Aussie Open: Serena returns at 4 months off, Wozniacki skids again




AUSTRALIAN OPEN, DAY 1, JAN 18 – Serena Williams played reasonably well to beat Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5 in the first round at the Aussie Open. The No. 1 hadn’t played for four months – which is a long time – but as she said, the older you get, the easier it is to understand how you will preform at the Grand Slams. As Serena said, she has been playing tennis for 30 years (she is 34 years old) so she knows how to play. That is true, but her knee was hurt 10 days ago so it’s possible that it could become super sore, which could threaten her.

Fortunately, Serena won’t play against the seeds until the quarters. No. 27 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova lost against the Russian Darya Kasatkina, No. 17 Sara Errani went down against another Russian Margarita Gasparyan. The youngsters are rising.

No.16 Caroline Wozniacki lost against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. But what about the former No. 1 Wozniacki? How did she go down so ridiculously? As the Dane said, she “played like shit.” In 2014, she looked like she was coming back, reaching the final of the US Open, hitting harder, faster, stronger and with much more confidence.

But last year, after she reached the final at Stuttgart against Angie Kerber, she was right there in the third set. But towards the end, she backed up, she pushed the ball, she lost and after that, she skidded. Big time. If Wozniacki doesn’t change, she is not going to be able to win a major at all. Her backhand is always phenomenal, but beyond that, her forehand is spotty and isn’t very powerful; her serve is mediocre; and his return is spotty. She is simply not aggressive enough. Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova have all won multiple majors, and they all can be aggressive when they need to. Wozniacki doesn’t. She really needs to bring in a new coach, not because her father and coach Piotr doesn’t understand tennis, but his daughter isn’t listening. Caro can ignore her coaches. If she is going to change and return to the top 5 someday, she has to start listening very soon.

Here were some good wins on Monday: Sharapova, the now healthy Kvitova (or she says), Genie Bouchard, Sveta Kuznetsova, Belinda Bencic (who is no longer sick), Carla Suarez Navarro, and a few more Americans: Nicole Gibbs, Laura Davis and Irina Falconi.

The most telling loss was by Samantha Stosur, who went down against ‘the other’ Kristyna Pliskova 6-4 7-6(6). The former US Open champion Stosur played at night on Rod Laver and while she didn’t freeze up, she didn’t mix it up at all. The Aussie was way too predictable and she didn’t yank the somewhat slow Croatian around. Credit for Kristyna (her better twin sister is Karolina Pliskova) who hung in there, but Stosur looked lost. It is amazing that during the past 10 years, she has done almost nothing playing in Australia. At the US Open, and at Roland Garros, she has been tremendous, but at home, she swallows up. Maybe next year…

The top 32’s in 2015: Will Dimitrov and Sock rise again, are Stosur & Kuznetsova ready to push





No. 28

Grigor Dimitrov: In 2014, it looked like the now 24-year-old was coming up rapidly. He has tremendous variety, he is fairly quick and driven. But in 2015, he was all over the place and he was admittedly confused. If he wants to return into the top 10, the Bulgarian has to be more patient and calm.

No. 27

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The veteran has played a ton of tournaments, and while he was unable to grab any big events, the Spaniard did snare Croatia (hard courts) and Romania (clay). He is a big hitter and while he will never win a major, he has improved and if he managed to avoid the so-called Big 4 plus 1 early on (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal and Wawrinka), he can reach a major semifinal. He will be very pleased indeed.

No. 26

Jack Sock: Slowly but surely, the American is rising up. He is ‘only’ 23 years old, and while he has been unable go very deep at the Grand Slams or the ATP 1000s, he did win Houston on clay, and he reached the final at Stockholm (upending Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet). Outside the top 10, he has beaten a number of fine players, but inside the top 10, he has shocked the top competitors such as Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Will he be ready to take down the big boys in 2016?

No. 25

Robert Bautista Agut: There are so many good, solid Spaniards. Last year, Bautista reached No. 14 and looked like he was prepared to jump into the top 10 and pound the opponents. In 2015, he was pretty close, but when push came to shove, he went backwards. Try, try, try again – in 2016.


No. 28

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Let’s be positive about the Russian: She did win a tournament at Linz and then reached the final at Moscow, which was terrific. But, when she went to the Fed Cup Final against the Czech, she lost all three matches and they went down. Now, she has won eight titles since she began on the tour in 2005, which is admirable, but is she consistent enough to go very deep at the Slams? Doubtful, but give her another chance in 2016.

No. 27

Samantha Stosur: The veteran may have slipped downward, but the Aussie keeps working and she has improved her so-so backhand. She says that someday, she could win another major (she won the 2011 US Open), and perhaps she can, but first and foremost, she cast off any nervousness in Australia. She has lost to numerous average players over the years at the Aussie Open, Sydney and Brisbane. If she goes deep in Melbourne, the entire world will stand up and cheer.

No. 26

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova: Slovakia has had a decent amount of solid players over the years, but few expected that the 21-year-old Schmiedlova would crack the top 30 and make heads turn. She won two small events in Poland and Romania, which is commendable, but she didn’t do much at all during the Slams. She is pretty young though, so in 2016 if she continues to get better, she might threaten the big girls.

No. 25

Svetlana Kuznetsova: If Serena Williams won three Slams this year when she was 33 years old, then maybe ‘Sveta’ can do the same thing — revive. The Russian is 30 years old now and while she isn’t quite as fast as she did when she won the 2004 US Open and 2009 Roland Garros, she does mix it up now and she is very bright. If she wants to move back into the top 10 in 2016, she has to improve her backhand and her volley.

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.

Hampton still a bit understated as Keys grabs attention


Keyes Stanford 13 TR MALT9561

Madison’s huge potential is clear, but Hampton is developing into a big time player.

By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – The Emirates Airline US Open Series kicked off on the WTA side when Jamie Hampton strode into her first all access hour as she is seeded for the first time at an event, and is No. 4  seed at at Stanford. At WTA 700 level tournaments, all four top seeds must do pre-event press. On the same Monday, last year’s finalist CoCo Vandeweghe had to qualify for the tournament, even though she’s American and performed wonderfully last year before being stopped by Serena Williams, but tennis tends to have short memory and IMG, which owns the tournament, has its own set of priorities when it comes to handing out wild cards.

Two ex Stanford players – Mallory Burdette (who lost) and Nicole Gibbs (who won) – got WCs and that’s understandable given that the Stanford community has always supported the tournament and you have to take care of your committed (and paying) fan base. Daniela Hantuchova got another, as she’s a proven decent draw, and the fourth was given to IMG client Ajla Tomljanovic, a promising up and comer from Croatia who was promptly wiped out by Stefanie Voegele.

The Bank of the West suffered two big pullouts this year and a significant no-entry: Maria Sharapova decided not to try and test her hip injury too early and also wanted to spend time with her new coach Jimmy Connors and sent her regrets; Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli decided at the last minute that she needed some rest and she withdrew from Stanford and Carlsbad; and Serena  decided not to defend her title and instead compete last week on clay in Sweden, where she easily won the title against a weak field.

So Stanford is left with a very decent, but not great field headed by the creative No. 4 Aga Radwanska, whom almost everyone loves to watch play but not as many show up see in person as they would for a Sharapova or Williams; the up and down veteran Sam Stosur, who is trying to put together her first good two-month stretch this season; the fun yet volatile Dominika Cibulkova, who has been injured way too much this year; and Hampton, whom few are talking about as a Bank of the West title contender even though she’s cracked the top 30 and her US Open doubles partner, Madison Keys, has not yet. But because of Keys’ enormous potential she is the one who is being tagged as the young American who could actually win the Stanford title. Keys, who crushed eight seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-2 on Monday,  surely does have a chance to reach the quarters and possibly face, believe it or not, Hampton, her friend whom she practices with constantly and whom she will play doubles with at the US Open.

But make no mistake – Hampton is very, very good. She may not have Keys’ outright power but she has a lot of pop and she moves more fluidly. As she is becoming more comfortable in her own skin and has become a more self-aware player, her shot selection has become more intelligent and she can also rip the ball off both wings, especially with her forehand. Plus she is a real jock who loves her sport and spends many waking hours thinking about it, and she likely dreams about it, too. She has no points to defend until the US Open, so it’s entirely possible that she could grab a top 16 seed in New York if she stays healthy.

After playing eight matches at Eastbourne and reaching the final, she fell in tired fashion to Sloane Stephens in the first round of Wimbledon. Like Stephens, at this point, she is ahead of Keys’ on the learning curve. But she is 23, while Stephens is 20 and Keys only 18. Everyone knows that Madison is coming hard, but at least for this year, its possible that Hampton and Stephens—who have done better at the Slams – may be the players outside of Serena Williams to watch at the US Open.

Here’s Hampton on being seeded for the first time at Stanford – or anywhere for that matter.

“It’s nice to go into a tournament fresh and it’s really excited for me and shows how far I come,” she said.

Radwanska on the ESPN the Body Issue

In a piece I did for Reuters here,  Radwanska says she  was upset about the reaction from some of Poland’s large Catholic population over her decision to pose nude for ESPN the Body Issue. I didn’t read every comment leveled at her, but did read a few which contained the word ‘immoral.’ Anyone who saw the ‘semi-nude’ issue – which celebrates athletic bodies and is not gratuitous in the least — and thinks that it was immoral is not thinking clearly. As someone who grew up in a large Catholic family that contains priests and was an altar boy until I could get a real job (uh, that’s a joke), I can attest to a diversity of opinion amongst the Catholic community as to the what is moral and what is not. However, at the end of my interview with Radwanska, I mentioned how crazy it is for any Catholic to object to those photos given that anyone who  has  looked at the works of the great Catholic painters (does Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel ring any bells?) and not seen nudity celebrated amongst the saints and she agreed: it’s absolutely nuts to suggest that she was doing anything but showing that a healthy physical lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone. People who live a lifestyle that includes constant exercise and a pursuit of excellence are not only worth looking at, but are great examples for kids.  I am pretty sure that the man who inspired the writing of the New Testament would agree with that.

This is the first of 21 straight reports/bogs/columns that I will be doing from Stanford, Carlsbad and Toronto, so stay tuned.

Tennisreporters Insider, March 14: Rafa rips through Roger again

Nadal IW 13 TR MALT6949

Rafa is now 19-10 vs Roger and running away with their rivalry

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is without question the most popular one in tennis, but in front of a packed house at Indian Wells on a steamy Thursday, they contested one of their most mundane matches ever.

Nadal won the contest 6-4, 6-2 and was never seriously threatened as Federer

Fed Cup World Group first round picks

us fed cup 2013

Huber, Fernandez, Lepchenko, Oudin and Hampton look to pull an upset in Italy.


These two teams faced off in the 2010? Final when Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta went up against CoCo Vandeweghe, Bethanie Mattek Sands and Melanie Oudin in singles. Oudin managed to upset Schiavone on day 2, but Pennetta won both her matches and Schiavone bested Coco on day one so the 2013 starting singles Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberto Vinci never got a chance to play.

They will now in Rimini when Errani opens against Jamie Hampton and Vinci takes on another Varvara Lepchenko, both of whom are rookies. Had the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens played, the US could have been called the favorites by a nose, but now they are underdogs by at least a half a length.

Lepchenko is more than capable of winning her match as she

Olympics: Drawn and Quartered

US Open champ Stosur makes another Paris move

Time for Sharapova to be clay court boss

When it rainy Rome, gut it out like Sharapova did

Maria will now hit the highway to Paris.

The Rome final was by no means pretty. It was muddy and sloppy and the only consistent rhythm on court was the drumbeat of the rain drops. But still, Maria Sharapova and Li Na battled fiercely in the Italian Open final , and when it ended after two stoppages for rain, Sharapova had defended her title in a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory in more than two hours.

The match wildly swung up and down, with Li getting out to a 6-4, 4-0 lead before she began to err badly and Sharapova grew steadier, and Sharapova racing to a 4-2 , 40-15 lead in the third before she did much the same. Down 5-6, Sharapova fended off a match point by ripping a forehand in the heavy rain.

They then returned for the breaker, and Sharapova was more confident on the key points and managed to contain herself off the ground. Now she