Archives for January 2014

Time wasn’t on Nadal’s side, but overcomes Nishikori anyway

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Rafa doesn’t think time violations should be called at crucial moments

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal was upset that he was called for multiple time violations in his 7-6 (3) 7-5 7-6 (3) fourth-round win over Kei Nishikori but he’s been a serial offender of the rule, even if he is one of the tour’s greatest and most exciting competitors. He takes a lot of times between every point and consistently pushes the Grand Slams’ 20-second rule.

Nishikori played perhaps the best Grand Slam match of his life at the Aussie Open as he whaled away against Nadal all day long, but could not capture enough big points to even win a set.

With the third set tied at 4-4 and deuce, chair umpire Eva Asderaki gave Nadal his second time violation and he had to forfeit his first serve. The Spaniard rarely shows anger on court, but he was infuriated on that occasion and threw a ball in disgust. Nishikori took the next two points to break, but Nadal would break back, recompose himself and eventually win the contest.

But that did not cool his jets as he felt like Asderaki should have shown more flexibility given how tough the points were in the game and because of the stage of the match. Umpires are told to call the violations when they occur regardless of what stage the match is in, although they can be flexible if they choose to if the prior point is extremely long. But, if Asderaki  has chosen not to call the violation on Nadal at that juncture (and he really did violate the rule), is that is fair to his opponent and would it open the door to even more violations?

It should be noted that it appears that the umpires have been tougher during this fortnight than they have been at any other Grand Slam, even warning some of the women players, which they rarely do. Jelena Jankovic received a warning come off a changeover on Monday in her three-set loss to Simona Halep.

Nadal was not pleased, although he said he would try to quicken his pace.

“The negative thing in my opinion is not the warning,” Nadal said. “The negative thing is the moment, 4‑All, deuce.  You can choose another moment to do it, not that one.  Another thing is she didn’t advise me before the second warning that I was still going slow.  So normal thing, if the referee is say, ‘Rafa, you are going too slow.’  So I try to go quicker, before the second warning.  But she didn’t make it. The rule says you can do it.  But, in my opinion, that goes against the show.  But that’s fine.  If she wants to do it that way, she did.  She did, and that’s why we are talking.”

What is unclear is whether Nadal knows how experienced Asderaki is. She may call matches slightly differently than other umpires, but she has overseen thousands of them, including Grand Slam finals. He does not seem to be too impressed, even though she is a real pro.

“I going to try to go quicker for the future,” he said. “But is important to have people on the chair that really understand the game and people who manage this sport who understand the game, and that’s it.  Because, if not, every time with Hawk‑Eye, the referee just start watching the watch, 25 seconds, then warning, so then we don’t need any more referees.  We only need lines.  That’s fine. Because if not, the referees don’t need to do all the rules.  That is my feeling.  We are making the referees worse than before with all the things that we are making for them easier.”

Next up: Dimitrov

Nadal will face the 22-year-old Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, who bested Spain’s Roberto Bautista  6-3 3-6 6-2 6-4. Dimitrov is in the final eight for the first time and is playing more patiently than he did last season, which helps him overall because, even though he is an impressive shot-maker, he does have the tendency to become sloppy. At a Grand Slam in three out of five set matches, players don’t get away with that over the long haul. Dimitrov does not appear to fear the match-up, but he will be the underdog for sure.

“We all know that he has won tons of Slams,” Dimitrov said.  “He’s been a tremendous competitor.  He’s Rafa.  We all know him.  But that’s what I’m playing for, to put myself in position to play those guys.  I had tough battles with him in the past.  Played a couple times on clay.  There were always little things missing.  But I’m quite happy with the way I’m performing so far.  So I like my chances.”

WTA roundup

Serena Williams and Maria  Sharapova are both out of the tournament now, Sharapova to Dominika Cibulkova on Monday in a great effort by the Slovakian, but not two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka who took a very impressive 6-3 6-2 victory over Sloane Stephens. The 20-year-old American contested a very decent first set but not win enough of the big points, was slightly out steadied and didn’t take enough risks. Azarenka was better off the ground and more ambitious. She’s the highest seed left in the event. She will play the winner of the match between Agnieszka Radwanska and Garbine Muguruza. Halep reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and will play  Cibulkova.

“I don’t consider anybody as the favorite, I just go out there and play my best,” said Azarenka. “We’ve seen over the last couple of days that somebody can bring their best game on any given day. You have to stay alert.”

Pennetta makes another Slam push

Pennetta's slump continued

Australian Open Day Six Predictions: Are Rafa Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki vulnerable?

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Rod Laver Arena

3-Maria Sharapova v 25-Alize Cornet: Sharapova was very shaky in her marathon three-set win over Karin Knapp and it’s very rare for her to play badly again after such a stressful match, so even though Cornet has improved a ton during the past two years, the Russian will hit through her in straight sets.

6-Roger Federer v Teymuraz Gabashvili: Props to the Russian for his late night,  five-set win over Fernando Verdasco, but Federer won’t give him as many predictable clean looks and will come through in four sets

10-Caroline Wozniacki v Garbine Muguruza: This is the obvious upset pick of the day because the young Spaniard/Venezuelan is super talented slugger who is capable of hitting the Dane off the court, but Wozniacki is playing more ambitiously at this event and will find away to outlast Muguruza in three sets.

2-Victoria Azarenka  v Yvonne Meusburger: Two-time defending champ Azarenka was resourceful in her last match, but far from brilliant. Her serve is spotty, but she’s effective enough off the ground to hit through almost anyone and will knock out the Austrian in two sets

1-Rafa Nadal  v 25-Gael Monfils: This should be a very entertaining match between two super fast showmen, but unless Monfils finds a way to play inside the baseline instead of way behind it and can protect his backhand side, he won’t grab a set. Let’s concede the Frenchman one, but no more.

Hisense Arena

8-Jelena Jankovic v Kurumi Nara: JJ started the year very well in Brisbane before going down in an emotionally trying match to Azarenka. Her spirit seemed to have picked up in Melbourne and she has too much experience for the Japanese, but will lose a set.

5-Agnieszka Radwanska v 29-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

The Pole may not be a major title threat as she doesn’t appear to have improved from last year, but she will school the Pavlyuchenkova in two, as the Russian does not seem to have real elite potential or enough patience to figure her out.

4-Andy Murray  v 26-Feliciano Lopez

This is a good  test for the Scot as Lopez did play him tough once at the US Open, is in fine form and the courts are playing fast. Murray is fresh, but still is a little rusty. This will be a long five-set battle with the Wimbledon champion coming through.

10-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v 18-Gilles Simon: This is simple pick, as Simon has played heroically on a bad ankle in winning two five-setters, but he won’t have enough gusto to go up against the charging Smokin’ Jo who will win in straight sets.

Margaret Court Arena

16-Carla Suarez Navarro v 20-Dominika Cibulkova: This one is simple than it looks as Suarez exhausted herself in the last round while Cibulkova finished quickly. The Slovakian will get thru in two.

13-Sloane Stephens v Elina Svitolina: Stephens needed a near miracle to win her last contest so if she can start fast –which she rarely does — she should be able to negate the teen in two. But she rarely does so take the American in three.

11-Milos Raonic v 22-Grigor Dimitrov: This is a super attractive match up between the tour’s highest ranked youngsters. Dimitrov has more variety and returns more competently, but Raonic has a blowtorch serve and a murderous forehand. A true pick ’em, but Raonic is way overdue for a win like this and will triumph in five.

Donald Young v 16-Kei Nishikori: Japan’s top player made a good move in bringing Michael Chang in as his coach, who can teach him a lot about mental toughness and how to play more consistently. Young is playing more inspired ball than he did most of the past two years but his legs will give out at the end of the fourth set due to his stressful and long win over Andres Seppi in the last round.


Aussie Open Day 4: Sharapova survives marathon in heat, Azarenka settles down


While rehabilitating from a shoulder injury last season Maria Sharapova spent five months getting into tip-top shape, and it more than paid off on Thursday when the Russian outlasted Karin Knapp 6-3 4-6 10-8 at Rod Laver Arena. MORE HERE


Victoria Azarenka prefers a straight-ahead attack, but she had no choice to adjust her strategy against the wily and creative Barbora Zahlavova Strycova MORE HERE


Donald Young is somewhat of a mystery man. He’s had such and up and down career since he first came on tour in 2007 that how he is going to perform during any given week is unpredictable.  MORE HERE


Ms. Three-Setter: Hantuchova goes the distance again and again


Daniela is true warrior.

MELBOURNE – With her tall and slender frame, Daniela Hantuchova may not look like a paragon of fitness, but given that she has unofficially played more three setters in singles than anyone else on tour  — a whopping 263 – and won 181 of them, that indicates a lot of physical and mental staying power.

On Wednesday at the Australian Open, the 30-year-old Slovakian outlasted Karolina Pliskova 6-3 3-6 12-10. It was just another day in the office for Hantuchova, who will display a stone face on court, but is often full of joy off court, When told of her three-set mark later in the day, she cried out, “Whoo-Hoo! It feels great. I am really proud of the fact that for so many years I have been able to be here, healthy and ready to play and the longer the match it’s better for me. I have to deal with the younger players and the longer the match, the more they get tired.”

So does she almost expect to get in a three-setter every time she goes out to play?

“I would be stupid not to,” she said with a laugh.  “You always want to win in two, but I know that if it goes three I will be OK. The tennis you can’t control because it’s either there or not, but the  fighting is something you can control.”

Unfortunately Hantuchova faces a dreadful scenario in the next round, trying to stop No. 1 Serena Williams, who hasn’t lost a match in nearly five months and has been plastering the field since she arrived Down Under after Christmas.

Hantuchova has played Serena nine times, seven of those matches at the Grand Slams. The only time she beat her was in the third round of the 2006 Aussie Open, a  6-1 7-6(5) win at tournament when Serena came in out of shape and paid for it.

“I remember I made her move,” Hantuchova recalled. “But obviously she has done amazing things since then. She’s a great champion and I admire everything she has done.”

They have faced off at three Wimbledons, where Hantuchova only won a set. She should have taken her down  in 2007 in the round of 16  when Serena was hurt and hobbled, but Serena sent for her shorts late and Hantuchova crumbled.

They also played three times at the US Open, but the Slovakian didn’t manage to win a set there. And the last time they faced off, in New York in 2009, Serena blew her out  6-2 6-0 in the round of 16.

“They kind of ruined my Grand Slam career,” said former top-5 player Hantuchova in reference to the Williams  sisters, “Especially the years when I was playing really well I always had to play her or Venus. The only time I made the [Grand Slam ] semis was here in 2008 when I didn’t have to play either of them in the quarters. I think I had chances to go deeper back then, as well as I was playing. It wasn’t easy.”

Hantuchova’s and Serena’s most notorious match was in Los Angeles in  2006 in the third round when Serena took her out 1-6 6-3 6-3. The Slovakian claimed she bumped into her on purpose during a changeover early in the second set. A photographer sitting courtside said that Williams also swore at Hantuchova.

“She always does that,” Hantuchova told me at the time. “She did say something to me on the next changeover, but I’m not sure what it was.” She also  accused Serena of faking an injury timeout, a charge that Serena denied.

But that is now water under bridge, at least under the public bridge of pro tennis, even it is still continues to wash over their private ones and take them far downstream away from a friendship.

Hantuchova has been competing at the pro level  since 1999 and  has played more than 1,300 matches in her career, which doesn’t count Fed Cup, where she has been competed in 35 matches.

She  is not as quick or agile as she was when she came on tour, but she still owns a sweet two-handed backhand to die for, has been blessed with soft touch, has developed a bigger forehand and a good first serve. But she serves nowhere with the force and accuracy of Serena,  who owns the best one of all time.

“About 80%,” Hantuchova said when asked how much Williams’ great serve has to do with her domination. “When she on it’s like a man’s serve. Her power is incredible and she really serves well when she needs to”

Hantuchova acknowledged that she herself is going to have to serve great in order to win her third-round match against Serena at the 2014 Aussie Open on Friday.

Oh and just one more thing

“Just win the last point,” she said with a coy smile.

Aussie Open: Dimitrov learning Grand Slam ropes

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Grigor Dimitrov’s amazing talent has been lauded since he was a teenager, but his mental toughness has been questioned.

But in his 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory over American Bradley Klahn… READ MORE HERE

Dimitrov also praised his girlfriend Maria Sharapova for being extremely supportive. MORE HERE

Refreshed Querrey ready to take more risks

Querrey IW 11 MALT4133

Australian Open: Fitter, more mature Keys looks to make push

keys, madison 2013

Del Potro and Tomic looks to get through Nadal’s Quarter of Death

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Bernie has to come out firing versus Nadal.

MELBOURNE – Juan Martin del Potro blew out Bernard Tomic in the Sydney final, which is an indication that if he is actually fit enough to contest numerous three-of-five set matches that he might have chance to win another major.

As the only active guy in his mid-20s outside of the super elite group Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer  to win a major, the Argentine is frequently talked about as the most obvious choice to transform the Big 4 into a Big 5. But since he came back from wrist surgery in 2010, Del Potro has not shown himself to be consistent enough at the big tournaments to win a Slam, or even a Masters Series.

Yes, he has scored wins over all of the Big 4 during that time period, and he also has a forceful enough serve, and a gigantic forehand to be able to nullify every type of foe. But is he really good enough to win the Australian Open and eventually grab the No. 1 ranking? The jury is still out.

“Juan Martin has improved his game,” Djokovic said. “I think his physical state also.  He’s fitter.  I feel that on the court he’s ready to go the distance.  That was, I believe, his biggest issue in the past.  He played a couple of tournaments well, then didn’t play for next few weeks or month, couldn’t really sustain that level of consistency physically.  He’s very tall.  For him moving around the court in the big rallies is definitely twice as hard for us.  But he has a big serve.  He has a big forehand.  He won a Grand Slam.  He’s definitely one of the best players in the world.  I believe he has the potential to win Grand Slams and to be definitely one of the players to fight for No. 1.  Why not?  [But] in this year or next year, that’s something that I don’t know exactly. I mean, depends really of how consistently he can play throughout the whole year.  It’s not about playing one or two Grand Slams well, or a few months.  In order to be No. 1 of the world, you have to play consistently well 10 months.”

In soccer terms Del Potro is in what would be called the Australian Open’s Group of Death. In tennis terms, it could be termed the “Quarter of Death.”

No. 1 Nadal stands of top of the quarter, which includes two of the most talented youngsters on tour, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. Those two are in Del Potro’s segment of 16 and he could face one of them in the fourth round. But first he has to get past the US qualifier Rhyne Williams, possibly the US third-highest ranked player in Tim Smyczek, and maybe the talented 27th seed Benoit Paire. If he punches past Raonic or Dimitrov and reaches the quarters, he will more than likely have to confront Nadal, assuming the Spaniard bests Tomic in the first round, possibly No. 25 Gael Monfils in the third round (whom the Spaniard took down in the Doha final) and possibly an in-form Lleyton Hewitt or Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

Tomic believes that if he comes on the court with the right attitude, that he will have a shot of upsetting Nadal.

“I have to stay patient and not lose my head too early, not go for broke and think you have to go for everything, because you really don’t,” Tomic said. “He’s going to be very intimidating to play.  You just have to stay with him.  I mean, he is human.  He does mistake, obviously not as much as the other players, but I’ve got to play very, very good tennis to have any chance. … I have to play the right tennis to have any chance of winning. … I have to be on my game, really embrace the moment, have fun, go for my shots.”

Perhaps the 21-year-old Aussie can shock the tennis  world and take down the world No. 1, but he is going to have come out red-hot and take it to Nadal early and often. If the contest goes past three hours, it’s very hard to see him wearing the Spaniard down. As Hewitt says, Nadal likes very physical contests and the veteran Aussie does not like his Davis Cup teammate’s chances in a five-setter. Tomic;s first serve has improved, as has his forehand, but his strength is in his variety, not in throwing his opponents through a wall with a power surge, like Jo Wilfried Tsonga did to Nadal back in the 2008 Aussie Open semis, or DelPo did to Nadal in the 2009 US Open semis.

Tomic would have to mix up his attack perfectly and win the match in three of four sets, which is unlikely  give how high Nadal’s level has been since he returned to play last February.

But if Tomic can’t pull off the feat, maybe Del Potro can in the quarterfinals. The Australian believes in the Tower of Tandil, thinking he might sky above the Quarter of Death.

“It’s not easy playing him.,” Tomic said of the Argentine. “He’s such a difficult player.  He makes a lot of returns.  When he gets the ball back and you’re not in position, you get a little bit defensive and the point is pretty much over. He’s beaten everybody, and he can beat everyone quite easily when he’s playing good.”


Jordan Thompson (Australia) v 20-Jerzy Janowicz (Poland): Is the young Aussie ready to upset the young, talented yet rusty Pole?

Sam Groth (Australia) v 28-Vasek Pospisil (Canada): Does the big serving Australian have a good enough all-court game to stop the rising Pospisil, who is contending with back trouble?

17-Samantha Stosur (Australia) v Klara Zakopalova (Czech Republic): Can the Australia avoid what happened to her last year, losing to the same player in consecutive weeks (Zakopalova bested Stosur in Hobart last week, and in 2013 Stosur lost to Zheng Jie at Sydney and the Aussie Open)?

22-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) v Venus Williams (U.S.): Makarova knocked off Venus’s sister, Serena, two years ago in Melbourne and now takes aim at Venus, who is coming off a terrific run to the Auckland final but can be a slow starter.

Pain is Pironkova’s gain as she wins first title in Sydney

pironkova wins sydney

Pironkova’s career has turned around.

By Matt Cronin

SYDNEY – It is very rare to find a veteran player who was sitting outside of the top 100 and, at times, who thought about quitting, who can find a way to come though qualifying and mow down an elite WTA field at a Premier level event.

Welcome to Tsvetana Pironkova’s world, one that was filled with angst and now is filled with joy. In one of the most impressive weeks in recent memory, the Bulgarian  won the Apia International Sydney on Saturday, besting the favored fifth-seed Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-4  in the final. That win followed brilliant performances against two other top 10 players, Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova; the world No. 107 became the first qualifier to win a WTA Premier since Ekaterina Makarova at 2010 Eastbourne.

The 26-year-old needed to win eight matches  to grab the crown When she came on court against Kerber, both of her legs hurt. But she would not give in, even though the German is a terrific defensive  player who is capable of grinding anyone down.

“In the beginning of the match I was feeling pain all over my legs actually, in my thighs,” Pironkova recalled. “I said, ‘You’re in the final now.  You cannot let this affect you that much.  Play until you pass out.’”

Pironkova outhit Kerber on the backhand side with low laser shots, served much bigger and more effectively and kept her weaker forehand deep enough so that Kerber was unable to eat her alive. She broke the weak-serving German six times, nailed 32 winners to Kerber’s  23 and did not appear to be nervous while closing the match out, even though it was her first career final. But, in reality, she was riddled with anxiety until she took a  deep breath and  focused on the task at hand.

“I felt very nervous, but I tried my hardest not to show it,” she said. “I was trying to concentrate so hard that I just see only the ball.  I was only watching the ball and I’m like, ‘Okay, just watch the ball and follow every point.’ ”

She won the contest when Kerber pushed a groundstroke wide, fell to her knees and cried a bit in her chair. Her first words in an on-court ceremony were to her parents, her father and coach Kirlei who was on site, as was her mom, Radosevta.

“Mom, Dad, we have trophy!” she said with a big smile on her face.

Her emotion flowed freely, which was not surprising given that there were times in 2013 when she couldn’t win a match.

“When I know what I’ve been through, not only last season but throughout my career, it hasn’t been easy for me,” she said. “This is something that I’ve been waiting for so long and something that I’ve missed so much.  Now that I finally have it, it’s all surreal.  I still cannot believe it, honestly. My mom and dad are the people that have always been with me. Good or bad, they have always been behind my back and pushing me.”

Pironkova admitted that retirement did cross her mind last season, but she stuck with her sport because she’s been chasing that elusive trophy her whole career

“One bad season. I said to myself, ‘Okay, it sucks, but you have to keep pushing. You have to go forward. Just take all your chances and do what you have to do, and then we’ll see what happens.’ So that’s what I did,” she said.

The Bulgarian added that  all of her improvement is due to her newfound mental stability and that she didn’t lose her head once she reached the latter stages of he event. After she upset Errani in the quarters, she knew she had a chance to win it, but she couldn’t afford to daydream, couldn’t think too much ahead. She actually had to wins points, games, sets and matches. And that is what she did. The former Wimbledon semifinalist will head out of Sydney to Melbourne a very happy camper, a top-60 player and a much more dangerous competitor.

“That’s for the first time it came to my mind,” she said of her Errani upset. “ ‘Whoa, you are on a roll here, you play really good, you feel confident, so why not win the tournament.’ But I try to push that thought deeper in my mind and not to think too much about it. Just to take each match on its own.  I think that’s the right strategy for me.”

Brains vs  Brawn: Tomic  vs Del Potro in men’s final

Brains will go up against brawn in the final of the Apia International Sydney on Sunday, with Juan Martin del Potro facing  Bernard Tomic. That description is more apt on court as the Argentine is more thoughtful off court than the Australian is, but Tomic tends to be a more of thinking man’s player while Del Potro’s style consists of huge serves and bigger forehands. The two have faced off only once, last year in Washington, which appeared to be a routine win for Del Potro. But Tomic thought he had chances in that contest.

Then 21-year-old Aussie has created a lot of his own opportunities during the week and was mentally strong in his last two matches against two tricky opponents who are as hard to read as he is. Those men would be Alex Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky, whom he bested  6-7(4) 7-5 6-3  in the semis. Tomic was drained during the semi, but his fitness level appears to have improved and he was able to out leg  the Ukrainian when he needed to in the third set.

But he is going to have a tougher time against Del Potro, who is not going to hesitate at key moments like Stakhovsky did.  Del Potro appears to have adjusted to the quick  courts now and thumped Dmitry Tursunov 6-4 6-2.

As Tomic said, DelPo may very well have the best forehand on tour these days. While Nadal has the best left-handed one and Federer is right there with him on good days, the Tower of Tandil can rock the shot

“Best forehand I think on tour now.” Tomic said. “Very, very good first serve. Not much you can do when he’s playing good. He can play amazing.  I have to stick with him to have a chance I play a little bit differently, so hopefully I can get buzzed up and play my tennis. know what Juan is gonna be doing.  Obviously he’s very, very good at what he does.  This is why he’s there.  I have to do something different.  I have to play my game. It’s a final.  I’ll go out there, have fun, relax, and I’m going for the win.”

Del Potro praised how intelligent Tomic’s game is, but it’s the Aussie’s first serve and more powerful forehand that has been most impressive this week, not his backhand slice or drop shot. Having a lot of variety can help players win matches as long as they can execute, which Tomic has not been very adept at outside of Australia. But he is playing at home, where he frequently displays top-20 stuff.

“He’s very smart to play,” Del Potro said. “He has everything to be in the higher ranking very soon.  He’s a local guy, so he has a little advantage to the rest.  He already won this tournament last year, so he must feel confidence to play down the center court.”

Tomic added that it is possible that the Argentine will get nervous and that would give him a  chance.