Nadal is Flying High … Again, Plus: Maria Sharapova vs. Ash Barty

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Sunday, Jan. 20: Before Rafa Nadal returned, last week, he was unsure how he would feel. After the US Open, four months ago, he stopped because his body broke down and he couldn’t play until he healed.

He knew that, and he has said that his legs are breaking down constantly. But, when he can actually play, he is very enthusiastic. And damn good. It is hard to say how long the 31-year-old will stay, and last, but he is already playing great at the Australian Open. He hasn’t lost a set, yet.

He knows that he’s got a very tough match against Czech Tomas Berdych, the veteran, who looked very fresh over the past week.

A five setter? I doubt that. Looks to be four, very close sets, but Nadal will take it. Here comes the second week

Marin Cilic has been very smooth, which is why he is still here on the slow hard courts. However, he has to play Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spaniard who leaped up when he started this year, taking down Novak Djokovic and Berdych to win Doha. That was somewhat shocking as the 30-year-old has been pretty good here and there, but not fantastic. He is knocked out Andy Murray, John Milman and Karen Khachanow at the AO. That is eight in a row for Bautista Agut. He has always been consistent, but pretty quickly, he can attack the ball, especially when he returns. He will wear down Cilic in five sets. That will be darn close.

There are some interesting matches, with Rober Federer versus Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Frances Tiafoe versus  Grigor Dimitrov. Go here for more reporting:

Angie Kerber is looking very good, and she could win it again. The German can do almost everything, hitting with spin, pretty flat, and going side to side. She can bash it, or just move around the box. Mentally, she is thinking a lot, then she can go where ever she wants to.   

Kerber will face the 25-years-old American Danielle Collins, who came out of nowhere. A year ago, she was ranked No. 161. Now she ranked No. 35, and she will be moving up. It took her a while to understand what she had to do, when to go for it or be patient. She hustles, now, too.  Can Collins upset Kerber on Sunday? She has a chance, given that she took out Julia Goerges and Caroline Garcia, two top 10 players. This time, though, Collins has to nail her first serve and her return. All of it, essentially. American Sloane Stephens now loves playing in the majors. Three years ago, she didn’t love it, she would back off, she wouldn’t go for it, and she would disappear. But since she returned after her surgery, a year and a half ago, she actually became more mature. And she became more aggressive, when she had an opportunity. She moved it up, and she returned better. That is why she is ranked No. 5. Stephens is a serious favorite against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has been good here and there, but she is not way up[RC1] .

Another American, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, has to face Petra Kvitova. Obviously, she will become a better player, year after year, and perhaps, even quickly. Her parents used to live in Moscow, but they moved to the USA, and she was born in New Jersey. A few years later, they went down south to Florida. They still lives there, but Anisimova travels are lot. She jumps into the ball, and she is very quick.
But how will she deal with Kvitova, as the Czech has improved her fitness, and now the huge hitter rarely gets tired. She used to, but not this week, as she has focused and she doesn’t get angry when she misses it. As long as she is stable, she will out-hit Anisimova.

Now this is the biggest match on Sunday, with Maria Sharapova against Ash Barty. The Russian/American played a wonderful match beating Caro Wozniacki in the third round, possibly the best contest over the last year. Really, because last year, she was hurt all of the time. Agreed her serve — many double faults — is still a liability, but her backhand, her forehand and her return are lethal. She knows that when she faces Barty, there will be many rallies. The Aussie can run and run for a long time, and once again, she rarely gets exhausted. Barty can mix it up, especially her backhand, and just grind. It will be a packed house Melbourne, and Barty really wants it. This will go into the third set, but in the end, Sharapova will rip the ball, on the lines, and win it.