Australian Open picks for Wednesday, January 28

Rod Laver Arena / Day

18-Venus Williams v Madison Keys
Williams wasn’t afraid at the age of 19 in 2000 and she’s still out there, now at the age of 34. She still believes in her Grand Slam ability. She won her last Slam at 2008, which is a long time ago, but she still keeps trying to add new things. Her forehand has improved, especially when moving to her left and cracking her shot down the line. She may have slowed down a bit but she has confidence that she can take over at the net and put away her volleys. Williams says she is happy with her life right now.

We know that Venus will play reasonably well, but will Keys? The 19-year-old is hitting super hard, especially with her first serve and her forehand. She hasn’t been around for years, but she battling in the pros for the past three years now and has settled in. She is showing more confidence and at least over the past 10 days, she hasn’t lost her head.

Keys might become nervous, but not yet. She is pretty determined and thinks she can out hit her elder. It’s a tossup, but I will take Keys in three sets.

Last year's finalist Cibulkova has a big test.Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Last year’s finalist Cibulkova has a big test.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

1-Serena Williams v 11-Dominic Cibulkova
Serena has started very slowly. But no matter, you can win in three sets and that is what she did over Garbine Muguruza. However, Cibulkova is playing very well again, hitting forehands side to side and kissing the lines. Domi can take anyway one if she is on a role, or she could go down to anyone if she is emotionally down.

In this quarterfinal, Cibulkova will try to jump on her returns and control the match. But unless she mixes up her serves and backhands, Serena will knock her out quickly. Serena knows that she can’t start slowly again or one of the better players can stun her. She knows that, which is why she will beat at Domi’s to a punch and knock her out in straight sets.

4-Stan Wawrinka v 5-Kei Nishikori
Is this going to five sets again? Why not? The two played five sets in the US Open, when Nishikori got him at 6-4 in the fifth. It was darn close, but the Japanese hit a bit harder at the end and was more confident – that time.

Will it be the same, or will it change? Not much. Now in Australia Wawrinka thinks he can out think him and change it up. But that does not mean that he has gotten better than Kei has since last May until now? Nishikori has everything: speed, forehands and backhands, aggressive style and a much better volley. Wawrinka will push him for three hours plus, but in the end the 25-year-old Nishikori will take him out, winning in five emotional sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic v 8-Milos Raonic
The Canadian Raonic is ready to play ball. His serve is massive, he hits his forehand as hard as anyone and he doesn’t mind charging up to the set. But Djokovic is almost perfect – again. So few players can even get a set, much less a win. He is so steady and so relentless. It’s hard to find where to attack him because he will take it from anywhere and turn it around.

Yes, Raonic can serve gigantic and take him into the tiebreaks, but how is he going to get into his head? Yes, Djokovic has disappeared at times in the past two years (like in the 2014 US semis) but that is extremely rare. It may occur in the semis this week, or in the final, but not in the quarters against Raonic, as Novak can see the Canadian in his sites. Djokovic will win in four sets.

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.

anderson_tg_072713_650

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 Thursday, January 21

Rod Laver Arena / Day

6- Agnieszka Radwanska v Johanna Larsson
The Polish ‘Aga’ went up to world No. 2, and make it all the way to the final Wimbledon, but she has yet to win a Slam. She came close last year, playing terrific back until she reaches the semifinal Aussie Open, but then she was too tired and was wiped out by Domi Cibulkova. She was upset and mad. Now she is being coached by Martina Navratilova, who knows her game inside and out, but they just started together so she will likely take some time. Nonetheless, she is too smart for Larsson and will win it in straight sets.

Vera punched out Ana |

Vera is back and in form.

1-Serena Williams v Vera Zvonareva
Remember Zvonareva who once pushed up to No. 2, reaching two Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open against Serena in 2010? Serena destroyed the Russian in both sets.  Zvonareva has been seriously hurt and she has been pretty darn good in the Aussie, reaching the semis in 2009 and 2011. Hopefully she will eventually come back at 100 percent, but not yet. Williams will easily push past year in two sets.

1-Novak Djokovic v Andrey Kuznetsova 
The Serbian has been sick over the past two weeks but he played reasonably well in the first round and is feeling much better. Kuznetsova has improved over the past year or so, but he isnt strong enough or smart enough to battle the big boy. Djokovic in three sets.

Rod Laver Arena / Night

Lleyton Hewitt v Benjamin Becker
Hewitt was inconsistent at best on Tuesday night but, once he got over, he struck with the ball for more purpose. Hewitt is super at anticipating where his opponent is going, but he does not hit as strong as the younger players overall. However, he and Becker are around the same age and he knows that he can fool his foe with the help of a raucous pro-Aussie crowd. Hewitt will win in four sets.

20-Sam Stosur v CoCo Vandeweghe
The Aussie Stosur was very pleased to take her first match – actually any win at the Aussie Open – but this is different. Now she will be on the tournament’s biggest stage in front of a packed house. American Vandeweghe is finally coming her own. Vandeweghe has a gigantic serve – just like Stosur does – and can smoke the forehands that bounce up high. If Stosur plays as well as she can, she will take it in front of fans screaming for her. But she consistently becomes nervous in her homeland’s Slam and will again. Take Vandeweghe in three.

Margaret Court Arena

18-Venus Williams v Lauren Davis
Williams has gone on and on. She began the AO back in 1998, reaching the quarters as a baby. Now she is 35 years old and still playing well, looking like she still has a threat. Maybe that is possible, but you never know depending on whom she has to play. We know is that she is very smart, which will help her against younger foes. Davis runs forever and never gives up. But Williams has the tools. Venus will win in two long sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Victoria Azarenka
Without a question, Wozniacki has played much better since last August. She is more aggressive, her forehand in stronger, her first serve can kiss the lines and will move forward to attack her returns. But, you’ve got to wonder if she is feeling comfortable against Azarenka, who pretty much disappeared last year and wasn’t as motivated as she once did for years. Perhaps, but what we know is the two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka is ready to challenge the rest of the best and she is very close to racing up the tops. Azarenka is as fit as she was here in 2012 and 2013 when she won the titles. While she is not as fast as before, she can smoke the balls side to side. Vika will win in three tremendous three sets.

Other matches

8-Milos Raonic will take out the American Donald Young in four sets, because the Canadian is crushing his forehand, which is as powerful as any on tour.

4-Petra Kvitova thinks that he is ready to win the tournament, which means that she has to lock in quickly. She will defeat Mona Bartels in three sets, even though the German is a big swinger, too.

17-Gael Monfils almost went out against a French kid in five sets, but he hung in there and now he will do it again. He will survive the big hitter Jerzy Janowicz in a marathon.

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?

cornet ao 14

 

Rod Laver Arena

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

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

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

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

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

Hisense Arena

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

5-Agnieszka Radwanska v 29-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

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

4-Andy Murray  v 26-Feliciano Lopez

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

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

Margaret Court Arena

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

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

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

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