Australian Open final pick for Saturday, January 31

1-Serena Williams vs. 2-Maria Sharapova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 29

The Semis

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

serena wins wta champs 12

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 27

Rod Laver Arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Open picks for Sunday, January 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Open picks for Friday, January 23

Rod Laver Arena

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

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

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

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Berdych faces a test against Troicki.
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

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

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

Margaret Court Arena

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

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

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

Hisense Arena

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

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

Australian Open picks for Wednesday, January 21

Rod Laver Arena

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Court Arena

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

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

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

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

Hisense Arena

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

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

Australian Open picks for 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.

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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.

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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%