Australian Open picks for Monday, January 19

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

Rod Laver Arena

3-Simona Halep v Karin Knapp

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

5-Ana Ivanovic v Lucie Hradecka

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

kerber 2013 pre champs

Kerber should get by Begu.

3-Rafa Nadal v Mikhail Youzhny

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

2-Roger Federer d Lu Yen-hsun

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

2-Maria Sharapova v Petra Martic

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

Margaret Court Arena

Jarmila Gajdosova v Alexandra Dulgheru

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

6-Andy Murray v Yuki Bhambri

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

9-Angelique Kerber v Irina-Camelia Begu

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

7-Eugenie Bouchard v Anna-Lena Friedsam

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

Nick Kyrgios v Federico Delbonis

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

Hisense Arena

32-Belinda Bencic v Julia Goerges

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

28-Sabine Lisicki v Kristina Mladenovic

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

Bernard Tomic v Tobias Kamke

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

Sam Groth v Filip Krajinovic

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

Sydney: Great tournaments, but dropping like flies

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY — The historic venue has had quite the past three days. Who wouldn’t want to come to Sydney? It’s one of the most attractive cities in the world. A gorgeous beach, the harbors, the restaurants, music, drinks – oh and some fine tennis courts, which date back to 1885.

Unfortunately, the tournament is the week before the Australia Open and that hurts.

Yes, the 2000 Olympic site is problematic because it’s way outside the city, but so what: if you love tennis, then find your way out there. Yes, the tournament needs improving and it is, but if you want to watch some excellent players, and then go out, sit down, and enjoy the players bashing away.

But the problem now is that many of top players are very wary about how they feel before the Australian Open. Two weeks prior, some of the top players will go all out to win a tournament, thinking that they will have a week of practice before Melbourne starts.

venus_mt_uso_082813

Venus on the rise. Photos by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Take Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic — all reached the final of Brisbane and fought as hard as they could. The same goes for Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, and David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych in Doha. They all reached the finals. How about Stan Wawrinka in Chennai and Simon Halep in Shenzhen? They both won.

By Tuesday in Sydney, they were dropping like flies.

Federer and Lleyton Hewitt came out to play an exo in downtown in Sydney and that is just fine. Wozniacki, however, retired in her first match as her left wrist was painful. Halep had a sore stomach and pulled out. Madison Keys won a match and, then in the second round, her right shoulder hurt and she retired.

Had the Aussie Open not started next week, they may have continued on. In fact, both said they didn’t want to take the risk because of the Slam. So why play in the first place? If you are going to enter, you are supposed to give it all out. If you are not going to, then why bother?

How about the men’s in Auckland this week? Ferrer, Gael Monfils and John Isner all pulled out at the last moment. David said he was hurt, the defending champ Isner says that he was tired after playing the Hopman Cup and who knows what personal reasons Monfils had? When your top guys aren’t there, are the fans really going to want to come? Not as much, that is for sure.

Yes, if you become injured just prior to the Aussie Open, then that stinks. But you can actually play well during the week before and dominate the Aussie Open. In 2012, Vika Azarenka won Sydney and went one to win her first Slam by grabbing the Australia Open title. Former No. 1 Hewitt won Sydney 2000-2001 and 2004-2005.

It is plausible, as long as the players stay healthy physically and psychologically, to win it all, both the warmups and the Slams. Then the fans will keep coming back, cheer loudly, during day, and during night.

OTHER NOTES

Here’s the good news: Juan Martin del Potro took down Fabio Fognini 4-6 6-2 6-2. On Tuesday, he was very shaky in the first match he played since 10 months due to his sore left wrist. On Wednesday, he was flying high.

“I was nervous yesterday, not today,” he said. “My first match was too many sensations before getting to the court.  Today I did like normally, like a normal match.  He was the favorite for sure, but I played very calm.  I never give up, even losing the first set. I think the crowd also help me to keep fighting and enjoy all of the things too much.”

Guess what? On Wednesday, the Auckland got smacked again when Roberto Bautista Agut withdrew and Tommy Roberdo pulled out. Ugh.

The Italian Simone Bolelli bested second-seed David Goffin 6-3 6-3. We will quickly see how good the Belgian will be this season; a great results would be reaching the fourth round of the Aussie.

Angie Kerber beat Davia Gavrilova 6-7(6) 7-6(2) 6-3 in a match that began around 12:33 AM (Wednesday) & finished at 03:09. It’s very rare to start playing past midnight. It’s simply too late. Wait until the next day.

There are some very good players left in Sydney. The Czech Karolina Pliskova didn’t look tired and wiped out Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6 6-4 6-0. Don’t forget that Pliskova played Azarenka for more than three hours in Brisbane. She has almost cracked the top 20 and she is rising. She has a real shot to reach the final.

Tsvetana Pironkova won the tournament as a qualifier last year and here she goes again; she did not receive a wildcard (what a shame), so she went out and won three matches in the singles qualifying. Now she has won three more matches, besting Barbara Strycova 6-4 6-1.Could she do it again? She faces Petra Kvitova in the semis.

Ivanovic: 2008 Aussie final ‘quite disappointing’

Ivanovic IW 11 MALT4910

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.”

NOTES

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.”

Who’s hot! Sharapova, Nadal voted sexiest again

nadal_300Thanks to our very loyal and active readers and for the thousands of votes we received. We love the responses.

Maria Sharapova is on a roll, winning now for the third straight year. However, boyfriend Grigor Dimtrov, who was voted sexiest last year, came in second. He lost out to three-time winner Rafa Nadal, who also was the hottest in 2011 & 2012.

Tennis’ hottest couple, Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimtrov, won it in 2014.

The awards were named for Ivanovic and Safin whose notable sexiness helped them capture the awards for the first five years of the poll, 2005-2009. They were declared ineligible after the awards were named for them.

Results of all seven 2014 TennisReporters.net awards are listed below:

Sexiest
Male Player

Results

Rafael Nadal 35%
Grigor Dimitrov 23%
Roger Federer 12%
Feliciano Lopez 8%
Novak Djokovic 6%
Ernests Gulbis 6%
Nick Kygrios 4%
Tommy Haas 3%
Fabio Fagnini 2%
Ryan Harrison 1%

Sexiest
Female Player

Results

Maria Sharapova 35%
Eugenie Bouchard 17%
Victoria Azarenka 13%
Caroline Wozniacki 12%
Serena Williams 8%
Maria Kirlenko 6%
Alize Lim 5%
Dominika Cibulkova 2%
Karolina Pliskova 2%
Sloane Stephens 1%

ATP Coach of the Year

Results

Magnus Norman /
Stan Wawrinka
33%
Stefan Edberg /
Roger Federer
29%
Michael Chang /
Kei Nishikori
26%
Toni Nadal /
Rafael Nadal
5%
Boris Becker /
Novak Djokovic
4%
Goran Ivanisevic /
Marin Cilic
4%

WTA Coach of the Year

Results

Carlos Rodriguez /
Li Na
49%
Patrick Mouratoglou /
Serena Williams
19%
Wim Fissette /
Simona Halep
12%
Sven Groeneveld /
Maria Sharapova
10%
Nick Saviano /
Eugenie Bouchard
7%
David Kotyza /
Petra Kvitova
3%

ATP Breakthrough Kid of the Year
(24 or younger)

Results

Kei Nishikori 65%
Grigor Dimitrov 15%
Dominic Thiem 8%
Milos Raonic 6%
David Goffin 6%

WTA Breakthrough Kid of the Year
(21 or younger)

Results

Eugenie Bouchard 49%
Belinda Bencic 23%
Garbine Muguruza 16%
Zarina Diyas 6%
Madison Keys 6%

Tweeter of the Year

Results

Laura Robson 30%
Roger Federer 19%
Stan Wawrinka 15%
Tomas Berdych 12%
Serena Williams 8%
Caroline Wozniacki 6%
Maria Sharapova 5%
Andy Murray 3%
Eugenie Bouchard 2%
Grigor Dimitrov 1%

Kvitova key to Fed Cup final between Czech Republic v. Germany

MVP Safarova proved more than a fine No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova

MVP Safarova proved more than a find No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova in 2012.

PRAGUE — How many women love slick courts? Not many, that’s for sure.

But Petra Kvitova would prefer to hit as hard as she can … just booming it. Forget it about engaging 30-plus rallies; she would rather wipe her serves into the corner and break them way out wide. Even if it’s punched back by one of her opponents, she will step in and power her forehand for a winner.

Kvitova has won two Grand Slams, in 2011 and 2014 at Wimbledon. Her foes in the finals, Maria Sharapova and Genie Bouchard, couldn’t even blink as the Czech hit with power so quickly that they couldn’t touch her shots. That is exactly what Kvitova has done for the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup: She was her lights out, nailing the corners and winning two of the past three Fed Cup finals at home in Prague.

And guess what … she can do it all over again. Coming up this weekend in Prague, the world No. 3 will be favored again. The Czechs, including Lucie Safarova, were tough and aggressive in 2012 when they stomped Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to win the title. Kvitova was not perfect that weekend, as she was sick, and Ivanovic played well to grab one of the points. But, in the end, the Czechs won anyway because the left-handed Kvitova kept swinging and Safarova was on ultra-speed.

This is different though. Kvitova has become more mature during the last year or so, but she knows that she cannot go on a walkabout. They will play against Germany, led by Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic, both of whom say that they know to keep balls in play until the tall Kvitova grows tired and wild.

The 24-year-old Kvitova says she is faster than she was as a baby back in 2008 when she played her first time in Fed Cup. She could only split against Israel, but they won anyway. From then on, she kept on playing in the team competition.

Kvitova loves Fed Cup so much that she has played 15 times already. She has played twice against Germany before, in 2010 in World Group at home when she beat Petkovic and lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld but the came through anyway. Then she won a classic match in 2012 when the Germans chose hard courts, but Kvitova edged Julia Goerges 10-8 in the third set and then out-pushed Sabine Lisicki in the third set.

Goerges and Lisicki are on the German team this week and could play the doubles, or the 2013 Wimbledon finalist Lisicki, who also loves to bang the ball, may play in Sunday’s singles

But, it really doesn’t matter what strategy German captain Barbara Rittner employs. The key is whether or not Kvitova can make big swings and find the lines. If she does, the Czechs will win the Fed Cup again and Petra will once again be perfect.

Serena Gets Slammed

SINGAPORE – Serena Williams has been bad at times before, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion rarely plays horribly. But, in her 6-0, 6-2 loss to Simona Halep, she never woke up and couldn’t keep her balls in court.

Without question, the young Halep was very solid, but she didn’t have to put together her best strokes. Really, all she had to was keep the ball in, move it around, and stay away from what could have been a panic when she need to finish the match off.  That is exactly what the 23-years-old Halep did, who scored her first win over Williams, and did not shake at closing time.

Serena could not keep her forehand in the court, which is somewhat amazing that the American usually crushes her ball and strokes them close to the line. But not this day. Williams dumped it into the net, couldn’t see where the lines were, or even get on top of his heavy spins. Williams ended with 36 errors – in just 14 games – where the forehand errors were somewhere around 27. She may be her best server ever, but she didn’t murder the ball, only put in two aces. When asked about it later, Serena wasn’t messing around.

“My forehand was off today again. I guess it went on an early vacation,” she told Tennis.com. “Lord knows my serve was as well. My serve was at best in the 10-and-under division in juniors. Yeah, it was actually embarrassing I think describes the way I played. Yeah, very embarrassing.”

The great Williams was embarrassed early on. Halep came out firing early on, as she wanted to prove that she could stay with her and did, playing much more aggressively then she was in August of 2013 when Williams smoked her 6-0, 6-4 in Cincinnati. But No. 4 Halep has been much better this season, reaching the Roland Garros final where she nearly took down Maria Sharapova and gaining the Wimbledon semis.

She moved very quickly and kept pushing forward, keeping Williams deep with her forehand and backhand. Williams tried to slap his balls back, but was so erratic early on that she dropped an f-bomb by the third game.

Williams tried to keep into the second set and even thrown out a “C’mon” after a couple winners, but she could not become steady at all.

Halep showed a bright smile, while Serena was disgusted. And why not? The 33-year-old Williams loss is the worst match since 1998, when she went down to South Africa Joannette Kruger’s 6-1, 6-1 in Oklahoma City. No. 1 Williams wasn’t sure if she was going to play in Singapore because she has been dealing with a sore leg. But she is going to trot on, because she wants to show that she could win the title, plus she wants the fans she can watch her brilliant play. But Williams did admit to us after the loss that she does not feel fantastic. Not even close.

“Oh, God no,” she said. “I’m definitely not 100% okay. I’m just here playing, but I’m not nowhere near 100 percent.”

Williams praised Halep today, but she went further. In fact, Serena says that Simona had “the best match of her career.”

Williams has to face Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday and even though she could be limping, she is going to try very hard. Serena cannot stand losing, but she loves cheering — and winning.

“To be quite frankly honest, I’m looking forward to our next meeting because she is making me going to go home and work hard.”

Ana Ivanovic: Comfortable in her own skin again

Ivanovic is coming alive.

Ivanovic pushed away the attention of being No. 1 and had a comeback year in 2014.

Advice sometimes comes at you from all angles.  That’s surely been the case for Ana Ivanovic during a 12-year pro career that has seen the now-26-year-old reach three Grand Slam finals and rise to No. 1 in the world, a ranking she occupied in 2008 when she won Roland Garros and became only the second Serbian woman to win a major.

Since the age of five, when she first picked up a racquet after spotting fellow Serb Monica Seles crushing screech-inducing groundies on TV, since the days she honed her skills in the unlikely environs of a carpeted indoor swimming pool, the consultation — sometimes welcomed, other times not — has come from a variety of voices.  It’s come from her mother/courtside companion, Dragana, from her father, Miroslav.  It’s come from a battery of coaches, which the Belgradian baseliner seems to go through with a Steinbrenner-like flair: Dejan Vranes, Eric Van Harpen, Zoltan Kuharszky, David Taylor, Sven Groeneveld, Craig Kardon, Heinz Gunthardt, Antonio Van Grichen, Nigel Sears, Nemanja Kontic and, currently, coach du jour Dejan Petrovic, who once mentored AI’s pal Novak Djokovic.

But it was in 1999, when she was just 12 and NATO planes regularly roared over her homeland and she was forced to train in the mornings to avoid bombardments, that she received perhaps the most important advice of her career.  It was simple, really: You’ve got to work hard, to put in your time off the court before anything can begin to come easy on it.

It’s something she’s never forgotten.

“It’s so true,” said Ivanovic, in the midst of a season that might just be her best since she rose to the top of the WTA charts a half-dozen years ago, a season that has seen her win four titles and more importantly regain the kind of self-assuredness that it takes to survive inside the Top 10.  “All the confidence and all the hard work, it’s actually built off the court.  When you’re competing, it’s a time when you can enjoy that execution.”

Ivanovic, who’s gone 56-16 on the year, earned a spot among the Elite Eight at the 2014 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.

Ivanovic’s parabolic narrative is well known.  Just as soon as she assumed the role of top dog on the WTA Tour, she seemed to skulk away, tail tucked between legs.  She even admitted to as much this summer in New York, telling reporters that she simply couldn’t stomach all that came with being the best in her sport.

“It was very hard to handle all the attention because I was very shy at the time,” she confided.  “I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I was very introverted. I liked to spend my time with the books. That’s who I was. All of a sudden, there was so many requests and so many other things that came with it. No one prepared me for that.”

In total, Ivanovic spent just 12 weeks at No. 1, surrendering the spot first to countrywoman/rival Jelena Jankovic, and a second time to Serena Williams, that time for good.  She’s been trying to get back ever since.  And the process hasn’t always been pretty.

But we’ve witnessed a rebirth of sorts in 2014.  She kicked off the year by winning Auckland, then scored her first-ever win over Williams at the Australian Open, shocking the American No. 1 in three sets in the round of 16.  She scored consecutive titles in Stuttgart and Monterrey in the spring, downing the likes of Top-10ers Jankovic and Maria Sharapova in the process.  (She’s now downed Sharapova three times this year, including a gutsy 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 performance in Cincinnati, where she reached the final.)  She dove into the grass-court campaign by taking the Birmingham title.  And despite a ho-hum year at the Slams (her quarterfinal showing in Melbourne being the only time she advanced beyond the third round), she’s been hitting the ball with more authority than she has in years.

Chalk it up to maturity.  And her ability to go back to the basics, back to those words of wisdom she first heard in ’99: You’ve got to put in your time off the court.

“I really work hard to get to that position to compete and to be consistent and to do it over and over again,” explained Ivanovic, now ranked No. 8.  “That’s what I’m really proud of.  So it’s just about enjoying and working hard, taking care of each match, and then the rankings and everything else takes care of itself.”

Ivanovic will be tested early at the WTA Finals.  She opens against none other than 18-time Slam champ Williams, a player she’s beaten only once in eight career head-to-heads, on Monday night.  The good news?  She’s pushed Williams to three sets three times in 2014, including her upset of the American in Melbourne.  Is another upset in the making?  Stay tuned.

WTA Finals Singapore ready to rock

Ivanovic going deep would help ticket sales

Ivanovic steps it up in 2014.

By Matt Cronin

Singapore – The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore will begin on Monday. Here are the eight players, some of which are are on fire and others who are struggling. On Sunday, all the players spoke to what is head. Tennisreporters discusses the field, with TR also asks for players as well as journalists who discuss the field.

Matt Cronin returns
to writing for TR

This is Matt Cronin’s first article for TennisReporters.net since his brain surgery last spring.

Matt has written for Tennis.com and USOpen.org.

Matt: Great to have you back as you return to the work you love and the work the tennis world loves you for!

– Ron Cioffi

RED GROUP
Serena Williams: The US No. 1 has not been as dominate as she was in 2013, but Serena found herself believing her game by winning the US Open and snagging her only Slam in 2014 when she needed the most. Now she has the chance to walk away with the WTA 8 final again if she is cracking the ball once again.
Last year in the WTA final in Turkey Serena served and hit her corners when necessary — even when she was hurting — but came through the victory. This year Serena will be careful as she pulled out of Beijing with a knee injury. Williams will play Ana Ivanovic Monday night.
Q.  How important is the year‑end No. 1 ranking to you?  And if you had already had it locked up, do you think you would be here?
WILLIAMS:  I definitely would be here if I already had it locked up.  It’s obviously super important for me.  I love being No. 1; I love being the best.
     But at this at the same time, I’m really glad that I was able to get a slam this year, which was really annoying for me that I wasn’t able to capture one.
     That was something that was super, super, super important, especially for the goals that I was trying to reach.
Simona Halep: The Romanian began to step up last summer and this year she finally showed her self-believe, walking quickly and jumping on the courts. Halep came very close to knocking off  Sharapova in the Roland Garros final, but the Russian turned on the afterburners and nailed his second Slam. However, Halep has been rising quickly and could eventual grab No. 1 – if she can win the WTA 8 and a Slam next year.
 Q.  Do you think that actually, say, in the next year you will become No. 1?
HALEP:  “I cannot say about this because I am very far to No. 1.  So I just want to take the pressure out of me, out of my body, of my mind, and just to be relaxed and to, like I said, to be focused every match.”
Genie Bouchard: The Canadian had become relevant early on and hasn’t stopped, grabbing the semis of Australian and Roland Garros, and playing very close at the lines where she earned the runner-up at Wimbledon. She is contending with a left leg injury but is ready to go.
Q.  When you were here in January, was it possible to look as far ahead as October, and did you think to yourself: I’d like to make it; I want to make it; I’m going to make it here?  What were your thoughts about the year‑end finals in January?
Bouchard: “It’s the craziest thing, because I was with Chrissy [Evert] in this exact room at this table in January launching the WTA Finals and the Road to Singapore.
     So I don’t know who believed that I would be here in October, but being here in January motivated me so much.  It was an amazing city, and seeing the glamorous side of what the finals are inspired me so much to try and make it here.
 Big day for Southern at USTA national Junior Team Tennis Championships. Madison, MS (advanced) and Woodstock, GA play for national titles.
Ana Ivanovic: The Serbian has matured a great deal, becoming much more consistent and winning four titles. She is more aggressive than she has been and is more effective charging the net cords
Q.  Does 2009 [when she won her first and only Slam at Roland Garros] seem like a long time ago?
Ivanovic:   It feels like the other life.  Yeah, definitely does. I think in a way we are very fortunate because we travel so much.  We compete week in, week out.  I feel like there is so many experiences that we have weekly.
     You know, even Auckland seems like two years ago, because so many things happen in the meantime on and off the court.  Also you change a lot.  You change your views on things.
     This is what I feel happens.  So I feel like I’m different person comparing to 2008 or 2009.  I experienced lots of good and bad.  You learn so you much about yourself, too.
     In that sense as well it feels like long time ago.
WHITE GROUP
Maria Sharapova: The world No. 2 recalls back in 2004, in LA and besting Williams in the final, the last time she took down the great Serena. She has played the year pretty well, winning the French Open and two other big wins in Madrid and Beijing. If Serena falters, Sharapova could snare from the top spot to end the year.
Q.  Just talk about 2004, WTA against Serena, just your memory, your thought.
Sharapova:  Well, first I couldn’t believe that I was part of a field at that point in my career.  Yeah, I was in Los Angeles where I had been training with Robert [Lansdorp] for so many years.  It felt like a home tournament in a way for me.  I remember the players.  It was, of course, a very tough field, as always.  Just going through the draw there and the way that I felt and the way I played. I’ve seen some clips as well, very inspiring.  Certainly hope I can do that here again.
Petra Kvitova: The Czech has been much more consistent by being free from injury and rarely backing down. She grabbed the 2014 Wimbledon by striking the ball so   hard that she was untouchable. The lefty recently won Wuhan earlier this month and has a chance to reach the yearend No.1. But she is going to play nearly perfectly to win the crown. She will face Ana Ivanovic on Monday night.
Q.  It seems like your nerves, we don’t see them as much anymore.  Why did that happen this year?
Kvitova: “I’m more relaxed on the court.  I have a little bit more confidence probably.  From the Wimbledon I showed maybe that I can play great tennis again, and that’s really what I missed for the three years. So from that time I think it’s much better.  I can enjoy the tennis, I can really play, and I know that I love to play tennis.  So that’s very important, to know it.
     Yeah, I feel good.  I know that sometimes my game, it’s too risky, but that’s part of the game.  I can live with that, so that’s okay.”
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Pole has been very consistent over the past five years or so but has not been fantastic this season. She did win Montreal and reached the final of Indian Wells, but falling to Dominika Cibulkova in the semis of Australia has really hurt her overall. She needs to step up big time and end the year at a high note.
Q.  What would make you really happy at the end of this year and then all of next year?  What would make you super happy?
RADWANSKA: Well, of course, I think winning Grand Slam as well.  I think this is the tournament that we all waiting for to get a title.  I didn’t do it yet; I was close few times but still didn’t get it.
     So, I think winning Grand Slam, that will make me really, really happy.
Caroline Wozniacki: Even though she is rising again, Wozniacki is only reached the top 8 when Li Na retired. However the former No. 1 has played better than in years, reaching the US Open and stepping inside the court at hard courts. Wozniacki, from Denmark, may not have figured out to upset Williams, but she is confidence to trouble anyone else at the WTA.
Q.  As you were sort of slipping down and then making your way back up, did it feel like it was a long way to go, or did it feel like you were pretty close to where you had been?
Wozniacki: No, didn’t feel like a long way to go.  I never really looked at the rankings, but I definitely totally stopped when I went down to 18.  I’m like: This is depressing.  I don’t want to be down here.
     At the end of day, I just told myself, “Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or No. 18.  At the end of the day, you have to compete with the same players.”  A lot of girls play so well now so it’s never easy.  I just thought if I play well, the ranking will come back up soon.
     I started playing well. I started finding my form, and then the ranking just came up really quickly.

Time wasn’t on Nadal’s side, but overcomes Nishikori anyway

Nadal USO 13 TR MALT7648

Rafa doesn’t think time violations should be called at crucial moments

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal was upset that he was called for multiple time violations in his 7-6 (3) 7-5 7-6 (3) fourth-round win over Kei Nishikori but he’s been a serial offender of the rule, even if he is one of the tour’s greatest and most exciting competitors. He takes a lot of times between every point and consistently pushes the Grand Slams’ 20-second rule.

Nishikori played perhaps the best Grand Slam match of his life at the Aussie Open as he whaled away against Nadal all day long, but could not capture enough big points to even win a set.

With the third set tied at 4-4 and deuce, chair umpire Eva Asderaki gave Nadal his second time violation and he had to forfeit his first serve. The Spaniard rarely shows anger on court, but he was infuriated on that occasion and threw a ball in disgust. Nishikori took the next two points to break, but Nadal would break back, recompose himself and eventually win the contest.

But that did not cool his jets as he felt like Asderaki should have shown more flexibility given how tough the points were in the game and because of the stage of the match. Umpires are told to call the violations when they occur regardless of what stage the match is in, although they can be flexible if they choose to if the prior point is extremely long. But, if Asderaki  has chosen not to call the violation on Nadal at that juncture (and he really did violate the rule), is that is fair to his opponent and would it open the door to even more violations?

It should be noted that it appears that the umpires have been tougher during this fortnight than they have been at any other Grand Slam, even warning some of the women players, which they rarely do. Jelena Jankovic received a warning come off a changeover on Monday in her three-set loss to Simona Halep.

Nadal was not pleased, although he said he would try to quicken his pace.

“The negative thing in my opinion is not the warning,” Nadal said. “The negative thing is the moment, 4‑All, deuce.  You can choose another moment to do it, not that one.  Another thing is she didn’t advise me before the second warning that I was still going slow.  So normal thing, if the referee is say, ‘Rafa, you are going too slow.’  So I try to go quicker, before the second warning.  But she didn’t make it. The rule says you can do it.  But, in my opinion, that goes against the show.  But that’s fine.  If she wants to do it that way, she did.  She did, and that’s why we are talking.”

What is unclear is whether Nadal knows how experienced Asderaki is. She may call matches slightly differently than other umpires, but she has overseen thousands of them, including Grand Slam finals. He does not seem to be too impressed, even though she is a real pro.

“I going to try to go quicker for the future,” he said. “But is important to have people on the chair that really understand the game and people who manage this sport who understand the game, and that’s it.  Because, if not, every time with Hawk‑Eye, the referee just start watching the watch, 25 seconds, then warning, so then we don’t need any more referees.  We only need lines.  That’s fine. Because if not, the referees don’t need to do all the rules.  That is my feeling.  We are making the referees worse than before with all the things that we are making for them easier.”

Next up: Dimitrov

Nadal will face the 22-year-old Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, who bested Spain’s Roberto Bautista  6-3 3-6 6-2 6-4. Dimitrov is in the final eight for the first time and is playing more patiently than he did last season, which helps him overall because, even though he is an impressive shot-maker, he does have the tendency to become sloppy. At a Grand Slam in three out of five set matches, players don’t get away with that over the long haul. Dimitrov does not appear to fear the match-up, but he will be the underdog for sure.

“We all know that he has won tons of Slams,” Dimitrov said.  “He’s been a tremendous competitor.  He’s Rafa.  We all know him.  But that’s what I’m playing for, to put myself in position to play those guys.  I had tough battles with him in the past.  Played a couple times on clay.  There were always little things missing.  But I’m quite happy with the way I’m performing so far.  So I like my chances.”

WTA roundup

Serena Williams and Maria  Sharapova are both out of the tournament now, Sharapova to Dominika Cibulkova on Monday in a great effort by the Slovakian, but not two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka who took a very impressive 6-3 6-2 victory over Sloane Stephens. The 20-year-old American contested a very decent first set but not win enough of the big points, was slightly out steadied and didn’t take enough risks. Azarenka was better off the ground and more ambitious. She’s the highest seed left in the event. She will play the winner of the match between Agnieszka Radwanska and Garbine Muguruza. Halep reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and will play  Cibulkova.

“I don’t consider anybody as the favorite, I just go out there and play my best,” said Azarenka. “We’ve seen over the last couple of days that somebody can bring their best game on any given day. You have to stay alert.”

Australian Open Day Six Predictions: Are Rafa Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki vulnerable?

cornet ao 14

 

Rod Laver Arena

3-Maria Sharapova v 25-Alize Cornet: Sharapova was very shaky in her marathon three-set win over Karin Knapp and it’s very rare for her to play badly again after such a stressful match, so even though Cornet has improved a ton during the past two years, the Russian will hit through her in straight sets.

6-Roger Federer v Teymuraz Gabashvili: Props to the Russian for his late night,  five-set win over Fernando Verdasco, but Federer won’t give him as many predictable clean looks and will come through in four sets

10-Caroline Wozniacki v Garbine Muguruza: This is the obvious upset pick of the day because the young Spaniard/Venezuelan is super talented slugger who is capable of hitting the Dane off the court, but Wozniacki is playing more ambitiously at this event and will find away to outlast Muguruza in three sets.

2-Victoria Azarenka  v Yvonne Meusburger: Two-time defending champ Azarenka was resourceful in her last match, but far from brilliant. Her serve is spotty, but she’s effective enough off the ground to hit through almost anyone and will knock out the Austrian in two sets

1-Rafa Nadal  v 25-Gael Monfils: This should be a very entertaining match between two super fast showmen, but unless Monfils finds a way to play inside the baseline instead of way behind it and can protect his backhand side, he won’t grab a set. Let’s concede the Frenchman one, but no more.

Hisense Arena

8-Jelena Jankovic v Kurumi Nara: JJ started the year very well in Brisbane before going down in an emotionally trying match to Azarenka. Her spirit seemed to have picked up in Melbourne and she has too much experience for the Japanese, but will lose a set.

5-Agnieszka Radwanska v 29-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

The Pole may not be a major title threat as she doesn’t appear to have improved from last year, but she will school the Pavlyuchenkova in two, as the Russian does not seem to have real elite potential or enough patience to figure her out.

4-Andy Murray  v 26-Feliciano Lopez

This is a good  test for the Scot as Lopez did play him tough once at the US Open, is in fine form and the courts are playing fast. Murray is fresh, but still is a little rusty. This will be a long five-set battle with the Wimbledon champion coming through.

10-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v 18-Gilles Simon: This is simple pick, as Simon has played heroically on a bad ankle in winning two five-setters, but he won’t have enough gusto to go up against the charging Smokin’ Jo who will win in straight sets.

Margaret Court Arena

16-Carla Suarez Navarro v 20-Dominika Cibulkova: This one is simple than it looks as Suarez exhausted herself in the last round while Cibulkova finished quickly. The Slovakian will get thru in two.

13-Sloane Stephens v Elina Svitolina: Stephens needed a near miracle to win her last contest so if she can start fast –which she rarely does — she should be able to negate the teen in two. But she rarely does so take the American in three.

11-Milos Raonic v 22-Grigor Dimitrov: This is a super attractive match up between the tour’s highest ranked youngsters. Dimitrov has more variety and returns more competently, but Raonic has a blowtorch serve and a murderous forehand. A true pick ‘em, but Raonic is way overdue for a win like this and will triumph in five.

Donald Young v 16-Kei Nishikori: Japan’s top player made a good move in bringing Michael Chang in as his coach, who can teach him a lot about mental toughness and how to play more consistently. Young is playing more inspired ball than he did most of the past two years but his legs will give out at the end of the fourth set due to his stressful and long win over Andres Seppi in the last round.