams, who has owned her for many years, she is the favorite. Sharapova is now ranked No. 2, so she and Serena cannot meet until the final. The Russian/American will be pleased that she and Serena won’t be playing on the same days and stare at each other when they are walking past the locker room.

Sharapova is happy after winning Rome, after she was unable to grab another title since the beginning of the start of the year in Brisbane. Then, Maria thought she could have a great season. Perhaps after winning Italy, she will punch out everyone again, if she did last week, when she was moving inside the court and blasting winners time and time again. However, the 5-time Grand Slam champion has never won a major back to back. Maybe she can pull it off at Roland Garros, but she will have to start quickly so she doesn’t doubt her confidence.

The other women

Suarez had another fine tournament and now she is ranked No. 8. By all rights, she should reach the quarterfinals and hopefully she won’t have to play Williams and Sharapova, but she will be very happy taking on No. 3 Halep or No. 4 Petra Kvitova, whom she beat both in Rome.

Outside of the top 4 as well as Suarez, it’s so hard to figure out who has been playing very well on clay. Almost no one. You have to think that a few of the kids can go deep in Paris such as Madison Keys, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Garcia. Perhaps Karolina Pliskova, Timea Bacsinszky and Zarina Diyas, but who else? …Amongst the veterans, there are a few who have looked well over the past couple months, even if they were sporadic like Andrea Petkovic, Angie Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka, who has looked tremendous at times, but she did not look confident when she lost to Sharapova…Three US women were close to be seeded in the top 32, but they couldn’t get there. CoCo Vandeweghe is ranked No. 33, Varvara Lepchenko is No. 34 and Madison Brengle is No. 36. Hopefully they will have decent seeds on the first round.

The other men 

There will be volumes of Nadal next week, trying as to why the 14-time Grand Slam champion has been struggling all year. Obviously, he is not stroking the ball correctly, which is why for the first time ever, he is making errors from both his forehand and backhand. Perhaps he will shake it off soon, or his coach and uncle Toni will figure why he is flying long or he is too short. As Rafa Nadal said, he isn’t sure when he will be 100% during the next couple of months, but that may not happen in Paris. If he cannot, then all he can do is to grind against the lesser players, but when he goes up against the major competitors then he will have to take risks because one thing is for sure, the rest of the players know he is vulnerable and they are licking their chops.

A couple months ago, who would have thought that No. 3 Andy Murray would win a major tournament on clay for the first time (he won Madrid) and Tomas Berdych is ranked No. 4 for the first time? Murray has an outside chance to win Roland Garros, but while Berdych has been solid against the men outside of the top 10, he hasn’t been able to knock out the Big 4, except upsetting Nadal.  Outside of the Big 4 (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are the favorites once again, but who else has a real chance to reach the final? Ok, fine, Berdych can, but not if he faces Djokovic or Federer. Kei Nishikori, but this year he has been a little short against the top players. David Ferrer never gets tired and he is very steady, but he is not powerful enough. Here are some other men, veterans or youngsters, who could reach in the semis, as long as they start hit early: Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, John Isner, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Nick Kyrgios…Two US guys were close to reaching the top 32: Jack Sock who is No. 36, and Sam Querrey, who is ranked No. 38.

 

The Pick, Rome, May 16: Djokovic vs. Ferrer, Federer vs Wawrinka, Halep vs. Suarez, Sharapova vs. Gavrilova

wawrinka 2012 rg

1-Novak Djokovic vs. 7-David Ferrer

The so-called youngsters are gone again, and the veterans have reached the semifinals. Novak Djokovic overcame Kei Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-1, and David Ferrer beat David Goffin 6-2 4-6 6-3. Now the 33-year-old Ferrer will try and figure out how the Serbian will attack him. Djokovic has won their last eight matches. But, at the very least, Ferrer is 3-2 head to head on clay, so he can recall when he frustrated him and has a decent chance.

Djokovic has had to fight in three sets, three times this week, when he was a little off at times. However, by the third set, he was more consistent, locked in both on his forehand and backhand and threw in some gorgeous drop shots.

If Ferrer is going to allow Djokovic to charge early and often then the Spaniard will become frustrated and become erratic. Ferrer prefers to engage in long points, parking in the left corner and whacking on his gigantic forehand. He will go to the right, left and down to the middle way deep. He is very muscular and he is pretty fast even though he has aged.

The problem is that Ferrer is more predictable, he can’t handle with Djokovic’s super-sharp backhand cross court and he can’t back him off with his serves, which are good, but not great. Ferrer has been playing pretty well during the past two weeks and he realizes that he will have to be aggressive. But Djokovic has a darn good idea exactly what he has to do and he will win in straight sets.

2-Roger Federer vs. 8-Stan Wawrinka

These two are good buddies but when they come on court against each other they are extremely intense. The Swiss’ don’t get mad at each other, but they can get upset if they aren’t playing perfectly.

Federer has won just about everything, except he has never won Italy. The 17-time Grand Slam has reached the final three times, but he was stopped. The 33-year-old  just wants to play as well as he can. On Friday Federer looked very good, easily taking down Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-3.

On paper, Federer should be able to best Wawrinka, whom he is 15-2 head to head. Obviously, he has been better than he has since they started in 2005. He has beat him in clay, hard courts and grass. Federer has tremendous variety, his forehand is the best of all time and these days he likes to come into the net more.

Wawrinka has improved a lot over the past two years. By working hard he’s improved his fitness, forehand and serve. Last year, the 2014 Australian Open champion nearly upsetFederer 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) at the Barclay’s ATP World Final, one of the most exciting matches of the year. Stan nearly won it and had some real chances, but Federer stood tall and came through.

Here on clay, this contest will be very close again. Wawrinka didn’t show any nerves of upsetting Rafa Nadal 7-6(7) 6-2 on Friday. He was cracking his phenomenal one-handed backhand, he jumped on his returns and he was able to control his heavy forehand. Can he do it again? Sure he can, if he doesn’t become confused and take too many risks. He must be patient. Just like in 2014 Monte Carlo, Wawrinka upset Federer. This time, he will do it on clay again, winning in three sets.

2-Simona Halep vs. 10-Carla Suarez Navarro

This should be a terrific contest, as they have played nine times, with the 23-year-old Halep having grabbed five wins, and the 26-year-old has snared four wins – three times on clay. The Spaniard grew up on the dirt and loves it and while Halep has risen up quickly over the past two years, Suarez believes she can snare it. Halep knows that her foe will grind it all day long, mixing it up and running for hours.

However, Halep can do the same and she can out hit her with her lightning backhand.Interestingly, the last time they faced off on clay was at 2013 Roland Garros in the first round, won by Suarez. Neither was in the top 10 back then. In fact, Halep was ranked No. 64, and she wasn’t ready against the big girls yet.

A few weeks later, she was ready to roll and she rose quickly. Halep crushed Alexandra Dulgheru in the quarters, but Suarez took out Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-2. Obviously, Halep looked good, but that was a substantial victory by Suarez over the No. 4 Kvitova who had won Madrid. It wouldn’t be surprising if Halep won, because she out-hit her at Indian Wells in three sets in March, But on clay, Suarez will feel her touch and upend the Romanian in three sets.

3-Maria Sharapova vs. Daria Gavrilova

In Miami, Gavrilova stunned Sharapova in the first round. Clearly, Sharapova was hurt and she was extremely erratic, but nonetheless the 21-year-old was gutsy and aggressive when the most important points came. Being able to reach the semifinal here shows she can really play. She might be short, but she is super fast and can crack the ball.

However, Sharapova loves the clay now and she was lethal and beating Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in the quarters. When the Russian is playing that well against the former No. 1, you know that she is very confident. Credit to Gavrilova for being here and upsetting Sharapova the last time, but the five-time champion wants revenge and she will crush the youngster in straight sets.

Who is dominating the WTA? Serena Williams, Sharapova, anyone?

Serena IW 15 TR MALT1138

 

Plus Wozniacki vs. Azarenka in Italy

After January ended, it looked like the WTA’s two top women, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, would go on and on, winning titles and still believing they could cruise on hard courts, clay and grass. But not anymore.

Serena won the Australian Open while Sharapova won Brisbane, as well as reaching the final at the Aussie, which was close. The 28-year-old won both of matches for Russia defeating Poland at the Fed Cup.

But after that, things changed, right up until now in Rome.

Ms. Williams won a match in Fed Cup in Argentina before she got sick. She went to Indian Wells, returning for the first time since 2001, playing pretty darn well but then she was injured and pulled out before the semifinal against Simona Halep. A couple weeks later, she played Miami and overcame Halep in the semis (in a terrific match) and then blitzed Carla Suarez-Navarro. Serena was all good again.

She signed up to play Fed Cup once again and she played her heart out against the Italians and won both of her singles, but in the doubles she and Alison Riske lost quickly. She did not play Stuttgart and last week, Williams fought very hard, somehow besting over Vika Azarenka 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-6 (1). A few days later she finally lost, falling to Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in the semis.

But does that matter and is Serena vulnerable? Perhaps not, and these days she is the favorite here in Rome and in a week and half at Roland Garros. But she is not unbeatable. Why?

Two things: one because last year against Garbine Muguruza in Paris, she was smoked 6-2, 6-2 and the second she walks on court, she will be thinking about it, which could maker her nervous; secondly, while Serena had not lost when she has played an entire match since August in Cincinnati until last week in Madrid, she has retired against Wuhan and withdrew from Beijing and Indian Wells. That matters. When Williams is feeling fine physically, she can wipe out her opponents when she is on. But when she is hurt, well, that is where she could be in trouble. She is 33 years old, you know…

Sharapova has sputtering now, too. She withdrew at Acapulco before the semis because she was sick, she lost in early at Indian Wells against Flavia Pennetta, she shouldn’t have played in Miami because her leg was bruised and she lost to Daria Gavrilova. She pulled out of Fed Cup, tried at Stuttgart but lost to Angie Kerber in three long sets. On Madrid, she played much better overcoming Caroline Garcia and Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost to Sveta Kuznetsova in the semis and while the other Russia was impressive, Maria was sporadic.

No. 3 Sharapova is the Roland Garros champion and she badly wants to win it again, but first things first: she has to beat everyone in Rome (except against Serena, who owns her) to hone her strokes perfectly, fine and true. If she doesn’t, it will be difficult to win a Slam back to back, which the five-time champion have yet to do.

Here is the cool thing on the WTA: no one knows where the wind blows. No. 2 Halep had looked excellent on hard courts beginning in February, winning Dubai and Indian Wells, but she has faltered on clay, losing early at Stuttgart and Madrid. No. 4 Kvitova looked ready to win another major after snagging Sydney, but then she fell fast and didn’t begin to strike the ball inside the lines until last week and she won Madrid.

Everyone wants to rise and most of the top 20 have had at least a week or better, such as Wozniacki, Bouchard (yes, she’s been quiet for a while but she did reach the quarters at the Aussie Open), Ivanovic, Makarova, Petkovic, Kerber and Pliskova, etc. This week in Rome, someone will play fantastic and come very close to winning it, or grabbing it. Some of the others will lose early and dash to Paris.

On the first day Sunday May 24 at Roland Garros, everyone will dream a sweet dream and envision of raising the trophy. But right now, who is a gigantic favorite? Nobody knows.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Victoria Azarenka, May 13, Wednesday, Rome

This is pretty simple, even though it is an extremely important match: if the Dane has a real chance, she was to move forward quickly or for the third time this year, she will go down quickly. Azarenka dictated her shots from the beginning to the end, out-hitting her forehand, putting away balls at the net and dare her to kiss the lines with her backhand. Wozniacki has beaten Azarenka before on hard courts and knows how to frustrate her, but this is clay and she has admitted that she isn’t confident there. This year, she has to do things differently. Wozniacki has to be patient but when her opponent drops the ball short, she has to rush ahead and attack immediately. Caro’s backhand is by far her best shot so she has to crush it down the lines, crosscourt and very deep down the middle.

Let’s assume that Wozniacki plays the first set brilliantly, but then Azarenka will pound it with her better forehand, win the second set, and in the third set, one would stay true and the other will panic. Azarenka was off on Tuesday, and she won’t play well again. Wozniacki will win in three sets.