Archives for September 2022

Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari: Will either win a big tournament?

Maria Sakkari
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

To stay in the top 10, you have to continue to improve each month, on and off the court. There will be some challenging days, some so-so days and some fantastic moments.

Maria Sakkari and Jessica Pegula have had a very good year, but they are not spectacular yet. Oh sure, they can rise quickly, and rarely miss their strokes. They can smash the backhands and, when the get a short ball, then they can bash their forehand as a winner.

But, for the most part, Sakkari and Pegula are steady, which is fine, yet they have been failing to impress at the Grand Slams and the other huge events.

Perhaps in the next four weeks, one of them can win San Diego, and possibly the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara, Mexico. If one of them does it, then it will be there most impressive win ever.

Sakkari, 27, looked wonderful at Indian Wells in March, beating Paula Badosa in the semis. But, there was no stopping No. 1 Iga Świątek took her down in straight sets in the final. It looked like the current No. 7 was going to be so consistent, and even better, but she began to stutter. She just has one title, in Rabat, three years ago. This year, after March, she went all the way into September, when she won just one in the semis in Berlin. She lost early in Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.

However, in 2021, she reached the semis in Roland Garros and the US Open. She was so confident then, but this year, she is not making the right decision. Believe it or not, the Greek will have to change the tactics again.

“It’s disappointing, it hurts, because I was feeling better, I was enjoying myself, feeling good on the court and it was just very disappointing,” Sakkari said, who just reached the Parma semifinals by betting Maryna Zanevska..

Pegula is 28 years old, and really, she has had a very proper year. The No. 5 American managed to go deep a lot. Unfortunately, she played Świątek three times this year, and she lost each time. It was pretty close, but the Pole is too aggressive and faster, too. Also, her first serve is much better than Pegula’s. Plus, Świątek has now won three Grand Slams, and she believes that when she is locked in, then she can step on anyone.

“I’m kind of a perfectionist so I feel my expectations of myself are always high. At the same time, I think you have to set a lot of small goals,” Pegula said. “It’s tough. I always feel like I have very high expectations and I’m always like constantly in between trying to enjoy myself and then how do I get better? I feel like a lot of top players are like that. It’s a really hard balance to try to get. So, balancing that is, it’s hard, especially during a Slam. Small goals, I try to do the best I can, take it day by day. I think that helps.”

She reached in Madrid on clay, beating Jil Teichmann and Bianca Andreescu but lost to the stylish Ons Jabeur in the final. Close enough.

She also has won just one title, in 2019 Washington. So, in the future, she has to round out her game. At the Grand Slams, she has never gone into the semis. Her coach, David Witt, who worked with Venus Williams for many years, must be pushing her to really believe in herself. Just like the seven-time Grand Slam champ Venus.

Will Naomi Osaka rise again? ‘I think life is ups and downs’

Naomi Osaka
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

It’s fall now and many players have been slowed down with injuries. But, there are more than a few who want to finish the top 20, or even the top 10.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Toray Pan Pacific Open, continuing her injury-plagued season. “I think, of course, the year has been not the best year for me but I think overall I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’m happy to be healthy because in Europe I did injure myself and that was the first injury that took me that long to get healed.
I think life is ups and downs.”

It sure is. She is ranked No. 48, and next week, she will go down even further. She has no chance to reach the final eight in the WTA Finals at the Guadalajara Open in Mexico.

But, next year, she can reset, get ready to really focus again and not worry about defending previous wins. Of course, she has beaten everyone, and she is a gigantic hitter. Her serve, forehand and backhand are huge. Lately, she was not comfortable. If she wants to grind back into the top 10 in 2023, then she needs to be happy — rather than being so negative — she can win a Grand Slam and many other tournaments. But will she get there? Does anyone really know? As she said, she is up and down.

Here is a big positive: Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia is ranked No. 16. If she wins in Tokyo and San Diego, then she does have a small chance to make the top 8. However, even if she does not, she will still have a  wonderful year. The 26-year-old decided to play more aggressively, to move it around and push herself. Six weeks ago, she made it to the final in Toronto, upsetting Leylah Fernandez. Then she shocked the No. 1 Iga Świątek. On the hardcourts she put down the steady Belinda Bencic and then she outhit Karolina Pliskova. Finally, she lost against the two-time champ Simona Halep in three close sets. She hit a big milestone

“I think the moment that I played my best tennis was when I didn’t have a lot of expectation. Sometimes … we create things that don’t exist in our mind,” she said.

Andy Murray may or may not play in the Davis Cup next year, but the three-time Grand Slam champion thinks that the other players have improved a lot this year. Three Brits – Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans and Joe Salisbury – have moved up the ladder. When the 35-years-old retires, they will continue to grow.

“Obviously when you get to my age and this stage of your career, I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll get to still be part of this team. We’ve got obviously a lot of depth now in the singles and the doubles,” Murray said. “Because of that, it makes it tougher.”

They cannot advance on the Davis Cup in November. Murray says that instead of returning to three-out-of-five sets instead of the new two-out-of-three format.

“Obviously each tie, with it being best-of-three as well, it’s probably in some ways a bit more intense, the matches, and there’s less sort of room for error. I’m not saying we would have won all the matches had it been best-of-five, but you have more of an opportunity to come back into the matches,” Murray said.

“If you’re playing well, the longer the match is going, the better that is going to be for you. It is different in terms of atmosphere and everything… It’s just a little bit different because of the best-of-three format.”

Roger Federer to retire: Famous for his forehand, serve, respect

Roger Federer
Mal Tam/MALTphoto

The great Roger Federer will retire. The 20-time Grand Slam winner decided that trying to play in a competitive match was impossible. He has had a lot of surgeries, and to make an attempt to play in the fall, and next year too, was beyond what he was ready to do.

If you want to look at the quotes, there are dozens of them by people who really liked the man. Off the court, he is special, teaching them how to play better, and to re-act with them, too. He was not only just brilliant, but with his serve, into the corners, twisting, his famous forehand, and he would skip to the net. Also, who almost always returns, very deep, and he would mix it up all over the place. Most of the players would think, “Where is he going? I cannot figure it out.”

It is a sad day, but that happens with everyone who will retire.

Here are some good quotes from the ATP players. Here are some comments from the WTA players.

Next week, Federer will play an exhibition at the Laver Cup in London, along with Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, among others. That will be sold out, up into the top at the ceiling.

Both Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Świątek won the US Open, and they both played brilliantly. They are the No. 1s. They are very young, very fast and can also be so aggressive, with their forehands and backhands, too. They can return, and put it back deep, and they are also pretty good at the net. That is why they rose to No. 1.

Yes, they have improved a lot. But, this result doesn’t mean they will end up with more than a handful of majors. Don’t believe those TV commentators who have said. “Oh, for sure, he/she will win a lot of the Grand Slams.”

Yes, some did, but more than a few have won just one championship. If you look at the history, you will see that. Maybe he or she became hurt, and it was hard to play fantastic again. Or it was mental.

Do you want a list?

Here are a few who have retired, such as Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniaki, Juan Martin Del Potro, Sam Stosur, Flavia Pennetta, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Gaston Gaudio, Anastasia Myskina, Goran Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone,and Marion Bartoli.

Now, with the current players, will they win a huge amount of the Grand Slams? Federer won 20, Rafa Nadal has 22 Slams, and Novak Djokovic has 21. Alcaraz has just one.

We can also Serena Williams won 23 Grand Slams. Others are close, like Steffi Graf (22), Martina Navratilova (18) Chris Evert (18).

Here is the list of current one-Slam wonders from the WTA: Bianca Andreescu, Emma Raducanu, Sofia Kenin, Jelena Ostapenko, Barbora Krejcikova and Sloane Stephens.

Świątek has won three now, and she is very young, so to get up to win 10 Slams, yes, it is possible. The same goes with Naomi Osaka, who has four.

However, will anyone reach five titles at the Slams before they retire? It is possible, but tough. They have won two Slams like Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Garbine Muguruza.

Can Świątek and Alcarez get in double digits for major victories. But, there is no sure choice who will be the future king and queen.

Men’s final at 2022 US Open: Carlos Alcaraz vs. Casper Ruud

Carlos Alcaraz

Somehow, someway, either Carlos Alcaraz or Casper Ruud will become No. 1 at the US Open on Sunday. Neither has not won a Grand Slam yet, or even reached the final.

Grand Slam champions such as Rafa Nadal, who was knocked out; Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic couldn’t play, while Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka  and Marin Cilic all lost. So here comes a new first-time champion in Flushing Meadows.

Both Alcaraz and Ruud have had some amazing matches. They are quick, super fast, and they can switch it to offense immediately. Night after night, the 19-year-old Alcaraz seemed to never get tired, even though he has been playing for many, many hours. How about this? The Spaniard edged Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-7, 6-7 7-5, 6-3, and it took 5 hours and 15 minutes. He just keeps churning. And when he is sprinting, he doesn’t really care, he just wanted to hit the lines, incredibly hard. His forehand is gigantic, and his backhand can slap it. Plus, he has all sorts of strokes.

The No. 7 Ruud is very fit, patient and he will rush the net when he gets a chance. The Norweigian is very steady, can go low and his forehand and backhand are more than powerful. Over the past couple years, he would go deep at the tournaments, and he has won a good amount, but he before went far at the Slams.

His father, Christian Ruud, who reached No. 39 in 1995, said that Casper, “Did well last year, winning six titles and did well at ATP Playoffs and everything.  We knew he had the level to play with the top guys and also beat the top-10 players. So, of course, a little bit disappointing Grand Slam last year, that was the big goal this year to at least reach some quarterfinals. Then the goal was achieved a little bit, and then this US Open he plays maybe with little bit calmer because he already had one good Grand Slam result.  In a way, he got that breakthrough in the Grand Slams, and hopefully we can continue to do well in the Slams. He’s fit, he’s doing well, so he suits playing five-set matches.”

Will it be Alcaraz or Ruud win the U.S. Open? There will be intense rallies, and they will play for hours, again. But the Spaniard is right there, and when it is very close, then he can cover the court, touch the lines and Alcaraz will win it four terrific sets.

US Open final with Iga Świątek vs. Ons Jabeur

Iga Swiatek
Mal Taam/MALT photo

The former No. 2, Aga Radwanska, once said, “This is a dream from when I was kid. I’m playing tennis almost 18 years, and of course everybody’s dream is to play the final of a Grand Slam.”

She made one but lost to Serena Williams at ’12 Wimbledon

Another Pole, Iga Świątek, has already won two Grand Slams, and now the current No.1 will face off with Ons Jabeur on Saturday.

Jabeur reached the final at Wimbledon, and she lost, but just getting there, her mind changed and her nerves began to cool. Over the past 11 days, she sliced, popped the ball, showing a lot of intensity. Plus, the No. 5 returns very well, and she can hit it deep, chipping it, In the semis, she destroyed Caroline Garcia, who was blazing along with wins this summer.

However, Świątek can bring it back, too. On the second serve, she can attack immediately. There are times that she can hit it the wrong way, or out, but she keeps making the effort. Also, she broke serve a lot. For example she made it happen in the semis versus Aryna Sabalenka. Even in the third set, she was more patient, and her backhand became much more dependable.

The last time they played, Świątek had an easy final in Rome, winning 6-2, 6-2. Then, Świątek was rocking on the clay. However, though, when she plays on faster hard courts, she can get tripped up. Her forehand can be terrific, but she also starts to get undecisive, and since she started last week, there were a lot of errors.

Running around, Jabeur can wallop with a winner, or she can put in an spot, and at times, her strokes are muddled. She does think a lot, but she has to react quickly. On the plus side, she is so athletic, and she rarely gets tired. This year, for the most part, she got rid of the tremendous pressure.

The 21-years-old Świątek has played so many matches this year. So, at the US Open, perhaps she will be placid, as this is her first final. At least in the first set, she might be freaked out.

At Wimbledon, Jabeur looked wonderful, but in the final, she missed some key shots against Elena Rybakina. This time, if she wants to win, she has to play almost 100 percent. Jabeur might be convinced, to kick down with Świątek, but ‘Iga’ will rise up in the third set and win it for the third time at the Slams.

Four Thursday picks for the 2022 US Open

Caroline Garcia
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Ons Jabeur vs. Caroline Garcia
The Frenchwoman Garcia is churning, mixing it up and blasting her shots. She does love to rally and stare at her opponents. She can be very intense and threw away her doubts. But, she is very fluky. However, Jabeur also really likes to rally, and she can hit and hit with dozens of strokes. Years ago, she did not attach enough

But gradually the No. 5 became strategic. They have known each other for a long time, and they are friends, but on court, they have to stop thinking about each other and just play ball. Jabeur lost this year’s Wimbledon final. Sheknew that when she gets another chance at a major, she will reach higher. It will be close, but in the end, the Turnisia will win it in three tough sets

Iga Świątek vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Świątek is totally fascinating. The Pole can be pretty patient, and then, she can heat it up, and go for winners. She is so focused, and she bends down so low. There are some moments when she misses for no reason, but when she thinks about it, then she can change direction.

Sabalenka just said that while her serve is not perfect yet. Her coach changed her hand and leg location, and arm movement slightly. Yes, she still does miss a lot, but the reason why she made it into the semifinals because she is improving. Beyond that, she is one of the best players in the game, based on her power. In reality, though, Świątek has won so many titles this year, and because of that, she badly wants to win another Slam. Świątek will pound Sabalenka in two terrific sets.

2022 US Open: Four picks for Wednesday

Jessica Pegula
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Iga Świątek vs. Jessica Pegula
Pegula has had a surprising week. Yes, over the past two years, Pegula began to play much better, improving her strokes, first serve and return. Before that, she liked to hit the ball after the serve starts, and she was OK with the rallies, but if she didn’t dominate early, so she was struggling. Finally, she changed her mind, and she pushed herself. She is not perfect by any means, but she does know how to make the most of her size. Before she became No. 1, Swiatek was suspect. She would play fantastic and win, and then the next day, she would be foggy and lose. But in February, she totally changed her mental approach. She would go on the lines, almost immediately, because she realized that if she attacks, very deep on the corners, then the players would freeze up. But not Pegula, who has been incredibly consistent. Right now, Swiatek is a better than she is, stroke by stroke. The Pole will win in straight sets.

Andrey Rublev vs. Frances Tiafoe
The American stunned Rafa Nadal, and he played one of the best matches, ever. He sprinted, he dove, and clocked more than a few winners with his big backhand. He said that before the match that now he is much better, and he can really think on court. He also said that if he plays fantastic again, perhaps he can win it all. But they all are, too. Rublev was also had a fine nine days, displaying a terrific forehand, powerful serve and superfast speed. Sure, he can be moody, but now he is intense. Both of them can dug it in, and slog to grab a rally. The Russian thinks he can wear down Tiafoe. But the crowd will the American up again, and Tiafoe will zoom. He will win in four hard-fought sets.

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Karolina Pliskova
Two of the biggest servers will face off, and it is almost seems that it is boxing, trying to knock each other to the floor. It is the punching bag, toe-to-toe. Pliskova has hit a huge number of aces, and when she is right there, she will go for the lines. Sabalenka is certainly faster, and she can pop her forehand and her backhand. However, when she serves, she has double faulted a lot. Both think they are ready for a Grand Slam trophy. Pliskova has always been straight forward in press conferences about not winning a major. But she makes a lot of mistakes. That’s why in the third set, Sabalenka will bite her.

Carlos Alcaraz vs. Jannik Sinner
How did the Spaniard win an amazing five-setter against Marin Cilic? It looked like he was mentally tired, and then, he continued to scrabble, point after point. Now he has to beat another very good player in Sinner. The Italian also has had a terrific week, changing it up, working hard and made some crucial decisions. His is alert, he can return well, and his decisions have improved a lot. Both have to decide whether they can be very patient or swing super hard immediately. Alcaraz can be amazing, but if it goes into the fifth set, then he will be very tired. The same thing goes for Sinner, but he seems to be more ready in Flushing Meadows. Sinner will win in  five demanding sets.

Quarterfinal picks at the 2022 US Open

Casper Ruud

Casper Ruud vs Matteo Berrettini
The 23-year-old Norwegian broke out two years ago. Clearly, he knows that if he wants to make No. 1 someday, then he has to improve his strokes. He and the Italian have played each other five times already, which is unusual, so they know each other well. In Gstaad in July, Ruud beat Berrettini to win the title, and now it is 3-2 head to head. Both of them can slap the ball, but also, they can be very patient, and can change it up. “You need to obviously guess right sometimes, and sort of see if you can try to read where he’s going,” Ruud said. Without a doubt, when they get on court, it will take hours before they finish. It really is a toss-up, but Berrettini will win it in five nutty sets.

Ons Jabeur vs Ajla Tomljanovic
The Australian eliminated Serena Williams. Now, she finally made it into the quarters at the Grand Slam. She has been around for a long time, and she has been pretty decent, but not unreal. But over the past eight days, she rose, and has shown confidence. Plus, she likes to talk with the journalists. However, Jabeur played some assortment points. She is so quick, and she has so much variety. Yes, she has won against a number of the top 10 players, but she has yet to win a major. However, this year, at least she made into the final at Wimbledon, and she lost to Elena Rybakina. This time, though, Jabeur will be ready and beat Tomljanovic in straight sets.

Nick Kyrgios vs Karen Khachanov
The Aussie has become a real force. His serve is huge, his forehand is massiv, and currently he has added rushing the net and putting away volleys. However, Khachanov is a huge swinger, and he can crack the ball. He is not the fastest, but when he is right there, then he can belt it. Khachanov would love to go very deep at the USO, but Kyrgios will hit many aces and winners, too. He will win it in four hardy sets.

Coco Gauff vs Caroline Garcia
These two have played some fantastic matches this summer. They both have gone deep, and they have beaten a number of the top players. Gauff reached into the final at Roland Garros, and a couple weeks ago, Garcia won Cincinnati. From the backcourt, they can run all day. The American who can hit winners from all over the court. Te Frenchwoman can also be patient, but finally, the veteran started to be much more gung ho. That will be a really banner match, with some wild points. In the end, the teenager will out-hit Garcia right and win it in three thrilling sets.

More coverage
Here is my story about Frances Tiafoe believing he could take down Rafa Nada at the US Open.

Four picks on Monday at the 2022 United States Open

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Danielle Collins
How many times Sabalenka does double fault? A lot. But the good thing is that she keeps fighting, which is why the former No. 2 is still here. She is physically so strong, from both sides, and she storms her opponent immediately. She has had a tough year, but now she is thinking that “I am a great player.” This week, she certainly has been. The American Collins has had a difficult year, after she made it into the final at the Australian Open. During those two weeks, she was so potent. Both of them want to hit the ball very hard, right on the lines. Sabalenka will go into the third set and has a chance to knock her down. But Collins loves New York, and she will win it, 7-6. That would be a blast.

Carlos Alcaraz vs. Marin Cilic
At the US Open in 2014, the Croat won the event. With a huge serve, it looked like he would win Slams again. But he did not, and there were a couple times that he looked like he was spectacular during the matches, when he went deep at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. But after that, he lost a lot. Maybe he was confused a lot. It didn’t help that he plays almost each week. At least this week, the 33-year-old became much more in-your-face. He has to, as Alcaraz is also playing excellent ball, not every game, but he is has become a force. Cilic wants to hit a number of aces, Cilic has to try to knock Alcaraz down, because the Spaniard is much faster side to side. Cilic will try so ruthless, but in the fourth set, Alcaraz will aim for the lines and win it.

Karolina Pliskova vs. Vika Azarenka
The Czech has an amazing first serve, with hundreds of aces. She has been better than all of the players over the past 13 years, except for Serena. That is why she has won many huge events and aldo reached the final at the US Open and Wimbledon, but she has yet to win a Grand Slam. At the age of 30, the former No. 1 might not do it at the USO, or any Grand Slams. But this year and next year, when she goes deep, then perhaps she can go for it. She is powerful, but she does not run fast enough. As we have said before, Azarenka loves to put it away from both sides. She has won two Grand Slams, so obviously, she can be dangerous, but she is aging, too, and currently, she can be erratic. They have played each eight times, 4-4. This is a real toss-up. In the third set, Pliskova will hold the lines, and where down Azarenka.

Andrey Rublev vs. Cameron Norrie
Brit Norrie has had a great season. He is so fit, with his weighty forehand, his vicious backhand and his potent first serve. Even if he was decent, two years ago, he was a little bit soft. But now, he will shatter the ball. He has to, because the Russian is so much smarter than he did even last year. He is tall, he can be alert, and when he is running hard, then he can decide where he can go. Rublev has said that he has grown, on the court and off. When he first started, he could get livid, but now at his 24-years-old, he is calmer. This will be a five-setter, some brutal points, yet in the end, Rublev will bite Norrie.

Sunday match predictions at the US Open

Nick Krygios
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Daniil Medvedev vs. Nick Kyrgios
This is one of the potential fantastic match, with the Russian and the Australian facing off. Medvedev won the U.S. Open last year, and he came alive. Kyrgios has not won a Slam yet, but this year, he rose gradually, and now, he has beaten a huge number of top players. They both can throw in a number of aces, there forehands are huge, and they can really mix it up. However, Medvedev does not come into the net much, but his backhand is strong. Plus, when he is locked in, then he can hit it even harder. Kyrgios throws in a bunch of shots, and he can be very creative. He can get very ticked off, but he is more control, now, and he has said that he does have a chance to finally win a Slam. He almost did when he went into the final at Wimbledon, and he was close versus Novak Djokovic, but the Serbian finally broke him down. Kyrgios said that he is a bit tired because he has been traveling for months, but after the US Open is done, then he can go home, because he misses it. He does want to punch on with Medvedev, but he will be very patient, and in the fifth set, the Russian will brake him down.

Coco Gauff vs. Shuai Zhang
Yes, the teenager Gauff is looking very good, but so is Zhang, who had some cracking good points in the last couple months. The American is running well, and her forehand and her backhand are very real. Her serve OK, but not great yet, and at times she over-thinks about what she is going to do. When you are really young, the best solution is to simply play. The Chinese plays a lot of doubles, and she is good, at the net, but again, it took her a long time to believe that in the singles. She can be more gifted. So now, she does. Serena Williams just lost, so now it is anyone to win the event. Gauff thinks she can, so if she can play at the top of the level, then she can beat Zhang in straight sets. If not, that will be a very close three-setter. In a sense, it is a toss-up, but Gauff will hit a couple tremendous winners and move into next week.

Jannik Sinner vs. Ilya Ivashka
The Italian is blasting the ball. He is so fast, and can rush the net. He is very tall, and his first serve and his return can be wonderful. He has improved, but once again, he has yet to win a Slam. But if he continued to get fancy, he does have a chance to go even further. Ivashka can be very respectable, but the 28-year-old has yet to win a big tournament. At least last year, he did win Winston-Salem. So, he is good, but not great. Because of that, Sinner wins it in three sets.

Carolina Garcia vs. Allison Riske
Each year, there are the same old players, who are good, but not great. For years, they are OK, but to chomp down the unreal players, in general, they will lose. The Frenchwoman came out of nowhere, recently, and now the 28-year-old is on a roll. She is quick, she can swing harder, and also, in her eyes, you can tell that she finally trusted herself. The same goes with Riske, who started winning when she was young, but she could only win on the grass, in singles. But gradually, on in the hardcourts, she grew into her fine player with both of her strokes. The American Riske really wants to reach into the second week, but if you watch both of them, Garcia just won the Western & Southern Open, a gigantic week. She will do it again, in three subline sets.