Cronin’s surgery successful! Tweets that he’s OK

UPDATE, TUESDAY, MARCH 25
Matt Cronin, TennisReporters.net’s main writer and a leading tennis journalist, continues to recover from brain surgery.

Cronin is recuperating at a Bay Area hospital after surgery on March 4. Despite his speedy recovery and fantastic progress, doctors have encouraged (read: ordered) him to refrain from writing and tweeting. Family members are with him 24 hours a day and report that Matt is improving but that the process is slow.

Cronin tweeted the day of his surgery, leading many of his thousands of followers to expect a constant stream of tennis news and personal updates. It’s hard to believe but the incredibly prolific Matt is refraining from writing, even 140 characters at a time.

Matt thanks the tennis community for the large and endearing outpouring of well wishes, especially from fellow tennis journalists who have worked many days and long nights with him.

Get well, Matt!


They say you can’t keep a good man down. Today, Matt Cronin proved you can’t keep a good writer quiet.

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. Pacific time, one of the most prolific and best known sports tweeter wrote:

Out of surgery talking up storm, docs did great. Thinking clearly. Hope every future day as successful as today. Support wise u all r best!

Cronin underwent brain surgery early on the morning of March 4 in San Francisco. The doctor, noted neurosurgeon Mitchel Berger of UCSF, operated on a brain tumor near the part of Cronin’s brain which controls speech. Matt knew speaking clearly after the operation would be an issue.

For more information on Cronin’s illness, please read his story here.

This story will be updated with more news on TennisReporters.net’s lead writer in the next few days.

So glad to hear you’re on the road to a full recovery!

A Battle Royale, this time regarding me

Matt Cronin, Indian Wells.

That’s Matt Cronin (second from left) with tennis writer friends Steve Tignor, Doug Robson and Brad Falkner at Indian Wells.

For the first time in 21 years I will not be attending the tennis tournament at Indian Wells, CA, certainly one of my favorites events ever. I traditionally has arrived there on the Tuesday before plays starts on Wednesday, which ironically is the day this year that I am undergoing brain surgery on San Francisco.

I just came off a great five-week trip to Australia personally and work-wise.The day after I arrived back at my home in Moraga, CA, I was talking to my son, Connor. in the kitchen. I can’t quite recall about what it was but as I was standing over the counter. It’s very likely I was talking about what chores needed to be done – my kids favorite subject :-)

As many of you who know me or listen to me on radio, I have a lot to say, and most times I can say things clearly, but at that moment I had a good five sentences in my head and couldn’t get any of them out. All I could do, as Connor would attest, is drop a series of F-bombs in frustration. Perhaps I have never used the word more appropriately.

A little more than 24 hours later I found myself in a neurologist’s office staring a brain tumor on the left side of my head that was the cause of the incident the day prior.

Hey, Doc, hit one like Fed

By Ron Cioffi

Over nearly four decades, I’ve written about forehands and backhands, murders, politics, hometown features and how much I love the Rolling Stones. It’s been easier to write about sports, the arts and tennis tournaments than my personal life. But, hey, we all have to change.

It was nearly 13 years ago when Matt Cronin and I (with Sandy Harwitt) founded TennisReporters.net. It was a great idea: a website written by professional journalists who covered pro tennis. No amateurs, no gloss, no frills and no BS. We broke new ground in the world of sports and tennis journalism. At first I thought TR would pay for a cushy retirement but soon realized it was wouldn’t make a cent and was an addiction that we couldn’t shake.

Matt and I worked at Inside Tennis in the early 1990s. But, believe it or not, I’ve only seen Matt three times since we established TR, twice at the US Open and once at Fed Cup in North Carolina. But we often start our phone calls on business but lapse into the world of tennis, family, age and frailties. I never thought we would come so close to a life-threatening situation. Figured it would be me, a decade older and more decrepit than Matt.

Over the years Matt has kept the site running, based on his goal of writing honestly about tennis without an editor telling him what to say or not to say. I try to do that once in a while. But, Matt is pretty headstrong.

All I can say to Doctor Berger is: “Hey, Doc. It’s a good brain. It’s a really good brain. There’s a hell of a lot of great tennis info in there, years of experience, expertise and clarity.

“So, Doc, do the tennis world a favor: Don’t screw it up. Hit a winner down the line.”

For about a month before that, there were days when I felt a little odd. My father, Bill, was a doctor and my mom, Joan, was a nurse, so I am by no means I am not psychosomatic and might be the opposite as my parents could recognize real illnesses. When my two bothers and two sisters and I were kids, they knew when to tell us to shake it off. Perhaps as result I have only visit the doctor for mandatory checkups.

While I was still in Australia, I called a couple of people and told them I knew something was wrong with me and that when I returned I would go straight to the doctor. While I was in no real physical pain, I had a sense that something dangerous was going to take a swing at me and I wanted to get a handle on it before it took me completely down.

But before my scheduled doctor’s appointment, I had my mini-meltdown in the kitchen and the battle was on.

I am not going to get into the details of all my medical visits and their effect on me, but what I can offer that it has been an extremely emotional time for me as my kids, other family members and close friends can attest to. Those who know me know that I think a lot about a lot of things, and my mortality has been at the top of the agenda over the past month. I do not fear death at all, and believe that I will leave the operating table healthier and with a decent chance at a long future, but I am a realist and a care-taking type and trying to get my head around not being there for my kids/family/friends with all the things I wanted to accomplish with them is difficult to swallow. At least in my case, I don’t feel like I have planned ahead enough and had I know this was coming a decade or so ago I very well may have changed the vast majority of what I was doing – excepting the constant tennis coverage, of course.

It seems like at all times that I am thinking multi-dimensionally about my past, present and murky future. It’s fascinating, but does not leave time for much sleep, which is OK because at least this point it seems like a pretty big waste of time and, as all of you know, dreams during these types of periods can quite off-putting.

When many people think about relaxing, they think about kicking back and mellowing out. I have never been that person. In fact although I do like short naps in the afternoon, what really relaxes me is physical exercise, namely yard work which I crave daily and can do for hours at a time without feeling overly stressed. That is how I relax for the most part, by doing non-work related chores. Even living in my now beloved California for the past 31 years has not cured me of that habit.

I had a very interesting decision to make last week, choosing between two very reputable SF Bay area neurosurgeons, one whom I had seen three times and the other — who I will describe as the Roger Federer of his profession — I had only talked to on the phone.

Regarding this issue, last week I made a long and drawn out tennis analogy to some of my tennis journo friends, most especially Emily, as well as Doug, Richard, Courtney, Tom and Brad as to why I would make the call either way: essentially, whom am I going to trust to win a match with my brain tumor.

To me, it made perfect sense, but perhaps not so much to others. However, to tennis people it might. In my nearly 22 years covering the sport, I think I have learned to distinguish real confidence from false bravado, which is why some players consistently deliver in the clutch and others don’t. For me to allow someone to open my brain up I needed to be sure that he was not only a distinguished person with great reputation, but if I put the challenge to him to show me that he was confident and great enough to win my “match” that he would look me in the eyes, tell me he was, and his voice would back that up.

I did not want to be put in situation where I felt like I was in broadcast booth on the outside looking in at a tennis match, where the likes of Federer, or any other star, would choke a simple backhand down the line on match point because there was too much pressure on him. As tennis journalist, if I have been around a player for years and have spoken to him or her at recent tournaments, I usually get a much more clear idea as to where their head space is at the moment and how competent they are really feeling.

New fans walking into a stadium might not have a clue as to why an all-time great misses a crucial shot at a big moment, but most of us regulars get why. In the case of the surgeon, I did not want to be in similar position going into the OR, wide-eyed and merely hopeful he would make the shot. I wanted to be sure as much as I could that the guy I picked (and of course who allowed me to be his patient) would bring all of his so-called weapons at his disposal the court and use them appropriately.

And that is why I chose Dr. Mitchel Berger out of UCSF, that and because he talked to me like my dad, Dr. William T. Cronin, would have, straight, to the point with no BS and telling me firmly that he will get the job done.

I joked with my tennis journalist friends that I was going to live tweet my operation on Tuesday and would Skype into the Indian Wells WTA All Access Hour on Wednesday to take care of any questions they might want to ask, or just to chat with a player who was not getting enough attention.

Of course that is not going to happen – largely because I don’t want folks looking at me with half-shaved head– but believe when I tell you that if I felt even remotely confident that I could pull it off I would try to make a go of it. That is how much I love being part of sport. For me, being there and telling pro tennis’ true story is what tournament coverage is all about.

I recently came back from a one-week Bucket List trip, the first few days of which I spent with my 21-year-old daughter Cassandra, my soon to be 18- year-old Connor and my 14-year-old daughter Chia. We had some very memorable dinner table conversations about how we view friends and family and their reactions to these types of situations. My kids may already be smarter than me and I sure hope they have 100 times my intelligence level when they reach my age. But I have a bit more experience due to age and been on the other side of some of these situations as a support person. I’m not sure how I really did, but I do know that many of my friends and family have been extraordinarily helpful to me, especially when it comes to listening. In my opinion, there are few folks in one’s general circle who can hand out sound medical advice (fortunately for me I have some people whom I am very close to who are excellent with it), but there are many who can show they really do sincerely care by just hearing you out on anything you want to talk about.

Believe me there were times when I didn’t want to talk about it at all, which is why I did not tell everyone I am or have been close to until now because I have led a long enough life to have gathered a fair amount of important relationships. While I realized that I would like to talk to everyone I hold dear, there were so many other things I had to deal with on a daily basis that it would have been overwhelming to talk to everyone. I did not leave anyone out on purpose, I just needed fair amount of quiet time in my head.

The mother of my children, Patti Orozco, has been extraordinarily helpful and dedicated as have my mother, Joan, my siblings Tami, Mark, Megan and Paul, their spouses and kids, some of Patti’s extended family and my nieces and nephews on that side, as well as my kids, who for the first time have been really faced with one of their parents mortality and have dug deep to try to sort it out. It has been a role switch for them having to pat me on the back this time in an attempt to keep my spirits up. They have been patient, understanding and given their dad as much love as a man could ask for.

There have also been those close friends whom I contacted and are asking me every day how I feel and are super concerned. Those people know who they are. As it was before I would walk through fire for them. After this experience, I think I would roll and crawl through it, too.

Now to the bottom line of what may of you are wondering about: my prognosis. It is unclear now as the type of tumor won’t be identified until the open me up on Tuesday and take its pathology. The good news is that it does not appear to be large and it is close to the side of my head so the removal process will more than likely go OK. It may be benign, it may be malignant, but one way or another as much of it as possible has to be removed. After that, I will have a good idea what type of recovery process I am in for.

Tennis tournament wise … my plan is to be 100% fit and improved by the time the French Open rolls around in mid-May, talking up a storm on Radio RG like nothing ever happened, and showing Serena Williams my head scar like she showed me her foot scars post her pulmonary embolism scare a few Wimbledon’s ago. And then I can write another tennis book, another couple of thousand articles and produce a million tweets.

Lifestyle wise, the day after I return to our property from the hospital, I want to be out in the spring sun again like I was in this picture two years ago, pruning tress, chopping wood and mellowing out in my own distinctive way. It has been a hairy ride the past month, but my life has been good overall and hopefully it will soon get a hell of lot better.

Best,
Matt

15 love: 15 thoughts on the WTA, from the winning Russians, to Bouchard, to Cibulkova

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APavs (right) won her first Premier title at the Paris Indoors

 

Given Maria Sharapova’s physical struggles over the past eight months now, it could be argued that  Ekaterina Makarova has been the most impressive of the Russians over the same period. The lefthander has a lot of game and showed that once again by winning her second WTA title at the PTT Pattaya Open by besting surprise finalist , Karolina Pliskova. In singles (not doubles where she is very solid with Elena Vesnina) she has been more of an upset maker than a dependable top 10-player, but she is headed in the right direction.

Is she better than Anastasia  Pavlyuchenkova, who is her typical fashion had a sterling week that raised eye brows to her overall potential when she won possibly the last edition of the Paris Indoors?  She bested Carla Suarez, Angie Kerber,  Sharapova and then  Sara  Errani 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the final. It was the first time that she was able to overcome three Top 10 players in the same tournament and it was her first Premier-level title and sixth overall. So now what for the hard hitter, who has been through a slew of coaches, has found herself out of shape at times, and has lacked variety. When she is on, like she was this week, her potential is very clear: top 5. The 22 year old has a great base off the ground, a very good serve, is powerful and can be resourceful. Perhaps she is finally ready to make a sustained push, but let’s see her compete at that level for the next three months before we make any serious projection that is sustainable.

Watching Sharapova double fault her way to a loss to Pavlyuchenkova, it’s evident that her right shoulder is not completely healed yet. She will need at least another month if not more, before she is at full strength.

Kerber has had a so-so year and now another notable lefty, Petra Kvitova, has pulled out of Fed Cup with breathing problems. The Czech has not been fully healthy in a good three years. Will she ever be?

Yes,  Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard  is attractive and very good player with clear top-10 potential, but before we anoint her the next marketing dynamo, let’s see her sign some major new deals, OK? She hasn’t penned a big, non-tennis one to date, the market is tough for female athletes to begin with and non-No. 1s or non- Grand Slam winners do not make the big bucks. Sharapova is the only one to make over $20 million off court annually, Serena Williams and Li Na are the only players to make over $12 million off  court, Caroline Wozniacki makes over  $11 million,  Victoria Azarenka makes over $9, and Ana Ivanovic makes over $6. Aga Radwanska makes over $2 million, but she has been a Slam finalist and consistent top-5 player. Bouchard is from a wealthier country than Poland is, but at best this season, unless she wins a major, perhaps she pulls in $1 million off court, not a number to sneeze at, but not a head turning number that would match the business press she is receiving.

Michael Mortensen, who once coached Li, is now coaching Caroline Wozniacki  on a two-month trial basis. That she hasn’t signed him for the rest of the year shows that she doesn’t trust that it will work out. Sympathy with the Dane though, as the word off court is that it was Thomas Hogstedt who decided to stay in South Africa to coach two juniors rather than join her in Dubai. Apparently he has a good reason for doing so, but a busted contract is just that – a broken one.

Readers of this space know that I love Fed and Davis Cups, so I am  disappointed to see Serena and Sloane Stephens not playing for the US unless they are still truly hurt, but if both show up in Doha the week after next we know that is not the case. Azarenka should also be playing for Belarus, but she’s not.

I will give Italy’s top four a pass this time around because they have been so committed to their team for the past five years.

The top 13 Russians who are not hurt and were asked to play should be embarrassed for not competing against Australia. A tradition of greatness, which they have, matters to a country, not just money, especially when the smart and caring Anastasia Myskina is the head coach for that tie.

You have to wonder where Azarenka is headed after failing to defending her Ausralian Open title. Doing it three times in a row is big ask for any player, but she ripped herself for playing stupid in her loss to Radwanska and can get emotionally down on her self. Her play during the next two months on hard courts will be a good indication of whether she can make a serious push at Roland Garros.

Radwanska should not have been loudly complaining about having to play two straight days after her loss to Cibulkova, but had that been a night match and she been given another few hours to rest, the result might have been different.

Regardless, I still see Li Na winning the title, she was playing that well.

Don’t think that Ivanovic was pleased in the least by her performance in her loss to Bouchard. She saw that as a winnable contest.

Simona Halep has clearly improved a lot over the past seven months and has cracked the top 10 for the first time, but she was dreadful in her quarterfinal loss to Cibulkova in the quarters of the Aussie Open. Halep is still lacking super elite confidence.

Now ranked No. 13 Cibulkova only has 280 points to defend through Miami. The Aussie Open finalist doesn’t want to discuss why she hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but she does has an opening to reach her goal in the next two months. She is about 700 points behind No. 10 Halep, so she does have work to do, but she has the game and now apparently the calm head to pull it off.

Aussie Open: Stan finally The Man

Stanislas Wawrinka

Wawrinka finally believed enough to pull off a Slam title

MELBOURNE – Eventually, some player was going to take out a member of the Big 4 and win a Grand Slam. It had not occurred since 2009 when Juan Martin Del Potro stunned Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the US Open. Sixteen Slams went by and Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray captured them.

Last year, Stanislas Wawrinka began to rise out of the veteran doldrums, reaching the ATP Finals for the first time, finishing in the final eight and almost upending Djokovic at the Australian and US Opens.

But was unable to win those contests or some other critical ones because he seemed to be missing a little extra oomph and kick on his shots at the end of matches. He seemed to freeze and a Big 4 member shut him down.

But not at this Australian Open. His coach, Magnus Norman, convinced that he was good enough – that he could sting first serves, flat forehands and booming backhands. He overturned his two five-set losses to Djokovic by stopping the Serbian and his 28-match winning streak cold in the quarterfinals. He did not allow big Tomas Berdych to break his serve in the semis, and then in the final, he finally hit through a man whom he came into the match with an 0-12 record against. He came out flying and despite some shaky moments against Rafael Nadal and his bad back, he triumphed 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.

“It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now. I never expect to win a Grand Slam,” Wawrinka said. “I never dream about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guy. During the match tonight was important. I talk a lot with Magnus [Norman] who has been in that situation, to play a final. He told me it was important not to think about the result but think about the way you want to play, the way you want to win every point.”

Yes, Nadal’s back began to hurt in the warmup, but the Spaniard hung in there and even though he was below his level he tried to survive, hence his taking of the third set. Wawrinka was nervous then as it’s never easy to play an injured foe because it’s hard to get rhythm or figure out a winning strategy.

Nadal did regain a bit of speed and a smidgen of power in the fourth set which forced Wawrinka to play fairly well again. He admitted that the occasion was huge and he was not completely himself, but he kept battling his own demons and was terrific in the last two games. He ripped a forehand down the line winner to break Nadal to 5-3. Then he held at love to win the crown: he nailed a service winner; put together a clean serve and volley; smacked another service winner wide and then won the contest with a blitzing forehand winner.

“I still think that I’m dreaming,” Wawrinka said. “It’s strange feeling. I saw so many final. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slam because that’s where the best player are playing. Before today for me wasn’t a dream. I never expect to play a final. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. And right now I just did it. And especially the way I was playing all the tournament, it’s for me a big surprise to play that well. To beat Rafa today, even if he was injury, I think I play my best first set during the match; I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak in the quarter, to beat Berdych in semis. That shows me I’m doing the right thing since many years. That if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis.”

Wawrinka became the first guy to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a Grand Slam since Sergi Bruguera did it 1993 Roland Garros when he overcame Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. He became the first No. 8 seed to win a major since the 1980 Australian when Brian took the title.

Nadal was quite upset that he couldn’t bring his best, but he is friends with Wawrinka, called it “Stan’s day” and went on to salute the Swiss: “He was playing amazing. Is very tough to stop him when he’s playing that way. So just congratulate him because he’s playing better and better and he’s playing with amazing confidence, hitting every ball very, very hard, moving himself great. In a court like this one, the court goes quick, the bounces are a little bit lower and quicker than usual, is very difficult when somebody’s hitting every ball very hard and with that confidence to stop him.”

So now Nadal leaves Australia without a coveted 14th Slam title. Federer still owns 17, Djokovic six and Murray two. Del Potro owns one and now so does Wawrinka who at the age of 28 may not be done yet. He owns an attractive game and is a refreshing personality that the tour is glad to have.

 “To win a Slam, to be No. 3, both for me is a big surprise. But I think more to win a Slam. Because in the ranking you can be No. 3 without winning a Slam. But now it’s both happening, so it’s a big surprise. It’s amazing feeling. I saw Roger [Federer] winning so many Grand Slams in the past, so now it’s my turn to win one. If you look the 10 past years, except Del Potro, it’s only the top four guys who was winning all the Grand Slams. So, I will need time to realize what I did in these two weeks. Because at the end, even if Rafa was injury, I think I deserve that Grand Slam because I won against Djokovic, No. 2; I won against Rafa. I did amazing two weeks, and I was playing my best tennis ever.”

Bob & Weave: Nadal withstands Federer blitz before throwing knockout punch

Nadal USO 13 MALT8797

Nadal is now 23-10 vs Federer and is 12-0 vs final round foe Wawrinka

 

By Matt Cronin

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal says that he gets more emotional for his matches against Roger Federer than against any other player, which is not surprising given that when the Spaniard arrived on the scene that the Swiss was the tour’s dominant competitor and looked unstoppable when he was on.

But since the 2008 Wimbledon final, when Nadal stopped Federer in home away from home, the lefthander has seized control of the rivalry and could soon be blessed with the description of the Greatest Of All Time [GOAT]. In Nadal’s 7-6 6-3 6-2 victory over the Swiss in the 2014 Australian Open  semifinals, he sure looked like he’s ready to contender for that moniker.

Federer played fairly well during the semifinal, but still couldn’t get over the hump as Nadal simply waited out his George Foreman-like barrage early on like Muhammad Ali did against the slugger during the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’ Federer threw everything he had at Nadal: huge serves, forehands, net rushes – even flat one-handed backhand as hard as he could strike them. But what he could not do was return serve consistently well enough and could not manage to get a break point on Nadal’s serves. While Federer’s whirlwind attack was eye-popping at times and had fans on their feet, Nadal was very consistent and counterpunched with authority. He moved quickly, kept his groundstrokes deep and worked the points as hard and long as he could.

He decided upon that strategy because  this is what he knew going into the match after watching the tape of their 2012 Australian semifinal in the morning: that Federer would whale away early and as long as Nadal didn’t get down on himself, eventually Federer would begin to punch himself out and then Nadal would be able to throw big  body blows of his own when the openings were there and eventually score a knockout.

Federer badly needed to win the first set in order to give himself a chance at victory. He had not dropped the first set against Nadal and come back to win the match since 2007 Hamburg so the odds were clearly against him.

Federer had chance in the tiebreaker after Nadal committed three straight unforced errors and the Swiss drew back to 4-5, but then the Spaniard stung an inside out forehand winner and Federer missed a backhand down the line. The tiebreaker was in Nadal’s pocket at 7-4 and for all intents and purposes, so was the match, as  Nadal’s two-handed backhand stood up better against Federer’s forehand than the Swiss’ one-handed backhand stood up against Nadal’s forehand. As the match grew older, Federer had a hard time hitting perfect enough approach shots and Nadal consistently passed him. Federer also could not get enough significant returns into play as Nadal’s blistered hand had improved and he had wicked spin and kick on his favored serves. Simply put, Nadal’s left hook was more powerful and effective that Federer’s right-handed cross.

‘The important thing for me is serve well, resist the beginning,” Nadal said. “I know he will try to go on court going for the winners, taking the ball very early.  So when the match is coming and the match is longer, then that’s more difficult.  Because physically is very difficult for me, for him, for everybody to play with that intensity of trying to play that aggressive during a few hours, no, because mentally and physically is very tough. So when the match is going on, I know that I will have the chance to hit a little bit more rallies.  That’s the position that I want to be.  So is very important to resist the score at the beginning.”

Nadal’s record versus Federer now stands at  23-10.  He is one victory away from his second  Australian Open title, and if he manages to best Stan Wawrinka in the final, he will become the only man in the Open Era to win each major twice – which is glorified Rod Laver territory.

He may or may not go down in history as the GOAT, but with his record against Federer —  whom most people currently consider the GOAT — he will likely have something to say about it if he wins another couple of majors.

But that is a discussion for another day, as Nadal still has to best the red-hot Stan Wawrinka for the title, whom he has a 12-0 head to head record against  and whom he has never dropped a set to. The other Swiss – whom by the way will pass Federer when the rankings are released next week – has been tagging his one-handed backhand and been serving huge, but can he actually get over on Nadal if the Spaniard is playing his best? That is extremely doubtful  as Nadal is No.1 for a reason – he has been at higher level than anyone else at the majors during the past year.

However, Wawrinka did manage to upend the seemingly unbeatable Novak Djokovic in the quarters so that has to give him some belief that he can turn his rivalry around against Nadal, at least on one night. The odds are stacked firmly against him, but he will give it a go. His coach of more than year, Magnus Norman, has impressed upon him that he should try to be relaxed and at the same time go for his shots. He is going to attempt to keep his poor record against Nadal out of his head.

I don’t care about having lost 14 times,” he said. But it’s more about playing Rafa.  He’s the No. 1, the best player.  His game is quite tough for me, especially with one‑hand backhand.  But I did some good match last year against him, close one.  I find few things that I will try tomorrow. I’m playing my best tennis here; physically I’m ready.  I had two days off, so that’s perfect for me before final.  Going to try everything.  Before to beat Djokovic was the same.  I was losing 13, 14 times before that. Just the fact that I’m always trying and I always think that I can change all the statistic, that’s positive.”

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

Ms. Three-Setter: Hantuchova goes the distance again and again

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Daniela is true warrior.

MELBOURNE – With her tall and slender frame, Daniela Hantuchova may not look like a paragon of fitness, but given that she has unofficially played more three setters in singles than anyone else on tour  — a whopping 263 – and won 181 of them, that indicates a lot of physical and mental staying power.

On Wednesday at the Australian Open, the 30-year-old Slovakian outlasted Karolina Pliskova 6-3 3-6 12-10. It was just another day in the office for Hantuchova, who will display a stone face on court, but is often full of joy off court, When told of her three-set mark later in the day, she cried out, “Whoo-Hoo! It feels great. I am really proud of the fact that for so many years I have been able to be here, healthy and ready to play and the longer the match it’s better for me. I have to deal with the younger players and the longer the match, the more they get tired.”

So does she almost expect to get in a three-setter every time she goes out to play?

“I would be stupid not to,” she said with a laugh.  “You always want to win in two, but I know that if it goes three I will be OK. The tennis you can’t control because it’s either there or not, but the  fighting is something you can control.”

Unfortunately Hantuchova faces a dreadful scenario in the next round, trying to stop No. 1 Serena Williams, who hasn’t lost a match in nearly five months and has been plastering the field since she arrived Down Under after Christmas.

Hantuchova has played Serena nine times, seven of those matches at the Grand Slams. The only time she beat her was in the third round of the 2006 Aussie Open, a  6-1 7-6(5) win at tournament when Serena came in out of shape and paid for it.

“I remember I made her move,” Hantuchova recalled. “But obviously she has done amazing things since then. She’s a great champion and I admire everything she has done.”

They have faced off at three Wimbledons, where Hantuchova only won a set. She should have taken her down  in 2007 in the round of 16  when Serena was hurt and hobbled, but Serena sent for her shorts late and Hantuchova crumbled.

They also played three times at the US Open, but the Slovakian didn’t manage to win a set there. And the last time they faced off, in New York in 2009, Serena blew her out  6-2 6-0 in the round of 16.

“They kind of ruined my Grand Slam career,” said former top-5 player Hantuchova in reference to the Williams  sisters, “Especially the years when I was playing really well I always had to play her or Venus. The only time I made the [Grand Slam ] semis was here in 2008 when I didn’t have to play either of them in the quarters. I think I had chances to go deeper back then, as well as I was playing. It wasn’t easy.”

Hantuchova’s and Serena’s most notorious match was in Los Angeles in  2006 in the third round when Serena took her out 1-6 6-3 6-3. The Slovakian claimed she bumped into her on purpose during a changeover early in the second set. A photographer sitting courtside said that Williams also swore at Hantuchova.

“She always does that,” Hantuchova told me at the time. “She did say something to me on the next changeover, but I’m not sure what it was.” She also  accused Serena of faking an injury timeout, a charge that Serena denied.

But that is now water under bridge, at least under the public bridge of pro tennis, even it is still continues to wash over their private ones and take them far downstream away from a friendship.

Hantuchova has been competing at the pro level  since 1999 and  has played more than 1,300 matches in her career, which doesn’t count Fed Cup, where she has been competed in 35 matches.

She  is not as quick or agile as she was when she came on tour, but she still owns a sweet two-handed backhand to die for, has been blessed with soft touch, has developed a bigger forehand and a good first serve. But she serves nowhere with the force and accuracy of Serena,  who owns the best one of all time.

“About 80%,” Hantuchova said when asked how much Williams’ great serve has to do with her domination. “When she on it’s like a man’s serve. Her power is incredible and she really serves well when she needs to”

Hantuchova acknowledged that she herself is going to have to serve great in order to win her third-round match against Serena at the 2014 Aussie Open on Friday.

Oh and just one more thing

“Just win the last point,” she said with a coy smile.

Kerber goes on the Offense, while Tomic Learns to Focus

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Angie is trying to become a risk taker.

 

FROM THE APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY – Angelique Kerber has been a very good, but not great player since 2011, when she came out of nowhere and reached the US Open semifinals. After that, and a very solid 2012, it appeared that lefthander really did have Grand Slam winning potential. She is naturally strong, is a terrific mover and  is a standout defensive player. She has good but not great serve, but that is not uncommon on the WTA tour. She has world class two-handed backhand that she can slap into the corners.  But her forehand has lacked some oomph, as has her return. Playing standout defense propelled her into the year-end top 5 in 2012, but her lack of improvement in 2013 saw her drop to the No.9 ranking, which is where she is now.

Pro tennis is not all about aggression, but if you look at the WTA’s top three of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, it does require some high octane offense.

That is what Kerber knew she had to bring to the table this year and it was that attitude and style that saw he blitz the powerful teenager Madison Keys 6-4, 6-2 in the Brisbane semis.

“I was working very hard in my off‑season and trying to play more aggressive in my practice sessions,” Kerber said.  “I think right now I try to make it in my matches, so it’s good I have like very good matches also before Melbourne. I’m feeling good, and I try to going for my shots.  That’s also what I improve in my game.  I think that it’s good right now.”

Much of a player’s willingness to go for her shots has to do with confidence, and a willingness to make mistakes and move on. On Thursday in Sydney, Kerber actually attacked Keys’ big serve and let loose with her forehand ,which looked much improved and dangerous. She still needs to put balls back in play, but she has to go for openings.

“ I have [going back to defense] sometimes in my mind, but I try to not thinking about this,” she said.  “I really try to focus then from point to point and not thinking about the past, and just trying to go then for my shots.  Also when I make some mistakes not thinking about this too much.  Going for my shots for the other point.”

Kerber will be the favorite going into the final against the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who played  an excellent match in upsetting Petra Kvitova, but even if the German goes down, she knows that she has to keep attempting to change her mentality. Not too many players can claim wins over Serena, Sharapova, Aga Radwanska and Li Na, but she can. She also played Azarenka very close they last time they faced off.

That indicates that some day, the 25 year old  will have a legitimate chance to win a major, if she takes her gloves off.

“I think you need to play for sure aggressive to be in the top 5, because it’s not easy to play against them when you’re just a defensive player,” Kerber said. “So I try to mix it a little bit and improve my game like to be more aggressive.”

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Men’s story of the day: Tomic focuses

Defending champion Bernard Tomic came into his Sydney quarterfinal with a 1-5 record against his foe, Alex Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian’s one-time Aussie coach, Jack Reader, once attributed that to ‘Bernie not liking how Alex plays.” Both guys are squirrely, unorthodox players who are quite talented, but not known for their large hearts or killer instincts. But this time around, at home in front of a very supportive crowd, the Aussie Tomic stayed patient when he had to, didn’t get caught in Dolgopolov spider web and took big rips at the balls when they were in his wheelhouse. The result was a 6-4 6-3 win by Tomic, who once again playing at home looks very good. He also appears a good deal smarter as he managed to smash the mirror of himself into pieces. That would be “The Dolgo.”

“When I play him now I know what it’s like when players play me,” Tomic said. “It’s very different, because the balls that come to me are very unusual.  I struggle with a lot of his balls. I’m like, What the hell was that?  It’s his tennis, and that’s something I do well.  Obviously he’s a difficult player. I’m happy I won.”

Tomic  appears to have gained a bit more foot speed during the off season, is better balanced than he was last year and is clearly motivated to show his home country fans that he really is better than his world No. 51 ranking. On a cool night in Sydney, he also showed them that he can keep his head in a match that he was quite concerned about.

“I knew I had to stay focused with him, “ Tomic said. “ It’s not so much about playing amazing or that good.  I just needed to stay focused and do what I needed to do against him. Against him you can be winning and feel so uncomfortable, and you might lose in one or two games against, like your rhythm and everything.  So it’s difficult to find that timing against a player like that.”

Tomic could very well be better than his ranking, but outside of his fine Aussie summers, the 21 year old had never been a force on tour except for one strong Wimbledon. But that does not matter this week and won’t in the next two weeks in Melbourne.

He has the tools to win Sydney again — although Juan Martin Del Potro, who bested Radek Stepanek and will face Dmitry Tursunov in the semis — will be the favorite to do so. And if Tomic can defend his title, or even reach the final and play the elite likes of Del Potro tough, then he will be worth a long look at the Aussie Open.

Development of the Day

Juan Martin Del Potro says the Sydney courts are very fast and is hoping that the Ausralian Open won’t be as quick.  “I think the bounce are really low,” he said.  “Looks like a grass court, because very low bounce and very faster bounce, too. It’s not easy to play on the baseline and feel good on the lines, but I’m trying to do the best I can… I’m not training for this kind of conditions.  I been practicing in hard court, regular hard court, and I was expecting different conditions for this tournament. Hopefully for Melbourne the courts and balls are slower to play long rallies, to feel the ball like I want.  If not, I will have a couple days before start to change my mind and try to play the best tennis I can.”

Quote of the Day

The vanquished Petra Kvitova on her Aussie Open prospects: “I think the matches what I played was great, and I have three in my back.  I think it’s really good to have this record coming to Australian Open.  It’s a new week. I just hope that I can bring something good from Perth and from Sydney.”

What to Watch for on Friday

Can the cagey Pironkova finally realize her dream and win her first WTA title?

 

 

‘Unlucky’ Wozniacki in questionable form for Aussie Open

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Despite loss, Caro feels she’s ready for Melbourne

 

SYDNEY – Caroline Wozniacki may be in slightly improved form heading onto the Australian Open than she was last year, but the former No. 1 does not appear to be playing substantially better. The newly engaged Dane is in a happy place in her personal life (she is wearing a diamond the size of the Rock of Gibraltar on her finger, which is the engagement ring that her pro golfer fiancée Rory McIlroy gave her), but she can’t be terribly pleased about her career, as she is struggling to beat very good players. After pulling out of Brisbane due to shoulder injury, she decided to played the Apia Sydney International, taking out Julia Goerges in three sets on  Monday night, but then falling 6-4 7-6 (7) to Lucie Safarova on Tuesday afternoon.

The lefty Czech has cracked the top 20 before and is no pushover, but under a new coach, Thomas Hogstedt, No. 10 Wozniacki did not look much  better than last season. Her serve is rarely a weapon, her forehand doesn’t have enough depth or pop and her style is currently is one of  “tweener:” stuck between playing standout defense and headstrong offense. Her defense is still there – that’s what brought her to the No. 1 ranking – but her offense is still a work in progress. Her forehand has improved, but she still has trouble hitting it for winners and she can’t belt it down the line. Her flat first serve is pretty decent, but her slice and kicker are nothing to write home about. She isn’t a bad volleyer, but does not attack the cords enough. She is an accurate return of server. but doesn’t take an enough big rips at the ball.

She held four set points in the tiebreaker and had she won one of those, the lefty Safarova might have faded in the third set. Wozniacki  could have pushed herself  harder in rallies and taken more risks, but she didn’t see it that way.

“The first one we have a really long, good rally and I really felt like I put pressure on her there.  She just really stepped it up and won that point,” Wozniacki said. “She served me to the backhand where I miss‑timed it a little bit and missed it by a little.  And then I served on the third set point, and again we have a very long rally.  Again I felt like I put pressure on her, and then it was going back and forth.  I think it was at least 12 or 15 shots going back and forth. You know, again, she hit the line a few times as well.  Just unlucky really.  Fourth one I had a chance.  She served a second serve but it attacked me right in the body.  I misread the ball a little bit and it got too close to my body. Yeah, unlucky really. I feel like I did everything right.  What I could have done, maybe one of the returns of the returns if I had returned it differently, but, again, you can always say that.”

If the Dane feels she was just unlucky, than maybe that will aid her confidence headed into Melbourne, the one Grand Slam tournament that perhaps she should have won back in 2011, when she held a match point against Li Na in the semis and then pushed the ball around in a three set loss. She says she feels good going into the 2014 edition, which begins next week. Perhaps she make a mini run, or maybe her campaign will end in the fourth round, like it did last year when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Against Safarova, she looked no better than a potential quarterfinalist, but she doesn’t seem to feel that way.

“I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” she said. “I should be ready for Melbourne.  I just need to push hard and I need to serve and return well.  I think those are the keys. Then obviously try to put the pressure on the opponent.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY Defending champion Bernard Tomic discussed having his banned father and coach John be allowed back on a site this year. John Tomic, who was banned from the tour last May for assaulting his son’s former hitting partner, was allowed to attend Bernard’s 6-3 6-0 wipe out of  Marcel Granollers as a fan on Tuesday. “Having my dad there a very good feeling.  Obviously winning my first title here gives a lot of memories to me.  I’m happy the way I played today.  Having my dad there for the first time in a while, it’s good. I know his ban will finish very soon, in a few months, and back to helping me.  I’m happy.  Today that was the position.  I played very good.  Felt very good.  I’m happy to be back playing like this.”

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DAY The US men continue to struggle Down Under, with qualifier Ryan Harrison falling to Nicolas Mahut and Lucky Loser Albert Ramos of Spain upending Sam Querrey. There are no US men left in the Sydney singles draw.

What to watch for on Wednesday American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands takes on US teenager Madison Keys, whom she mentors a bit. “She’s a great upcoming player,” said Mattek Sands “Plays aggressive shots, big serve. “She goes for her shots.  She’s not afraid.”

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

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Lleyton grabbed his first crown in two and half years

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not for long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATP Team of the Day

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

 

WTA Team Of the Day

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

Salute of the Day

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