The champion: Nadal wins Paris again, crushed Wawrinka

ROLAND GARROS, DAY 15 – 

THE MEN
During the past three years, Rafa Nadal was struggling. His body was messed up, he lost a lot of confidence, and frequently, he pushed the ball around.

But, this year, he began to feel substantially better. He started to believe that when he had the opportunity, he could belt the ball.

And he did, crushing Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 6-1 to win Roland Garros for the 10th time.

How good was he during the past 15 days in Paris? How about amazing, as he only lost 35 games in seven matches. 

“It’s the most important event in my career without a doubt so to win again here is something I cannot describe,” said Nadal.
 
This season, his backhand has improved tremendously. It used to be land in the middle of the court, but now it is substantially deeper, with more action. We all know that his forehand if so heavy, so strong and lands with so much depth.

But his backhand was, well, it was very decent over the past 13 years. However, it wasn’t hard enough and many times, it was too short. Just fading away.
 
In 2015, Nadal’s body was breaking down. He couldn’t run as fast as he used to on the clay. 

He lost in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and, at RG, going down against Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the quarters.

In 2016, at RG, Nadal retired in the third round. Obviously, he was pretty hurt. At the US Open, he was knocking out in the fourth round in five sets against Lucas Pouille. In the fall, he barely played. 

But this year, he was finally healthy. His doctors helped him a tremendous amount. It took a few months, but in April, he was ready to rock ’n’ roll.

He crushed everyone, including Wawrinka. After the first set, the Swiss had no idea what to do. He couldn’t out-hit Nadal’s forehand, backhand, his serve, his movement, basically everything. The three-time Grand Slame champ Wawrinka was desponded.

“When you play against him, he’s amazing fighter. On clay he’s just tough to play,” Wawrinka said. “There is always one ball coming back. There is always spin on the ball. There is always a different bounce that’s what the other player make on that surface. He creates a doubt that you cannot have if you want to beat him. And on clay especially, because the way he’s moving, it’s even more difficult.”

Nadal was extremely happy. He is now ranked No. 2 again, and in the next few months, he could snare the top spot. 

The great positive is that Nadal isn’t tired and he can actually go to England and seriously compete at Queens and Wimbledon.
 
But right now, he is only thinking about RG. He was thrilled.

“It’s about the work of every day. Yeah, happened 10 times here already,” Nadal said. “Have been magical all the things that happened in this tournament for me. So very happy. Today was a very important day for me. Have been some tough moments last times, injuries, so it’s great to have big success like this again. Happy because I have been working a lot to be where I am today.”

THE WOMEN
Very few people knew who was Jelena Ostapenko when she came into Roland Garros on the first day. But, at the end, the entire world saw she can crush the ball.

Latvian Ostapenko was never very nervous, and even when she was down in the second set, she had to keep pushing, harder and harder, and camping out inside the line. She was down 3-0 in the second, and she was very close, but she couldn’t keep the ball inside the courts. Within seconds, Ostapenko changed the dynamic, and Simona Halep couldn’t do a darn thing.

Ostapenko won the tournament 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, grabbing the title. Now she is ranked No. 12. It is possible the 20-year-old can sneak into the top 5 — or higher?

The key to her progression is she is so driven. 

“I was losing 6-4, 3-0, and then in my mind I was just, I’m just going to enjoy the match, andI will try to fight until the last point. And then I stayed aggressive and the match turned my way,” she said. 

Ostapenko is so incredible powerful that, while she can miss it here and there, she will continue to go for it, on her forehand, backhand, first serve, at the net — almost anything. Of course, she has been poor at times, but this year overall, she has become very consistent. It’s not all about crushing the ball, but winning.

Ostapenko had hit 54 winners on Saturday against Halep. Talk about aggression.

“I hit quite a lot of winners from that ad court down the line, so I was trying to put it in, of course,” she said.

Of course.

The sad thing is that the 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams is out for the rest of 2071 because she is pregnant. The five-time champ Maria Sharapova just pulled out at Wimbledon because she wrecked her back and she won’t be to play until late July, or longer.

The No. 1 Angie Kerber isn’t playing well at all this year, and the No. 3 Pliskova is inconsistent to tell. 

So maybe by the end of the year, Ostapenko can become No. 1. Who would have thunk that?

 

Murray: ’It’s about finding a way to get the win.’ to battle Wawrinka

At ROLAND GARROS, DAY 12 — Andy Murray has won three Grand Slams, twice at Wimbledon and once at the US Open. He has won a ton of titles, at the ATP 1000s, the 500s and then 250s.

He reached the final at Roland Garros last year, and he tried very hard, but Novak Djokovic was much more consistent and his forehand was harder and deeper.

However, at least Murray was enthusiastic, knocking off Stan Wawrinka in four sets in the semis. Now they will clash again, on Friday, in Paris.

Both have played extremely well in the past 11 days. Wawrinka has been locked in, but Murray has been a little off. However, the 30-year-old Scot exactly knows when it’s time to run, and change it up, and hit it as hard as you can.

Over the years, Murray has changed his movement and strokes. His forehand has improved greatly, his first serve is tremendous and he almost never gets tired, going left and right, hour after hour.

These two have played each other 17 times, with Murray ahead 10-7. Their head-to-head shows they have had on-and-off streaks, with Murray taking the last two meetings in 2016 while Wawrinka gad three in a row from 2013-15. They are both veterans, so the nerves aren’t an issue, but it is possible to get angry, or very happy. One way or another, it will be extremely close.

“I don’t know how Stan is going to play on Friday. I don’t know how I’m going to play,” Murray said. “Last year, I feel like I played some really good tennis and managed to win the match, but you have no idea. You don’t know what the conditions will be. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to win the match. It’s not always about how well that you play or, the level that you play at. It’s about finding a way to get the win, and that’s what I will try to do. In an ideal world you play great tennis, and play a really good match. That unfortunately can’t be the case always. Don’t know how either of us are going to play, but with the right attitude, right game plan, right tactics, you can still win matches.”

Nadal/Thiem faceoff in semis
Will Rafa Nadal cruise against Dominic Thiem? Nadal is playing as well as he can now, blitzing the opponents. However, Thiem did beat him in Rome, but the Spaniard was pretty tired after winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

No excuses, however. It’s all about Nadal’s massive forehand, and Thiem’s impressive one-handed backhand. Plus, the serves matter a lot, as do their ability to come to the net and put it away some volies. It should be a blast — we hope.

Halep sneaks past Pliskova
Karolina Pliskova was as aggressive as she could be, but Simona Halep was so consistent, so fast, totally locked in, winning 6-4 3-6 6-3 to reach the final. Pliskova was close, but she made a few too many errors at the end, which really caused her.

Now Halep has a legitimate shot to become No. 1, if she manages to take down 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko, who just moved from a teen to a 20-year-old today. The Latvian is so aggressive, off both sides, forehand, backhand and her big serve. In beating Timea Bacsinszky 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 she hit 50 winners. Totally on the ball. Ostapenko, still a relative newcomer, has never reached the final at a Grand Slam, and maybe she will be super nervous. If she can focus, she definitely has an opportunity. She believes that someday, she will become No. 1. It will take time, but she’s pretty close all ready.

Halep has been No. 2 before, but she has not been able to snag No. 1, which she can if she takes the title. Over the past two months, she has refocused and has found a way to smack the ball deeper, and make her serve game smarter.

The two haven’t played before. Halep said that she hasn’t seen Ostapenko much, so she will have to look at tape. She will attempt to grind her, but if she cannot, then she must push her very early.

“My first Grand Slam and No. 1 in the world. It’s a big challenge. I think I have the game. I have the mentality to win, but it’s gonna be tough,” Halep said. “I expect her to give everything she has, to hit all the balls, to play with confidence. But I’m confident, as well. It’s a big thing. If it’s
gonna happen, it’s gonna happen, two things in the same time.”

The determined: Raonic, Djokovic, Schiavone, Muguruza and more  

At ROLAND GARROS –

The Men
When he is healthy, very healthy, Milos Raonic can actually win a Grand Slam. Maybe in Wimbledon, or the US Open, but right now he isn’t 100 percent physically. He is tall, his first serve is massive, his forehand is phenomenal and, without a doubt, his backhand has been improved over the past two years.

However, he is often hurt, which is why the 26-year-old has yet to win a major yet. Obviously, it’s not easy, given that he has to beat the fantastic competitors: Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Combined, the Big 5 guys have won 50 Grand Slams. To even get in there, Raonic has to improve every day because the Big 5 are super intelligent, and they are very fast, and they can return like animals. Raonic can club the ball, but outside of the Big 5, no one else can return consistency well — like Raonic. However, the Canadian is trying, so maybe this year, he can break the serves, and break it again.

On clay, you have to grind it out.

On Monday, he did, beating Steve Darci 6-3 6-4 6-2. That’s a good start. But can he win the tournament? Hmmm.  

“Every single match I step out on court, I know I will be able to have the opportunity to create chances to win,” said Raonic, who has never reached the semis at Roland Garros. “Will I do that? Will I get to that stage, and will I make the most of them? That’s another thing. But I believe a lot in my tennis.”

GOOD WINS, BAD LOSSES
Former US Open champ Marin Cilic beat Ernests Gulbis in three sets. Cilic is very powerful, but he doesn’t slice enough

How about Joao Sousa who upset the former top-10er Janko Tipsarevic 4-6 7-6 6-2 6-2? Good for Sousa, but now he has to play Novak Djokovic, who smoked Marcel Granollers. Andre Agassi is here coaching Djokovic, which is super interesting, but they don’t know each other well — yet — so the Serbian has to rely on his ample experience.

The nine-time champion Rafa Nadal waxed Benoit Paire 6-1 6-4 6-1. He will play against Robin Haase. Straight sets for Nadal. He will cruise until the quarters next week. 

David Goffin was on fire, overwhelming Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2 6-2 6-2. Goffin might face Dominic Thiem in the fourth round. Pick-em.

Jack Sock lost against the vet Jiri Vesely 7-5 7-5 6-3. The American has to welcome a return to grass. Ryan Harrison lost against the Brit Aljaz Bedene 6-4 6-0 3-6 6-1. Clearly, Harrison will be happier when he lands in England.

A tough lost by the Frenchman Gilles Simon, who went down against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The Women
At the end of this year — allegedly — Francesca Schiavone will retire. She’s 36 years old, and even though she’s a little bit slow now, she still can run and run for hours. Unfortunately, the Italian lost against Garbine Muguriza in two tough sets.

A few years ago, Schiavone won the title at RG. She was so enthusiastic, so fast, delivering her shots with so much spin. She has declined though, but at the very least, she can be funny.

After she lost in Paris on Monday, she smiled and said: “I hate sometimes tennis. Is a big relation. Is a love that you have to love and then you hate sometimes. It’s like when you marry someone.”

The Spaniard Muguruza used to watch Schiavone playing on court. She still does.

“I think she loves it. She kind of enjoys out there. I saw her match in the final here, and I kind of like it. I was happy that she won the French Open at that time,” Muguruza said. “I don’t see myself playing at 36 with that shape. I think she has spectacular body, to be able to do that. I don’t know if my body can handle with how many injuries I have, and I’m 23. So it’s gonna be tough.”

For sure.

Some quick ones
Kristina Mladenovic beat Jennifer Brady 3-6 6-3 9-7 in a classic match.  Mladenovic was slightly injured but she hung in there. Can she push on after 3 hours? Hard to say, but the Frenchwoman really wants to go very The No. 3 Karolina Pliskova blasted Zheng Saisai. We all know how good she is, but on clay, she has to bear down.

Good wins by Sam Stosur, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Catherine Bellis and Varvara Lepchenko.

Serena won’t play this year, so who will be No. 1?

Kerber, Pliskova, Cibulkova, Halep and more

The great Serena Williams is pregnant now, and she will not play this year. Or the beginning of 2018. Or never. We won’t find out until the 35-year-old decides if she will want to stay at home, or get on the court to wrap up her career.

But that is a different discussion.

Now, the other very good WTA competitors will face off and will determine who will end the season at No. 1. It’s only April and they have a long way to go. But, outside of Serena, very few have played fantastic this year.

Here is the top 7 players who have a chance to gain, or to stay, at No. 1.

Angie Kerber
The current No. 1 has had a very tough year. Clearly, when she is feeling good mentally, she is so stable and aggressive. However, when she is feeling nervous in must-win situations, she backs up. There is no pressure, except in Germany, where the expectations run high. If she finds her balance, then she will win her third major. Perhaps at RG? Perhaps.

Karolina Pliskova
At times, she plays so good, with incredible power. But, at other times, her brain melts down. She reached the semis at IW and Miami, which was just fine, but then she went down against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caro Wozniacki. Not bad, but not great. The now No. 3 almost won the 2016 US Open, but right at the end, she was not comfortable. She can snare No. 1, but in order to do so, she has to win her first major. Maybe on hardcourts at the US Open.

Domi Cibulkova
The No. 4 has improved a lot over the past three years. She may be small, but she is so strong and rarely gets tired. She has gone deep at all four majors. She did reach the final at the 2014 Aussie, but couldn’t grab it (against Li Na). She hasn’t done much this year, but soon, she will rise. Can she win a Slam? I doubt it.

Simona Halep
At times, she has been so close to winning a Grand Slam, but she has can’t put together a perfect two weeks. This year, the No. 5 has been really struggling, not because she is injured, but because her focus is through glassy eyes. In 2014, she reached the final at Roland Garros. She ran and ran and ran and was trying to exhaust Maria Sharapova, but in the last two games in the third set — over three hours — Sharapova went for it, while Halep just stood there and lost. The Romanian can reach the final at RG, and this time, she will win it for the first time.

Garbiñe Muguruza
The positive is that last year in the 2016 Roland Garros final against Serena, the No. 6 Muguruza was super aggressive and accurate. She won the title, she was so happy and smiled for months. Except she hasn’t won a tournament since then. Yes, she loves clay, but she gets injured a ton. If the Spaniard begins to feel healthy, she can get on a roll. For sure, she wants to win RG once again.

Johanna Konta
The Brit improves week after week and at Miami, she beat Halep, Venus and Wozniacki to win it. She was ultra-aggressive off both sides. In the past two years, the No. 7 has changed her outlook and if she continues upwards, she can win either Wimbledon and/or the US Open. But she has continue to improve her consistentency.

Aga Radwanska
There were many, many years that the Pole was ready to win a Slam, but for whatever reason, towards the end, her forehand and second serve were too weak to carry her to victory. Obviously, her backhand is fantastic, as is her wonderful speed and various shots. But, she has played poorly this season. The No. 8 does not seem happy, which means that unless she turns it around in rapid speed, then she will fall further.

Maria Sharapova in action at the 2015 WTA Finals

OTHER PLAYERS
The five-time Slam champion Maria Sharapova will return next week after spending 15 months suspended after doping. Yes, as she said, she messed it up, but she loves tennis and even though many players will crucify her, she still will try as hard as she could. The former No. 1 always will.

Another former champ, Vika Azarenka will come back in July after having her first child. She has been No. 1, and she will be once again. She is very intense and she has matured a great deal.
The No. 11 Caro Wozniacki is playing much better this year, but once she reaches the final, she gets very nervous. If she can take a deep breath, then maybe — and I mean maybe — the former No. 1 can finally win a major.

Domination: Djockovic beats Federer, wins ATP Final

 

Djokovic_cl_au_11_478

 

ATP WORLD TOR FINAL – There was no out for Roger Federer. He couldn’t shake Novak Djokovic. Oh sure, he had a few opportunities, but he cannot out hit him backhand to backhand. The Serbian kept going there, sitting in the crosscourt, striking deep, hard and nearly being perfect angles.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer would mix it up, charging to the net, dragging him into his gigantic forehand, but Djokovic went going side to side and rarely floated long. At 4-5 in the second set, facing a match point. Federer stood up, tried to twist his kicker second serve on the line but it flew away. He knew he was beaten, with Djokovic winning the title 6-3 6-4.

“It’s hard to play at this pace all the time. Doesn’t need much,” Federer said. “We’re talking margins.
You don’t win a breakpoint, he does, vice versa, it changes the whole outcome of the match. You can’t always be on the winning side. Margins are small at the very top. That’s why this year of Novak’s is amazing. Rafa [Nadal] has been there. I’ve been there. We both know how hard it is to back it up year after year.
It’s not the first good year of Novak. Clearly he’s going into next year with massive confidence. He’s playing great. It’s going to be hard for him to play a bad year, that’s for sure. But this extremely good, it’s always tough”

Federer has had a very decent year, winning Brisbane, Dubai, Istanbul, Halle, the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, and Basel. He is the only man to defeat three wins over Djokovic – Dubai, Cincinnati, and the Round Robin earlier this week in London – but the 28-year-old has beaten the Swiss five times this season, including Wimbledon, the US Open and now the ATP Final.

Everyone can have a bad day, but the No.1 rarely plays badly. It is hard to find out exactly how to stop him. His two-handed backhand is the best in the business. His forehand has become heavier and sharper, let alone cracking it crosscourt. His first serve is super strong, and he can mix it up. His return is mind boggling because even when he it receiving, he seems to know where it is going and manages to punch it back every deep. Then it is 50-50 and he can grind them down.

The 10-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic has put together an incredible years, one of the best ever. He has won 11 titles: the majors at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the US Open; the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Shanghai and Paris/Bercy; the ATP 500 in Beijing; and now the ATP World Tour Final.

He has only lost six matches this season: four finals against Dubai (Federer) Roland Garros (Stan Wawrinka) Montreal (Andy Murray) and Cincinnati (Federer); the quarters against Ivo Karlovic in Doha in the quarters; and in the Round Robin against Federer a few days ago. But then he beat ‘Fed’ at the most important time in London.

He won’t be able to win every tournament in 2016, but unless he begins to falter, he will continue to beat the best of the best consistently.

Already, he is becoming one of the best top 10 players of all time. He is that good.

“Obviously with wins that I had this season and throughout my career, especially in the last five years, I put myself in a very good position, knowing that I made a lot of records and history,” Djokovic said.

“Of course, it does flatter me, inspire me. It makes me very satisfied and happy. I can’t predict the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen in next years to come. But what I can do for myself is continue respecting the kind of training regime and lifestyle that I had and keeping that mindset. Because of that package, I got myself in this position. I’m convinced with this dedication to the sport, I can achieve more..”

Murray falls to Nadal, wants to win first ATP World Tour Final

Murray IW 13 TR MALT7820

FROM THE ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS IN LONDON – Andy Murray was not furious on Wednesday, but he wasn’t thrilled either. Rafael Nadal tore him apart, winning 6-4, 6-1. The Spaniard is getting better and better, while Murray dropped down, at least on that day, when his forehand was spotty, he didn’t serve particularly well and he wasn’t able to control the baseline.

In once sense, it doesn’t really matter, not when you can still win the ATP World Tour Finals title. Now, Murray is 1-1, having beaten David Ferrer and then losing against Nadal, who is now by the way, 16-6 head to head vs. the Scot.  Stan Wawrinka is also 1-1, having also lost against Nadal, but he beat Ferrer in straight sets. On Friday night, Murray will face Wawrinka, and the winner will reach the semi and go up against Roger Federer, who went undefeated by over-coming Kei Nishikori 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a terrific contest.

For about 20 minutes, Wawrinka was way off against Ferrer, banging his racket. Soon, he picked up, found the lines, dominated with his phenomenal one-handed backhand and then he took him down quickly, 7-5, 6-2. The fast Swiss is now ready to out-stroke the irritated Murray.

For the past couple of months, Murray was considering not playing at the ATP Finals, because next week, he will go to the Davis Cup final on clay in Belgium, and he wants to make sure that he is 100 percent and not be hurt or exhausted. But now, he is locked in the 02 London Arena and he wants to show the locals and the other players that he can actually win this event, to beat the best. He was asked whether he wasn’t that upset after Nadal pounded with his ferocious forehand. Murray knew that he still has an opportunity to reach the semis, so he didn’t feel down in the dumps, but he was a little angry.

“I think the way the format is, almost every game is important,” Murray said. “Rather than thinking like, ‘Oh, well, I can just lose this set, it’s fine.’ Maybe in the last round if you need to win one set to qualify, it’s a bit different. But every year when I’ve played matches, pretty much where I needed one set to get through—I played Tsonga [in the ATP Finals in 2012] and won that match in two sets. I played Roger in Shanghai a few years ago where I already qualified [for the ATP Finals] and played near a three-hour match with him. I’ve never looked at any of the matches like that. You certainly don’t want to lose to one of the guys that you’re competing against in the biggest events for the biggest titles in the sport quickly in the second set.”

Murray is currently ranked No. 2, which is very good, but he has not been spectacular all year, which is why he did not win a major, but he did grab two ATP Masters Series events, at Madrid and Montreal.

The 28-year-old has 37 titles, which is pretty darn good, having won two Grand Slams (the US Open and Wimbledon), the 2012 Olympics and a slew of ATP 1000s, but he has yet to reach the final at the ATP World Tour Finals. At home in the UK when he is up against the so-called Big 4-plus 1 (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, himself and Wawrinka), the competition about as good as it gets.

Perhaps Andy Murray has been saying that the Davis Cup Final is more important, because Great Britain has not won since 1936, when Fred Perry lead their charge. Perry was the last British winner at Wimbledon and a couple of years ago, Murray raised the trophy on SW19, breaking the drought. He was heroic.

Next week, when he and the boys head to Belgium, they will be super intense and ready to go. However, this week is substantially important. If he can take out Wawrinka – who won Roland Garros this year – the 17-time major winner Federer, and either No. 1 Djokovic or the 14-time Slam champ Nadal, that would be one of his best titles ever. With all due respect, beating the No. 16 David Goffin, No. 85 Steve Darcis and No. 105 Ruben Bemelmans of the Belgium won’t count for as much as a title here.

Whomever wins the Davis Cup tie, it will turn just a few heads (especially in the UK). But 10 years from now, when everyone is discussing what occurred and who pulled off the biggest matches of 2015, if Murray upended the Big 4-plus 1, that will be when Andy had risen once again.

Halep is all done for the year: Radwanska hung in there, made semis

halep_jimmie48_bh_wta_finals_15_590x375

Simona Halep is first to be eliminated in Singapore. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Simon Halep is now gone from the rest of the year and really, since she quickly lost against Flavia Pennetta in the US Open semis, she was mentally disturbed and couldn’t calm her frayed nerves .

On Thursday, Aga Radwanska took her down 7-6(5) 6-1. Halep was up 5-1 in the tiebreak, but the Pole kept running as at top speed. Somehow, someway, she got to 6-5. Both Radwanska and Halep went side to side, foreward and backward, under and over, way up high in the sky and touching their rackets well above their heads. Finally, Halep bent down, her legs were wobbly, and she tried to hit a forehand volley and went wide. Without a doubt, it was one of the best point of the year.

But Radwanska was revived and jubilent, while Halep folded quickly.

“I was done. No energy anymore,” Halep said. “I was tired. I felt that I lost the chance to win the first set and probably I lost the chance to win the match in that moment. My coach [Darren Cahill] was telling me many things, but I couldn’t hear because I was done and I was very nervous there.”

Later, the Pole could have hung her head, too. This week, she lost a brutal contest against Maria Sharapova on Sunday, and then lost a tough contest match against Pennetta on Tuesday, but when she went on court, she decided that she wasn’t going home yet. She would just swing away when she could and have a little bit of fun. Radwanska did, especially in the second set, when she was as aggressive as she can be.

But she was asked whether had she lost in the first set, would have she thought that it had been a long year, it was time to say good‑bye. She was leaving. See ya.

“You were just reading my mind actually,” she said. “That was it. I went on court, and to be honest I didn’t practice yesterday. I was really tired and I’m falling apart a little bit as well. So what I had yesterday, it’s half an hour in the gym, two sessions of treatment. What I wanted to do is really play my best tennis today. Like you’re saying, it’s been a really long trip and I lost already two matches. I think that works for me. I think I will have to take more of the day off,” she said with a smile.

Halep says that on Monday, she will announce that she and her coach, Cahill, will continue on next year.

The Romanian says that she has had a pretty good season, which she said there were “ups and down” with her higlight winning Indian Wells, and her low light being upset early at Roland Garros.

She is one of the fastest players on tour who runs and runs and runs, but not in Singapore this week. Her legs were pooped. “Today I couldn’t breathe anymore in the second set,” she said.

Radwanska made it to the semifinals and, depending on today’s outcome, she could face Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, or Angie Kerber on Saturday.

Sharapova confounds Halep; Playing hard, Pennetta overcomes Aga

Flavia Pennetta wants to stick around a little bit longer. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Flavia Pennetta wants to stick around a little bit longer. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – For reality checks, Flavia Pennetta isn’t ready to go home, and Maria Sharapova wants to beat her before she waves bye-bye.

Pennetta out-stroke Aga Radwanska 7-6 6-4, while Sharapova out-bashed Simona Halep 6-4 6-4. Pennetta is 1-1 in the Red Group Singapore, having lost to Halep on Sunday. Sharapova out-lasted Radwanska in three sets.

If Sharapova wins a set against Pennetta, then she will qualify for the semifinals. If she loses in straight sets, then who knows? In fact, no one really knows as Pennetta and Halep (who blitzed the Italian on Sunday) can have legitimate chances, and Radwanska also does, too. Ping-Pong.

The soon-to-be-retired Pennetta isn’t just happy to be here. Before she came out, many of the people in the stands were unsure. She has finally won a Slam andis going home in Italy very soon. So, all she had to do is play hard and don’t worry about the score. Uh-uh.

Against Radwanska, Pennetta pushed herself extremely hard. She served big, attacked the net when she could and went toe-to-toe from inside the baseline. When Pennetta missed a few bad shots, she grew angry. Guess what? When she went on court, she forgot this is her last tournament.

“I’m not thinking like this,” she said. “I don’t have this way to think. I don’t go in the court and think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be maybe my last one or I have tomorrow,’ I have three more. I just go to the court and say, ‘Okay, I have to play.’ That’s it. I don’t know how it’s happen, but it’s like this.”

Everyone talks about how smart Radwanska is, and that is very true, but Pennetta knows where she is going and that she can go for her shots when the lines are barking at her. Her forehand and first serve give the Pole a lot of trouble, and when they were contesting long rallies, Pennetta would hit behind her, or nail huge shots right down the middle. She has matured a great deal.

The same goes with Sharapova, who faced No. 2 Halep. She cannot allow Halep to go inside the court. Whether she was serving or returning with authority, Sharapova was the dictator. Halep is faster and would prefer to run around side-to-side, but there is no way that she can yank her around all night long when the Russian/American wouldn’t be able to hammer the corners.

That is why Sharapova is now 6-0 head-to-head against Halep: she consistently bothers her because she doesn’t allow her to grind every point. Halep can certainly grind on occasion, but she can’t handle her forehand side and she doesn’t push Sharapova back enough. Maybe the Romanian will do so again if they happen to a face off on Sunday, but right now, she is confounded by her.

Sharapova and Pennetta have played each other five times before, all three-set matches. Pennetta bested her at 2015 Indian Wells. She loves at the tournament, especially when she won her first big title there in 2014. Pennetta was a 31-year-old then, and while she has been very good at times over the past decade or so, few sensed that she was getting better and better.

At the 2015 US Open, she finally put it all together and won the crown. As Sharapova said, she was a little surprised that she won, but she truly deserved it. They will clash again on Thursday. Without a doubt, they respect each other, but both of them want to win badly.

“It is [a little surprising], but I feel like there is always a moment for people to shine,” Sharapova said. “I know there are players that are extremely consistent that are at the top of the game, and I’ve been playing for many years and been fortunate to win Grand Slams. But I work hard and I don’t just sit there and say I’m only player that does it. There are hundreds of players that probably work harder than I do and commit more time than I do and sometimes don’t get the results. I realize how fortunate I am.

“I know that Flavia has been through a lot in her career with surgeries, injuries, work and effort coming back, stopping. A lot people don’t talk about that, but I think you should. That matters. I think that when you go through those moments, eventually it pays off. That was her time to shine, and I was really, really happy.”

Halep always gets nervous, but this time on fire to beat Pennetta

halep_jimmie48_bh1_wta_finals_15_400

Simona Halep dominated Flavia Pennetta at the 2015 WTA Finals. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Simona Halep gets nervous – a lot. She also becomes very, very good when she is in a right space.

On Sunday, the opening day at Singapore, she walloped Flavia Pennetta 6-0 6-3.

What a turnaround, as not even two months ago, the Italian whipped the Romanian 6-1 6-3 in the semis of the US Open. Pennetta played fantastic, but Halep wasn’t really there.

This time, she came up firing and she was swirling around the court. Halep jumped on her balls early, she crushed her fabulous backhand down the line, she rolled her forehand and slugged her serves. Pennetta tried hard enough in the second set, but she couldn’t handle her range. Halep knew exactly when to attack and when she knew to back off. This time, she was full of confidence.

Here is the rub though: Halep has looked very shaky at the Grand Slams this year. She reached the quarterfinal of the Aussie Open and then admittedly became scared against Ekaterina Makarova and lost. In Roland Garros and Wimbledon, she went down hard and very early.

But at the US Open, once she reached the second week, she was vicious on court and she wouldn’t give up. She took down Vika Azarenka 6-4 in the third set in the quarters, perhaps their most exciting match of the year. But then when she came on court against Pennetta, her face looked glaced. She wasn’t in the match at all.

“I can say I was a little bit tired,” Halep said in Flushing Meadow. “Also nerves. Was first semifinals of US Open. I beat Flavia before in Miami and I knew that she can play good tennis. I knew that she’s very solid. Maybe that day that we had between the quarterfinals and the day when we played I think wasn’t too good for me. I was very tired after Azarenka match, and then I was like without energy Friday when we played. I just want to take the positive things from that match. I have learned about how to manage the situation when you play semifinals, and I hope to have many more and to pass that bad feeling.”

Why she was nervous was pretty bizarre. In 2014, the world met her for the first time; she reached the final at Roland Garros and she nearly upset Maria Sharapova in three sets. After that, Halep kept climbing up to the top charts, but on the majors, she was completely unpredictable.

Fortunate for her, at the last huge event, she reached the final at the WTA Finals in 2014. She stunned Serena Williams in the round robin, and they faced off again in the final. Williams won, but Halep wasn’t awful

Maybe she can reach the final again. And this time, she won’t be too nervous. However, that’s debatable.

“I need to do final for every Grand Slam, then I will be okay,” she said with a smile. “Every tournament is different. Every tournament I have nerves. Every match I have nerves. For me, it’s normal. But I have just to learn how to manage them. In every match I have different nerves, so it’s tough to explain. It’s just about my inside.”

WTA Finals: Maria Sharapova finally returns, to face improved Aga

aWTA_finals_singles_players_15

 

SINGAPORE – Marie Sharapova says that if she manages to play three matches of the Red Group at the WTA Finals at Singapore, she will be happy, especially if she plays reasonably well. The five-time Grand Slam champion has played once since Wimbledon, due to various injuries, and clearly, she has been frustrated. But, the 28-year-old has been around for a long time and she knows that if she can be patient, she will eventually find her way back to top form. If she does, she will shake the rust off and go for her massive shots.

Sharapova has always been a force against Aga Radwanska, whom she will face on Sunday night. However, the Pole is very creative and she has been playing substantially better since the first half of the year, when she was very frustrated. She was pushing the ball frequently, wasn’t going for the lines and wasn’t attacking the net often enough. But, during on the grass season, she figured out what ailed her, mixed her shots, moved forward when she could and, over the past three months, she has rediscovered her shots.

As Radwanska said, she just didn’t want to fold her tent. The former No. 2 wanted to find a way to be back at the WTA Finals once again, and she did. Radwanska knows that she has legitimate shot to upend Sharapova, but even though the Russian will be a little wary given that she won’t be very confident. If the Pole plays very well for at least the first hour, ‘Aga’ will have to jump on her second serves quite a bit.

Back in February at the Fed Cup in Poland, Sharapova just blew Radwanska apart. This time, Radwanska cannot hesitate and must be aggressive. Sharapova is very pleased that her body is feeling much better now, but Radwanska has been playing seemingly every weekend and should grab it in three sets.

Simona Halep will go up against Flavia Pennetta on the first day in the afternoon on Sunday. Halep may not be 100 percent with her sore left ankle, but as she says she is ready to push as hard as she can as it’s the last week of the season. The Romanian played incredibly well in 2014, when she reached the final here at the WTA Finals. She stunned Serena Williams in their first match. But, in the final, the American was then locked in and beat her pants off.

Outside of the majors, on clay and on grass (which were pretty miserable), Halep was substantially better on the hard courts, except when facing Serena, who isn’t playing this tournament. She is so fast; she can zoom up and back and side-to-side, and she can rip both her forehand and backhand. Mentally, if she is in the right space, she can win this tournament. However, she can get angry and frustrated, which is why she can fall off against Pennetta.

The Italian played wonderfully winning the US Open, including when she blitzed Halep in the semifinal. Halep was the favorite, but she folded while Pennetta kept smoking the ball, very deep and true.

In a sense, Pennetta is just happy to be here in Singapore. She will retire after this week. She is as happy as she has ever been. While she will try hard, she isn’t going to go up over the wall and back down again. She just wants to have a great time, and doesn’t want to collapse after battling for three-plus hours. She won’t be nervous at all, while Halep will. It’s really up to the world No. 2 to win or lose, but if Halep gets frustrated early, Pennetta can dance around the court if she out-schools her.

Halep said that she and her coach, Darren Cahill, have yet to decide whether they will continue next year. Cahill knows his stuff inside and out. If Halep is very smart, she should give him a full year and realize how much she can improve.

Speaking of which, Garbine Muguruza said on Saturday that she and her new coach, Sam Sumyk, will continue in 2016. In the White Group, she will face Lucie Safarova on Monday.

Two lefties Petra Kvitova and Angie Kerber will face off on Monday.