The First Quarter, the women: Serena snaps an A+, but Aga was at a D. Who else and why?

Radwanska IW 15 TR MALT4192

Serena Williams A+

She won everything except when she was hurt, she came back to Indian Wells when she didn’t have to ever again but she did anyway, and now, she is so steady and smart that she doesn’t even have to dominate her first serves and she still win. Wow.

Simona Halep A

Yes, Halep froze in Australia, but outside of that she has been so consistent and never backs off. She won Dubai and Indian Wells and came very close to beat Serena in Miami. If she continues to believe in herself, she will win a Slam this year.

Carla Suarez Navarro A-

While the Spaniard did not win a tournament this year, since February she has gone deep everywhere. In Miami she upended Radwanska and Venus Williams in two tremendous three setters. Yes she was scared against Serena in the final, but the smaller Carla moves forward all the time now.

Maria Sharapova B+

The veteran Maria started off the year with a bang, winning Brisbane, reaching the Aussie final where this time she was close against Serena and she looked tremendous in Fed Cup to beat Poland. While she did not play at Indian Wells or Miami, she was almost perfect in Australia.

Sabine Lisicki B+

The German was out of it until Indian Wells and Miami, and then she appeared again and looked much better, snaring wins over Errani, Garcia, Pennetta and Ivanovic. She was close against  Serena when she fell in three sets. She is crushing the ball – inside the court.

Garbine Muguruza B

The young Spaniard has been very good for the most part, but as powerful as she is, she can become wild. However, she did win both matches at Fed Cup in Romania and beating Halep there, which is good enough.

Madison Keys B

Clearly Keys put together a tremendous tournament at the Australian Open, reaching the semis by beating Kvitova and Venus before losing to Serena. However, she has been hurt and is now struggling, and did not play well in Indian Wells or Miami. But when you are 20 years old and reach a Slam semi, you earn it at least a B.

Ekaterina Makarova B

Speaking of which, the Russian reached the Aussie semifinal, which was eye-popping. Beyond that though she has not played her singles very well at all, but her doubles has been excellent overall.

Karolina Pliskova B

Every week, the younger Czech was about to rise and grab a big tournament, because she has one of the biggest serves out there and can also crush her forehands and backhands. However, she is not quite there yet mentally, but she’s close.

Lucie Safarova B

It was nice to see the veteran winning a big tourney by grabbing Doha. She may not ever reach the top 10, but she will continue to try as had as she can before she retires.

Jelena Jankovic B

The famous “JJ” was nowhere and then all of a sudden she rose and reached the Indian Wells final. She then fell apart quickly in Miami, but at least she seems enthusiastic again.

 Andrea Petkovic B

She did nothing in January, but she won two marathons at Fed Cup against Australia, she won Antwerp and reached the semifinal at Miami. She loves the media and is well liked with the players, but she can lose her temper on court.

Venus Williams B-

Here is the reality for Venus: she is intelligent and always tries, but she is 34 years old and she is not as fast as she used to be. Yes, she can reach into the quarters and semis at the big tournaments, but against the better players (this year she has lost to Keys, Safarova, Azarenka and Suarez) she will continue to struggle. Good, but not great.

Petra Kvitova C

The Czech looked terrific by winning Sydney, but she folded after that, largely because she has been injured or ill once again. That’s too bad because if she can’t stay healthy there is no way that she will ever be able to reach No. 1.

Sara Errani C-

OK Errani won Rio, which is fine, but she didn’t have to face anyone in the top 65. She did beat Muguruza, but that is it.

 Ana Ivanovic C –

She looked great after reaching the final in Brisbane and she was ready to rock again, but she has done almost nothing since then and appears shaky. She is a great person, but she has to calm down on court.

Genie Bouchard C-

If Bouchard hasn’t reached to the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, she would have totally bombed. She looks very nervous and she is all over the place. Genie doesn’t have all the tools yet, but she’s very close – if she listens to her coach.

Carolina Wozniacki C –

“Caro” did very little after reaching the Auckland finals, losing to Vika Azarenka twice and falling fast at Indian Wells and Miami. OK she won Malaysia, but she didn’t have to beat anyone in the top-80. Where does she go from here? Nobody knows.

Agnieszka Radwanska D

This is the toughest and worst three months ever. She is so good, but apparently she is changing her tactics and/or her strokes, so she hasn’t looked confident at all. She is intelligent and can mix it up, but she is not sure when and where she is going. Maybe soon, but she didn’t show up at any tournament during the last three months. She is better than this.

Angelique Kerber D

The lefty German looked OK but not fantastic during Brisbane and Sydney, but then she plunged. She has been absolutely wild, which is surprising given that she used to be super steady. It’s all about where her head is.


Miami, the Picks, March 26: Venus Williams vs Urszula Radwanska, Maria Sharapova vs Daria Gavrilova

Ula hasn't cracked the top 5 yet like her big sisters has, but she had a career year.

Ula slumped last year, but she is climbing back in 2015


Venus Williams faces Urszula Radwanska, who has played much better this year, being able to qualify at five different tournaments.

The 24 year old qualified in Miami, beating CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round. She can be very aggressive and consistent, although she doesn’t mix it up all the time like her elder (and better) sister Aga. Venus didn’t play Indian Wells so she will be fresh and ready to rock early and often. Urszula Radwanska will be a bit tired, but she will feel strong during the first two sets. However, Venus will takeover the net and will win in three sets.

Daria Gavrilova of Australia has also played pretty very well this year, qualifying at Brisbane, winning the Challengers Burnie and Launch, qualifying for Doha and Indian Wells, where she went three sets to the eventual champ, Simona Halep. This time in Miami, she will face Maria Sharapova. The world No. 2 Sharapova played mediocre at Indian Wells when she fell against Flavia Pennetta, and Gavrilova is very fast and can smack the ball. However, Sharapova has never won Miami and really wants it this time. Sharapova will be pushed, but she will win in three sets.

Christina McHale overcame Sorana Cirstea who just came back due to an injury. The American looked much better this year but she has to face Andrea Petkovic. This will be very close because the German is straining now and McHale has been more consisted, but McHale isn’t quite there yet and Petko will win in three long sets.

Caroline Wozniacki has not been terrific this years by any means. She has been OK, but not great. She has to face another American, Madison Brengle, who has developed her forehand and her firsts serve. That can be troublesome. However, even though Brengle was ranked around No. 100 at the start of this yeay and is now ranked No. 44, Wozniacki rarely loses to the “unknowns.”
Yes, Wozniacki fell to Belinda Bencic, but we all know that the 18 year old will crack to the top 10 by the end of next year if she’s healthy. The Dane will finally play on the baselines and take down Brengle is straight sets.


Fed Cup winners: Sharapova, Mladenovic & Garcia, Petko, Pliskova



Genoa, Italy, clay

cornet ao 14How the heck did this happen to Italy?

Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi  played just fine on Saturday, with Errani playing very steady and defeating Caroline Garcia 7-6(2) 7-5. Then, Giorgi raced around and whacked her returns over Alize Cornet 6-4 6-2. On Saturday night, the captain Amelie Mauresmo changed her approach, telling the youngesters to go for it early. She sat Cornet, and then she told Kristina Mladenovic and Garcia to crack it. Mladenovic bested Errani, Garcia over whelmed Giorgi (and then they stunned Errani/Roberta Vinci 61 62 in doubles). Those two Italians had won 18 straight in dubs at the Fed Cup and they were shacking their heads. Props to the captain and coach Mauresmo. “I was either going to be a genius or a nonsense captain,”  she said.

France will play away in the Czech Republic in the sems in April. They will be the underdog, but their team is gelling.


Quebec City, Canada, hard

Canada’s top player, Genie Bouchard, decided not to play, and they had no chance at all.  If Bouchard had played, she could have won two singles, but they likely would have lost anyway as the Czechs have been excellent over the past four year, having won three titles. The Czech are so deep that they didn’t need to bring in the top two players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Instead, they went for the No. 22 Karolina Pliskova and the rising Tereza Smitkova. Pliscova knocked out  Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski , while Smitkova beat Dabrowski. It was all over so quickly.

Now the Czechs will go home and face France, which won’t be easy. Who knows if both Kvitova and Safarova will play during April, but Pliscova is right there and perhaps better than anyone in France now. But at home? Pressure, serious pressure.


Krakow Arena, Poland, hard

Maria Sharapova played as well as she ever, beating both Radwanskas, Agnieszka and Urszula. Throw in a big win by Svetlana Kuznetsova upending Aga 64 26 62 on Saturday and the tie was pretty much gone. Had Aga down Kuznetsova in the first day and it would have been 1-1. Then maybe, and I mean maybe, and if Aga would have played great, had the crowd been screaming for her and she may have stunned Sharapova. Then, Ula may have risen again (she hasn’t played very well since 2012), she could have upset Kuznetsova and they could have partied in front of 15,000 fans. But, Sharapova out hit her 6-1 7-5 and it was over. Now Sharapova has to decide whether she will play in April at Moscow against  Germany, who is an excellent team. Sharapova has never played two Fed Cup teams in a row, but her new coach, Anastasia Myskina, has mapped it out smartly and it appears that the two are getting along now. They did not get along back in a decade ago when they both were playing against each other. Maybe “Nastia” and Maria will gel and bring the Fed Cup home.

Petkovic leads Germans to next round.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto


Stuttgart, Germany, hard

Andrea Petkovic loves her Fed Cup team and, once again, she has shined.  Her wins weren’t easy, but then nonetheless, she pushed ahead even though she had to battle for hours and hours.

The Australian had a good weekend, when Jarmila Gajdosova started by beating Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-2 6-4, as “Angie” continues to slump. But here came “Petko” who faced a match point but wore down Sam Stosur 6-4 3-6 12-10.

On Sunday, Kerber rose and beat Stosur 6-2 6-4, as the Aussie looked tired and the lefty finally moved forward. Then Petkovic had to stay awake again and did, besting Gajdosova 63 36 86 to win the title. Petkovic was overjoyed. Now she and the rest of them will go to Russia, which will be difficult. But, they reached the final last year (losing to the Czechs) and badly want to win it all. They’ll have a chance, against anyone.

On the World Group II, the US beat Argentina 4-1, with Venus Williams winning two matches on clay. Serena won her first match, but then pulled out on Sunday as she was sick. Will they both in April to push the team back until the Wolrd Group 1? Hope so.

Romania played at home but had to go to the wall to best Spain 3-2.

No. 3 Simona Halep looked like she would win both matches but slammed into Fed Cup pressure. She beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa but then she went down to Garbine Muguruza, the talented young tean who won both matches. However, Irina-Camelia Begu (who also lost to Muguruza) beat Soler-Espinosa. The tie went to the doubles, where Begu/Monica Niculescu took down the vetreran Anabel Medina Garrigues/Muguruza 57 63 62. Good enough, but close.

The Netherlands beat Slovakia 4-1 , credit to two wins by Arantxa Rus … Switzerland won very easily with Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.

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.

Sharapova IW 13 TR MALT5578

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.


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.


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.

Tomic USO 13 TR MALT6955

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.

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.