And Simona Halep had a dream…Another lost at the majors

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ROLAND GARROS, DAY 4: Two years ago, Simona Halep wasn’t much at all. She was out of the top 60, she wasn’t able to beat the best players and it appeared that she would stay middle of the road. But after she lost early in 2013 Roland Garros, she perked up, changed her tactics, she was willing to take risks. She no longer just pushed the ball around and she was willing to try and hit the lines.

The Romanian decided that right now she was going to be consistent – left, right, down the middle– anywhere. For the most part, she gave it all, winning week after week at the small tournaments, but she was gaining and by 2014, she was already there. She reached the final of Roland Garros, nearly beating Maria Sharapova, but she lost 6-4 in the third when the Russian flew away, grabbing the last eight points. However, the world began to know who she was and now it looked like that the 23 year old had a real chance to win at the major. But unfortunately, she has stopped at the Grand Slams. She has looked lights out at a number of WTA tournaments, like winning Bucharest, reaching the WTA Final, winning Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells.

But at the Grand Slam, she has been so-so. She looked pretty good at 2014 Wimbledon, reaching the semifinal and she had a legitimate show to reach the final, but she was out-stroked against  Genie Bouchard. Then at the US Open, the veteran Mirjana Lucic, who has rarely gotten deep, stunned her.

In 2015, she thought she was ready to charge at the Australian Open, but as she admitted later, she didn’t feel right mentally and she loss to Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 6-0.

On Tuesday in the second round of the Roland Garros, Lucic beat him again, in straight sets, where she wasn’t feeling the ball. As she said, she needs to fix things, but she doesn’t really understand why she isn’t playing cool and precise at the Grand Slams. But outside the court, she will think about it deeply. Because if she doesn’t, she will never win a Grand Slam.

I still dream for many things in this life and in this career, because I have many years to go, and so if I lost today, it doesn’t mean that I cannot play anymore or I don’t win any more matches,” she said. “I just want to take the decision to see what I did wrong, what I have to do better, to be better, and to speak with my team, because together we have to decide some things. You know, I feel okay. Emotions, no, I don’t feel anymore emotions. They are gone. Maybe I had pressure, as well, but, you know, I feel more relaxed now than before the match. So this is a good point, because now I relax myself and I can smile, look forward to go to the next tournament. I have nothing to do now. Everything is lost here.”




Who is dominating the WTA? Serena Williams, Sharapova, anyone?

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Plus Wozniacki vs. Azarenka in Italy

After January ended, it looked like the WTA’s two top women, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, would go on and on, winning titles and still believing they could cruise on hard courts, clay and grass. But not anymore.

Serena won the Australian Open while Sharapova won Brisbane, as well as reaching the final at the Aussie, which was close. The 28-year-old won both of matches for Russia defeating Poland at the Fed Cup.

But after that, things changed, right up until now in Rome.

Ms. Williams won a match in Fed Cup in Argentina before she got sick. She went to Indian Wells, returning for the first time since 2001, playing pretty darn well but then she was injured and pulled out before the semifinal against Simona Halep. A couple weeks later, she played Miami and overcame Halep in the semis (in a terrific match) and then blitzed Carla Suarez-Navarro. Serena was all good again.

She signed up to play Fed Cup once again and she played her heart out against the Italians and won both of her singles, but in the doubles she and Alison Riske lost quickly. She did not play Stuttgart and last week, Williams fought very hard, somehow besting over Vika Azarenka 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-6 (1). A few days later she finally lost, falling to Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in the semis.

But does that matter and is Serena vulnerable? Perhaps not, and these days she is the favorite here in Rome and in a week and half at Roland Garros. But she is not unbeatable. Why?

Two things: one because last year against Garbine Muguruza in Paris, she was smoked 6-2, 6-2 and the second she walks on court, she will be thinking about it, which could maker her nervous; secondly, while Serena had not lost when she has played an entire match since August in Cincinnati until last week in Madrid, she has retired against Wuhan and withdrew from Beijing and Indian Wells. That matters. When Williams is feeling fine physically, she can wipe out her opponents when she is on. But when she is hurt, well, that is where she could be in trouble. She is 33 years old, you know…

Sharapova has sputtering now, too. She withdrew at Acapulco before the semis because she was sick, she lost in early at Indian Wells against Flavia Pennetta, she shouldn’t have played in Miami because her leg was bruised and she lost to Daria Gavrilova. She pulled out of Fed Cup, tried at Stuttgart but lost to Angie Kerber in three long sets. On Madrid, she played much better overcoming Caroline Garcia and Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost to Sveta Kuznetsova in the semis and while the other Russia was impressive, Maria was sporadic.

No. 3 Sharapova is the Roland Garros champion and she badly wants to win it again, but first things first: she has to beat everyone in Rome (except against Serena, who owns her) to hone her strokes perfectly, fine and true. If she doesn’t, it will be difficult to win a Slam back to back, which the five-time champion have yet to do.

Here is the cool thing on the WTA: no one knows where the wind blows. No. 2 Halep had looked excellent on hard courts beginning in February, winning Dubai and Indian Wells, but she has faltered on clay, losing early at Stuttgart and Madrid. No. 4 Kvitova looked ready to win another major after snagging Sydney, but then she fell fast and didn’t begin to strike the ball inside the lines until last week and she won Madrid.

Everyone wants to rise and most of the top 20 have had at least a week or better, such as Wozniacki, Bouchard (yes, she’s been quiet for a while but she did reach the quarters at the Aussie Open), Ivanovic, Makarova, Petkovic, Kerber and Pliskova, etc. This week in Rome, someone will play fantastic and come very close to winning it, or grabbing it. Some of the others will lose early and dash to Paris.

On the first day Sunday May 24 at Roland Garros, everyone will dream a sweet dream and envision of raising the trophy. But right now, who is a gigantic favorite? Nobody knows.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Victoria Azarenka, May 13, Wednesday, Rome

This is pretty simple, even though it is an extremely important match: if the Dane has a real chance, she was to move forward quickly or for the third time this year, she will go down quickly. Azarenka dictated her shots from the beginning to the end, out-hitting her forehand, putting away balls at the net and dare her to kiss the lines with her backhand. Wozniacki has beaten Azarenka before on hard courts and knows how to frustrate her, but this is clay and she has admitted that she isn’t confident there. This year, she has to do things differently. Wozniacki has to be patient but when her opponent drops the ball short, she has to rush ahead and attack immediately. Caro’s backhand is by far her best shot so she has to crush it down the lines, crosscourt and very deep down the middle.

Let’s assume that Wozniacki plays the first set brilliantly, but then Azarenka will pound it with her better forehand, win the second set, and in the third set, one would stay true and the other will panic. Azarenka was off on Tuesday, and she won’t play well again. Wozniacki will win in three sets.