Aussie Open: Serena returns at 4 months off, Wozniacki skids again




AUSTRALIAN OPEN, DAY 1, JAN 18 – Serena Williams played reasonably well to beat Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5 in the first round at the Aussie Open. The No. 1 hadn’t played for four months – which is a long time – but as she said, the older you get, the easier it is to understand how you will preform at the Grand Slams. As Serena said, she has been playing tennis for 30 years (she is 34 years old) so she knows how to play. That is true, but her knee was hurt 10 days ago so it’s possible that it could become super sore, which could threaten her.

Fortunately, Serena won’t play against the seeds until the quarters. No. 27 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova lost against the Russian Darya Kasatkina, No. 17 Sara Errani went down against another Russian Margarita Gasparyan. The youngsters are rising.

No.16 Caroline Wozniacki lost against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. But what about the former No. 1 Wozniacki? How did she go down so ridiculously? As the Dane said, she “played like shit.” In 2014, she looked like she was coming back, reaching the final of the US Open, hitting harder, faster, stronger and with much more confidence.

But last year, after she reached the final at Stuttgart against Angie Kerber, she was right there in the third set. But towards the end, she backed up, she pushed the ball, she lost and after that, she skidded. Big time. If Wozniacki doesn’t change, she is not going to be able to win a major at all. Her backhand is always phenomenal, but beyond that, her forehand is spotty and isn’t very powerful; her serve is mediocre; and his return is spotty. She is simply not aggressive enough. Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova have all won multiple majors, and they all can be aggressive when they need to. Wozniacki doesn’t. She really needs to bring in a new coach, not because her father and coach Piotr doesn’t understand tennis, but his daughter isn’t listening. Caro can ignore her coaches. If she is going to change and return to the top 5 someday, she has to start listening very soon.

Here were some good wins on Monday: Sharapova, the now healthy Kvitova (or she says), Genie Bouchard, Sveta Kuznetsova, Belinda Bencic (who is no longer sick), Carla Suarez Navarro, and a few more Americans: Nicole Gibbs, Laura Davis and Irina Falconi.

The most telling loss was by Samantha Stosur, who went down against ‘the other’ Kristyna Pliskova 6-4 7-6(6). The former US Open champion Stosur played at night on Rod Laver and while she didn’t freeze up, she didn’t mix it up at all. The Aussie was way too predictable and she didn’t yank the somewhat slow Croatian around. Credit for Kristyna (her better twin sister is Karolina Pliskova) who hung in there, but Stosur looked lost. It is amazing that during the past 10 years, she has done almost nothing playing in Australia. At the US Open, and at Roland Garros, she has been tremendous, but at home, she swallows up. Maybe next year…

The top 32’s in 2015: Who’s hot, who’s not? Tomic & F Lopez, Keys & Wozniacki (No. 20-17)

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No. 20

Dominic Thiem

Only 22 years old, the Austrian Thiem really improved this year, winning four matches in Miami, upending Feliciano Lopez and Jack Sock before falling against Andy Murray on hard courts. On clay, he won Nice by over stroking Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and Leonardo Mayer. After he lost early at Wimbledon, he went back on clay again, winning the title at Umag, and at Gstaad he beat David Goffin in the final. Thiem is flashy and can be very powerful. However, he did very little after August until the end of the season. He lost a lot of close contests and if he wants to go very far, he needs to improve and add more variety.

No. 19

Benoit Paire   

France has so many good players, but can any of them win a major? Hmmm. However, Paire has come out of nowhere beginning 2015 at No. 135 and ended the season ranked No. 19. That is pretty darn good. It took him a while to be able to go toe-to-toe with the elite, but he won three Challengers in France, and during the summer, he kept at it. The 26-year-old won Bastad by beating Tommy Robredo in the final, and at the US Open he stunned Kei Nishikori in the first round. In Tokyo, he bested him again, jumping on the ball and attacking early. But, Paire played too many tournaments – 32 events mind you – and he has to rest once and a while, but if he continues to improve, a top-10 is ripe on the picking.

No. 18

Bernard Tomic

For the first time, the 23-year-old Aussie has been much more consistent. Yes, he can get emotional off the court and he can be emotional when he is upset, but overall, he has improved and he has not given in on court, perhaps that’s the first time since he started out on tour in 2009. He does have a big first serve, he can rip his forehand and backhand, and he is pretty good at the net. However, the reason why he has yet to crack the top 10 is because his second serve is too soft, and, while has a fine slice, he pushes it around too much and he doesn’t attack early enough. Without a doubt, he has a lot of variety, but he doesn’t always dictate and if he wants to be able to knock down the big guns he has to be stronger physically and mentally. If he does in 2016, he can go very deep. How about the 2016 Aussie Final?

No. 17

Feliciano Lopez

Talk about the veterans improving all the time? How about the Spaniard Lopez, who for so many years was good, but not exactly great. Over  the past year, he has become a legitimate top 20. He moves well to the net and can put away his volleys (while nailing 743 aces this year). The 34-year-old reached the US Open, knocking off Mardy Fish in five dramatic sets, and beat Milos Raonic and Fabio Fognini before he fell in four tough sets against Novak Djokovic.

He also reached the finals at two 250s ATPs at Kuala Lumpur and Quito. Sure, he won’t win a major, but he is pretty efficient and in 2016, could find his way into the semis at one of the Slams.


No. 20

Sarah Errani

Two years ago, it looked like the Italian would be a little more powerful, go for her shots and potentially dominate the clay. Not so. While she has been OK this year, she has moved back a little bit. Yes, on hard courts, she did upend Petra Kvitova and Vika Azarenka, which was excellent work, but on clay, she had not be able to rise up in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Yes, she beat a bunch of young competitors by schooling them, which is fine, but her second serve is incredibly slow and, while she is a very good volley, she doesn’t come in often enough. In 2016, she will have to if she will ever returns back to the top 5 again.

No. 19

Elina Svitolina

Quietly yet steadily, the Ukrainian cracked the top 20, playing nearly every week, knocking out the likes of Angie Kerber, Lucie Safarova and Genie Bouchard. She is very fast, she rarely gets tired and when she pushes forward, she can kiss the lines. Without a doubt, the 21-year-old still needs a lot to learn. But she is smart and ambitious and, if she progresses, she has a real chance to reach the top 10 for the first time.

No. 18

Madison Keys

At times, Keys had a few tremendous tournaments: at the Aussie Open, she reached the semifinal, knocking out Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams and then fell against Serena Williams; in Charleston, she reached the final and lost to Angie Kerber; at Wimbledon she reached the quarters before she went down against Aga Radwanska in a terrific match; at the US Open, she got some revenge when she beat Aga in the third round, but then Serena pounded her in the fourth round. However, other than that, she did very little. She is one of the strongest young players out there, but she can get down on herself. She gets very frustrated when she isn’t all right, and she consequently sprays the ball. Without a doubt, Keys is good enough to win a major someday, but the 20-year-old has to take a deep breath and realize you can’t play perfectly all the time. If she plugs away, eventually she will become better and better and discover how exactly to play the correct way.

No. 17

Caroline Wozniacki

This has been ‘Caro’s’ toughest year since she began 10 years ago. Back then when she was No. 1 in 2010, she was exhausting nearly every opponent. She was not only super quick, but she never felt tired, she was incredibly steady and nailed her backhand from wherever direction. But now, she has been hurt too much, she has slower, she is constantly struggling about which way she is going and she has been too far back behind the baseline. She always shows up and tries, which is admirable, but if she doesn’t reconstruct her forehand, or become more aggressive on her returns, or charge towards the net, she is never going to win a Grand Slam. The 25-year-old has to change, or she will never reach the top 5 again.


Miami, first week, Who is in, who is out? Pennetta, Monfils, Murray win; Nadal, Azarenka, Ivanovic lose

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No. 15 Flavia Pennetta d Victoria Azarenka 7 -6(5) 7-6(6):

Given how well Azarenka has been rising again and playing better overall, it looked like the Belarussian was ready to take out anyone expect for Serena. But Pennetta is in the zone again, upsetting a former No. 1 Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells and now she stunning another No. 1, Azarenka. Pennetta wants to possibly return at the end of the year? She can be so good that there is no absolutely no chance if she stays healthy.

No. 27 Sabine Lisicki d No. 5-Ana Ivanovic 7-6(4) 7-5:

The German is finally playing better again, crushing her forehand and booming her first serves, but coming into the New Year, she thought that she might be able to win a Grand Slam again, but after nearly taking down Maria Sharapova at Brisbane, Ivanovic looked nervous again and she is now all over the place. She is not happy, at all.

No. 11 Sara Errani d beat No. 21 Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-4 6-1:

The Italian really needed the win because she hasn’t been able to best the better players, so now she will attack more often due to her confidence factor. The Spaniard has had a good last three months and now needs to rest and get ready for the clay, which she loves.

 Belinda Bencic d Tatjana Maria 6-4 7-5:

The young Swiss has turned it around now she isn’t panicking. If Bencic stays healthy, watch her crack to the top 20 by Wimbledon.

No. 1 Serena Williams d Catherine Bellis 6-1 6-1:

Bellis is very, very young, and Serena is very, very excellent and more mature. Bellis has years ahead.

No. 24 Svetlana Kuznetsova d No. 13 Angelique Kerber 6-3 3-6 6-3:

“Sveta” has a lot of guile and guts but Kerber has had an awful three months this year. Simply put: she has to remember that a top player who can grind down anyone if she actually believes. Try it.

 No. 3 Simona Halep d No. 30 Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5:

Halep is so confident right now that she thinks that even if she isn’t playing well, she can also figure out how to win. She doesn’t get wild like Giorgi does at times.

Sloane Stephens d Johanna Larsson 6-4 6-4:

Stephens is getting better and better and if she matures, she can be in the top 10 – or the top 5 – at the end of her year.



 No. 29-Fernando Verdasco d 2-Rafa Nadal 6-4 2-6 6-3:

Clearly, Nadal isn’t at 100 percent. He hasn’t won a tournament since last Roland Garros and he admitted that he is lacking confidence. Verdasco has lost to Rafa so many times, but he could tell that his fellow Spaniard was a bit shaky. He was correct and now Nadal has to sit down, talk to his parents and uncles, take a breath and just grind until he feels 100 percent again. And then he can yank every other player, especially on clay. The clay is coming very soon.

No. 17 Gael Monfils d No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 7-6(4):

As expected, Monfils was cool and calm and was more accurate when Jo returned after four months due to an injury. Tsonga will have a tough time on clay courts, but the big man he has to try. His body is ticking.

No. 28-Adrian Mannarino d No. 7 Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6(4) 7-6(5):

The lefty Frenchman hasn’t been able to threaten to beat the big boys, but he did in Miami, stunning Stan, who has been so-so this year. Dominic Thiem d Jack Sock 6-4 6-3: The Austria youngster took out another up and coming player, when Thiem stopped the confident USA Sock. We will see both of them for years to come.

No. 15 Kevin Anderson d No. 24-Leonardo Mayer 6-4 6-4:

Anderson is very consistent on the hard courts. Yes, it’s hard for him to beat the top-10 guys, but he can beat anyone below him, witness over Mayer. No. 3-Andy Murray d No. 27-Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-4: The Colombia has been pretty impressive over the past year, but Murray seems to have watched everyone, so he knows exactly where he can go.

No. 8-Tomas Berdych d No. 25-Bernard Tomic 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-1:

Tomic was right there in the second set, but Berdych nailed a couple of huge shots and repelled him. The Aussies has played almost every week since the start of the season and needs to rest – badly. He has improved a lot but he does not want to burn out.

The Picks, Monday, March 30, Miami

Carolina Wozniacki vs. Venus Williams Venus has been better over Wozniacki essentially forever, owning her head to head 6-0, beating her in three sets in the final at Auckland at the start of the year. Caro has not had a good year and she knows that this time, she has to play much more aggressive and forceful or Williams will beat her in straight sets.

Even though Venus’ forehand can be great or bad, it’s thick and stronger over Caro, who frequently pushes her forehand. Why she doesn’t step into her forehand using her left leg out in front doesn’t allow her to crunch the ball.

The Dane is faster than the 34 year old Venus is, but she is substantially better at the net. Let’s say Caro’s backhand and Venus’s backhand are even – their best serves down the line and cross court – but when the American is clicking with her first serve, she can hammer them at 120 MPH. Caro’s first serve improved during the last half of 2014, but she has regressed in 2015.

Really the only way that Wozniacki can upset Venus is that she has to go for her shots, smoke the balls, mix it up and hit sharp angles. Winner or lose, the 24 year old has to try and not push the ball around because if she does, Venus will beat the heck out of her. Venus is not as great as she was say 10 years ago, but she is still very good. She is fresh, she loves Miami and will figure out how Caro is playing. It will be close, but Venus will win, in three long sets.