Angie Kerber: ‘I fought my way through’

Angela Kerber

At times, the former No.1 Angie Kerber has been rock solid. The German would run to the net when she really had to. But what she really liked was to stay in the backcourt and knock it back forever. Her legs were super strong, she can spin it, or flatten it out. She would battle, and she wouldn’t give up.

When she was No. 1, she had an incredible confidence. However, that cannot stay forever. That is very rare for everyone.

A few years ago, Kerber fled mentally. She won three Grand Slams, winning the 2016 Australian Open and the US Open, and also 2018 Wimbledon. She was clearly the No. 1 player on the planet. But then, she began to slide.

Yes, here and there, she was slightly injured, but not much. She just couldn’t think anymore. She was very frustrated.

Not any more. She  woke up in Cinncinnati, took down Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 6-2 7-5 in the round of 16 and edged Elena Svitolina, 7-5 2-6 6-4 on Wednesday. All of sudden, she realized that she can come back and beat every player.

“That means a lot to me, she’s such a great player. She played great,” said Kerber about Svitolina: “I fought my way through, it was important to stay in the match after the second set and play point by point.”

She won Bad Homburg this year. Then the 33-year-old reached the semis at Wimbledon, beating two very young and excellent players, Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova.

Maybe she can win it this week, in Ohio, or even the US Open. She wants it, especially to get the trophy in Flushing Meadow. But really, it is all about being more aggressive, here and there. She can be steady, but when she sees a real chance, she can leap on the ball and crush it.

Why is Svitolina so frustrated? After she lost, she smashed her racket. Ouch…

It has been a difficult year for Naomi Osaka, who has not been happy at all. She has said that she can be depressed. A lot of people throughout the world are depressed. So, if you can, battle. She did that on court on Wednesday when she edged Gauff, 4-6 6-3 6-4. When she won, on the match point, she nailed it with an ace. She is so darn good when she is on.
How about Karolina Muchova who beat the No.7 seed Bianca Andreescu 6-4, 6-2? True enough, it is the Czech’s fifth victory over a Top-10 player, including Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty. On Monday, Muchova beat Johanna Konta, and early in February, Muchova reached the Australian Open semifinals beating Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty  before going down to Jennifer Brady. Yes, Muchova can be very good, but she can also check out. But, the older she gets, she has become more serene. 2020 year-end review: top 25-21 women

Maria Sakkari

25. Angie Kerber
A few years ago, she was the No.1, and she was amazingly consistent. She would run, left to right in the backcourt or toward the net. She is not that great when she serving, but her return is legendary. In 2020, Kerber was so-so. She hesitated and she was thinking,”What the heck was going?’ She couldn’t flow. Over the years, Kerber had some wonderful matches. She won three Grand Slams: the US Open, Wimbledon and the Aussie Open. She was locked it with no errors. If the German wants to dive into the top 5 in 2020 and win a major again, she has to figure out what is bogging her down.

24. Jennifer Brady
The American had a fine year. At the US Open, she made it all the way into the semis, winning five matches in straight sets. Nor even close. However, in the second week, she had to face Naomi Osaka. She is totally different. Brady was close until when she lost 6-3 in the third. She had a few chances, but right now, Osaka is more powerful, and playes with more variety. Overall, Brady. 25, showed that she improved a lot, and she believes 2021 can be another break out year Her chances of reaching the top 10 is narrow.

23. Anett Kontaveit
At the Austrian Open, Kontaveit edged Iga Swiatek 7-5 in the third. In the last few games, there it was, ready to nail it and embrace it. She was thrilled, but in the quarters, she was exhausted. Simona Halep quickly blew her out. Kontaveit had some good wins in the summer, but she couldn’t upset Osaka, at the US Open. She is 24 years old, and she grew up in Estonia. In a nation without a tennis history, she will need more time to progress at the highest level. However, as long as she clubs her forehand, she will have some terrific shots in 2020.

22. Maria Sakkari
The Greek had a fine summer and fall, upsetting Elina Svitolina and Serena Williams. At the Aussie Open, she took donw Madison Keys. Then she had a tough three-setter, losing to two-time Wimbledon, champion Petra Kvitova. Over the past two years, the fast Sakkari is getting smarter. There are times when she falls apart, not thinking during the points. But at the other times, when she is really thinking, she can play without fear. In 2021, maybe she can reach the top-15, if she can beef up her mediocre serve.

21. Marketa Vondrousova
Five years ago, in the juniors, she was No. 1. Many people saw that the Czech is darn good. Now in 2020, she is already gaining month by month as she adds more shots and variety. However, this year, she couldn’t put it together. She didn’t not win a lot of big tournaments. She did upset Svitolina, but that’s it. After she reaching the 2019 Roland Garros final, she was gone for the rest of the year due to left wrist surgery. She is still coming back, and if she is 100 percent in 2021, then she will make a run again.

Nadal: Back and hustling on every point in Rome

Rafael "Rafa" Nadal

Rafa Nadal is finally back, and he has not played at a tournament since late February. There he is, in Rome, at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, blasting  Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1. Careno Busta, who reached the semis at the US Open, barely losing against Alexander Zverev. The steady Carreno Busta was close to a fifth-set victory, but he couldn’t kiss the lines. Zverev found a way to prevail. 

Dominic Thiem ended up winning the 2020 US Open, inching over Zverev, in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Thiem was weeping in joy, while Zverev was so disappointed. The German was so sad that after the ceremony, he broke down. Neither will not play Rome this week, as they are totally exhausted.
But there are a number of terrific players, such as Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Matteo Berrettini, who won in the round of 32. Stefanos Tsitsipas went down in the third set to Italian Jannik Sinner.

Nadal has won Rome nine times, a tremendous amount. His lefty forehand is very heavy, with a tremendous spin. And he hustles every second, and when he is set up, then he can blast the winner.

Last year, in the final, Nadal took down Djokovic in three sets on the Italian clay. Obviously, the Serbian has beaten Nadal on the hardcourts, but on the soft clay, Nadal is still king.

But this week with Nadal and Djokovic, if they play lights out, then they will meet each other in the final on Sunday. The whole world will watch the match.

There were three good wins on Tuesday, from the 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti upsetting Stan Wawrinka. Two other young players won: Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov.

The former two-time Grand Slam champion Angie Kerber is still struggling. The German can be so steady, when she was No. 1, grabbing the 2016 Aussie Open, the 2016 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon. But, since then, she hasn’t won the big ones, and really, she hasn’t dominated at other events. She was injured when she arrived in January, and she went down early in, at the AO. She lost against the long veteran, Sam Stosur, in the first round, and then shortly after, she pulled out in California and Florida. Kerber subsequently withdrew due to a left-leg injury. Now she is back, and she feels pretty healthy, but she has a lot of work again. At the US Open, she made it into the fourth round, but she couldn’t hit with enough topspin or depth. She did win three matches, and then the very good American Jennifer Brady punched her out.

The 32-year-old Kerber still has a solid three years of play when she is healthy, but her move back up the rankings from No. 22 will take some time. In Rome, early this week, she lost to Katerina Siniakova.

Kerber may not win Roland Garros as she never really understand exactly how to work on clay.
The very young teenager Coco Gauff had a solid win, beating Ons Jabeur in the first round.

Two-time Grand Salm champion Garbine Muguruza beat another former major champ, Sloane Stephens, in two sets. She is up and down, but when she feels 100 percent healthy, she can win any match. Muguruza is fast, and she really likes to attack. She could win the event in Rome, as long as she is durable.

Stephens is mentally out of it, in the past one year and six months. She has to turn it around during the fall, or she will continue to drop down farther than her present No. 33.

Amanda Anisimova is ready to make a move. But, it won’t happen in Rome as she was bested by Dayana Yastremska in the round of 32. Every month, you can tell that the 19-year-old is studying and improving. And when he does, she will break into the top 10 in the next months. A learner.

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 20-16

No. 20: Angelique Kerber
This was not a great year for the German. She has won two Grand Slams, and she became to No. 1. But, this year she was darn frustrated. She didn’t win an event, and, after she reached the final in Eastbourne in late June, she did nothing the rest of the year. On court, that is. Kerber is so steady and fast moving to the left and to the right. When she is on, her strokes were deep and true. But she can get upset for many matches. If she can become confident again, then she will go deep at the big events. Really, Angie has to, because she is aging.

No. 19: Donna Vekic
The Croatian had a pretty decent year, gaining ground. Over the past couple years, she has improved, month after month, hitting very hard and snapping it. She can over-hit, and she can be disheartened, but usually, she fights to the end. If Vekic improves her serves and net play, she can crack the top 15 in 2020. But will she leap into the top 10? Right now, I would say no.

No. 18: Alison Riske
A few years ago, the American did very little on the hardcourts and on the clay. But she loved to play on the grass, crashing the ball. However, she had to change, gradually, or else. Very few people knew how good she was. In 2019, Riske started going pretty deep at the tournaments, hitting super hard. She has been around at the WTA for 10 years, and finally, she understood how she should play. In 2020, when she will be a 30-years-old, she will win a big event. A huge one.

No. 17: Elise Mertens
The 24-year-old played a lot of three-setters this year, battling to the end, which is good. Still, she lost a number of them, against the very fine competitors. Yes, she is very consistent, and she thinks out there for two sets. But, deep into the third set, she can rattle and push back. She did win Doha in February, beating Kerber and Simona Halep, which was tremendous. Then, over the next eight months, she couldn’t beat any of the top 10-ers. In 2020, Mertens has to add more to her game.

No. 16: Marketa Vondrousova
The 20-year-old has been coming up very fast. She reached the final at Roland Garros, on clay — which she loves — and in looked like she was going to be around at the critical moments in big matches. In late June she hurt her left wrist and she stopped for the rest of the year. Vondrousova will return in January, to start again. She is very young and keeps her calm during matches. After her injury, it will take her awhile to reset. If she does, she will punch herself into the top 10.

Who’s the favorite the French Open?

Simona Halep

“Who’s the favorite for fabulous France? There are a lot, which is another way of saying there isn’t one at all.

One day, the two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova might actually become No. 1 — she has been so close over the previous 10 years — and it could be on the clay courts. The Czech just won Stuttgart and rose up to No. 2. She doesn’t always love clay, but with three clay titles since 2018, these days it seems she does. Kvitova is very strong and now can play for many hours, and she can really hit some hopping serves.

She has never won the French Open, but she did reach the 2012 semis against Maria Sharapova, when the two-time champion and Russian out-slugged her.

Though Kvitova has won twice at Wimbledon, on clay in Paris, you have to slow down and wait and wait until you get an opportunity, and then strike. Having improved her fitness, she’s starting to do that.

Simon Halep finally won a Grand Slam when she beat the American Sloane Stephens in the final at the 2018 French Open. During the third set, she was consistent and forceful, while her opponent checked out. Halep can do it again, and actually, so can Stephens, who won the 2017 US Open. Even though she seems very confused and hasn’t won a tournament this season, she just hired the very smart coach, Sven Groeneveld, and might right herself as she does so often. Regardless, it’s the 2018 winner Halep who’s seen as the current favorite. “

Osaka in the top line
The No. 1-ranked Naomi Osaka is a tremendous player, upsetting Serena Williams in the final of the controversy-laden 2018 US Open, being so peaceful and lethal at 5-4 in the third set. There were no nerves, just blasting the ball. K-boom — Osaka grabbed it. The same occurred during the Australian Open final against Kvitova, and she edged her 6-4 in the third. She really believes in herself, and she can blast the ball in Paris. But Osaka does not love clay yet, so she has to learn to slide and return before she starts swinging hard.

Serena Williams has won the tournament a couple times, and the 23-time Grand Slam champion can play anything she wants — except at the net — so when she is feeling fantastic, she can win it again. But right now, she is still hurt — if she goes to the French Open, she has to step up quickly, or she will get knocked down.

Caro Wozniacki loves hard courts, but like over the years in Roland Garros, she gets pretty angry because she cannot hit enough winners, especially with her forehand. When she is happy, she is really happy, but when she loses, she clams up. She will likely do it again.

Muguruza, Sabalenka slumping
Garbine Muguruza has won this tournament before, in 2016, which was surprising, but the Spaniard can smash her forehands and backhands and knock the ball on the lines. Mentally, she can go down fast, but when she does not do that, she can raise her game. In Paris? That is a toss-up, but if she’s healthy, she has a small chance to produce another surprise and win it again.

It was in 2018 the young Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka eventually cracked the top 10. She is very intense and strong, but on clay, she is still learning to figure out how to play. There are a few other excellent established players — Angelique Kerber, Karolina  Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Ash Barty. The German veteran Kerber has won three Slams — at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. But in Paris, she has never reached the semis, not because she is not super steady — which she is — but because she doesn’t go for the corners or punch the ball returning second serves. But when she is rock solid, she can go very deep.

Pliskova should win a major, but the 27-year-old hasn’t yet. She did reach the semis in Paris in 2017 and she faced Halep, but right towards the end, she wasn’t steady enough. Regardless, she has improved a good amount, and she is thoughtful, so perhaps she can do it for the first time on the gorgeous clay. It wouldn’t seem like the most obvious place.

Elina Svitolina never gets tired, and she has won some big tournaments, but at the Grand Slams, she gets very nervous and loses fairly early. But she is so good with her first serve, her forehand and backhand, that it seems she has to have a breakthrough sometime. This year?

The young Australian Ash Barty is getting better all the time. She is steady and thoughtful and she never gets tired, too, playing both singles and doubles. But she doesn’t like clay and has to grind it for many hours in the French Open. At least she can aim to reach the second week.

There are still more players who can reach the second week and beyond: the again-rising Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, the new and excellent Canadian Bianca Andreescu — who is currently hurt — the steady Qiang Wang, and the other Americans — Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin and the long time veteran Venus Williams. Some American will go deep in Paris, but exactly who is an extremely big toss-up.

Top 30s in 2018: Women, 5-1

Simona Halep

No. 5: Naomi Osaka
At the start of the year, very few people knew who she was when she was ranked No. 68. In January, she began to step up and began working with the brilliant coach, Sascha Bajin, who was around for many years with Serena Williams. Osaka reached the fourth round at Australia, upsetting Ash Barty before losing against Simona Halep. And ka-boom, the spirit rose quickly. She won Indian Wells, and at times, the now 21-year-old was up and down, but at the US Open, she was incredibly confident, banging the ball, with her terrific first serve, her forehand and her backhand. In the final, she jumped on Serena in the third set, and in the last game, instead of becoming nervous, she was very cool and she hit three amazing serves. She won it all, and she cried a lot. During the fall, she looked pretty good, but at the WTA Final, she was emotionally exhausted, and didn’t win a match. In a sense, that didn’t matter, because she is young and she needs to understand what she needs to do, week after week. Osaka is a darn good player and she will get even better in 2019. Will she win another major? I think so.       

No. 4: Elina Sviolina
There are times when it is so hard to figure out the Ukrainian. Some weeks, she looks spectacular, and other weeks, she was maudlin. But at the end of the year, she won the WTA Final, beating Caroline Wozniacki, Katrina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens. She was so locked in, attacking fast, digging it out and hitting deep. She is very strong and she can stay out there for a very long time. But, that hasn’t helped her at the Grand Slams, because then, her brain explodes. She has yet to reach into the semis at the majors, which was difficult. In 2018 at the Aussie Open, she managed to reach the quarters, but Mertens out hit her. At RG, Wimbledon and the US Open, she did almost nothing. Eventually, Sviolina will figure it out, just like Wozniacki did. Patience is the key. In 2019, she has to breath and hold it.        

No. 3: Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki is the committed grinder. She finally won a Grand Slam, grabbing the 2018 Australian Open, beating Halep 6-4 in the third. That was an amazing story. As she has said, she will remember that, forever. The 28-year-old has been around for a long, long time, 13 years, in fact. She plays a lot, and her backhand is one of the best in the world, crosscourt, especially. She has improved her so-so forehand, and she can chase down any ball, running left, right and straight. However, there were many months that she didn’t play terrific from February through September. Then, she won Beijing, which was solid, but at the WTA Final, she lost two matches and she was gone. It is pretty clear that Wozniaki is addicted to tennis. However, soon enough, perhaps in the next couple years, she will retire. She has won 610 matches, and she has lost 247 matches. She has been No. 1, for a long time, and she has won 30 titles. So what’s left?  Another major, absolutely.   

No. 2: Angie Kerber
When she is happy, the German played extremely well in 2018, winning Wimbledon and reaching the semis at the Aussie Open. The 30-year-old has been so stable, she rarely gets tired, and she races back and forth. Over the years, she was steady, but there were times that she wouldn’t go for it, and eventually, against the great players, she would lose. But, since 2016, she decided that if she is going to win a Grand Slam, she has to push herself, and go for the lines. And she did. She has won 12 titles, which is not huge at all, but it is respectable. Kerber has won two majors, and she certainly wants more. She won the Australian Open in 2016. Can she do it again in 2019 at the end of January? Sure, she can as long as she can smack the ball, frequently.  

No. 1: Simona Halep
It took so long for the Romanian to rise up at a Grand Slam. She was always very good, but at the majors, she would be so close, but right at the end, she pushed back. However, in early June, she reached the final at Roland Garros, and in the third set against Stephens, she kept pounding on the balls, swinging hard and hitting the lines. She kept her cool. She won, and she took a huge breath. Without a doubt, Halep can get hurt and complain about it, but she always stays in there. She is so strong and she can run and run until the sun goes down. Yes, she has only won one Slam, unlike Serena and Venus Williams, but the 27-year-old Halep can grab another major, on clay and on the hardcourts. At the Australian Open, she will be favored, not because she is much better than the rest, but because finally, she truly believes in herself. In 2019, she will push ever harder.

Kerber vs Osaka, Djokovic vs Edmund, Kyrgois vs Nishikori


Angie Kerber vs Naomi Osaka
This should be a very tight match. Kerber loves to grind, and she runs to and fro, while Osaka immediately hits into the corners and tries to put everything away. Over the six months, the German has looked very good, and at other times, she looks mediocre and sad.

Osaka can rip the ball, and hit the lines, just liked when she won Miami. However, on clay, she was all over the place mentally. Kerber knows she has to dig in, and when she has a chance, she must go for it, rather than just pushing the balls around. In the third set, Kerber took a deep breath and she invaded her. She will grab the victory.

Novak Djokovic vs Kyle Edmund
The Serbian is getting better and better as he is much more comfortable when he is on the court. The Brit has improved a lot during the past year, and now he can sit back and play calmly and forcefully.

Djokovic knows that pretty soon,he will stop being so skittish, and concentrate. Edmund is smarter now, he moves all around, and he attacks when he sees opportunties. While Edmund is excited about playing in front of the sold-out Centre Court, that doesn’t mean that he can convert. Djokovic can be frustrated at times, but he does believe that he can outhit him. Novak wins in four sets.     

Nick Kyrgois vs Kei Nishikori
This is a true bang-up match. When he is healthy, the Aussie is powerful and sointense. The Japanese reached the 2014 US Open final, and it looked like that sometime he would become No. 1, but he has not. However, Nishikori is still strong, he really wants to go far. While over the years, the 28-year-old didn’t quite get it on grass, but inside his head, he knows that if he stays healthy, he can push the opponents way back in the court. However, Kyrgois can blend his often powerful strokes, and he will find a way to deliver them. That will be a five=setter, and Nishikori really wants to grab it, but Nick will break him early and hold on.

Ash Barty vs Daria Kasatkina
The other Aussie, Barty, is finally showing her bold style. A few years ago, when she quit tennis and then returned, she was incredibly nervous. Now, she is cool as a cucumber.  The ambitious Kasatkina is very headstrong, and on court, she is very fierce. There will be a lot of rallies, from side to side, and back and forth. Both of them like to spin, and jump on the returns.  If Barty continues to progress, she will enter the top 10 pretty soon, or even the top 5 at the end of the year. Kasatkina is still very young, and she will rise soon enough, but Barty will beat her in two tough sets.

A tantalizing women’s final: Stephens versus Halep

FROM ROLAND GARROS — A year ago, Sloane Stephens couldn’t play. She was injured and far from happy. But every day, she would go into the practice courts and rebuild. She couldn’t play the French Open, but three weeks later, she felt good enough and went to Wimbledon. Mentally, she wasn’t ready yet, but she didn’t care, she just wanted to compete.

She lost in the first round at Wimbledon and in Washington. Then, in Toronto, she was feeling better, running around, hitting hard when she needed to. She was concentrating. She beat Petra Kvitova, Angie Kerber and Lucie Safarova before falling to  Caro Wozniacki.

In Cincinnati, the next week, she reached the semis again, beating Julia Goerges before losing against Simona Halep 6-2, 6-1.

Stephens and Halep will face off again on Saturday here in the final. It could be a very long contest.

Stephens is very tired, but still, she knows her strokes are solid, her first serve can be deadly, and she can hit it down the line, both sides. 

She won the 2017 US Open, for the first time. It wasn’t easy during those two weeks. In the quarters, she faced Anastasija Sevastova, and Stephens hung in there, even though she was a little bit off, winning it 7-6(4) in the third. In the semis, she faced against the seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, and once again, it was deep in the third set. Stephens wouldn’t go away and she grabbed it 7-5 in the third. In the final, against Madison Keys, the Californian Stephens played almost perfectly and she won it, her first major.  

After that, she did almost nothing during the fall. She was mentally fried. When she started again in January, she says that she was slightly injured. She needed to find a new way, again.

“Didn’t have a good result in Australia, and I knew that I needed to change some things, and I did that and I had a great result in Miami. [She won it.]

“I had a great showing at Fed Cup, which I was really happy with. I had okay results this clay court season. I lost to some great players: Pliskova, Garcia. It’s not really anything to put your head down about. Just being able to recognize that I have had some really great ups and not so many hard downs, but just trying to stay consistent with the level, I think that’s worked best for me.”

Over the past 13 days, Stephens has been super consistent, but last week, she almost lost in the second round to Camila Giorgi, edging her 8-6 in the third. The American took a deep breath and raised her game. After that, she has been steady, and now, she has an opportunity, and she strikes within seconds.

On Saturday, she may not play wonderful tennis, but she will be right there against Halep.
“When you get to the final, obviously you have played well, but the person [Halep] that you are playing against also played well. So, I think I go in knowing it’s going to be a battle no matter what, no matter who you’re playing,” Stephens said. “Obviously anything could happen. I guess you could be playing No. 1 in the world or No. 90 in the world. It’s just basically going out and competing because the person you’re laying against has done the exact same thing as you.”

No. 1 Halep is so close to winning a Grand Slam. Last year in Paris, she reached the final, it looked like she could do it, but Jelena Ostapenko stunned her in three sets.

In 2014, in the final in the third set, it was 4-4, Halep versus Maria Sharapova. Halep backed up, Sharapova moved forward and the American/Russian won.

Now can Halep finally step it up and grab it? Nobody knows.

“I have more experience now. I feel calm,” Halep said. “So, I will stay chill. I will relax. And then we will see what is going to happen Saturday, but for sure I will fight for every ball.”


For some players, the prospect of finally winning a major is more of a brick wall than a yellow brick road. Ask Ivan Lendl, who dropped four finals before breaking through in Paris in 1984.

Stephens is playing smart and consistent. She has slid through her matches easily, dropping only one set to Camila Giorgi. She should be fresh and ready to apply pressure on Halep, letting loose with her dynamite forehand when the court opens up.

Halep has lost two sets so far, overcoming a hiccup first set in the first round against American Alison Riske. She also had to fight off Kerber but dispatched the German easily in the second and third sets. Garbine Muguruza was rolling through the draw until she rammed into Halep.

Three important factors will be play tomorrow. First, Halep doesn’t seem to get tired, as she covers the court and the wide area outside the lines with real speed and determination. Second, she is playing with true aggression, looking for winners when she has the chance. The Romanian may be playing her best tennis ever.

But, the biggest factor is simple: Halep’s time has come. This is her third RG final and she’s been through a lot of heartache, especially when she let Jelena Ostapenko bully her last year. So, look to Simona to win straight out, in two close but demanding sets.

– Ron Cioffi

The fast hitters: Halep to face Muguruza in semis

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Simona Halep plays fantastic when she is driving and feeling very smart. Then, when she is close to winning a Grand Slam, she can get nervous and back off. The great thing on Wednesday, in the second and third set, she pushed herself from the backcourt, swinging away and bashing the ball. She beat Angie Kerber 6-7 6-3 6-2 and advanced into the semis. She will face Garbinw Muguruza, who powered past Maria Sharapova 61, 6-2.

Halep is so quick, so fast, so steady. She hits with a lot of spin, and she can flatten it out, too, from both sides. She moves around her serves, and her first serve can touch the corners. At the net, when she stops and focuses, she reacts, quickly, then touch the ball converts winners. At times, it is very difficult for her. Other times, it is simple. 

Today, the two-time Grand Slam champion  Kerber wasn’t crushing it, because allegedly, she was hurt. So all Halep had to do was to react, simple stuff, and win it. She did happily.

Now she has to face Muguruza, who brutalized Sharapova. The Spaniard jumped on the Russian/American almost immediately. She was moving extremely well, blasting her first serve, whipping her forehand and flipping her backhand. Inside, she realized that four years ago, she wasn’t ready yet to threaten Sharapova, but now she thinks the she can run faster, hit harder and push her back. Sharapova will continue to get better this year, but still, she cannot try to attack her shots every time. Today, that was a big mistake.

On Thursday, Muguruza will clash with Halep. Muscle time for both of them.

Here is some good quotes by Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys from a story I wrote for They like each other a lot, but as she said, when they walk on the court, it’s all focusing, rather than talking.

2017 top players: women’s 21-25 will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 21: Angie Kerber
This was not a good year for the German. In 2016, she grabbed two Grand Slams. This season, she won absolutely nothing. Still, she is a fantastic player. Next season she has to shake it off. When she is running around on court with her great speed, she cannot overthink. She has to lock in and stay there.

No. 22: Serena Williams
Strange to see that ranking for the best woman in tennis history. The now-famous mom won the Aussie Open but didn’t play much in 2017. The 36-year-old is extremely happy where she is right now, practicing while on her honeymoon. The question is: Will Serena actually return and play again? I would think so that she will, but it will take her months to get into shape. And then …another major?

No. 23: Barbora Strycova
The Czech Strycova has a lot of variety, and when she is into it and she plays well, then dance and mix it up all over the place. However, she plays all the time, and during certain weeks, she loses her drive. But in 2018, she will push into the top 10, at least for a week or so.   
No. 24: Daria Kasatkina
The Russian is coming up pretty quickly, and she is only 20 years old. Cracking the top 25 is very good, considering that few of the youngsters can beat the great, older competitors. Daria already, beating two Slammers, Venus Williams and Angie Kerber. She has won on hard courts and on clay; you know she is confident, anytime, anywhere. In 2018, if she stays healthy, she can actually win a major soon.    

No. 25: Daria Gavrilova
The Aussie Gavrilova had a very good year. Yes, she hasn’t won a major yet, nor has she won a gigantic title, but she tries hard every time she walks on court. This season her goal must be to crack the lines, rather than pushing the ball and merely being steady. She could go deep at the 2018 Australian Open. The fans love her.