2001 Indian Wells: Serena Soars Amidst Scandal

Editor’s Note: For most observers in the world of tennis, the story of Serena Williams’ emotional rejection of the Indian Wells tournament is a faint and distant memory. However, our coverage of the last 14 years of pro tennis is unrivaled in the world of online news.

Matt Cronin of TennisReporters.net was there.

With the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells, we are re-running Matt’s story written from the tournament that appeared on this site. Matt’s coverage of the event originally appeared in Inside Tennis. 

020415-TENNIS-Serena-Williams-Kim-Clijsters-SS-PI.vadapt.620.high_.0INDIAN WELLS — Meet cheerful and cheeky Serena Williams, four days into the Tennis Master Series Wells after a casual second-round victory where she wowed fans with blazing groundstrokes and her new hot pink dress. “Hot pink for a hot girl,” said Williams of her color of choice. “Attractive, a very attractive girl.”

Revisit Serena, 10 minutes after her sister, Venus, had caused the biggest hullabaloo the desert had seen since the discovery of the hot springs by pulling out of the sisters’ highly anticipated semi with a sore knee.

When informed that few people believed that Venus was too injured to play and that Elena Dementieva had stated the day before that it would be Richard’s decision as to who would win the sisters’ match, Serena wowed no one with her casual indignation and less than emphatic denials.

“People have freedom of speech,” she said. “They can say whatever they want. It’s going to happen. Obviously we’re sisters, we’re very close. People often speculate things like that. People are always just going to speculate things.”

God bless America, let the speculation ring.

Over the next few days, newspapers, wire services, TV, radio and the Internet were filled with more tennis-related stories than the sport has seen in a non-Grand Slam week during the Open era. Unfortunately, the stories were of the “Are the Williamses rigging matches?” veriety.

That Serena was able to fight off the most hostile crowd in California history and subdue hard-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 for the title is a minor miracle, if you consider that the debate that raged for four days over the Williams’ family affairs had ruinous implications for the sport. Serena and Venus rarely read the press and appear sheltered enough that they don’t yet comprehend what even the suspicion of matches being fixed can do to a sport — like the Black Sox scandal did to baseball.

If the Williamses did get this, then they might not have kept shrugging off questions for the two days leading up to the final and would have emphatically denied the accusations when they occurred. Instead, tennis was bloodied from the moment Dementieva let loose on Wednesday evening and didn’t come off the mat until Sunday morning, when the last newspaper hit the sidewalk with Serena’s denials. Without question, the Williamses are partly to blame for the scandal.

Who else is to blame? The players who speculated that the sisters’ matches have been fixed with no evidence save for how badly they usually play against each other. Senior Sanex WTA Tour officials, who ignored the significance of Dementieva’s comments until it was too late; and who have little or no personal connection to the Williams’ family despite the fact that the family has been on the tour for five years now. As a result, the situation got so out of control that the tour gave itself a gigantic black eye, one that may take years to repair. Why didn’t they act more quickly? Some claim that officials feel that any press is good press and that the players should be viewed more as entertainers than athletes — the integrity of the sport be dammed.
So why the meltdown here and why the first two weeks of March, rather than in some other month at some other tournament? Could it be because it was the emotionally volatile Richard who accompanied the girls to the desert, rather than their more mellow mother, Oracene, who is now separated from Richard?

Williams observers say that Venus and Serena are much more skittish when Pop is around and, given the numerous problems that have occurred between Richard and Oracene over the past six months, it’s no wonder that both Venus and Serena have played sparingly since last October. At Indian Wells, both the Williamses played reasonably well, but off court, they were as cagey and as defensive as they’ve been at any time during their careers.

Coming into Indian Wells, Serena had played in only three tournaments since being bounced out of the 2000 UAP C01 RICHARD 26 S TEN USA CA.S. Open quarters by Lindsay Davenport. She won Tokyo at the end of September, but took time off to go to school and suffered a stress fracture in her foot. She didn’t reappear on tour until early January in Sydney, where she lost to Martina Hingis in straight sets. At the Australian Open, Hingis took her down again, this time in three marathon sets.
Serena, who ended last year ranked No. 6 but failed to win a Slam title, wouldn’t let on to what her goals are this year.

“My dad and I already went over my goals and that’s where I’m really going to work harder,” said Serena, who crushed defending champion Davenport in the quarters. “My goal this year is to reach my goals…. But I like to keep them to myself so I don’t put too much pressure on myself or other people.”

Venus, who dominated the tour for five months last year, has yet to win an event this year and is playing nowhere near up to her capabilities. Yet in the quarters she slugged tough-talking Dementieva into the pavement in a 6-0, 6-3 victory.

That’s when the trouble began — KGB style.

When asked what the outcome of the semi between Venus and Serena would be, Dementieva said, “I don’t know what Richard thinks about it,” Dementieva said. “He’ll decide who’s going to win tomorrow.” Dementieva said she suspected foul play when she watched the sisters’ ‘99 Lipton final, which Venus won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. “I remember when they played,” said Dementieva. “If you saw the match, it was so funny.”

The sisters have played five times, with Venus owning a 4-1 edge. Serena’s won once — in a fairly inconsequential ’99 Grand Slam Cup final.
This wasn’t the first time that players have questioned whether the outcome of the Williams matches are decided by Richard. Hingis has repeatedly said that the outcome of their matches is a “family affair.”

At 2000 Wimbledon, Serena came into their semi red hot, losing only 13 games in five matches and was favored by many to win it. But Serena fell apart and Venus won 6-2, 7-6(3). “I thought Venus was going to win,” Davenport said in the desert. “I just thought that Serena had won a Grand Slam title, whether it was on purpose or subconsciously or whatever, Venus was going to win the match. That was my opinion.”

The Williams family chose not to respond to Dementieva’s comments during the day on Thursday and it wasn’t until after Venus’ withdrawal four minutes before her semi against Serena that they discussed it. But now the situation had been compounded, because most observers believed that Venus should have at least tried to play, despite patellar tendonitis in her right knee. WTA Primary Health Care Provider Michelle Gebrian did back up Venus’ claim, saying that Venus was unable to pass basic functional testing.

Pete Sampras rolled his eyes when questioned about Venus’ knee. “I guess it flared up, the tendonitis,” Sampras said, adding that he would have played if he had a similar problem. “Yeah,” he said. “There’s always something you’re feeling. Every morning you wake up, it’s a little stiff here, your arm is sore from serving. I don’t think any player on tour really walks out there feeling great.”

Because the match was canceled until most people had already taken their seats, fans reacted in anger, raining a loud chorus on to the court when it was announced that Venus was pulling out. A handful of fans went to ticket windows and demanded their money back. “I did everything I could do to be able to play tonight,” said Venus.

When asked about her peers’ suspicions, Serena said,
“We always go out to compete and that’s how it’s been,” said Serena. “I think if my dad would decide, then maybe Venus wouldn’t be up 4-1 [in their matches], maybe it would be 3-3 by now. So I don’t think so.”

Venus added, “It’s not a true opinion at all. Everyone makes their own comments. That’s how rumors get started. I guess rumors are more exciting than the truth.”

But neither Williams yelled, “No,” at the top of their lungs, even when they were specifically asked to do so.

The next day, the National Enquirer published a cover story that alleged that Richard had rigged their 2000 Wimbledon match. When approached by IT the day before the final, Richard said, “I don’t want to open my mouth anymore. Every time I do, all that’s printed is lies. I’m scared. I’ll never talk again. It’s all lies. I don’t speak English anymore.”

At the final, Serena faced Kim Clijsters. First the crowd raged at Serena when she walked on court, then booed and hissed at Richard and Venus Williams as they walked down the stair to the Friends Box. The crowd continued to hoot and holler with a vein-popping intensity throughout Serena’s three-set win.

So it wasn’t until after Serena’s ragged victory over Clijsters in the final that the issue was somewhat sorted out. But not before Serena was subjected a two-hour symphony of booing. Serena felt hurt. “I wasn’t happy,” said Serena, who nervously went down 3-0 in the first set. “I won here before. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that. But eventually you get over it and start playing.”

In her acceptance speech, Serena told the crowd, “You guys were a little tough on me today. I want to thank everybody who supported and everyone who didn’t. I love you anyway.”

For the past 18 months, Serena hadn’t shown the mental fortitude that she displayed in winning the ‘99 U.S. Open, frequently skipping tournaments and folding in big matches. But in the desert, she dug within herself and rediscovered the it’s-me-against-the-world mental toughness that made her the Queen of New York.

“I won a big battle today mentally, more than anything,” Serena said.

Serena then (finally) took the Enquirer’s Wimbledon claim head on.

“C’mon, it the National Enquirer,” Serena said. “Next thing you know, I’m going to be pregnant by some Martian. It’s just not true. It’s really kind of hurtful because it’s just lies, just scandalous lies…..Besides, I was really trying to make the singles competition in the Olympics, so I was really disappointed about that. I didn’t make the singles when I lost. That was heartbreaking for me.”

Pick me, March 8: On Davis Cup, does Isner a chance vs Murray; will Raonic defeat Nishikori

Isner_09_MT

 

France and Serbia played excellent ball, already winning the ties 3-0 with the German’s couldn’t handle Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils Julien Benneteau/Nicolas Mahut, and Croatia needs a much stronger team with Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic, which nailing it down on Saturday. The rest of six vs. six teams will go on each other on Sunday at the Davis Cup. Who will win overall? It will be fairly close, but coming back 1-2 if very difficult.

GREAT BRITAIN leads USA 2-1

The US’s Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan over came Dominic Inglot/Jamie Murray 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-7(8) 9-7. Now the captain Jim Courier will tell John Isner exactly what he will do against Andy Murray. However, Isner admits that he is shaky this year and Andy will stay way back in the court so he could yank the tall man back and forth until he can’t run the balls down. The GB will win in four sets and move on to face France in the quarters.

AUSTRALIA leads CZECH REPUBLIC 2-1

The Aussie looked in great shape up 2-0, but then out of nowhere, the Czechs lifted their chins up and upset the foes when Adam Pavlasek/Jiri Vesely beat Samuel Groth/Lleyton Hewitt 1-6 7-6(2) 3-6 7-6(4) 6-2/

Can the Czech Lukas Rosol put down Bernard Tomic on Sunday morning? Perhaps, but Tomic wants to show the world that he is most important these days, not the teenagers-yet. However, if Tomic falls – which is down full– the young Aussie Thanasi might be a little tired, but he will out stroke Jiri Vesely to win it in five sets.

ITALY leads KAZAKHSTAN 2-1

Mikhail Kukushkin played very well at home to beat Simone Bolelli in the first match, but Bolelli and Fabio Fognini won the dubs. Kukushkin will wants to take down Andreas Seppi, but Seppi has been much better this year and he will win it by smoking his forehands by kissing the lines.

BRAZIL leads ARGENTINA 2-1

Argentina is playing home and is down 2-1? Really? Joao Souza overcame Carlos Berlocq and then the excellent doubles team, Marcelo Melo/Bruno Soares, wasted Berlocq/Diego Sebastian Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 6-4. So let’s assume that Leonardo Mayer, who won on Friday, will beat Souza, but it seems like Argentina is anxious and this time Thomaz Bellucci won’t become extremely nervous (which he has all the time). Brazil will grab the 3-2 when Berlocq loses three matches in a row. Ouch.

CANADA leads JAPAN 2-1

The Canada’s Daniel Nestor/Vasek Pospisil edged Go Soeda/Yasutaka Uchiyama 7-5 2-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 but it is wide open with all the players. Milos Raonic is playing Kei Nishikori a ‘pick-em’ and they know each other very well. Yes, the Japanese Nishikori has been slightly better in the past year, but Vancouver is very fast and Milos is more confident at home. It will go five sets, but Raonic will serve huge when it matters the most and win it 3-1.

BELGIUM leads SWITZERLAND 2-1

Everyone in Belgium was stunned that the Swiss Henri Laaksonen beat Ruben Bemelmans in five sets, but then Steve Darcis was extremely concentrated and Bemelmans/Niels Desein won the doubles pretty convincing. One would think that Darcis will grab the tie 3-1 when he mixes up his pace and beats Laaksonen in three sets.

The Pick: 1-NOVAK DJOKOVIC VS. 2-ROGER FEDERER, DUBAI, FEBRUARY 27

Federer IW 11 MALT5774

These two have played each other 36 matches, with Federer winning 19 matches and Djokovic having won 17 matches. It has been very, very close and while the 33-year-old Federer has slipped a tiny bit, in two out of three sets he is incredibly impressive.

Last year, Federer bested the Serbian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semis in Dubai, so why not do it again? Well, he might, but Djokovic was clearly not happy and some how, some way, Djokovic out toughs him at Indian Wells 7-6 in the third to win the crown.

However, Federer beat Djokovic on clay at Monte Carlo in the final. A few months later, Djokovic overcame Federer 7-5 in the fifth set at Wimbledon, perhaps the last chance for the Swiss. But he keeps trying, overcoming Djokovic at Shanghai.

It really doesn’t matter whether they are on clay, grass and hard outdoors and indoors: they are so close and capable that they can win or lose, be good or bad during the day.

Look what occurred in 2011 at the US Open semifinal between Federer against Djokovic. That year, Djokovic overcame “Rog” 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Finally, he was much more confident and much more mature. He never gave up.

Before the semifinal match, here is what I wrote on the USTA:

“When Federer bested Djokovic in the 2007 US Open final and in the 2008 and 2009 semis, Djokovic did not have the same strong and consistent serve that he has today, his forehand was not has accurate or hard, he wasn’t as confident at the net, and frankly, he didn’t believe in himself as much.

“Now he does and as his result, he’s won all but two tournaments he’s entered this year, he’s smiling all the time and is making many players outside of the top 10 look like rookies.

“Federer…is beautifully mixing up his deliveries. He seems more confident coming to the net and shortening points, and he is taking his backhand earlier.

“But what I don’t see in this match if the Serbian plays well is how Federer can open the court enough and crack winners because Djokovic is so fast and hits so deep that he squeezes the margins of the box to the point where his foes feel like they have no room to breath.

“Rather than blasting away with Djokovic from inside the baseline, Federer would be better serving to mix it up and take the Serbian out of his rhythm. But know this: Djokovic has revenge on his mind from his Roland Garros defeat and this time, he wont be caught sliding the wrong way as he will have his feet firmly planted on the cement. Since he won the 2004 US Open, Federer has only dropped two five setters, and one was to Djokovic in the 2010 semis. This time around, as hard as he tries and however much he has the crowd in his pocket, the Swiss won’t get that far as Djokovic will advance to his third US Open final in four sets.”

In 2015, things have changed a bit though now. Both have improved there volleys, Federer is more aggressive with his one-handed backhand and Djokovic is much more comfortable moving towards his left and whacking his forehand inside-out.

Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what their coaches say because the two players know each other like they are twins. It is all about who plays better. While Federer was not pleased that he was stunned by Seppi in Australia and badly wants a title, Djokovic won the Aussie because he is more comfortable. Novak will win the Dubai title in three sets.

Untouchable: Djokovic wins 5th Slam in Aussie Open

djokovic 2013 Aussie opwon winFROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN – Novak Djokovic is now the best Australian Open men’s player ever, as he wins his 5th Grand Slam there.

Sure, the Serbian has been frustrated at other Slams; he’s been darn good and very consistent. On Sunday, Djokovic looked sore and injured but he kept getting up after falling down, he sprinted to and fro until Murray collapsed.

Djokovic is remarkably steady. He is almost impossible to out hit him. The Brit floundered again, as he began to get tired, lost his rhythm and his momentum. Djokovic took firm control in the last two sets, winning 7-6 6-7 6-3 6-0.

Murray has lost four finals in the Aussie Open, which is good because he actually made it there, but he has yet to come very close.  He is very smart, has a terrific backhand, can mix it and can boom his first serve. But, when he goes up against the rest of the Big 4, and he can go backwards at times. His forehand can go up and down, his second serve can be horrific and, while he is very impressive when he charges the net, he doesn’t come in often enough.

On the other hand, when Djokovic is feeling right, he can be terrific. He can belt forehands and backhands, run side to side so low and fast that it is almost impossible to nail a winner against him. Yes, Djokovic can he had when he isn’t feeling right, but for the most part, the No. 1 is almost always there.

In Australia, he has been the best since the beginning of the Open Era in 1969. A few fantastic players have won four Aussie Open Slams such as Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Ken Rosewall and others, but only Djokovic has nailed five Slams. That is pretty darn good. The 27-year-old Serbian may not be able to catch the all-time 17 major Federer, but you have to give him the rest of them. Rafael Nadal has 14 Slams (and predictable more to come), as does Pete Sampras. Roy Emerson has 12, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver have 11 and Bill Tilden has 10.

And guess who has tied 8 majors?  Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry and now Djokovic.

How much further can he go? He has owned Murray since last year and the start of this year. Federer looks OK, but he still must be stunned that Andreas Seppi shocked him.  Nadal is still not recovered yet. So until the younger players move ahead and quickly, Djokovic will be the favorite, everywhere until he is knocked off.

Australian Open final pick for Saturday, January 31

1-Serena Williams vs. 2-Maria Sharapova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking the semis: Djokovic v Wawrinka

Rod Laver Arena / Night

1-Novak Djokovic v 4-Stan Wawrinka

It is pretty unusual to watch two of the big guns go out against each other and play two Aussie Open match-ups in a row and put together two fantastic five-setters. Djokovic won it in 2013 who went on to the title. Wawrinka did the exact same thing and won the crown last year. Now they will face each other again in Rod Laver but this time it will be in the semis

Both men are playing beautifully, smartly and ambitiously. Their serves have been strong and creative; their forehands can find the lines; their backhands are artful; they aren’t afraid to go anywhere they want. They can mix it up, spin it or flatten it. They can slice or chuck in some drop shots. It’s is all there, for both of them.

What we do know is that the Slam champion Djokovic owns seven Slams and Wawrinka has one. The Serbian is much more consistent, because he rarely loses his head, while Stan has done it many times.

But Wawrinka can get on rolls and he will be into it. Stan has been terrific during the past 12 days, but he will have doubts. They may only be small ones, but those matter. Let’s say they will go into the fifth again. In 2013, Djokovic won 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10. In 2014, Wawrinka pulled out 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7.

This time, they will grind away, deep into four hours. and. Let’s say Djokovic 14-12 in the fifth. Won’t that be sweet?

Australian Open picks for Thursday, January 29

The Semis

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

serena wins wta champs 12

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Open picks for 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.