Archives for May 2015

Notes on a a Draw Sheet: Djokokic, Sharapova win Rome, but are they now ready for Roland Garros?

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MAY 17- Novak Djokovic won another huge tournament, beating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3 to win Rome. It was close in the first set, but the Serbian was almost perfect again, virtually not making errors, moving his service all around the box, out-hitting his backhand crosscourt and cracking his forehand.

The 33-year-old Federer looked pretty good too, but even though he mixed it up, he could tell that Djokovic was not going to make any serious errors and he would have to be near-perfect. He could not and in the second set, you could tell that Federer was not confident enough and he couldn’t not raise his level and sore way up high into the sky and out last him. The Swiss knows that Djokovic is better than anyone now and the rest of the field have to wait until he falls down.

Will that occur next week when Roland Garros begins? No one really knows, but that we do know is that Djokovic has never won Paris and at some point he will become nervous. Can he take a deep breath and feel good about himself and play outstanding? Perhaps, but if he plays Federer again when ‘Rog’ beat Novak in 2011 in the semis, we all knew that it’s 3 out of 5 sets, not 2 out of 3 sets, and everyone can be shaky, just like Djokovic did.

Last year, the same thing happened when Djokovic faced Rafa Nadal in the final and the Spaniard had much more depth and variety. Djokovic has looked substantially better up until right now, but in Paris, it’s a new tournament, new stories and new questions. Will he be asked whether he won’t be nervous when the heat is on? We will hear Djokovic’s answer very soon.

Maria Sharapova took a deep breath after she won the tournament in Italy, besting Carla Suarez-Navarro 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the final. She was up and down during the first two sets, and Suarez was quite confident with her heavy topspin, but at 5-5, Sharapova gritted her teeth, swung super hard and won eight straight points to win the second set. Then she was on-fire and won the third set quickly. Remember when Sharapova played Simona Halep at 4-4 in the third set at 2014 Roland Garros? She smoked eight points and won the title. Same thing. Deep inside she was ready to raise up and she did.

Now Sharapova is confident again, which means that outside of Serena Williams, who has owned her for many years, she is the favorite. Sharapova is now ranked No. 2, so she and Serena cannot meet until the final. The Russian/American will be pleased that she and Serena won’t be playing on the same days and stare at each other when they are walking past the locker room.

Sharapova is happy after winning Rome, after she was unable to grab another title since the beginning of the start of the year in Brisbane. Then, Maria thought she could have a great season. Perhaps after winning Italy, she will punch out everyone again, if she did last week, when she was moving inside the court and blasting winners time and time again. However, the 5-time Grand Slam champion has never won a major back to back. Maybe she can pull it off at Roland Garros, but she will have to start quickly so she doesn’t doubt her confidence.

The other women

Suarez had another fine tournament and now she is ranked No. 8. By all rights, she should reach the quarterfinals and hopefully she won’t have to play Williams and Sharapova, but she will be very happy taking on No. 3 Halep or No. 4 Petra Kvitova, whom she beat both in Rome.

Outside of the top 4 as well as Suarez, it’s so hard to figure out who has been playing very well on clay. Almost no one. You have to think that a few of the kids can go deep in Paris such as Madison Keys, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Garcia. Perhaps Karolina Pliskova, Timea Bacsinszky and Zarina Diyas, but who else? …Amongst the veterans, there are a few who have looked well over the past couple months, even if they were sporadic like Andrea Petkovic, Angie Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka, who has looked tremendous at times, but she did not look confident when she lost to Sharapova…Three US women were close to be seeded in the top 32, but they couldn’t get there. CoCo Vandeweghe is ranked No. 33, Varvara Lepchenko is No. 34 and Madison Brengle is No. 36. Hopefully they will have decent seeds on the first round.

The other men 

There will be volumes of Nadal next week, trying as to why the 14-time Grand Slam champion has been struggling all year. Obviously, he is not stroking the ball correctly, which is why for the first time ever, he is making errors from both his forehand and backhand. Perhaps he will shake it off soon, or his coach and uncle Toni will figure why he is flying long or he is too short. As Rafa Nadal said, he isn’t sure when he will be 100% during the next couple of months, but that may not happen in Paris. If he cannot, then all he can do is to grind against the lesser players, but when he goes up against the major competitors then he will have to take risks because one thing is for sure, the rest of the players know he is vulnerable and they are licking their chops.

A couple months ago, who would have thought that No. 3 Andy Murray would win a major tournament on clay for the first time (he won Madrid) and Tomas Berdych is ranked No. 4 for the first time? Murray has an outside chance to win Roland Garros, but while Berdych has been solid against the men outside of the top 10, he hasn’t been able to knock out the Big 4, except upsetting Nadal.  Outside of the Big 4 (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are the favorites once again, but who else has a real chance to reach the final? Ok, fine, Berdych can, but not if he faces Djokovic or Federer. Kei Nishikori, but this year he has been a little short against the top players. David Ferrer never gets tired and he is very steady, but he is not powerful enough. Here are some other men, veterans or youngsters, who could reach in the semis, as long as they start hit early: Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, John Isner, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Nick Kyrgios…Two US guys were close to reaching the top 32: Jack Sock who is No. 36, and Sam Querrey, who is ranked No. 38.


Pick ’em, May 17, Rome: Djokovic vs. Federer. Both want it bad, will be very close


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1-Novak Djokovic vs. 2-Roger Federer

Here we go, their 39th meeting. Long enough people? It’s an intense rivalry, and extremely complicated between both sides. In the last 10 meetings, they have split 5-5, with Federer winning the Dubai final in February and Djokovic grabbing Indian Wells in the final. The 33-year-old Federer is 20-18 head to head over the 27-year-old Djokovic and clearly, it has been super close. It’s all about quality, not just pushing the ball around and merely hoping.

Interesting, they have only played each other seven matches on clay, the last time coming in 2014 Monte Carlo, won by the Swiss. The biggest clash was in 2011, when Djokovic hadn’t lost during the season and had reached the semifinal of Roland Garros, on a 41-win streak. The Serbian believed that he could out-hit Federer there and perhaps he would go onto the final against Rafa Nadal, but he could not, when Roger put on a tremendous variety and won 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5).

Djokovic was able to get revenge the next year in Paris, beating Federer 6-4, 7-5, 6-3, a very clean victory. However, Djokovic was unable to win at Roland Garros again, falling to Nadal — again.

Federer has been able to snare a French Open title in 2009, but somewhat amazingly, he has never won Italy before. Djokovic has won Rome three times, including last year.

He and Federer did play once in Italy in 2012, with Djokovic coming through 6-2, 7-6(4). They have played so many times it seems like they are clashing every day.

But this is 2015 and once again, Djokovic is on red-hot fire. Even when he is struggling, he is still winning, because his strokes are so deep and he kisses the lines time and time again. Yes, he can lose points, he can be broken, he could miss too many returns and floated his forehands way long. But still, he digs in, he is changing his direction and purpose. He figured it out.

However, beating Federer is an entirely different matter. Yes, the Swiss has been up and down this year, very good and very so-so. He fell early against Nick Kyrgios in Madrid in a difficult contest but he has played extremely well this week, dominating his first serve, slicing his backhand wickedly and changing his forehand all the time. He essentially crushed Stan Wawrinka in the semis on Saturday, dancing around near the net, blasting his returns and daring him to out-hit his forehand.

Djokovic is rock solid. There is no way to hide. On hard courts and grass, it’s possible to go into the net frequently but that is very difficult on a slow clay surface. Therefore, Federer has to be very patient and wait for the right shots and when the balls are short, it’s time to attack.

The Serbian will try to beat up Federer’s one-handed backhand, hoping to raise the balls way up high where the Swiss cannot crush it when it’s up above his head. Djokovic was very efficient in beating David Ferrer, as he cleaned up any mistakes. Federer and Djokovic will be very close once again, but someone has to win: Djokovic will grab an early break in the third set it and win the title, his fourth time in Rome.


The Pick, Rome, May 16: Djokovic vs. Ferrer, Federer vs Wawrinka, Halep vs. Suarez, Sharapova vs. Gavrilova

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1-Novak Djokovic vs. 7-David Ferrer

The so-called youngsters are gone again, and the veterans have reached the semifinals. Novak Djokovic overcame Kei Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-1, and David Ferrer beat David Goffin 6-2 4-6 6-3. Now the 33-year-old Ferrer will try and figure out how the Serbian will attack him. Djokovic has won their last eight matches. But, at the very least, Ferrer is 3-2 head to head on clay, so he can recall when he frustrated him and has a decent chance.

Djokovic has had to fight in three sets, three times this week, when he was a little off at times. However, by the third set, he was more consistent, locked in both on his forehand and backhand and threw in some gorgeous drop shots.

If Ferrer is going to allow Djokovic to charge early and often then the Spaniard will become frustrated and become erratic. Ferrer prefers to engage in long points, parking in the left corner and whacking on his gigantic forehand. He will go to the right, left and down to the middle way deep. He is very muscular and he is pretty fast even though he has aged.

The problem is that Ferrer is more predictable, he can’t handle with Djokovic’s super-sharp backhand cross court and he can’t back him off with his serves, which are good, but not great. Ferrer has been playing pretty well during the past two weeks and he realizes that he will have to be aggressive. But Djokovic has a darn good idea exactly what he has to do and he will win in straight sets.

2-Roger Federer vs. 8-Stan Wawrinka

These two are good buddies but when they come on court against each other they are extremely intense. The Swiss’ don’t get mad at each other, but they can get upset if they aren’t playing perfectly.

Federer has won just about everything, except he has never won Italy. The 17-time Grand Slam has reached the final three times, but he was stopped. The 33-year-old  just wants to play as well as he can. On Friday Federer looked very good, easily taking down Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-3.

On paper, Federer should be able to best Wawrinka, whom he is 15-2 head to head. Obviously, he has been better than he has since they started in 2005. He has beat him in clay, hard courts and grass. Federer has tremendous variety, his forehand is the best of all time and these days he likes to come into the net more.

Wawrinka has improved a lot over the past two years. By working hard he’s improved his fitness, forehand and serve. Last year, the 2014 Australian Open champion nearly upsetFederer 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) at the Barclay’s ATP World Final, one of the most exciting matches of the year. Stan nearly won it and had some real chances, but Federer stood tall and came through.

Here on clay, this contest will be very close again. Wawrinka didn’t show any nerves of upsetting Rafa Nadal 7-6(7) 6-2 on Friday. He was cracking his phenomenal one-handed backhand, he jumped on his returns and he was able to control his heavy forehand. Can he do it again? Sure he can, if he doesn’t become confused and take too many risks. He must be patient. Just like in 2014 Monte Carlo, Wawrinka upset Federer. This time, he will do it on clay again, winning in three sets.

2-Simona Halep vs. 10-Carla Suarez Navarro

This should be a terrific contest, as they have played nine times, with the 23-year-old Halep having grabbed five wins, and the 26-year-old has snared four wins – three times on clay. The Spaniard grew up on the dirt and loves it and while Halep has risen up quickly over the past two years, Suarez believes she can snare it. Halep knows that her foe will grind it all day long, mixing it up and running for hours.

However, Halep can do the same and she can out hit her with her lightning backhand.Interestingly, the last time they faced off on clay was at 2013 Roland Garros in the first round, won by Suarez. Neither was in the top 10 back then. In fact, Halep was ranked No. 64, and she wasn’t ready against the big girls yet.

A few weeks later, she was ready to roll and she rose quickly. Halep crushed Alexandra Dulgheru in the quarters, but Suarez took out Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-2. Obviously, Halep looked good, but that was a substantial victory by Suarez over the No. 4 Kvitova who had won Madrid. It wouldn’t be surprising if Halep won, because she out-hit her at Indian Wells in three sets in March, But on clay, Suarez will feel her touch and upend the Romanian in three sets.

3-Maria Sharapova vs. Daria Gavrilova

In Miami, Gavrilova stunned Sharapova in the first round. Clearly, Sharapova was hurt and she was extremely erratic, but nonetheless the 21-year-old was gutsy and aggressive when the most important points came. Being able to reach the semifinal here shows she can really play. She might be short, but she is super fast and can crack the ball.

However, Sharapova loves the clay now and she was lethal and beating Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in the quarters. When the Russian is playing that well against the former No. 1, you know that she is very confident. Credit to Gavrilova for being here and upsetting Sharapova the last time, but the five-time champion wants revenge and she will crush the youngster in straight sets.

The Pick, May 14: Nadal faces Isner in Rome, where both feel confident


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Rafa Nadal vs. John Isner, Round of 16, Rome, May 14

Remember way back when in 2011 when Isner was still rising and in the first round against Nadal, they faced off at Roland Garros and nearly stunned him, but the Spaniard overcame the American 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4. Nadal made a deep breath and went on to win the tournament.

Isner lost, but he was pleased overall because he showed the world that on clay, he had potential. Since then, the now 30-year-old Isner has had some good wins on clay, most notable against Roger Federer at Davis Cup, wiping the Swiss. Last year in Paris he upset Tommy Robredo in the third round in four sets before losing to Tomas Berdych.

He hasn’t gone deep at the biggest clay tournaments and he has had a couple brutal losses. In 2012 in the first round at Roland Garros, he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu 18-16 in the fifth set. He was so exhausted that he could barely walk. The next year in 2013 he was right there against Tommy Robredo, but he couldn’t grasp it and lost 10-8 in the fifth. He was disgusted.

But even though he can get down on himself, he will keep trying. This year, he started slow but after kicking himself after losing against Great Britain at the Davis Cup, by March he was moving faster and he was more composed. He looked pretty good at Indian Wells and Miami and with the exception of Houston, he was been fairly consistent on the clay, beating Steve Johnson and Victor Troicki in Monte Carlo before going down to Nadal. In Madrid, he won three matches, including beating the rising Nick Kyrgios before losing to Tomas Berdych.

Here in Italy, he has already won two matches, besting Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (6) 6-4 on Wednesday. While Nadal is 5-0 against him, Isner has hung around, such as in Monte Carlo last month, which was fairly close.

But can Isner actually beat him? Yes he has a real shot but he must play as well as he can and somehow, someway, when he is returning, he has to attack the second servers extremely deep or on the lines. He knows that Nadal can dig out everything and if he is on and he is feeling good he will dare his foes, running as fast as he can and retrieve massive shots in the corners. He can be super-steady and chase down anything, That is very difficult for Isner but he can boom aces and easily hold him.

Coming into this week, Isner’s service games won are at 96%, which is fantastic, but on the other side at the return games won, it’s 9%. Ouch.

As long as the points go on and on and Nadal will be quiet pleased. Nadal can torch Isner’s backhands and pulls him way out wide. The American has a gigantic forehand and is confident enough to dance to his left wide and dictate with his forehand. However, if he isn’t nailing it and Nadal is in control, he will change up his shots and frustrate him.

Nadal did not look great at all in losing in the final of Madrid against Andy Murray. However, he says that last week, overall he played better and he has been more mentally confident at anytime this season. If that’s the case, then he is ready to charge at the final at Rome again. Isner will bring Nadal deep into the third set, but in the end, the Spaniard will come through and grab it in the final tiebreak.

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.

Notes on a Draw Sheet: Murray smokes Nadal to win Madrid; Kvitova won, on to Rome. Djokovic favored, but is Serena?

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MAY 10 – Props to Andy Murray, who won his first gigantic tournament on clay by beating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2 at Madrid. For the first time against the Spaniard on dirt, he never panicked, he wasn’t afraid, he was very impressive and he actually believed that he could out hit with his phenomenal backhand. Years ago, he stayed way back behind the baseline and frequently push the ball with his forehand, but not anymore. Now he believes that he can crack his forehand when moving forward and he would dictate as fast as he can.

Roger Federer was not going to participate in Rome, but then he lost early against Nick Kyrgios at Madrid and he changed his mind. He played fairly well in winning Istanbul, but he played against the lower-ranked guys. If he is going to go very deep at Roland Garros, he has to beat the better competitors and if he manages to face the other Big 4 (Djokovic, Nadal and Murray) he must be very close. If he does he will become more confident. Kyrgios could play against his fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic. They are super close and respectful of each other but Tomic doesn’t want the younger kids beating him yet – or ever. However, Nick has to play Feliciano Lopez in the opening round … first things first.

The No. 1 Novak Djokovic decided not to play in Madrid because he was exhausted. So now he will be super fresh. Obviously he is the favorite on clay because Nadal is panicking. Could the Serbian lose? I doubt it, but he will face the former No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, who is very fast and can run around for a long time. Maybe he will go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters which could be a terrific match if the Japanese keeps forward, and should he face Murray in the semis, well, we know that the Brit is on fire now. He hasn’t beat him in a long time, though.

John Isner has improved since March and now he has a solid draw, playing Joao Sousa in the first round. If he wins there he would face Leonardo Mayer. Rome is slower than Madrid. Isner will have to work very hard, but assuming he scores both wins then it is very likely that he will face Nadal. He has been close of beating him before and given that Rafa is shaky mentally, Isner would have a legitimate. Currently ranked No. 33, the young American Jack Sock could be seeded at Roland Garros. He will have a very tough task against Gilles Simon who, when he is happy and feeling right, can be excellent. You never know when Simon shows up. Oh my, Alexandr Dolgopolov has fallen to No. 73, but good for him for qualifying. We would assume that the former No. 13 is now back on track.


Petra Kvitova crushed Svetlana Kuznetsova to win Madrid. She looks faster; she was under control and torching both wings. If she plays as well she did in smoking Serena Williams and Kuznetsova, then she will be a huge threat to win Roland Garros for the first time. But as good as she can be, she rarely has been able to be excellent over a month or so. She can get tired and she can get upset with herself. At Rome, even if she loses, she has to move on. She beat Serena for the first time ever, which was huge because now she finally believes she can beat the best players. If she is feeling good mentally and she is healthy, perhaps the two-time Wimbledon champion can show the world that she has learned how exactly to play the right way at the French Open.

I wouldn’t be concerned about Serena finally losing. It’s impossible to win every time out and on clay over the years. Now the 33-year-old has taken some great wins and some bad losses. She is the favorite at Italy and at Roland Garros, but it won’t be easy. At Rome, she might have to face the former US Open champ Sam Stosur in the second round, which could be a marathon. Check out the potential fourth round: Ana Ivanovic, Belinda Bencic, Daria Gavrilova, Kateryna Pliskova or (gulp) Sloane Stephens. Brutal and extremely tough, who ever it is.

Maria Sharapova played pretty well in Madrid until playing Svetlana Kuznetsova and then she stopped. Now she needs to step it up in Rome. She could play Caroline Garcia in the third round (a match that was very close in Madrid) or against Madison Keys, who is dangerous but who didn’t play well in Spain…Here is the biggest match in the second round: Caroline Wozniacki could face Victoria Azarenka, who has beaten the Dane twice this year. The Belarussian is the favorite so it is up to Wozniacki to figure it out and go for her. She can’t back off all the time if she is going to have a real chance…Here is a shocker: Wozniacki hooks up with the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario as her coach a few weeks ago, the Spaniard looked pretty good at Madrid and all of sudden Sanchez=Vicario bails out as she says that she cannot be able to travel toRome and Paris. Where did that come from? Why would the three-time RG champion have agreed to help Caro and then wave good buy already? There is something very fishy. Such is Sanchez-Vicario’s strange life.

Pick ’em, Madrid, May 10: Nadal vs. Murray in the final, both are on fire, but the Scot will play better than ever to stun the Spaniard


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Andy Murray is very confident now, so confident that he has a real chance to upset Rafael Nadal in the final. Yes, he has never beaten him on clay and he will be the underdog, but if he is being aggressive off both sides, he can crunch his serves and when he comes into the net, he will know exactly where he is going. He simply cannot hope that he can out-run him, but he can go side to side for a couple of hours and when he’s not very far behind the baseline or way outside with his long legs, he can swing his racket as hard as he can.

Unfortunately, Murray has not been able to get very close against Nadal on clay. Last year, Rafa smoked him 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 at Roland Garros. Clearly, Murray was tired after winning a very long match when he bested Gael Monfils in five sets, but that is the way it goes on clay. If you are going to win a massive tournament on dirt, you cannot be slow against the speedy Nadal.

Yes, the Spaniard has said all week that he was not quite there yet, but he is now: in the 7-6 6-1 win over Tomas Berdych, you could tell that he could hit as hard as he can and believed that he would deliver line after line, which he did. Here is what he said:

“Today I played again at a very good level. I did yesterday; today I played at a very, very high level. Let’s see tomorrow if I am able to continue with that positive feeling. This week has been fantastic for me. This is a very important result, and that’s confidence, that’s positive energy. That’s calm, too.”

Playing at home at Madrid, Nadal is very comfortable on the stadium court. He isn’t nervous there and he is very forceful. When Murray beat Kei Nishikori in straight sets, he said that he was “dictated a lot of the points, especially when he was serving, and it worked well.” If Murray wants to be close, he will have to be because if the Spaniard is dictating all the time he will win easy.

Murray has been unable to beat the other three men in the Big 4 since 2013, and he has to be able to knock out Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer at least one time this year because he has been very consistent this year. He will raise a trophy at one of the ATP Masters Series this season, but not yet, as Nadal is charging again and will win in two delicious sets.


Pick ‘Em, Madrid, May 9: Semis with Nadal vs. Berdych, Murray vs. Nishikori; final, Kvitova vs. Kuznetsova, really?



Tomas Berdych has been extremely consistent this year. Believe it out not, the Czech has not fallen earlier at any of the events, only going down at a quarterfinal in Indian Wells when he lost against Roger Federer at Indian Wells. He has reached the final of Auckland and lost to David Ferrer, he reached the final at Rotterdam and fell to Stan Wawrinka, he reached a semifinal before going down to Novak Djokovic at Dubai, he reached the semifinal at Miami and lost to Andy Murray and on clay Monte Carlo, he reached the final and was close against the Serbian, but fell again.

He may have beaten everyone outside of the top 10, but he has to be able to beat the rest the top 10, too. He upended one of he top 10s, which was at the Australian Open, when he stunned Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. He was extremely happy and even though he lost to Murray in the semis, he was changing and believed that he was finally hitting the balls the right way.

Perhaps he will never be able to win a Grand Slam, but he still has a shot and if he can upset Nadal again in Madrid, and then he will be a big threat at Roland Garros. However, Nadal is rising, he looks pretty fast now and he is feeling much better after coming back from his long injury. He says that he may not be 100 percent for another month or two, or it could me next week or even at Roland Garros, but he has shaken the rust out. He is 18-4 wins to losses against Berdych, which extremely good. He can belt his forehand down the lines and crosscourt and if he is returning well, he can knock the balls, start the rallies at 50-50, and he will be pleased that he can out-last him.

In Australia, it was Berdych who was very aggressive, who was very confident at the net and who exposed him on his floating backhand. But this is clay and although Madrid is fast and you can nail ace after ace, you have to work long rallies. The Czech will try to do that, but Nadal is a Spaniard and he knows exactly when to raise his level at a perfect time. He will win in three sets.

Until last year, Andy Murray had owned Kei Nishikori, who couldn’t figure out which way he should go and he became very erratic. Not last November, when the Japanese had put together a terrific season and when they met, he took down Murray for the first time at the ATP Finals is the Round Robin. Now, Nishikori thinks that he is right there against the big boys. He won Barcelona two weeks ago and on Friday, he wasted David Ferrer.

However, Murray won Munich, the first time he was able to grab a clay title, so now he is quite confident. He says that he is moving forward more, he is not staying way back from the baseline and he is not just lopping his forehand. Now he is almost pretending that he is playing the hard courts.

But does he look on fire like Nishikori is? He looked just fine in beating Milos Raonic on Friday but Nishikori is so fast that if he is concentrating he can catch up to anything in front of him or backwards. This contest is a pick-em, but Nishikori wants to go to the final at Madrid again and he will win in three sets.

Talk about a pick-em on Saturday, how about Petra Kvitova against Svetlana Kuznetsova after the Czech shocked Serena Williams and the Russian surprised Maria Sharapova? Neither Williams nor Sharapova played well, but the other two looked excellent and confident and totally deserved it. Yet who wins on Saturday? Kuznetsova has virtually done nothing; I mean nothing before this tournament. But suddenly, the former Roland Garros champion is sweetly touching her racket and kissing on the lines. Kvitova has never won a major clay before, but she is happy after struggling this year and the left-handed looks like she can crush the ball, anytime, anywhere. It is impossible to know who will mentally be sound when she walks on court, and while Kuznetsova is a better competitor on clay, the Czech is more ambitious these days on the most important tournaments. Take Kvitova to win in two tough sets.



The Picks, Madrid, May 8: Maria Sharapova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova

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Who is more tired? Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova? Serena won a marathon 7-6 in the third set over Victoria Azarenka and then crushed the rising Spaniard Carla Suarez. Sharapova outlasted

Caroline Garcia 7-5 in the third and then outhit Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 in the third. Kuznetsova won three matches that went on and on, as the former two-time Slam champion overcame Garbine Muguruza 7-5 in third, survived over Sam Stosur 7-6 also in the third, and then got through over Lucie Safarova 7-6 in the third. The Czech Kvitova bested Olga Govortsova 6-4 in the third and then she beat CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3 in the third.

So who will have her rubbery legs?

Perhaps against Kuznetsova, who has fought so hard and really mixed it up and also pounded her forehands into both corners, but eventually, you cannot run forever day after day and if she goes more than an hour and a half, she will grow very tired, very fast. Over the past two year she has been up and down, partially because she wasn’t playing the right way and she was an emotional mess. But she has rediscovered her ship and she is happy again. She seems to know her right strategies.

But Kuznetsova cannot jump on the balls super early and knock her socks off. Sharapova can though and she looks pretty darn good again. She was hurt in Miami, now saying that she should not have played at all, but her bum leg feels better and here, she has been moving quite well. She loves clay these days, actually likes to slide even though she is tall and can tangle up, and she likes to set up her shots and when she is ready, she will rip it. Sharapova will kiss the lines and win in straight sets.

Kvitova has yet to beat Serena in five matches – surprise, surprise — and perhaps one day, she will, like on grass when she has won two Grand Slams at Wimbledon. The lefty does have a huge first serve swinging out wide, and she smoke her forehand and backhand, but she can get in trouble when she can pull her out way wide and get caught.

Serena is better overall, with her serves and her strokes. Yes, Azarenka can stay in there against Serena, but Kvitova has yet to prove that she can return super hard and stick in there, both in front and behind. Kvitova wants to eventually become No. 1, but she has months ahead to go and if she ever manages to do it she has to improve everywhere. She cannot go into a walk-about against the other top opponents. She will play tough and it will be close in the first set, but Serena will edge her and run past her in the second set.

Serena vs. Maria again? Excited on clay? Why yes.


The Pick, May 1: Andy Murray wants to win a clay court, badly. To face Rosol

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Andy Murray vs. Lukas Rosol, Munich, May 1

Murray would love to win a clay court for the first time. He’s won 31 titles over the years, winning two major Slams at the US Open on a hard court and Wimbledon on grass. He has beaten the big member of the ‘Big 4’ Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but he has never taken them out during prime-time at the clay tournaments. Those men have all won gigantic clay events, but the Scot has not come super close.

Murray wants to win any type of a clay tournament, which is why he is in Munich this week (and a lot of additional money, of course). The world No. 3 is still learning how to play the right way and he is only 27, so he has years ahead. When he slides on the red clay, sometimes he just continues to slip, and he isn’t able to lock it in and club the balls. He can strike his phenomenal backhand just about everyone, but he can push his forehand because he isn’t set and floats the balls into the middle of the court. He needs to use more spins, drop shots and be patient.

The veteran Rosol is tall at 6-foot-5 and he is a huge hitter. Last year he had played very well overall, reaching his high ranking at No. 26. But this season he has struggled big time, only winning two matches in a row, which is problematic. Rosol has a huge first serve, but he has never looked fantastic on clay, which means that Murray will figure him out early and win 6-3, 7-5.

In Estoril the 18-year-old Borna Coric now has a new coach in Thomas Johansson, which the Swede will make sure that the young one will be enthusiastic. But is Coric ready on clay against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who won Romania? Nope, the Spaniard will best him in sets.

In Istanbul, Grigor Dimitrov will face Ivan Dodig, who is a big hitter but the Bulgarian has a lot more variety and is faster. Dimitrov will win in straight sets.

In Prague Karolina Pliskova has won her third straight three-set wins and if she is more consistent she should be able to grab the title. She will face Yanina Wickmayer who is powerful, but she is erratic and this time Pliskova will win in straight sets.

In Marrakech, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova has been playing excellent ball on clay, reaching the final in Rio, winning Poland and on Thursday she beat the red hot Timea Bacsinszky 6-3 3-6 7-5. She will win again when she upsets Elina Svitolina in three long sets.