Serena vs Sloane: The Picks, Roland Garros. Does Stephens has a real chance?

Serena Sloane IW 15 TR MALT8490

Monday, June 1

Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens

Obviously Victoria Azarenka was very upset at a line call at 5-4 in the second set, when she hit a heavy ball on the line but Serena argued that it was a late call of out. The umpire inspected the mark and saw that the shot was good, but the point would be replayed. Vika was very angry.

Yes, maybe Azarenka could have woken up again or feel confident, believing that she can finally beat Serena at a Grand Slam, but she did not.

Because really, Williams was down 2-4 in the second set and then she knew she had to step on the gas and she did, grabbing 10 of 12 games and winning 3-6 6-4 6-2. She was down 0-2 in the third set, and then she found the lines quickly and the upset Azarenka was erratic. She seemed to be dreaming and she lost six straight games. She was out-hit, pure and simple and, if Azarenka can ever beat Williams, she will have to stay there every second, because at the Slams – in fact at every tournament – you can never give in. To a degree in Paris on Saturday, she did not.

Williams will play Stephens, who played the best match all year by blowing out Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4 6-1. Stephens says that she loves the red clay, and she shined here, having reached Roland Garros at the fourth round, four years in a row. She is only 22 years old, and she still has a long way to go, but she has reached into the second week at Paris once again and she can really play. Without question, she is super fast, she can crack off both wings and she can mix up her first serves. But at times, she will push the balls, waiting for mistakes, which is why she almost disappeared during the past year. Stephens likes to start slow during the points and when her foe pushes the balls into the center and short she can attack, but against Williams she has to try and dictate from word go. Williams not only can dominate with her giant serves, but if she is feeling good she can attack immediately off Stephens’ second serve. She won’t give her room. If she has any real chance, she has to be comfortable and lock it in, because after Stephens shocked Serena in the quarterfinals at the 2013 Australian Open, they battled off the court and since then, Sloane has become very shy. She has to get in her face. But she won’t again as Serena will win in straight sets.

Sara Errani vs. Julia Goerges

The Italian has been one of the most consistent on clay over the past five years or so and she really took it against Andrea Petkovic, winning 6-3 6-3. She is pretty small so she cannot over power her opponents, but she can grind it against almost anyone. That will occur against Julia Goerges, who beat Irina Falconi 6-4 6-1. Goerges can smack her forehands, but she can disappear during key moments. She will at RG and Errani will reach it into the quarters once again.

Petra Kvitova vs. Timea Bacsinszky

Once the Czech gets into the match, then she is just fine. She was very clean in besting Irina Begu 6-3 6-2, and now she was to figure out the Swiss, Timea Bacsinszky, who was very accurate in beating Madison Keys 6-4 6-2. Bacsinszky will try to mix up her attacks, but the big lefty Kvitova can go every which way but loose. The two-time Wimbledon champion will win in three sets, but there will be some long rallies.

Alison Van Uytvanck vs. Andreea Mitu

How, who and why? The unknown Van Uytvanck of Belgium beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-4 6-1, and the totally unknown Andreea Mitu of Romania overcame Francesca Schiavone 7-5 6-4. Van Uytvanck has played well during the qualifies, while Mitu seems to love clay as she has played a ton of tournament. A true pick’em here, but Mitu is more comfortable on the clay and will win in three sets.

Fed Cup winners: Sharapova, Mladenovic & Garcia, Petko, Pliskova



Genoa, Italy, clay

cornet ao 14How the heck did this happen to Italy?

Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi  played just fine on Saturday, with Errani playing very steady and defeating Caroline Garcia 7-6(2) 7-5. Then, Giorgi raced around and whacked her returns over Alize Cornet 6-4 6-2. On Saturday night, the captain Amelie Mauresmo changed her approach, telling the youngesters to go for it early. She sat Cornet, and then she told Kristina Mladenovic and Garcia to crack it. Mladenovic bested Errani, Garcia over whelmed Giorgi (and then they stunned Errani/Roberta Vinci 61 62 in doubles). Those two Italians had won 18 straight in dubs at the Fed Cup and they were shacking their heads. Props to the captain and coach Mauresmo. “I was either going to be a genius or a nonsense captain,”  she said.

France will play away in the Czech Republic in the sems in April. They will be the underdog, but their team is gelling.


Quebec City, Canada, hard

Canada’s top player, Genie Bouchard, decided not to play, and they had no chance at all.  If Bouchard had played, she could have won two singles, but they likely would have lost anyway as the Czechs have been excellent over the past four year, having won three titles. The Czech are so deep that they didn’t need to bring in the top two players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Instead, they went for the No. 22 Karolina Pliskova and the rising Tereza Smitkova. Pliscova knocked out  Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski , while Smitkova beat Dabrowski. It was all over so quickly.

Now the Czechs will go home and face France, which won’t be easy. Who knows if both Kvitova and Safarova will play during April, but Pliscova is right there and perhaps better than anyone in France now. But at home? Pressure, serious pressure.


Krakow Arena, Poland, hard

Maria Sharapova played as well as she ever, beating both Radwanskas, Agnieszka and Urszula. Throw in a big win by Svetlana Kuznetsova upending Aga 64 26 62 on Saturday and the tie was pretty much gone. Had Aga down Kuznetsova in the first day and it would have been 1-1. Then maybe, and I mean maybe, and if Aga would have played great, had the crowd been screaming for her and she may have stunned Sharapova. Then, Ula may have risen again (she hasn’t played very well since 2012), she could have upset Kuznetsova and they could have partied in front of 15,000 fans. But, Sharapova out hit her 6-1 7-5 and it was over. Now Sharapova has to decide whether she will play in April at Moscow against  Germany, who is an excellent team. Sharapova has never played two Fed Cup teams in a row, but her new coach, Anastasia Myskina, has mapped it out smartly and it appears that the two are getting along now. They did not get along back in a decade ago when they both were playing against each other. Maybe “Nastia” and Maria will gel and bring the Fed Cup home.

Petkovic leads Germans to next round.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto


Stuttgart, Germany, hard

Andrea Petkovic loves her Fed Cup team and, once again, she has shined.  Her wins weren’t easy, but then nonetheless, she pushed ahead even though she had to battle for hours and hours.

The Australian had a good weekend, when Jarmila Gajdosova started by beating Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-2 6-4, as “Angie” continues to slump. But here came “Petko” who faced a match point but wore down Sam Stosur 6-4 3-6 12-10.

On Sunday, Kerber rose and beat Stosur 6-2 6-4, as the Aussie looked tired and the lefty finally moved forward. Then Petkovic had to stay awake again and did, besting Gajdosova 63 36 86 to win the title. Petkovic was overjoyed. Now she and the rest of them will go to Russia, which will be difficult. But, they reached the final last year (losing to the Czechs) and badly want to win it all. They’ll have a chance, against anyone.

On the World Group II, the US beat Argentina 4-1, with Venus Williams winning two matches on clay. Serena won her first match, but then pulled out on Sunday as she was sick. Will they both in April to push the team back until the Wolrd Group 1? Hope so.

Romania played at home but had to go to the wall to best Spain 3-2.

No. 3 Simona Halep looked like she would win both matches but slammed into Fed Cup pressure. She beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa but then she went down to Garbine Muguruza, the talented young tean who won both matches. However, Irina-Camelia Begu (who also lost to Muguruza) beat Soler-Espinosa. The tie went to the doubles, where Begu/Monica Niculescu took down the vetreran Anabel Medina Garrigues/Muguruza 57 63 62. Good enough, but close.

The Netherlands beat Slovakia 4-1 , credit to two wins by Arantxa Rus … Switzerland won very easily with Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.

The Favorites lead off with a Bang

Serena BOW 12 MALT0484

Serena appears to be nearly unstoppable.


ISTANBUL — The first day of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships at the Sinan Erdem dome started with a whale of a first set between Victoria Azarenka and Sara Errani, with the smaller but quicker Italian throwing up one eye-popping lob winner after another to gain an early lead. But two-time Aussie Open champion Azarenka was clearly rusty and even though she fell behind 5-2, she stuck with her game plan of being patient until she had ball she could wallop.  What was lacking for a while was execution, but then her groundstrokes inched loser to the lines, she began to read the Italian when she was attempting to draw her in with soft drop shots, and she hit her spots with her serve more accurately.

Azarenka wiped off the rust cleanly,  played a headier tiebreaker and then raced way as Errani unusually began to cramp.A 7-6 (7) 6-2 victory for the Belarussian was in her pocket and the favorite in the White Group was feeling a whole lot better about herself than she did when she landed in Istanbul. Recall that after the US Open, she traveled to Asia, caught a virus and did nothing in Tokyo and Beijing. That was on her.

“I felt I didn’t have enough rest,” Azarenka told me. “Really, it took so much out of me that summer with the rehab and playing Cincinnati and playing so well at the US Open.  I just needed that break physically, and I felt so guilty not practicing, and I kept practicing and practicing and practicing, so it really didn’t do me well.”

Next up was the heavy favorite of the tournament, Serena Williams, who absolutely wiped the court with Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-1. Kerber said that she had no chance in the match as Serena served and returned “unbelievably.” Peter Bodo of thought the German tanked the second set. Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska ended the session, which was fairly full attendance-wise.You can read my reaction to Kvitova’s win here , but it’s also important to note that Radwanska showed up in her press conference looking like she had cried in the locker room. She has to face Serena on Wednesday night , whom she is 0-7 against and doesn’t feel like she has a much of chance to upset the American. She recently joked that maybe she should try playing Williams left-handed. Maybe she should attempt to tie Serena’s left arm and left foot together and see if she can beat her while she’s falling over.

The other Wednesday matches are Errani versus Li Na (Red Group) and Azarenka versus Jelena Jankovic (White Group) Here is Jankovic discussing her long road back to the top 10.

 Here is why Errani won’t defend her Acapulco title.

Here is my update on the Russian Fed Cup drama, where captain Shamil Tarpischev can’t seem to find one top 100 player to compete with him. Three of his top players will compete in Sofia instead. I will head to Sardinia for the fed Cup final next week. Stan Wawrinka took a big loss in Basel but can still qualify for the ATP World Finals. Tom Berdych also lost, but he should make it to London anyway. The Masters event in Paris/Bercy will be huge this year. Roger Federer did score a win and passed  his buddy Stan in the points race. Azarenka says that she would rather see the men reduce to two out of three sets at the Slams than the women play three out of five.

Prince and Babolat have both introduced new racquet collections.

TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul : Can anyone stop Serena?


(L-R) Sara Errani of Italy, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic, Serena Williams of USA, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Li Na of China, Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, and Angelique Kerber of Germany pose with the Billie Jean King trophy for the official photo of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for WTA).


By Matt Cronin

ISTANBUL – There is no title run that is inevitable before it is played, but Serena Williams comes into the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul perhaps as a heavier favorite than she has been at any time during her storied career.  She hasn’t lost a match since the Cincinnati final when she went down No 2 Victoria Azarenka in a third set tiebreaker, but she ended up getting revenge on the Belarusian in the US Open final and then trounced the field in Beijing.

She leads the tougher Red Group, which also includes Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she owns; Petra Kvitova, who plays her tough but has yet to beat her; and Angelique Kerber, who has beaten her once. Sure No. 2 Azarenka has a chance against her should she get out of the White Group that includes Li Na, Sara Errani  and Jelena Jankovic, but she is going to have to play at much higher level than she did in the third set of their US Open clash.

Radwanska has played Williams tight on occasion, but does not seem to bring the same confidence level to the court against her than she does against most of other players. In fact, the former Wimbledon finalist appears to be saying her chances against her are very slim.

“We have a couple matches, different matches, but, for example, the match in Toronto, I guess it was really, really close, and just a few points I was away from those two sets,” the Pole said. “So I think it was one of the best matches we played against each other.  So against her you really have to play 100%.  If not, it’s really tough. She’s dictating everything from the beginning of the match, and served very good also, return is also very powerful and always going forward. It’s very tough to stay in the game and really running, really far from the baseline. I think against her you really have to try to, play aggressive from the beginning of the match.  If you start too slow it’s not good.”

Kerber is one of the few players have beaten Serena in the past 18 months, having taken her down in the 2012 Cincinnati quarters, but says she can only “hope’ to play at that level again. The strong-legged left-hander is an excellent defensive player and can also produce a fairly high level of offense, but has a tendency to get negative against top players and there is no way she can beat Serena unless her belly is full of self-belief.

Kvitova is 0-4 against Williams, but did take her to 7-5 in the third set in a defeat in Doha earlier this year.  That was the first time she really thought she had a chance to beat her. She did not, but at least she matched big strokes with her and hurt her with her often wicked left-handed serve.

“It was really great match for my side, and I was very close to win the match but I didn’t,” she said.  But it’s okay.  I think that I can improve my game too, and, I think it was for the first time when I really knew that I can really play her and any chance to beat her.  I don’t think that I’m really like mentally down for right now when I have her in the group.  So I’m looking forward.”

Li Na appears to have the kind of game to be able to upend Williams: a strong first serve, bullet returns, hard groundstrokes and a load of experience. But Serena seems to beat her to the punch every time out including in the US Open semis, where she butchered her in the first set and then took a well played second set.

“Even I lose her in the US Open, I still feel if I, how you say, like I said at US Open, because the match I lose to myself; is not lose to opponent.  Doesn’t matter who against me the time, the day; I already lose the match. So, yeah, at least I learn something. I still learn every day. If I have chance to play against her again, I wish I can doing [just as] well.”

Serena constantly talks about how she respects every opponent and does not under estimate them and really, you have to believe her given that she has lost only a handful of matches all season long. She realizes that she is the favorite, but does not want to deal with that tag every time out, but of course she wants to be the leading lady, too. Indoors, with her serve and in great health, she has more weaponry than any other player in the field. Clay is the only surface, which sometimes troubles her, and she did win Roland Garros this year, so at least in 2013 she’s been the most accomplished player on the soft stuff too. Outside of the absent Maria Sharapova, she knows that she will have to confront at least four of the world’s best player to win the crown.

“I’m always considered a favorite in a tournament,” she said. “ I don’t think about it.  I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it.  You know, it’s better to be considered a favorite.  I also do well when I’m considered the underdog.  I never consider myself a favorite because every opponent I play has a chance to do really well.”

Other than defending her title, Williams does not have a tremendous amount to play for. She does not need this title or positive momentum going into next year. But she is performance oriented and thinks she can better herself each time out. Perhaps that she has kept herself head and shoulder above the field.

“What I think is great about it is I’m still looking to improve, and what I learned most about this year is I have a lot of room for improvement, and talking with my coach over it, I’m so excited for next year just to take my game to a new level,” she said.

Tuesday Order of Play, starting at 5 PM Istanbul time

Azarenka vs. Errani,

Williams vs. Kerber

Radwanska vs. Kvitova


The New Issue of Tennis Journal is Out!

Get it here!

Happiness is no tennis at the dinner table

Li IW 12 TR MALT0574

‘Li Na, Li Na, do this Li Na.’

FROM THE ROGER’S CUP IN TORONTO – Li Na and her husband Dennis don’t talk tennis at the dinner table. Or at least away from tennis sites. That’s likely why every time she talks about him she does so with a smile on her face. “Out of the tennis court we never talk about tennis, so that’s why we can keep a long marriage.”

LI had another reason to smile on Thursday after she edged Ana Ivanovic 3-6 6-1 7-6 (5) in a match that for little while appeared to be in the Serbian’s hands, but once again she could not find a way to best a top player and went down. She was up 5-2, served for the contest at 5-3, but then Li began to deliver hammer shots with her devastating backhand crosscourt and down the line, with slice and body serves and some deep and impossible to touch forehands. Ivanovic did not choke the match, but she could not seem to bring her ‘A’ game when it mattered most. At 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Li nailed a forehand crosscourt winner. On match point with the ball into her favored forehand side, Ivanovic flew one long.

Li’s coach of one year now, Carlos Rodriguez is not with her on tis trip, but they are communicating via email. He will be in Cincinnati with her next week. Having Rodriguez around has even helped her marriage and how Dennis deals with her on court when Carlos isn’t around.

“Every time [Carlos] was like say, Relax.  I say, I already relaxed.  He say, No, you should even more.  I was like, Okay.  But it’s very tough, because my husband also is my ex‑coach.  Sometimes he also has some idea, but if he say something I didn’t want listening all the time. So now I think he got a little bit smart.  If he want to do something he talk to Carlos, and then Carlos talk to me.  I was like, Okay, I have to do that because Carlos say I have to do.  Because if like two coaches say the different thing, it was a little bit of a fight because I didn’t know which one I listen.  Now I think they do pretty good job.  They make together first and then say, Li Na, you have to do this.  Li Na, you have to do that.  Same like here, because Carlos is not here, but my husband always say, Oh, Carlos say you should… So I was like, Okay.”

Li one of the WTA’s most endearing characters. She has a terrific sense of humor and enjoys a good laugh even at her own expense. She will have another tough contest in the next round when she faces Bank of the West Classic Classic champion Dominika Cibulkova who took down  Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-3 7-6. Domi has her grove back and she will be more than pleased to play powerball with Li.

Two other women who can smack the ball moved ahead and will face off. Defending champ Petra Kvitova muscled up and took a  6-3, 6-3 victory over SoCal Open victor Sam Stosur, who looked a little fried. Kvitova knew that so she made sure to hang tough in long rallies. But she does not feel she can take that kind of risk against Sorana Cirstea who had perhaps had the best  18 hours periods of her life when she fought off two match points against Caro Wozniacki in a three hour match that ended at almost midnight and then came back on Thursday afternoon and took out Jelena Jankovic 6-3 6-4.

“I think I made a huge step forward today by backing up the win from yesterday, because I think this was one of the issues in the past,” Cirstea said. “I would have a good win but then I couldn’t really back it up.

Now I feel I’m more solid, and I’m taking every match the same and not focusing so much, ‘Oh, I just had a big win.’ I’m like, ‘Today is a new day, new match.’ I just have to do the same things I’m doing every single day. This kind of mentality, it’s helping me.”

Marion Bartoli retired down 7-6 1-0 to Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia and either has an  abdominal injury or she just exhausted from Wimbledon. Read here.

Serena Williams smoked  Kirsten Flipkens 6-0 6-3 and showed the Belgium just how hard it is to best two sisters in one event: Flipkens was the one who beat Venus Williams in round one.

Agnieszka Radwanska played the big points better than Sloane Stephens in a 6-1 7-6 win and said the young American just needs more experience.

Sara Errani is less than thrilled with Alize Cornet but beat her anyway France 7-5 7-6.   Read about their ‘Vamos v Allez’  tiff here.


A harried king of clay Djokovic stops Nadal to win Monte Carlo

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters 2013

The world No. 1 stopped Nadal’s attempt at a 9th title


A NEW TENNIS MAGAZINE HAS ARRIVED! Written by some of the foremost tennis writers including TR’s own Matt Cronin, Doug Robson, Joel Drucker, Tom Tebbutt, Kamakshi Tandon and Richard Osborn, Tennis Journal is here. Read about why Federer is the world’s top athlete, why Wozniacki can win a Slam, an exclusive with Marion Bartoli, why the game has evolved into a baseline one, whether the rules changes are a good thing, a comparison between Stephens and Keys and much, much more.

Go to

It was going to happen eventually. Rafael Nadal was not going to win every Monte Carlo into eternity, especially if his toughest rival these days, Novak Djokovic, decided to make his adopted hometown a place where he could adopt his hometown tournament.

Djokovic pushed himself hard physically to be able to show up and play the event, and despite a very sore ankle, once he got to the final against Nadal, he was brimming with confidence. That has not mattered much for the rest of the planet against Nadal on clay, but it sure has for Djokovic who has played Nadal awfully tough everywhere since he became a legendary player in 2011.

On this sunny Sunday in Monte Carlo, he was the better player, the fierier competitor, and the man who showed a real ability to close.

He pounded Nadal relentless early, taking a 5-0 lead. Broadcaster Nick Lester noted how Djokovic was taking Nada

Quick Picks: Monte Carlo and Fed Cup semifinals

Does Tsonga have any chance against Nadal on clay?

Does Tsonga have any chance against Nadal on clay?

COMING MONDAY! A new tennis magazine written by some of the foremost tennis writers. Tennis Journal is here.

Go to

Take Rafael Nadal over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because while Jo does tend to play well in France, he is not an excellent clay court player and Rafa got over a big mental and talented hurdle in besting Grigor Dimitrov in three. Tsonga is capable of winning a set if he serves huge, but Nadal will spend most the day controlling the court with his forehand and whipping passing shots past the Frenchman. However, the match will go three partly because Tsonga does not want to be embarrassed at home.

Take Novak Djokovic over Fabio Fognini, even though this should be a very entertaining contest because the Italian likes to be part of big court drama. Djokovic may be slightly hobbled, but he

Dream semis ahead in Dubai?


DelPo could be headed to a showdown against Djokovic

DelPo could be headed to a showdown against Djokovic

Dubai looks it like it will have two dream semis with Novak Djokovic going up against Juan Martin Del Potro and Roger Federer confronting Tomas Berdych. But first things first as Del Potro will open quarterfinal play Daniel Brands, then Berdych takes on a suddenly revived Dmitry Tursunov. Djokovic might face a stiff test from Andreas Seppi and then Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko

The Wrap: Week of Feb. 18: Tsonga is at home at home

Tsonga IW 12 TR MALT3267

Tsonga has won five of his titles in France

Imagine if a fast court Slam were played in France? Do you think Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would have a better chance of winning a major? I sure do. On Sunday, Tsonga captured his 10th ATP title by fending off a match point against Tomas Berdych in a 3-6 7-6(6) 6-4 triumph in Marseille. Tsonga also saved five match points in his quarterfinal win over Bernard Tomic, many of them with winners, which clearly indicates clutch play.

Tsonga has won five of his 10 career titles at home, including his sole Masters Series crown in Bercy back in 2008. Maybe home country advantage doesn’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things given that many players tend to perform better on surfaces and in conditions that are more to their liking, but recall that last year that Tsonga came reasonably close to taking out Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros, and clay is without question his worst surface.

As an attacking player, Tsonga likes quick conditions and presumably Marseille was to his liking. Berdych is tough indoors too, and quite tough on Tsonga given that the Czech had beaten him the last three times they played.

Now both men will head to Dubai, where Novak Djokovic is back in ATP action (he did play Davis Cup) for the first time since the Australian Open, and Roger Federer returns in an attempt to defend his title. Djokovic has a huge lead over Federer in the rankings and isn


nadal vina 2013

Uncle Toni and his nephew still have a lot of work to do

Rafael Nadal