APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 13, 2016 – Everyone is talking about Novak. In 2014, it seemed like everyone thought Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka could still win a Slam, or an ATP 1000. But in 2015, it changed, radically. Djokovic won 11 titles, three of which were Grand Slams, six ATP 1000s and one ATP 500. With the exception of falling to Wawrinka in the final of Roland Garros, he won every time he needed to.
Last week, the Serbian crushed everyone to win Doha, blowing out Nadal in the final. Now, according to almost every player, Djokovic is dominating.
On Wednesday in Sydney, the Aussie Bernard Tomic said that other than downing Djokovic, the young guys are finally ready to upend the elite, veteran players. Tomics, who beat the fellow Australian Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarters, just shook his head.
“Novak, it’s just a joke now. It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Tomic said. “That’s the reason why he’s the best player in the world. I think even Roger and Rafa are just — when you step on the court against Novak now it’s like, ‘How can you beat him?’ Even Rafa playing that final in Doha, it was amazing tennis to watch, but so comfortable, and on score just shows how much Novak is dominating the sport. I think he is a different level, Novak, now, and there is a reason why he’s there. I think the other players, there are a little bit more weaknesses. There is a reason why Novak is the best. No weaknesses. I can’t think of any. He deserves to be there.”
Tomic, who had reached the semifinal of Brisbane and then lost against his buddy Milos Raonic, agrees with Grigor Dimitrov that the very good young players can beat the Big 4 plus 1 this season. But maybe not against everyone.
“[Milos beating Federer in Brisbane] that’s a good sign for us,” Tomic said. “Not just for Milos winning that tournament. It gives us confidence stepping on the court against Federer, Murray, and against these other guys.”
He then laughed: “Except Novak.”
By the way, Tomic is now ranked No. 16 at the Aussie Open. In one way, it’s more important to win the tournament in Sydney again because he will continue to get more confidence. But it is also important that he won’t be able to play against the highest player until at least the Round of 16. He is very pleased.
“It gives me an opportunity now playing I think 17 to 24 seeds in the third round,” he said. “There are dangerous floaters out there, as well, first and second round that you can get, so can be difficult as well. Hopefully I get the right draw to save energy to play well in the first few rounds and confidence getting to the third, fourth round. What I’ve noticed the past year or so, you need to get to those third, fourth rounds and be ready and physically fresh. You have to beat the top players. You have to be physically ready. If you play top matches first, second round, not a good thing.”
Dimitrov, who lost against Federer in three sets, says he is getting closer and closer – even though he thought he should have won. On Wednesday, he beat Pablo Cuevas 7-6(2) 6-4. Dimitrov will face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarterfinal, which should be a fun match, as both men have a tremendous amount of spin. A few years back, Dolgopolov reached the second week at the Aussie Open. He had enough variety that most thought he would eventuallycrack the top 5. He was unable to do so and he may never reach the top 10. He is just not strong enough. But next week when the Aussie Open begins, there are plenty of players who can punch their tickets into the second week. Three of the interesting veterans are still alive in Sydney: Viktor Troicki, Gilles Muller and Jeremy Chardy.
Dimitrov wants to win a major some day, and soon. He truly believes that someone can play as well as he can – or he is locked into the zone – and stun Novak.
“You just never know when you’re going to get the chance and the opportunity in general,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what tournament you’re on or which round you’re playing. In a way anything is possible if you have the will and the faith.”
Whether or not Simona Halep wins the title here in Sydney, or at the Aussie Open, give her credit for sticking in there. The world No. 2 has been dealing with an inflamed Achilles heel for months and she was forced to pullout of Brisbane. But all she wanted to do was to simply play again, so she went on court and even though it could hurt her, she has been running as fast as she can. On Wednesday, she beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4 7-5 in a very close match. She yanked the Czech around time and time again until she frustrated her.
She’ll face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis, who beat Sara Errani 7-6(1) 6-0. The Russian veteran said the reason why Halep has risen over the past two years is because she is simply more consistent. It is hard to know if Kuznetsova will play great on Thursday. As she said, she pushed herself too much last year so now she wants to be calmer and more relaxed this week. ‘Whatever wind was blowing,” she said.
Here was the big upset: the 22-year-old Monica Puig took out Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. Stosur had a decent draw, but she looked pretty slow. If she reaches the second week at the Aussie Open, Australians will be crying in joy.
The Puerto Rican Puig slumped last year, so during the off-season she decided in 2016 she would actually have fun. At least this week, however.
“You always put pressure on ourselves because we want this so bad. Every single one of us wants to be the No. 1 in the word; we want to win titles. We want to win,” Puig said. “It’s a really competitive sport. Kind of putting it into perspective. I’m traveling the world and seeing so many new places. On top of that, I’m doing what I love for a living. It’s pretty amazing. If I take time to look back at where I’ve come from and all that I’ve done to get here, why not enjoy it a little bit more and have some fun while I’m doing it? Doesn’t hurt to crack a smile on the court every now and then.”
Puig will be the underdog against Belinda Bencic, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 2-6 6-4. There were a lot of fans watching Bencic during the match, including her friend/coach Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza. In the doubles, the No. 1 Hingis/Mirza haven’t lost in months.