Archives for February 2021

Notes on a draw sheet: Serena, waiting for Wimbledon

Serena Williams

No. 2 Naomi Osaka won the 2021 Australian Open, beating Jen Brady in the final. We talked a lot about both of them, playing with some amazing points during seven matches. Now, it is better to talk about other people, to see how well they did, and what is ahead.   
Ash Barty just lost to Danielle Collins, which means that she isn’t quite right now and has withdrawn from Qatar. She will recover, eventually. Essentially, she is anxious. Click here for a piece I wrote about her a couple days ago.

Let’s talk about the three terrific veterans who have won the Slams:
Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza. Serena looked very good at times in the Oz Open, but she also had so many errors. Instead of waiting and getting into long rallies, she should nail a few winners with her forehand down the line. The 23-Grand-Slam winner sort of knows that, and she does have another chance, to grab No. 24 major. But not at Roland Garros on clay. Serena loves to play on grass, so here it is, waiting at Wimbledon. The tension starts mounting now.
When it just before at the AO, it looked like Azarenka said that she was feeling very good and slightly improved. You just had to watch her, because when she is calm and focused, she can smash her forehand and backhand. But, other times, she is irritable, she loses an important edge and starts complaining. The 31-year-old Azarenka loves to give a speech at press conferences. When she first started her career, she could be mean and she didn’t want to talk. Silence. Even though she isn’t playing great on the court, she finally has become a super nice person.  

Muguruza is playing fancy once again and she almost downed Osaka, but she lost 7-5 in the third. Had the Spaniard captured the match, she could have won another Grand Slam. But, she did not, because she hesitated. At Roland Garros, if she goes for it, then she could win. Her forehand and backhand are potent.
A few more notes: Karolina Muchova is so competitive, and very quick. … Bianca Andreescu is finally back. She didn’t play at all in 2020 and, if she is healthy, then she will go into the top-5. She can be spectacular. … Where is Karolina Pliskova going this year? No one really knows. …The same goes for Jo Konta, who hasn’t won a lot of matches over the past two years. Maybe because she gets injured a lot, or she isn’t really thinking. … American Madison Keys is stuck, currently, and if she can get back into the top 10, then she will have to find her forehand again. Or she hopes.

Notes of a draw sheet: Novak Djokovic’s phenomenal returns

Novak Djokovic

The 2021 Australian Open is now done. Next year, hopefully, things will be changed with fans and more fun for the players.

The good thing in Melbourne was the tour CEOs and the tournament director kept the event under control. It was a tough during the 14 days, they probably did not sleep much. During five days, no one could come to the event due to the vicious coronavirus. But, spectators came back towards the end, and the players were happy, listening when the fans are cheering. They were thrilled.

Novak Djokovic won the event again, and now he was 18 Grand Slams. When he is on, he is deadly. He easily beat the tall Daniil Medvedev in the final, because he is phenomenal with his returns. He is now totally dominant once again.

The-so-called up-and-comers are good, maybe very good. They can go deep at the most important events, but, except for Dominc Thiem, they have yet to win a Grand Slam.

Medvedev can play jarring tennis but, at the last two sets versus Djokovic, he looked exhausted. He is going to have to get better shape, so he can battle for many hours.

At least he beat the rising Andrey Rublev, because the other Russian doesn’t use much variety. We can all also look at Stefanos Tsitsipas, a heavy player, but he can be discontented when he isn’t doing well. In the quarters, he played as well as he did, stunning Rafa Nadal 7-5 in the fifth set. That was wonderful. But on Friday, against  Medvede , he was worn out. He fell quickly in three sets. Next time, he may stay around, he hopes.

Alexander Zverev had a terrific contest against Djokovic. He had a chance to go into the fifth set, but the Serb was calm, and the German couldn’t pull it off. He went down 7-6(6) in the fourth. A tough loss.
With the young Americans, there are some good signs, but can they reach the quarters this year at the Slams? Maybe Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Korda.  Rise up, young men!

NEXT: The women

The hearts of men, proven during Grand Slam finals

Daniil Medevdev

The 33-year-old Novak Djokovic has won the Australian Open eight times. Each year in Melbourne he lit the candle and on court he can crush the winners. In 2020, he won the AO again, beating Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem

But while he is the favorite. He knows that on court a five-set victory can take for many hours. Now,  he has to face versus Daniil Medvedev. The Russian has gradually become super steady in the past couple years, with some hefty strokes. He has to improve because he hasn’t won a major yet. In the final, the Medvedev has to do something different and better, like coming more into the net and changing direction.

Djokovic knows how to be composed, and his serve is terrific. He also values hitting his wonderful backhand, especially down the line. He wants to win another major, and a few days ago, he admitted it.

“I would lie if I said that it’s not a goal, besides a Grand Slam title that’s the pinnacle of the sport,” Djokovic said. “I give the maximum when I come to a tournament to win.”

He might again, but he has to do it first. Against Medvedev, he will depend on his world-class returning, and Djokovic can also smack his forehand, pretty deep, with spin.

Medvedev is robust and smart. In 2019, he won Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris, and the ATP Final. He is very tall, moves well side to side, and can counterpunch. He rarely gets tired. At the 2019 US Open, against Rafa Nadal, he was right there in the fifth set, but the Spaniard went for it, and he won it again. But with Medvedev, in the last few games, he backed off and he was just hoping that Nadal would throw some errors. He did not, so Medvedev mentally strung out.

Djokovic and Medvedev have played each other seven times, four for Djokovic and three for Medvedev.
On Sunday, Djokovic will not play horrible, or mediocre. He will play like he is the master of the house. That is reality, as he understands how to play three out of five sets. If Medvedev can edge the Serbian — he beat Djokovic at the 2020 ATP Finals — he will have to turn the tide. Then, Medvedev can jump into the ocean and exalt. However, the real picture, though, is the Djokovic will win the 2021 Australian Open for the ninth time.

TR rewind from 2018: the cool Naomi Osaka beats Serena

naomi osaka
Naomi Osaka, the Japanese who lives in Florida, won the US Open, and  arrived as one of the best players this year. Yes, the 20-year-old wasn’t perfect, but slowly, she got better and better though the fortnight. At the US Open, she fought. Her big serve was unbelievably good, her forehand was powerful, and her backhand was vicious. She returned pretty well, too, and she hustled.

Even in the last game, when it was 5-4, and Osaka had to serve it out, she wasn’t very nervous and took her time. She won match point with a hard serve into the corner. Yes, she cried, because there were a lot of people who were booing, but at the end, she smiled, a few times.  The now No. 7 could win a number of majors over the next 15 years. Osaka is that good.     

The Others

Serena Williams
At the US Open, Serena played six matches, and she looked darn good, knocking off a bunch of strong players. But in the final, against Osaka, she was mediocre, half and half. She served OK, but it’s not like she needed to bring in her massive first serves, and her second serve was up and down. She rarely came into the net, which she should have. When she belted her backhand and forehand, they would fly out, and there were a number of errors.

Obviously, Serena was very angry during the match. She was very, very ticked off. She yelled, she screamed, she busted her racket, she was very frustrated. She argued with the chair umpire, asking for an apology, time and time again. The fans were surprised by the code violation. They didn’t really know why. But many people love her, so they booed with the the umpire.

Serena lost it, on court and off court, she argued some, and she defended herself. OK, yes, it’s all about tennis, and she really wanted to win. But, if she stopped yelling, after a few minutes, and played, it could have had a different outcome. She had to be super calm, but she couldn’t, and perhaps she would have overcome Osaka.

As Serena said, Osaka played great and she deserved it. Good for Serena for saying that. But she has to be honest, and should have said, “Sorry, I messed it up, apologies.” She hasn’t done that yet. We will see whether she dowa it during the fall— if she is going to play for the rest of the year. Everything is questionable now. Ugh.   

Anastasija Sevastova
The 29-year-old Sevastova showed off her incredible variety, upending Elena Svitolina and Sloane Stephens before going down versus Serena pretty quickly. But, her amazing drop shots, her very quick feet and variety were in full display. Yes, she needs to improve her serves, and her returns, but she will remain dangerous.  

Madison Keys
For the most part, Keys played well, even better, because from January through most of August, she was so-so. But at the USO, she was aggressive, more accurate and she focused, a lot. However, Osaka served huge, and Keys couldn’t break her. She has to find some consistency. Hopefully, during the fall, she will be healthy and move up the ladder.

Carla Suárez Navarro
The veteran Spaniard beat Caroline Garcia 5-7 6-4 7-6(4), then she beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets. She did lose against Keys in the quarters, but still, the-30 year-old decided to hit her shots hard and deep, spin it, slice it, and smack the ball when she had an opportunity. She has been around for a long time, and she has yet to win a major, and maybe she won’t. But, given that she has been better this year, the No. 22 has a long shot at a Slam.

Naomi Osaka: There will be no mercy

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka’s blasted past Hsieh Su-wei  6-2, 6-2, on Tuesday.

She has won three Grand Slams at the 2018 and 2020 US Opens, and the 2019 Australian Open. As she said, when very deep in a Slam and she stays super calm, then she will not make too many errors. In fact, at the second week, at the Slams, the 23-year-old can clears her head. She is addicted to the hardcourts, as she slame some gigantic winners. In fact, as of late, she has won 13 times in a row in three setters. She just won’t give it away.

When she beat Garbine Muguruza, it was very tight and Osaka cut down on errors. At 5-5 in the third, she played perfectly.

Even though she is much more outgoing than she was a few years ago, when she talks, she likes being soft. And kind, too. But when she is playing, there will be no mercy. She can go on the lines, with her hard forehands and backhands.

To beat Osaka, the other players have to pay attention, every second. Because if they do not, it is time to walk away.

In his match with Aslan Karatsev, Gregor Dimitrov was looking as well as he could, and he was hoping that he would reach the semis. However, the Buglarian became hurt and after the first set, he almost quit. He couldn’t move, no more speed, and no running. He lost easily in the last three sets.

Karatsev, the qualifier and unknown player, stayed in there. He has reached the semis, and while his backhand and his first serve are quite solid, to reach the final, he will have to dethrone Novak Djokovic, who ousted Alexander Zverev. No doubt, he will be a serious underdog. But, he still has a slight chance.

The Australian Open: The middle of the road

Fabio Fognini

Way back, during the middle of their long and winding career roads, Rafa Nadal and Fabio Fognini have played each other 16 times. They have played each other, all over the world. In reality, there were some so-so matches. But there have been some incredible contests, like when the Italian was down two sets at the 2015 US Open and he came back, shocking the Spaniard in five sets. Fognini was on fire. Playing in the New York night, he managed to hit so many winners, with his spinning forehand and backhand, and then flatten them out.

But after that, Nadal continued to improve his backhand and at the net. Since then, Nadal won six matches, while Fognini had just one. That is why Nadal has won 20 Grand Slams. He is the favorite on Monday. He knows that so he has to go for the lines pretty early. When he is healthy, he can grind it, but when Nadal is slightly hurt, he has to leap try to dominate early.

Fognini has also improved over the past couple years, improving his focus. He still can be frustrated when he isn’t going well, but he also lifts his head and he continues to fight. If Fognini is close, then he has to continue banging at Nadal’s backhand. Nadal has refined his backhand, but it is not perfect.
Another Italian, Matteo Berrettini, is more mature and thoughtful. He finally understands where he is going, and also, when he should mix it up. He will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, the cool Greek. Tsitsipas can be patient, or he can go for too much too early. He is tall;his first serves are very hard and his returns is high. He does have a shot to win it all. He is that talented.

How about American Mackenzie McDonald who made it into the round of 16? No one knew him, outside when he played college at UCLA and won the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles crowns. When he turned  pro, he was ready to move up higher and higher, but he became seriously hurt, and he had to stop for many months. Now he is back, and he is true-blue. However, he has to face against Daniil Medvedev, another one who can wins a Slam. The Russian made it into the final at the 2019 US Open, and he almost won, but Nadal beat him in the fifth set. If McDonald plays great, he can push Medvedev, but he isn’t ready yet to overcome the top-5 players. Yet … Another American, Jessica Pegula, has been around for 10 years. It took her a long time to become assertive and accomplished. On Monday, she faces the steady, No. 5 Elina Svitolina. It is time for Pegula to hop in Melbourne.

Australian Open racks up upsets

Sofia Kenin

American Sofia Kenin wept in the second set. She was nervous, she was shaking, and she could not come down. Last year at the Australian Open, she won the tournament. But this week, she could not concentrate.

She lost in the second round, against the older player, Kaia Kanepi, 6-3, 6-2. When the No. 4 plays again, she has to suck it up. She just has to forget it about it.

“I obviously felt like I’m not there 100% — physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off, obviously. It’s not good,” Kenin said.  “I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure.”

Over the past couple days, not only did she lose, but two other top-10 players went down: Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova. The teenager Andreescu just came back from more than a year off. So, she will shake it off.

However, the two-time Grand Slam champ Petra Kvitova is mentally gone at times, thinking of something else when she is playing. She might be thinking, “Why I am playing so badly, and should I actually be here. I just can’t stand it.”

It is still early, and we all know that Karolina Pliskova can be super powerful and take down anyone. In the first week of a Slam, she can just get away, with mediocre play. But, in the second week, it is hard to figure out if she is will be patient or nutty when she hits the ball. She has yet to win a Grand Slam, but once again, she still has a shot to win it all. On Thursday, she beat Danielle Collins.

The other American, Shelby Rogers, beat Olga Danilovic…

Canadian Denis Shapovalov won easily over Bernard Tomic. Shapovalov will face Felix Auger-Aliassime on Friday, another rising and very good player. This will be a test.
Spaniard Feliciano Lopez is 39 years old and he is still playing singles, doubles and mixed. He just keeps churning. On Thursday he won another long fifth-setter, dispatching Italian Lorenzo Sonego, which is so impressive.

The 2021 Australian Open: Totally insane, but great matches

Naomi Osaka

Who will reach the semis at the 2021 Australian Open? Between the men and the women, there are a number of previous Grand Slam winners. So, because they are the favorites, that doesn’t mean that they can actually go deep in the second week. Here are eight people who will play terrific ball.

Novak Djokovic has won Melbourne eight times. He is aggressive and confident. He really likes playing on the hot hard courts. Maybe the talented Alexander Zverev can knock him in the quarters, as well as Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils. The cagey veterans.

Dominic Thiem has a amazing one-handed backhand. He likes to hustle, and he is very patient. There are four good players, such as Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimintrov who can block his path. The two Canadians look very good, but they have to improve their mental game.

Daniil Medvedev will reach the semis again, which he did at the 2020 US Open. He is very robust and steady. As long as he comes into the net, and is returning well, he has another chance to win his first Slam.

Andry Rublev has become so much better. And now, as long as he is zoning, he has a decent chance of upsetting Medvedev. Two other players have a chance to upend the big players: Casper Ruud and Borna Coric.

Rafa Nadal has an awesome lefty slice on his first serve. He battles and is a grinder. At the net, he can put the ball away. He has won 20 Grand Slams and is tied with Roger Federer, but has only won once at the AO. He was hurt a lot. One player standing in his part of the draw is Stefano Tsitsipas had a good year in 2020, but  he wasn’t flawless. He can be anxious, but he has a lot of huge shots. He is learning, so that is very fine. If they meet,  those two will have a tremendous battle. The two others can reach the second week are Italian Matteo Berrettini and Aussie Alex de Minaur.

The No. 1 Ashleigh Barty just beat Garbine Muguruza 7-6(3), 6-4 to win another title, with so much assortment and spin. She has yet to win in Melbourne at the AO. Why? She was a little bit uneasy, so she pushed back, instead of going for it. Right now, though, inside her head, she is more secure.

Four of them can beat her, as long as they are playing 100 percent, such as the huge hitter, arolina Pliskova, two rising Russians, including Ekaterina Alexandrova and Karolina Muchova,  as well as the talented Swiss, Belinda Bencic.

American Sofia Kenin pumpls the ball each way, smashing it with depth. At the 2020 Australian Open, she won it all, and now, she certainly has a chance to grab it again as long as she continues to nail it into the corners.

When she is happy, Garbine Muguruza can win her third Slam, but that is a big if.
Three others veterans are very powerful and driven, such as Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Johanna Konta. They can beat anyone, when they are playing great.

Three-time champ Naomi Osaka can dig in and then she will go for it immediately. She smack the ball, with her forehand and backhand. She can get down when she isn’t playing well, but when she is returning well, she can kiss the lines. After that, she attacks.

Canadian Bianca Andreescu has not played for a long time, but she won the 2019 US Open. She was so good that we thought she would win many more.  Now though, the jury is questionable, over the next two weeks. Coming back takes a long time.

This is the toughest field in the fourth round or even the quarter. Try three people who won the Slams, such as Serena Williams,  Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek.

Still, at the age of 39, Serena Williams is one of the best players on the planet. She has almost everything, with her massive serve, her heavy forehand, her slick backhand, and potent return. Over the past decade, Simona Halep was excellent at times, but also being emotional.  Swiatek goes for the lines. What about Aryna  Sabalenka? She just won astring of events. She is going hard.  

Everyone will be watching some insane, great matches at the Australian Open.

Self-reliance key to Australian success

Danielle Collins

The WTA is playing a three-ring circus with a tripolicate of events in the week before the Australian Open.

In the Yarra Valley Clalssic, Danielle Collins had a very good win over Karolina Pliskova, in two tough sets. But, she couldn’t knock out Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. Collins had a decent year, but if she wants to go into the top-10, she needs to be extremely fit.

The win took a toll on Serena, as she cited a right shoulder injury and withdrew from the semifinal clash with Ash Barty.

You can look at Barty, Simona Halep and Serena. They have tremendous variety. Even if they lose their edge when they aren’t playing well, they know that they can weather a bad set, they just need to keep fighting and, hopefully, the winners will come back.

Collins has improved here and there. She is intense, but each week, her inconsistency can show. The older you get, you will be more mature. Over the years, so many tennis players have to rethink their commitment. You just have to.

The No. 25 Angelique Kerber looks decent in February. She has a quarterfinal match with Maria Sakkari in the Grampians Trophy. However, how she will play incredible ball, or like last year, she was an underachieving malcontent.  

The 2020 Roland Garros champ Iga Swiatek has a new racket. She signed with Technifibre.

Sloane Stephens have lost again. Where is she going? The last time she won three matches was at the 2019 Roland Garros— three wins. That is nine months age. The former US Open champ and Roland Garros finalist is now ranked No. 40. Something is going on, but exactly what, I have no idea.


The ATP also has a swirl of events this week. In the ATP Cup, Daniil Medvedev is still self-reliant, beating the former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, pretty easily. The Russian men are smarter, and improved, with some powerful forehands and backhands. Another top-10 er, Andrey Rublev, also won in the Wednesday match. He also can ace the ball, but in the past year, he went up, especially with his return.  Both of them will go very deep, at the ATP 1000s, and the Slams. But, to win it all, they have to take an extra step up.

In the Murray River Open, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime is young, and he can be in a blaze. He is darn good, but in 2021, will he hit the top 10, or to continue his various strokes? He will face Corentin Moutet in the semis.