Archives for January 2020

The Australia Open Final: Gabriñe Muguruza versus Sofia Kenin

Gabriñe Muguzura

There are some saying it is surprising that Garbiñe Muguruza and Sofia Kenin are in the final at the Australian Open on Saturday. But, in reality, Muguruza has already won two Grand Slams. So, her emergence can’t be too big of a surprise, not matter how poorly she has played in the last year.

While Kenin might be unknown to many fans, she has a long record of dominance in the US juniors. Plus, her focus is flawless.

Last year, Muguruza was out of it, physically and mentally. But in the off-season, she practiced all the time, she became stronger, she running quicker, and put the ball away when she has a real opportunity. In 2019, she was frustrated, she was tired about playing, and she couldn’t find a way to lock inside her brain. Over the past 12 days, she looks terrific, she grew, she was thoughtful. By the second week, she knew that she liked the sport again.

In the semis, she out-thought Simona Halep 7-6 (8), 7-5. They both have won two Slam. At this tournament on the Melbourne hard courts, Muguruza was a little more aggressive and going into the net, and putting volleys away. Halep could not.

The Spaniard Muguruza is slightly favored to win it again, and she won’t be nervous, because she won Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The pressure was there, but she pushed it aside, and she rose into the sky. Twice.

In front of thousands of fans, Kenin stunned the No. 1 Ash Barty 7-6 (6), 7-5. The 21-year- old Kenin slammed her forehand and backhand, very hard, and pretty deep. She gritted her teeth. She punched it into the corners. She kept staying in there, even when Barty kept chipping her backhand. Kenin finally nailed her shots, and she won it.

The Floridian is thrilled. But, in the final, she has to pretend that no one else is there and it is all about her.

“I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was five years old. I just feel like I’ve always believed in myself,” she said. “I’ve worked hard. I’ve pictured so many times being in the final, all the emotions, how it’s going to lead up into the final. I feel like I’m doing good keeping my emotions. I feel like everything is just paying off. I see all the hard work I’ve been putting is really showing now.”

She could be right. So many U.S. women have won the Australian Open since the 1980s: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Sharapova is another winner who came over from Russia when she was just 7 years old. And she still lives in Los Angeles.

Kenin’s parents are also from Russia, but Kenin came over to the United States just when she was very young. She started playing when she was only 3+ years old. She never stopped. Both she and Sharapova wanted to battle, all the time.

At the Australian Open on Saturday, if Kenin jumps on the ball immediately, and knows exactly what to do, she can win it. Sharapova won her first Slam when she was only 19 years old. If Kenin can go after everything, right then and there, she will win it in Melbourne. But if she begins to make errors, then Muguruza will seize the day. Hopefully, it will be a tremendous three-setter. Everyone will like that.

Australian Open: Roger Federer survives, barely

Roger Federer

Roger Federer was surely out of the Australian Open, down 8-4 in a final set match tiebreak. Somehow, someway, the Swiss survived, winning the last six and pressure-packed points. The match last more than four hours.

Finally, he tacked the Aussie, John Millman, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(8). He could have lost, but he stayed there, focused, putting the balls back into the court and, when he had a chance, he went for it.

Millman played as well as he could, perhaps the best he played, ever. But he couldn’t knock the Swiss down. That is the way it goes.

“I never really felt comfortable. I felt John did a great job of keeping me on the back foot, that I couldn’t always step in,”Federer said. “Until the last shot; I went for it. He picked the wrong side.”

Federer has won 20 Grand Slams. Perhaps he can do it again, but at Melbourne, he has to play four more times to win it all. The other great players are still there, so Federer might have to face against Fabio Fognini, Milos Raonic, or Novak Djokovic in the semis. And in the final, will it be against Rafa Nadal again? For Federer, it is a very tough draw. But it is a huge challenge, and a very good one for tennis fans around the world.

Years ago, it really looked like Milos Raonic would win a Slam, and perhaps to become No. 1. But he gets injured a lot, and also, even though he hits so many winners, he can panic. But, now, he is finally playing patient and thoughtful. He just played a terrific match, upending the young player Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(2).  You never know how well Raonic will play in the second week. At least he reached the 2016 Wimbledon final. But, on the hard courts, he has to win a lot more. He just has to push himself everyday, or else…The 15-year-old Cori Gauff is totally on fire. She stunned the former champ, Naomi Osaka, 6-3, 6-4. Osaka has played some amazing matches at the Slams. But, admittedly, she was out of it on Friday. OK, maybe she did not play at her best level, but the American is very fast, and steady and powerful. She is coming up very fast, sort of like the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, back in the day. They walked on the court, and immediately, they won so many matches. Both of them have said that it took them years to be much better. When they won their first Slams, in 1999 and 2001, they jumped on it.

Will Gauff do the same thing, winning the Aussie Open right now? On Sunday, she has to face another American, the 21-year-old Sofia Kenin, who is playing terrific ball. It has to be a three setter, with some huge swings, from their forehands, especially.

Alison Riske had a nice win over Julia Goerges 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-2. She could have failed, but she dug in. She loves to crack the ball, and she is pretty good at the net. She has been around for a while, but it took her at least a decade to understand what she has to do. She is smarter now. However, she has yet to reach the semis at the Slams. On Sunday, she will have to go up against No. 1 Ash Barty, on Rod Laver Arena. Riske is not the favorite here because Barty has a tremendous amount of shots. But, in front of the packed crowds. Even in her home country, she has become nervous here and there. And if she does, then Riske will have an opportunity, to stun her. Pressure is more than an opportunity; it can be a killer.

Australian Open predictions: men

Rafael Nadal, Rafa Nadal

Rafa Nadal has won only once at the AO, beating Roger Federer in five sets in 2009. He now has 19 Grand Slams — 12 from Roland Garros, two at Wimbledon, and four from US Open. Too often he was injured so he couldn’t grab the Down Under slam year after year.

Now, he has another chance. Here, it’s all about the getting to the quarterfinals. Early on, he could face the Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who has beaten him three times in seven matches, in the round of 16. “New Nick” is a very controversial person and he has never gone deep at the AO. This time? Close, but no cigar.

Nadal could face the very good players, including Dominic Thiem in the quarters. What a match! It has to be a five setter, each punishing the ball with a lot of spin. Even though Nadal will be a bit hurt, he will move on, putting his left hander up into the air and he revels. At least for now.

Novak Djokovic dominates the Laver Court at the AO. When he is running hard, and he won’t have any fear, then he can out-stroke them. He has won this title seven times. Still, he is mortal. He could face the soaring Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the fourth round, and the Greek can punch it away. There will be some long rallies, backhand to backhand, and in the fifth set, the Serbian will edge him once again in Melbourne.

Roger Federer is preparing to win another Grand Slam. If he does, it will be three year since he stunned Nadal in the fifth set in the final, moving forward with his improved one-hander backhand. But, that was in 2017. He definitely likes the hardcourts, but the 38-year-old is slowly down. While he can look amazing, but at the hard court Slams, he can slip up. He will reach the second week, and he could face Italian Fabio Fognini. Over the past couple years, he finally became more consistent, and he has a tremendous variety. However, can Fognini put together all of his shots, and frustrate Federer? Maybe for a couple of hours. But, on the hard courts, Federer has better serves, and his return, too. The Swiss will advance.
Here is another young player, Daniil Medvedev, who is coming up hard. For the most part, he is stable, rarely gives up and hustles. The Russian was close to winning the 2019 U.S. Open, but Nadal edged him. Now, in 2020, Medvedev is capable of winning a major immediately. In the fourth round, he will likely face Andery Rublev, who in the first two weeks, he was on fire. Rublev is another young Russian who can hit a number of winners, and he focused. If they meet, the match has to last for four hours, and at the end, Medvedev will knock him down.

Australian Open predictions: women

Caroline Wozniacki

Who will reach the quarterfinals next week? There are some very close choices, and also, easy picks. Here it goes…

No. 1 Ash Barty is under a lot of pressure in Australia. She need three sets to oust Lesia Tsurenko in the opening round. She can be calm though, and it is likely that she will out-steady Petra Martic in the fourth round. She is so thoughtful and concentrates. That’s why she won Roland Garros last year. 

Madison Keys looked very good last week, and assuming that she will continue to be healthy, she will have to go up against the two- time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The Czech, who destroyed Katerina Siniakova in the first round, is favored, slightly. If Keys attacks early, and doesn’t get so upset, then the American can pound her forehand in the third set. And win.

Last year at the Aussie Open, Naomi Osaka won it all. While she has been up and down since, the Japanese is incredibly powerful and her first serve is huge. Assuming that Sofia Kenin will win three matches, then the American will be pumped up. Osaka is a better player, still, and she will trip her up.

Serena Williams hadn’t played for four months and last week she finally walked on the court, winning Auckland. Now she is back, and even though she is aging, she is almost perfect when she is secure. In the fourth round, she could face against her good friend Caro Wozniacki. Can you imagine that, especially has the Dane has announced that this is her final tournament? One way or another, Serena will beat her, punching her forehand.

Both Osaka and Williams were straight-set winners on Monday.

Belinda Bencic is very unpredictable; she is great when she is very consistent, but when she becomes tired, then she gets mentally lazy. However, she is pushing herself in the backcourt, she can hit a vast amount of winners. The same goes with Aryna Sabalenka, who can be swinging away, very hard, and she can best anyone. But she also can be angry and miss the ball a lot. In the fourth round between those two, whoever will win it must understand where she is going, and how to mix it up a lot.

You never know about Simona Halep, who is very consistent, running back and forth. She rarely gets tired, but she also can become injured and then she cannot smack the ball. Regardless, over the past few years, she stopped being scared and now she does have a chance to win her third major. In the fourthth round, she likely will face the young Czech Karolina Muchova. So many Czech women are so good. So Halep has to move it all around the box. And the Romanian will. 
Will Elina Svitolina finally win a Grand Slam? At some point, yes, but not this one at the AO. However, she will win three matches, and then she will lose against the enthusiastic American Amanda Anisimova. Ms. AA is getting better every second. 

At some point, Karolina Pliskova will win a major, when she is consistent over seven matches. Will she do it at the AO? She is defiantly close. However, though, she has to take down against the very good young player Marketa Vondrousova. Pliskova can edge her, but she has to be very smart. Super smart.

Summer not warm for Stephens

At what point will Sloane Stephens begin to play great in January? I would imagine that the 2017 US Open champion will turn it around, very soon, because in the fall, she essentially collapsed. Something has to be in her head, not thinking, spacing out, not focusing. 

However, clearly when she is on and locked in, she can beat anyone. He movement side to side is excellent and her strokes can go very deep. She can be very funny, and hilarious, but then she can be muddled. She just lost at Brisbane against new player Liudmila Samsonova. I would imagine that the young Russian will continue to grow, gradually, but Stephens has to shake it off and be more calmer. Right now.

Will the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard begin to turn it around this year? She didn’t last year, and she is currently ranked No. 152. A few years ago, she was ranked No. 6, and after that, she fell again and again. She has yet to climb up, with so many errors, and she is very erratic. Hopefully, she can be smart and intelligent. Bouchard did win her first round in Auckland and shot through the second round, taking out Caroline Garcia? Time will tell …

Jennifer Brady is flying high down under. First, she bounces former No. 1 Maria Sharapova and then dispatches current No. 1 Ash Barty in straight sets.

Fifteen-year-old American Coco Gauff just won a match on Monday. Clearly, all ready, she is very good, ranked No. 67.  “I felt confident, I feel like I’m moving well,” said Gauff. But, service breaks were her downfall against Laura Siegemund 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. 

It is pretty incredible that she is so young and that she has beaten a number of good players. But, to defeat the best players, she must become better and better. She is fast, powerful and she sprints. It will be very interesting how she will hold up.

The former No. 1 Serena Williams has returned and she is playing in New Zealand. Four other Americans won – in Australia and China – all over the place: No. 25 Amanda Anisimova, No. 27 Danielle Collins, the No. 19 Alison Riske and the No. 13 Madison Keys?

Which if the four will go very deep this month at the AO? Pick-em, based on their mental games. However, when they get to the Australian Open, other than Serena, who is always the favorite, can Collins will reach the semis again?

Top 20s in 2019: Men, No. 5-1

Daniil Medevdev

No. 5: Daniil Medvedev
The Russian rose gradually, and by the summer, he flew up. He won a lot, also winning some big titles such as Cincinnati and Shanghai. The 23-year-old was very close to downing Rafa Nadal in the US Open final. He was down two sets and it looked like he was ready to give up, but he did not, and he grabbed the third and the fourth sets. In the fifth set, though, at the very end, Nadal out-thought him, and the Spaniard won 6-4 in the fifth. Medvedev was really down because he really fought for hours, but he could not raise the trophy.By the time he reached the final, many people knew Medvedev, as he is incredibly powerful and hustles. He is very tall, he can sprint and get it back, even charging towards the net. When he is happy, he can do almost everything, such as crush his huge first serve and massive forehand. He is the youngest player in the Top 5. Assuming that he can go deep again, if he continues to believe in himself, then in 2020 in the major finals, he will be right there, knocking at the door. 

No. 4: Dominic Thiem

The stylish Austrian had a striking year. Yes, he hasn’t won a major yet, but the 26-year-old has improved a lot, not only with his heavy forehand and his backhand. Now, instead of spinning his shots he can slap them in the corners. For sure, he can become frustrated when he is missing inside the lines, and then he will yell or shake his head. He did manage to reach the final at 2019 Roland Garros, and he played decently, but he was unable to shake Nadal. Who can make a dent in Nadal in Paris on clay? Nadal has dominated on clay for many years, while Thiem has won more than a few titles on clay, but the Spaniard is better that he is. Hands down. However, if Thiem gets even a little bit better, then perhaps he can stun Nadal in Paris. But first, the one-hander has to improve his second serve and play at the net. He is not called a ‘young man’ anymore, as he has been playing on the ATP Tour for eight years. It is time to Seize the Day.

No. 3: Roger Federer
The 38-years-old Swiss keeps playing each year, hoping at the Slams the he will reach the final. In 2020, he will play almost perfectly and raise a major trophy. But the older you get, you will slow down, even slightly. Obviously Federer still runs fast, but when you have to run, side-to-side, he has slowed some in 20 years. He cannot control this. The same goes with the former No. 1 Jimmy Connors, who continued to play into his 40s. While reached the semis at the 1991 US Open, when he was 39-years-old, he couldn’t go any further. Next year, Federer will be 39, too. However, ‘Rog’ is a better player than Connors. On court, both of them loved hitting the ball, during matches or just practicing. Federer has won 20 Grand Slams. This year, he won Miami on the hard courts. A few months later, at the beloved Wimbledon in the semifinals, he overcame Nadal. Yet in the final, Federer couldn’t find a way to put down Novak Djokovic,and he lost, 13-12 in the fifth set. The Swiss was respectable, but he was very sad. In 2020, he will have another chance — maybe his last one — to win Wimbledon again. Maybe the Gods will pat him on the back and celebrate. 

No. 2: Novak Djokovic
The Serbian started fast, winning the Australian Open, by crushing Nadal in straight sets. He has won it so many times, nailing his famous two-handed backhand crosscourt, never missing. His forehand has improved a lot over the last 10 years, as have his steady return and his huge serve. The 32-years-old thought that he would stay No. 1 for a very long time, so focused, and at Wimbledon, in the final, he edged Federer. He could have lost, but he did not, he kept chugging. After that, though, he started losing here and there. But, he was resentful when he couldn’t win the title. He won the ATP Paris, but in the ATP Finals, the errors came in, and he couldn’t return like he normally does. Djokovic has all the shots, and at the 2020 Australian Open, he will be the favorite, as he has won it seven times. For him, it is all about breathing.

No. 1: Rafael Nadal
The Spaniard had an incredible year, starting the year when he was O.K., but not fantastic. During the first four months, he was little bit shaky, not winning the tournaments and he would hit the balls short, here and there. But in May, he began to leap on the ball, hitting deeper, harder and consistently. He was ready to take them down. And the 33-year-old did, winning Rome, Roland Garros, Montreal, the US Open and Davis Cup. 
He has 19 Grand Slams now, which is phenomenal, given that his legs are almost broken. This year, and in 2020, he has decided to play a little bit less, because he can get hurt again, and then, he will have to start all over again. He doesn’t want to do that. In the 2019 US Open final, he knew that he would stay on court for hours versus Medvedev, win or lose. He would just continue to push until the sun goes down. Somehow, he won it in the fifth set. He looked tired — they both did — but when he had a chance to snag it, he did. At the 2020, Nadal will win more than a few titles, including at least one Grand Slam title. And then, he will have 20 Slams, one of the best players, ever. Tied with Federer in 2020? When they retire, the fans will talk for many years about who was better. We just have to wait about the discussion, until they wave goodbye and retire. Then, there will be some fine new books written and proclaiming the GOAT.