Finding the fault lines: Djokovic wears down his opponents

Novak Djokovic

At what point can you take down Novak Djokovic in a 3 out of 5 setters? At the four Grand Slams in 2021, he has won 25 matches, so if you want to find a way to out-hit the Serbian, you would have to play almost perfectly. 

On Monday, Djokovic beat Jenson Brooksby 1-6 6-3 6-2 6-2. In the first set, the American played as well as he could, and he hit the corners. With his forehand and backhand, he was striking the ball and sprinting around the court. But, in the second set, it began to change. Djokovic knew that it he could continue with some long rallies, then he thought that Brooksby would eventually tire, even if just a bit. Djokovic believes that each hour, many of the players can mentally sink. Their legs begin to wobble. So, running back and forth, Brooksby is not fast anymore. 

Eventually, Djokovic won it, and he was pleased. The 20-year-old Brooksby has had some terrific wins over the past two-and-a half months. During the fall, he will gain ground and continue to move up the rankings.

That was quite a long, long match when Maria Sakkari edged Bianca Andreescu 6-7(2) 7-6(6) 6-3 in three-and-a-half hours. Sakkari rarely gets tired — at all — but in the third set, Andreescu began to cramp. She kept trying, but the Greek was cheering, running, bending down and smashing the ball. Last year, she began to change, not about her speed, but what she had to do something different. Years ago, she could not break into the top 20, because she would get frustrated and she would back up. In time, though, she began to move forward and hit it harder

On Wednesday, she will likely to do it again, but can she pull it off one more time? She will know, one way or another.


Carlos Alcaraz looked worn out in his quarterfinal match versus Felix Auger-Aliassime. But, not worn out to approach the net to retire at 63 31 (ret). The 18-year-old Spaniard had both legs wrapped during the match and cited a leg injury for retiring. Auger-Aliassime becomes the first Canadian man to reach a US Open semi. 

In another teenage coming-of-age stage, Leylah Fernandez prevailed over Elina Svitolina 6-3 3-6 7-6(5). The Canadian, who turned 19 just yesterday, cracked numerous down-the-line forehands for winners. She got a break on the penultimate 

point, as her pass bumped off the net cord. Svitolina, who continues to find obstacles in her pursuit of her first Grand Slam final, can only wonder why she can’t find clear sailing in a draw opened up by numerous upsets. … 

Alexander Zverev is so consistent, each time now, and this year, his return is now deeper and he can mix it up. He took down Jannik Sinner 6-4 6-4 7-6(7), which was a tough match, but he focused, which is why he won. …

The U.S. men and women are gone now, including Reilly Opelka, who lost to Lloyd Harris. Opelka has had a fine year, but he needs to return substantially better. If he wants to reach in the ttop 10, he has to improve day after day. The reason why 
Matteo Berrettini had moved up, into the top 10, because the Italian knew he had to be more aggressive with his return. …

It was very impressive that Belinda Bencic was thoughtful and powerful, when she beat Iga Swiatek. You would think that if she sticks with a plan, then maybe she can go much further, maybe in the final? …

Another teenage shocker is Emma Raducanu, who came out blasting, and crushed American Shelby Rogers, who was erratic and also exhausted. However, Brit Raducanu is young and she is very patient. Plus, she can find the lines. She will be around for a long time. …

Karolina Pliskova likes the hardc ourts, and she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Still the question persists if the former No. 1 can take home a major. Later in the second week, she has to step it up, and be more steady. Once, she reached the US Open and this year’s Wimbledon finals, and she was close, but in the third set, she was so-so. If you get there again, grab it. 

The Olympics in Tokyo: Barty, Osaka have early exits

Kei Nishikori

In Tokyo, at the Olympic Games, many of the top women have lost, including Ash Barty and Olympic flame lighter Naomi Osaka.

With Osaka in the Olympic spotlight, it took a streaky Marketa Vondrousova to knock her out 6-1 6-2.

Wimbledon champ and No. 1 Ash Barty was quickly bounced by Sara Sorribes Torma of Spain in the first round. Definitely, a shock.

There are some players looked banged up. Garbine Muguruza is very strong, beating Alison van Uytvanck. When she is on, she can win this tournament hands down. But not this year.

Elina Svitolina also really wants to win, making up for her disappointing performances at the Slams. However, she can smash the ball. Marketa Vondrousova is slightly better, but she has to be more precise.

Kei Nishikori knocked down No. 7 Andrey Rublev. Nishikori is up and down, but he really likes playing in Tokyo. He can go much further. He is very thoughtful and can be a top player when he is very healthy, which is rare.

Daniil Medvedev continues to grow, even in the fifth set, when he is 38-18. Perhaps he is on the way, not only in Tokyo, but maybe at the US Open? The No. 2 has to charge at the net and put the ball away.

Novak Djokovic has won three Slams this year, and if he wins Tokyo and the US Open, then he might be the best player of all time. I mean that.

At the doubles, Andy Murray and Liam Broady are rocking and rolling. Out of nowhere, they emerged. But Croats Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig got them out in the quarterfinals. Kiki Bertens’ just retired, winning 10 WTA singles titles. At WTA 1000 in Cincinnati, she beat Simona Halep in the final. She also won the 2019 Madrid, defeating Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens and Halep. That was wonderful. She was very good overall, but she was never spectacular at the Slams. Good enough, though. 2020 year-end review: top 5-1, women

Ash Barty, Ashleigh Barty

5. Elina Svitolina
The muscular Svitolina can crush it with a tremendous strength. She can dominate with her strong forehand, and her ripping crosscourt backhand. She also has a good first serve. She had a very decent in 2020, but not spectacular. The Ukrainian did win Monterrey and Strasbourg, but there small tournaments. A few years ago, she was on fire, winning Brisbane, Dubai, Rome, the WTA Finals and Toronto, all huge events. However, when she loses, she can get disgruntled and dissatisfied. She has a complete game but she hasn’t won a Grand Slam. She must figure out what is stopping her from her first major. Maybe, she just needs more variety.

4. Sofia Kenin
Five years ago, it was pretty clear that the American was very good, and she became better each month. She can pummel the ball each way with depth. At the Australian Open, she beat the No. 1, Ash Barty, and then in the final, she flew high, beating Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. The 22-year-old said, “These two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life.”
They sure were. However, after that, she had a few terrific wins, but she also lost a good amount during the summer. She was hurt, which is why she went down to Vika Azarenka 6-0, 6-0 in Rome. That was a stunner, and we all know that she crying. But came back strong, reaching the final at Roland Garros. She had a real chance, but she lost to Iga Swiatek in straight sets, hampered by a leg injury and an opponent who was on fire. Then, that was it for the rest of the year. If she is healthy in 2021, then she certainly has a chance to do deep all the time.

3. Naomi Osaka
The three-time Grand Slam winner has a game without boundaries. She won the US Open, outhitting Azarenka in three sets. Not only can she smack the ball, but when she is returning, she can hit it close to the lines. After that, she attacks. Osaka only played five tournaments in 2020, partially because she was injured. Still, the year was not just about tennis. Her political statements supporting Black Lives Matter and her unrivaled income from endorsements made her a global name beyond the tennis court. Those accomplishments helped the sport’s profile. Assuming that she is healthy in 2021, she will snag some big tournaments and maybe more Slams. She is that good.

2. Simona Halep
The Romanian is so bright, on the court, being very patient. Her backhand and forehand can go crosscourt or down the line. Her net game is very solid. Over the past decade, she was excellent at times, but emotionally, she would get upset. She can grind it, but at the Slams, very deep, she could back off. Finally, at Roland Garros, in the final in 2018, in the third set, she went for it and she beat American Sloane Stephens. She was finally there. The next year at Wimbledon, she was totally zoned in, crusing Svitolina in the semis. In the final, she stunned Serena Williams quickly, perhaps her best match ever, if not one of the best matches by anyone in 10 years. However, she can be inconsistent. This year she didn’t win a Slam, yet she won Dubai, Prague and Rome. After Swiatek thrashed her in the RG fourth round, she said, “It was a fantastic year with all the tough moments that we all had, so I’m not going to ruin the whole year just for a match. Of course, it’s not easy to take, but I’m used to some tough moments in this career.” And, she still will find a way to prove she’s one of the best in the world.

1. Ashliegh Barty
Obviously, she is a damn good player. She can be fragile, but she can also be super steady. However, the odd thing is that she is still No. 1 even though she played only four events, three in Australia in January, and one in Doha in February. After that, she didn’t play at all for the year. It wasn’t that she was hurt, she didn’t want to travel after that, staying in Australia due to the vicious coronavirus. That is totally respectable, but it has been a crazy year. Before that, Barty won Adelaide. In Melbourne, she did beat Petra Kvitova in the quarters, but in the semis, she lost to Kenin, which was very close. She is very intelligent, and thoughtful. She also loves playing doubles. She won Roland Garros in 2019 but has only one other trip to a major semifinal. In 2021, she has to reset and drive. She practices all the time, improving and trying new shots. She likes to play all sports, including her well-documented stint on the professional cricket ground. Barty will continue to get better, and she will grab a Slam in 2021. No doubt about it.

US Open: Stan Wawrinka is back, and driving

Who would have thought that Stan Wawrinka would rise up at this point in his career? After all, over the past year, he wasn’t really there. He was injured, he had to stop, and then the three-time Grand Slam champion lost a lot of matches. 

But almost everyone kept trying, even though it takes time. You have to be steady, and powerful, and hit the ball deep into the court.

Wawrinka knew that against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, that he had to be very patient. Plus, to beat him, everything has to work, depending on the day. Luckily, in a sense, the Swiss didn’t have to play 100 percent, because Djokovic was hurt, and in the third set, he retired, down 6-4, 7-5, 2-1. The Serb was not happy, he has really irritated.

But that happens with almost everyone. So now Wawrinka has a chance to win the US Open once again. That it possible, but he will have to win it over three more matches. In the second week, at the Slams, it can be a blast, but it is depends who you are playing and whether you are sharp.
Wawrinka’s very good friend, Roger Federer, easily won. He hasn’t had to sweat. Federer has beaten Wawrinka so many times on hardcourts. He will be favored, but he doesn’t know that yet, because the Swiss Wawrinka has to face against Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday. The Russian is playing fantastic ball over the play six weeks. Finally, he is intelligent and he goes for the lines. I would imagine that it is a toss-up. 

Believe it or not, Federer will have to face Grigor Dimitrov, who had to stop over the last few years because his body was messed up. Even this year, he has been losing a tremendous amount, but now, the former ATP Finals winner is back. If he doesn’t get hurt again, he has a chance to shine. Both Federer and Dimitrov have a lot of different shots, so to watch the match on Tuesday, it could be fascinating. But, clearly, Federer is a better player. That is why Federer has won 20 Slams, and Dimitrov has won zero.
It was a huge win by Wang Qiang who stunned Ash Barty 6-2, 6-4. Qiang was consistent, while the Aussie Barty made a ton of mistakes. … Brit Jo Konta is playing substantially better, and she took down Karolina Pliskova 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-5. I don’t know that whether she can win it, but Konta did win Miami two years ago so maybe she can focus this week, and not get so fearful.

Who figured that on Sunday, Elina Svitolina would knock out American Madison Keys, 7-5, 6-4. While Keys has been better at the Grand Slams, but right against each other, Svitolina really hustles and she can switch it within a second. Yes, Svitolina has played some awful matches in the Slams, but now the No. 5 seems to be staying secure. If she can keep dominating with her serve, she has a real chance in New York.
Serena Williams is just so good when she focuses, and right now, she is. Serena beat Petra Martic 6-3, 6-4. While she has won 23 Grand Slams, that doesn’t mean that she can automatically grab it again. She lost in the final last year. This time, Serena will have to mix it up even more.

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.

The Draws: ’19 Aussie Open women

Elina Svitolina
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

1st Quarter –
No. 1 Simona Halep can be super solid, her legs are strong, and her forehand and backhand have a lot of variety. That is why she is No. 1. But. the reality is she has only won one Grand Slam. Yes, last year, she looked spectacular at Roland Garros, breathing deep in the third set in the final. She won, and she cried and tears of joy. So now, she is smarter and more experienced. In the first week at the AO, there likely will be some very tight match. In the third round, she will likely play against Mihaela Buzarnescu or Venus Williams. Buzarnescu had a solid year and when the aging Venus goes on court, she could still be a damn good player. But she couldn’t play during the fall, and the 38-year-old has to rest as much as possible. Early on, in the first round, Williams can knock off Buzarnescu with her gigantic backhand, but even if she wins, Venus could face Halep in the third round. It could be a marathon, and at the end, the Romanian will beat the seven-time GS champ Venus in three sets.

Halep has no idea who she will face in the fourth round. Perhaps the 23-Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, Carla Suarez Navarro, or Sam Stosur? Suarez Navarro likes to hustle. Aussie Stosur has played great at times, but not in Australia, where she has lost early for many years. Nerves. Serena might be a little bit rusty, as she just started practicing a couple weeks ago, so she will struggle for a while. But, against Halep, she has to focus and be calm, seriously, because in 2018 she became very irritable. She cannot do this year. Serena will mentally where down Halep to reach the quarters.
This part of the draw is unbelievable. Three players with real game are very dangerous: Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Daria Kasatkina. They can all play great, or they can play lousy. It just depends. The two-time GS champ Muguruza did not play well in 2018, but if she is healthy, she can hit it so deep. Pliskova has a huge serve, she has so many aces, plus she can smack it down on the lines. Kasatkina is very young, and she hustles, too. Between all three, Pliskova will get through, and against Serena in the quarters, the American will rise up when she needs it to.  

Second Quarter
Naomi Osaka won last year’s Miami and the US Open. While she can be a little bit crazy on court, she is so wonderfully good. There are times when she over-hits, and she needs to return better, but she moves well, and she can jump on her forehand and her backhand. Without a doubt, she is one of the favorites. She could face Daria Gavilova in the second round, and if Osaka starts making errors, that could be a grinder, because the Aussie can bang it up. Still, Osaka will smack her in the third set. She will beat Su-Wei Hsieh in the third, and also pound Anastasija Sevastova to reach the quarters. 
The other 16 players in the bottom have a incredibly equal shot to reach the quarters. It will be either Elise Mertens, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova or Elina Svitolina. Belgian Mertens has improved over the past year, and while Keys gets hurt a lot, but when she is healthy, she is very powerful, reaching the semis here a few years ago. Cibulkova likes to pump his fist and reached the final at the AO. Outside of the Slams, Svitolina is one of the best players out there. While I realize that Svitolina has been shaking at the Slams. With last year’s WTA Finals win, the No. 6 has become mature. We hope. Svitolina will reach the semis, beating Osaka with some amazing rallies.

Third Quarter
At some point, Petra Kvitova will win another Grand Slam, but this is on the hard courts in Australia when it can be very hot. The Czech has won Wimbledon on grass twice, blasting the ball, and recently in Sydney, she grabbed it, edging past Ash Barty 7-6 in the third. She prevailed even though she was cramping. So, maybe when she gets to Melbourne she will find another level.

In a couple days, perhaps Kvitova will feel better, and push past Belinda Bencic in the third round. Then in the fourth round, it is likely that she will face Aryna Sabalenka, who rose up high last year. The 20-year-old is very aggressive, and she thinks well, too. She will upset Kvitova to reach the quarters. Barty rarely gets tired, because she legs are robust, so once again, she will take out the big swinger Jelena Ostapenko. 

And guess who in the fourth round? Either Maria Sharapova and the 2018 AO champion Caro Wozniacki. The five-time GS champion Sharapova is hurt once again, which is not surprising considering how little she has played since coming back from a drug suspension. While Wozniacki is slightly injured, she will play more consistently and trip Sharapova. Even though Barty can panic at the Slams, but this time, she will slice Wozniacki until she drops down. Every day, the Aussie will surge, but in the quarters, Sabalenka will pound her again and again. The Belarussian will reach the semis.

Bottom Quarter
Angie Kerber has won two majors, at Wimbledon and here at the Australian Open in 2017. She can win it once again, as she goes to the left, the right, and forward. However, she’s hard to read. Will she be directed, or will she stop thinking about which way she is going? If she does, she certainly go deep again. In the third round, Kerber will likely play Donna Vekic, who is climbing now. Kerber will twist her around and reach the fourth round against Julia Georges. The German has upgraded a lot over the past two years. On clay, she could stun Kerber, but not here on the hard courts and move into the quarters.

Even though Sloane Stephens started a little off, in the first two weeks, still she has won a major at the 2017 US Open and also she reached the 2018 Roland Garros final — and she lost to Halep. She was upset, pretty darn upset, but even though she can be cagy, in the press conference, you can tell that she dissects her game. So on the hard courts, she is dangerous. She should be just fine until the fourth round, likely against Kiki Berntens. That is very tough match, that both have to scrape, ball after ball. Stephens will finally push her way back and win it. Now she will have to go up against Kerber, reduce to power and she has to commit that the contest could take hours. Somehow, at the end, the American will nail it into the corners and snag it. Another semis in the majors for Sloane.

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.

Svitolina wins the WTA Finals, beats Stephens

Elina Svitolina was not playing fantastic during the last few months. But when she arrived in Singapore, she decided that she would swing out. And she has always run super fast, and extremely strong.  
Svitolina knocked down Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Kiki Bertens, and in the final, she played terrific in the last two sets, jumping on Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-2, 6-2,

She has never played great at the Slams, but outside of that, she can be very cool and calm.

“It’s definitely a good statement for myself and good boost of – I can’t say confidence, because I try to always have confidence in myself, to have it is my personality,” Svitolina. “I think for me it’s just that the third set really showed that I was mentally tough. That’s what made the difference…When I qualified for this tournament, definitely decided that I’m going to just go for it and I’m good enough. I’m going to trust my game, going to trust myself.”
She is going to have to do it once again at the 2019 Australian Open, in three months. Then, the No. 4 can lock in, breath, and think of things that I am darn good — and not pretending that I am going to lose.

She didn’t in Singapore last week, and just Wozniacki, who it took her 10 years to finally win a major. Svitolina can do it, too.

“I was staying very positive, and I think that’s what made the difference in this week. I was able to play well and to compete.”

WTA Finals: Svitolina revives, upends Pliskova

Elina Svitolina
Back in the spring, Elina Svitolina was ready to pounce. She hadn’t won a Grand Slam, but in the big tournaments, she was very strong, fast and powerful.

From January through May, she won Brisbane, Dubai and Rome against very good players. She upset the No. 1 Simona Halep in the final in Italy — on clay. She was legitimately one of the favorites going in Roland Garros. But she lost in the third round. She wept and she was very upset.

The same thing happened during the summer. She lost in the first round at Wimbledon, but back in the hard courts, she began to feel a little bit better, and she reached the semis at Montreal and the quarters in Cincinnati. Not great, great, but decent. 

But after she walked into the US Open, in the first week, she looked pretty good. But, then in the third set against Anastasija Sevastova, she totally disappeared, and she went down 6-0 in the third. Wow. Credit to Sevastova, but Svitolina  totally crashed out. It is all about the Slams, and she has yet to go super deep in the majors.

But not now. In the past four days, she is into it again, beating Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. In the third set, she looked healthy and concentrated. Two days ago,  she smoked Petra Kvitova, serving and running substantially faster. 

“I think my serve was not great today at all, but it’s also, on the other hand, she’s returning pretty well, so she’s putting a lot of balls back,” Pliskova said. “So, there is the pressure that you always have to play the ball after the serve. … Obviously, the third set I didn’t hold much my serve, which is always frustrating, but she’s a good player, too, so I was not there alone.”

And now, in Singapore, Svitolina had a decent chance to win it all. She is pretty honest. Here is what she said after the match about the Czech:  “It worked really good, because I think Karolina was up and down and struggling sometimes.”

Yes, she did, and now, on Thursday, Pliskova has to down Caro Wozniacki to make the semis. Right now, both of them are feeling good. There will be some long rallies, and Svitolina has to be patient. The same goes with Wozniacki, who has to be step in, rather than going way back on the court.

“[Against Wozniacki] it’s another tough battle. She’s a fighter and so am I,” Svitolina said. “It’s gonna be a tough match.”

WTA Finals Race: Wozniacki, Stephens, Kvitova

It is in the middle October, and next week the top 8 players are at the WTA Finals in Singapore. On Wednesday, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova qualified, joining Simona Halep, Caro Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and Sloane Stephens.

Halep’s back issues flared up enough for her to withdraw. Holland’s Kiki Bertens will take her spot.

Will they go out there and really battle? Mostly, but over the years in Singapore, a few people couldn’t run fast, or they were so exhausted. Right now, we don’t know until they get on the court, but day after day — they have to play three matches, wins or lose —so we will discover who really wants it.

There were some incredible matches last year. Kvitova, who reached the final and had a solid chance, but she lost 6–2, 4–6, 6–3 to Aga Radwanska, when the Pole was healthy and she out-thought everyone. Aga has been hurt over the past year so she isn’t in Singapore, but Kvitova is right there. The Czech has had a some terrific wins this season, but in the fall, she has been so-so at best. Will she rise? Perhaps, as Kvitova won the WTA Final in 2011, knocking out Vika Azarenka in three fun sets.

Kerber, too, is playing once again, but she hasn’t won the event. In 2016, she was on top of it, but she lost toDomi Cibulkova, who was on fire towards the end of the season. Cibulkova isn’t in this draw, having plummeted to No. 27.

Last year in October, Wozniacki won the event, for the first time, and she has qualified so many times. Back in Doha, she reached the final in 2010 against Kim Clijsters, who is now retired, and the Belgian overcame Wozniacki 6–3, 5–7, 6–3, which was pretty close. In 2017, in the final in Singapore, Wozniacki settled down and cracked her wonderful backhand. She was thrilled, which is why a few more months later, she won the 2018 Australian Open, the first time she had won a Grand Slam. Obviously, she was thrilled, but the most important thing is that not only was she confident, but she has improved her forehand and her returns. Maybe she can win it again next week? She is right there.

Who is playing the best in the event?

Kerber just split with the coach, Wim Fissette, andhad a pretty decent year. But, since she won Wimbledon, she has slipped. Winning Singapore would be almost shocking. 

The young Osaka certainly has a chance to win it. Kvitova has been struggling during the fall, and the same goes with American Stephens, is not playing well at all now. Pliskova looked awful in Moscow, while Svitolina has been very shaky.

Who will win it?

My vote for the top three in Singapore: Wozniacki, Osaka and Kvitova.