Tommy Paul to face Novak Djokovic

In September, Tommy Paul said that “ultimately the goal, to go really, really deep in the Slams, try and win big tournaments.”

Now he has reached into the semis at the Australian Open. A couple of years ago, he was decent, but he was not able to win regularly over the very good players. But in Melbourne, he won five in a row, beating Ben Shelton, Roberto Bastista Agut, Jenson Brooksby, Alejandro Davidovich Kokina and Jan Struff. When Paul was playing at the Davis Cups, in Glasgow, he beat Dan Evans 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. “We had a war there, really high level,” he said.

Tommy Paul
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

He is rising fast.

Paul will face the 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic. Paul will give it a go. But, to beat him, the American is going to have to be super aggressive, just like the Serbian.

The 25-year-old said that last year, he wasn’t playing well consistently. In 2021, he could become angry, and then he lost quite a bit.

“I get pissed,” he said with a laugh. “I’m really competitive. I’m not, like, super up or down. I try to stay pretty levelheaded. But I’m super competitive. It’s all a game, you know? If you are practicing something, you feel like you perfected something in practice, you’re excited, man. If you love the game, it’s exciting.

“Obviously I think you could ask every tennis player, they’ll have like a love-hate relationship with tennis because it’s not always the most fun being away from home, traveling all the time. I’ve been really enjoying my time on court. I think I’ve kind of figured out like a pretty good system to keep myself there.”

Paul has improved his serve and now with his forehand and his backhand, he can be steady. When he is sets up, then he can attack and try to put it away. However, it took him a while to really understand how he plays.

“There hasn’t been one jump at all. It’s just been like super steady on the way up.” Paul said. “It hasn’t been like a semifinal of a Slam run or anything. That’s ultimately the goal, to go really, really deep in the Slams, try and win big tournaments. Last year was a tough one. [But] I’m having a lot of fun on court. That has a lot to do with it. If you’re enjoying it, that makes a huge difference.”

In the quarterfinal two days ago, he edged Shelton, 7-6(8-6) 6-3 5-7 6-4. It was close, but he pushed him back.

But how can he stun Djokovic, who just crushed Andrey Rublev 6-1 6-2 6-4? That was very surprising, not that he beat him, but he destroyed him. The Serb was playing as well as he can. Over the past year, he has some odd matches. He knows, though, if he can dominate with his famed backhand, his first serve and return, he will beat Paul.

It is almost going without much media notice that Stefanos Tsitsipas can play great. Last year, he struggled against the top players. However, the Greek can be so steady, and he can move it around with a lot of spin. He can also try to nail the lines and attack. But mentally, you never know how well he will play, but at least he pushed into the semis. When he is feeling fantastic, then for sure, he can win a Slam.

But hold on. First he has to face Karen Khachanov. Once again, the Russian played smart. He overcame Sebastian Korda, who had to retire down 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-0. The 26-year old Khachanov has played five times, against Tsitsipas, and he has lost each time. Whatever he is going to do, he must change it up. He certainly can swing very hard, but he also has to find a way into the net, and hit his forehand deep, crosscourt and down the line.

As he said: “Not everything was going as smoothly, but, you know, look, I always believed in myself and my abilities, and what I need to do in order to be at my best.”

The Australia Open Final: Gabriñe Muguruza versus Sofia Kenin

Gabriñe Muguzura

There are some saying it is surprising that Garbiñe Muguruza and Sofia Kenin are in the final at the Australian Open on Saturday. But, in reality, Muguruza has already won two Grand Slams. So, her emergence can’t be too big of a surprise, not matter how poorly she has played in the last year.

While Kenin might be unknown to many fans, she has a long record of dominance in the US juniors. Plus, her focus is flawless.

Last year, Muguruza was out of it, physically and mentally. But in the off-season, she practiced all the time, she became stronger, she running quicker, and put the ball away when she has a real opportunity. In 2019, she was frustrated, she was tired about playing, and she couldn’t find a way to lock inside her brain. Over the past 12 days, she looks terrific, she grew, she was thoughtful. By the second week, she knew that she liked the sport again.

In the semis, she out-thought Simona Halep 7-6 (8), 7-5. They both have won two Slam. At this tournament on the Melbourne hard courts, Muguruza was a little more aggressive and going into the net, and putting volleys away. Halep could not.

The Spaniard Muguruza is slightly favored to win it again, and she won’t be nervous, because she won Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The pressure was there, but she pushed it aside, and she rose into the sky. Twice.

In front of thousands of fans, Kenin stunned the No. 1 Ash Barty 7-6 (6), 7-5. The 21-year- old Kenin slammed her forehand and backhand, very hard, and pretty deep. She gritted her teeth. She punched it into the corners. She kept staying in there, even when Barty kept chipping her backhand. Kenin finally nailed her shots, and she won it.

The Floridian is thrilled. But, in the final, she has to pretend that no one else is there and it is all about her.

“I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was five years old. I just feel like I’ve always believed in myself,” she said. “I’ve worked hard. I’ve pictured so many times being in the final, all the emotions, how it’s going to lead up into the final. I feel like I’m doing good keeping my emotions. I feel like everything is just paying off. I see all the hard work I’ve been putting is really showing now.”

She could be right. So many U.S. women have won the Australian Open since the 1980s: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Sharapova is another winner who came over from Russia when she was just 7 years old. And she still lives in Los Angeles.

Kenin’s parents are also from Russia, but Kenin came over to the United States just when she was very young. She started playing when she was only 3+ years old. She never stopped. Both she and Sharapova wanted to battle, all the time.

At the Australian Open on Saturday, if Kenin jumps on the ball immediately, and knows exactly what to do, she can win it. Sharapova won her first Slam when she was only 19 years old. If Kenin can go after everything, right then and there, she will win it in Melbourne. But if she begins to make errors, then Muguruza will seize the day. Hopefully, it will be a tremendous three-setter. Everyone will like that.

Australian Open predictions: women

Caroline Wozniacki

Who will reach the quarterfinals next week? There are some very close choices, and also, easy picks. Here it goes…

No. 1 Ash Barty is under a lot of pressure in Australia. She need three sets to oust Lesia Tsurenko in the opening round. She can be calm though, and it is likely that she will out-steady Petra Martic in the fourth round. She is so thoughtful and concentrates. That’s why she won Roland Garros last year. 

Madison Keys looked very good last week, and assuming that she will continue to be healthy, she will have to go up against the two- time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The Czech, who destroyed Katerina Siniakova in the first round, is favored, slightly. If Keys attacks early, and doesn’t get so upset, then the American can pound her forehand in the third set. And win.

Last year at the Aussie Open, Naomi Osaka won it all. While she has been up and down since, the Japanese is incredibly powerful and her first serve is huge. Assuming that Sofia Kenin will win three matches, then the American will be pumped up. Osaka is a better player, still, and she will trip her up.

Serena Williams hadn’t played for four months and last week she finally walked on the court, winning Auckland. Now she is back, and even though she is aging, she is almost perfect when she is secure. In the fourth round, she could face against her good friend Caro Wozniacki. Can you imagine that, especially has the Dane has announced that this is her final tournament? One way or another, Serena will beat her, punching her forehand.

Both Osaka and Williams were straight-set winners on Monday.

Belinda Bencic is very unpredictable; she is great when she is very consistent, but when she becomes tired, then she gets mentally lazy. However, she is pushing herself in the backcourt, she can hit a vast amount of winners. The same goes with Aryna Sabalenka, who can be swinging away, very hard, and she can best anyone. But she also can be angry and miss the ball a lot. In the fourth round between those two, whoever will win it must understand where she is going, and how to mix it up a lot.

You never know about Simona Halep, who is very consistent, running back and forth. She rarely gets tired, but she also can become injured and then she cannot smack the ball. Regardless, over the past few years, she stopped being scared and now she does have a chance to win her third major. In the fourthth round, she likely will face the young Czech Karolina Muchova. So many Czech women are so good. So Halep has to move it all around the box. And the Romanian will. 
Will Elina Svitolina finally win a Grand Slam? At some point, yes, but not this one at the AO. However, she will win three matches, and then she will lose against the enthusiastic American Amanda Anisimova. Ms. AA is getting better every second. 

At some point, Karolina Pliskova will win a major, when she is consistent over seven matches. Will she do it at the AO? She is defiantly close. However, though, she has to take down against the very good young player Marketa Vondrousova. Pliskova can edge her, but she has to be very smart. Super smart.

The great rivalry: Djokovic and Nadal face off …again

novak djokovic

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN, January 26 — There have been so many matches between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal. They have played each other 52 times, over the past 13 years. Without a doubt, there have been some great ones, some fascinating ones, and on occasion, odd ones.

Over the past 30 years, there have been a number of terrific matches, long matches, but none of them have confronted each other deep in the tournaments.

Some have played against Novak or Rafa before, but you had to go deep, in the semis or the finals, because that is where they were. Roger Federer has, and also Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka did, too — the Slam winners. But the very good ones — like Juan Martin del Potro and Mario Cilic — have made it once in a while, but not a huge amount.

Djokovic and Federer have played each other 47 times, with Novak has  25 wins and 22 losses. That is a high results, too. Nadal owns 23 wins against Federer, and the Swiss has 15 victories. One more: Djokovic has 25 wins over Murray, and 11 losses.

Obviously,  Djokovic is way up there, beating the best rivalries, but while he has won 14 majors, he still  has to tie, or pass them, eventually, with the 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer, and the 17-major winner Nadal.  

Djokovic lost plenty of matches to Nadal, but he is clearly better when on the hardcourt. The last time that the Spaniard defeated Djokovic on a hardcourt was 2013, in the US Open final. That is a long time ago now.  

If Nadal can take him out on Sunday night, then he will have to push himself.  A lot. They know each other up and down,  but in order to shove him back, he has to swing hard and physical.  He has to, because as Djokovic said, he has to jump on him early.

“I think my 1-2 punches that worked pretty well throughout this tournament. The good thing is I’m feeling really comfortable on the court hitting the ball,” Djokovic said. “I can get into the court, I can step back, I can defend. I’m comfortable doing whatever it takes. I’m going to get out there and obviously try to dictate the play. But it’s easier said than done against Nadal. Just depends how we both start. Throughout the match, I guess you’re going to have to be present and get a feel of how it evolves. Sometimes it will require to be a little bit more patience with more construction of the point, sometimes maybe to attack more. He has improved his serve. I see he has a slightly different service motion that has worked very well. With everything he possesses, all the qualities in his game, adding to that also a lot of free points on the serve makes him much tougher to play against. That’s why he managed to have a lot of success with the shorter points, because of the serve. He’s backing his first shot up with that great serve, saving energy, and then he can go for more in the return game.”

Djokovic agreed that over the years, they adjust it, and added to it. There can be bad days, but for both of them, they are amazing players. That’s why they are the best right now.

“I think it adds more maybe pressure on [Nadal’s] serve and my serve, as well, because we return well. We’ve been playing well. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting.  We can get a sense of what we are about to experience. …When you go full out emotionally, physically, mentally, you might as well enjoy it.”

Bang, boom: Naomi Osaka & Petra Kvitova reach final

Petra Kvitova

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, JANUARY 24 – Whether or not Naomi Osaka wins the title on Saturday, it is clear that she hits the ball both sides and absolutely nails it. There are times when she is a little bit nervous, and she can over-hit it, but in the same time, she keeps going for her shots.
On Thursday, she edged Karolina Pliskova  6-2, 4-6, 6-4. It was very tight in the third set. Just like she did in the 2018 US Open final, at 5-4, versus Serena Williams, she aced it, twice, and smacked a winner. She was not shaking in her boots. Over the past nine months, she has been brilliant, stable, and on top of the ball. Osaka rarely backs off. She hit 56 winners. Ka-boom.

Pliskova thought she had it, she was close, but the Japanese kept raising her game.

“I believe she played unbelievable match. To be honest, maybe her best in (her) life” the Czech said. “I don’t think she can repeat match like this. Amount of winners what she had, she just had very little mistakes. I don’t think I did actually something wrong. I had some chances, of course I had. The chances, they were not in my hands at all. There was not much what I could do. I was just fighting, waiting for a couple of mistakes, waiting for my shots to be aggressive. I got the chance to go to the third set. Had a couple of breakpoints. Didn’t make it. She served amazing today.”
Yes she did. She is a very funny person, off-court, but on-court. She leaps at the ball,is pretty agile and quick.

She will face Petra Kvitova, who easily knocked down the American Danielle Collins 7-6, 6-0. Kvitova,has been here before, in 2012, when she was moving up, with some deep and hard swings. She was very strong, and ambitious, but in the semis, Maria Sharapova kept coming, and she clubbed it all the time. Sharapova won it in three sets.
Now, many years later, Kvitova is back in a Grand Slam final. She won it twice, at Wimbledon, on grass, but on the hard courts, it is a little bit different. A couple of years ago, she could play great one day, and then not so much the next day; she would mentally disappear. But not anymore. She is a little bit more mature and she really thinks about what’s going on inside her head. Now she can become No. 1 if she takes the final. 

“I was still top 10, which I don’t think it’s that bad. But I just didn’t really have the chances in the Grand Slams,” Kvitova said. “I think afterwards I have been a little bit more mature to win the second title in Wimbledon was, much more sweeter for me, kind of be able to repeat it. I’m not sure if I’m more mature now, but I think it’s the life process, which everybody is going through, and I think it’s the same with me.”

Nadal steamrolls Tsitsipas

On Thursday night, Rafa Nadal destroyed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. That was surprising, considering that the Greek stunned Roger Federer, and some other good players, but it wasn’t to be again. I am sure he was tired, and maybe he was a little hurt, but still, he was pretty slow and shaky. Nadal has been around for almost 15 years and has won 17 Grand Slams. He could win another one on Sunday. Tsitsipas is the best young players right now, but winning a major this year? I am not reallysure during the season, but he might find another level.

Rafa is rarely missing again, to face Tsitsipas

Rafael Nadal, Rafa Nadal

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Jan. 23 – Rafa Nadal has not lost a set over the past 10 days. The Spaniard hasn’t played for almost five months, he was injured, and when he came back at the Aussie Open, he was unsure how he would play. but, one way or another, he had to come on the court and just hit the ball. Right off the bat, he was aggressive, hitting deep with his big forehand and his twisting first serve. His crosscourt backhand improved a decent amount and the lefty can put it away at the net. He rarely misses it.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner has a chance to win Melbourne. A decade ago, he won it, but after that, he did not grab it again. He really wants it though, badly.

Nadal has to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis. You know, the Greek who upset Roger Federer as well as beating Roberto Bautista Agut. The 20-year-old Tsitsipas is rising fast.

“I think Roger in the second set was unlucky,” Nadal said. “A lot of breakpoints in key moments that probably if he takes one of them, one of that breakpoints, probably will be a big difference on that score.

“Surprising or not, I will not say no because always when Federer is on court, is always surprise when he loses, no? But we know they are good. We know that Stefanos is one of these players that can win against everybody. Was a surprise but not a very big surprise. I know Stefanos is ready to win against everybody.”

The top players have been playing for 15 years in the majors, and they have been winning forever. The current young guys looked pretty good, but they have yet to win it all at the Grand Slams. Can Tsitsipas beat Federer, Nadal and possibly Novak Djokovic to win it all? That would be unbelievable, but he has to get there first.

“Being honest with you, for me, I play another match if they are the NextGen or not. For me what really matters is win the match and give myself a chance to be in the next round,” Nadal said. “That’s the real feeling for me at this stage of my career. Is not like don’t give them confidence or not. I know they are good. I know they will be fighting for the most important things during the next couple of years. I don’t take it that way. I just take it like a difficult match against players that they have a lot of energy. That’s all.”

Pliskova rolls over Serena
How about the Czech Karoline Pliskova, who upset Serena Williams in three sets? She was down 1-5 in the third, but she did not want to quit, she kept going for her shots, she found her huge serves and she returned deep. After she turned her ankle on match point, Serena made more than a few errors, and all of a sudden, Pliskova jumped on the ball. Her eyes were very clear, she knew where she would go, flat and deep. She beat Serena 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. As Pliskova said, it was her best match ever. And for Serena: If she wants to win another Grand Slam, this year, she has to play a fair amount of tournaments. Here, she hadn’t played in four months. That is tough for anyone.     

Pliskova will face the rising Naomi Osaka, who smoked Elina Svitolia. Pliskova thinks she can out-think her, and to make her sweat. They are both huge hitters, and they can crush their serves. There won’t be too many rallies, but it will be a flashy, entertaining match..

American Danielle Collins is in the semis. She has improved a lot over the past year, a tremendous amount. She can move forward and try to put it away. Most times, in the past 11 days, she has. However, she has to face Petra Kvitova, who hasn’t lost a set. She is another Czech, she is directed, and she is very clean. You never know about her on court, but she will focus a lot. At least right now, Kvitova is better than Collins.

Pouille surprise showing
Lucas Pouille hit the top 10 last March but watched his ranking plummet to 31. He wasn’t on anyone radar to do damage in Melbourne. Pouille’s sneaked through the first three rounds with little opposition. In the round of 16 he knocked off his first seeded player, sending Borna Coric to the showers in four sets. The big win wass over Milos Raonic, seeded 16. With the Canadian showing his old form, Raonic looked like a lock. But, Pouille exploded to grab the semifinal berth — his first ever in a Grand Slam — with a 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-7(2) 6-4 win. Next up is Novak Djokovic, who advanced when Kei Nishikori retired.

Raonic, Serena, Pliskova rising

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, January 21 — Canadian Milos Raonic has been so steady and lethal over the past nine days. He is powerful, he won’t go too early to try and kiss the lines, and he thinks a lot. He was been injured so many time over the past two years, but today, he was smart and focused.

On Monday, he essentially crushed Alex Zverev in straights, 6-1, 6-1, 7-6. The German destroyed his racket, slamming it nine times after the second set. The young man was, as he said, “I was very angry, so I let my anger out.”

Raonic saw it, but he didn’t want to think about it for a long time. He needs to continue to focus.   

“I think it can have an effect. It’s like if a top guy after winning a game, even though they are behind against a player that maybe hasn’t been in a scenario is a bit more vocal, tries to sort of amp themselves up,” he said.

“It’s sort of that same thing. It could be to try to provoke or make the other guy think, because if another guy is in a very comfortable situation and things are flowing smoothly, it’s sort of a stimulation on the side that can provoke maybe some thought, some doubt, or maybe some, Oh, maybe that guy is going to wake up across. Just make them think something different.”

Raonic reached the Wimbledon final a couple years ago, and after that, injuries slowed him down. It has been a tough patch to deal with him. However, when he is healthy, he looks very good. The big man can shorten the angles. Will he survive the rest of this week? Nobody know, but he is trying.

“If I can do my things well, if I can go away and train, I don’t necessarily always need to hit that much with other players. If I can do my specific things well, if I can serve well, if I can be efficient, coming forward and first chance I get, and I can recognize those moments, I can always put different pressure. And I think all those kind of things and just the process I go about and how I like to keep to myself when I have been away.

It’s always given me certain motivations. I think each injury has given me sort of the feeling I don’t know what’s next around the corner. Am I going to be hurt again or not? But it’s given me more of an appreciation of when I have been healthy.”

He will face the Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who has risen again. That should be some fascinating rallies.

If you watched it on Sunday night, Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame the great Roger Federer in four classic sets. Tsitsipas stood tall, while Federer missed some key forehands and watched 12 break opportunities float away. That’s what happens, when you cannot play perfectly. Tsitsipas almost did it.

The women
Karolina Pliskova smoked Garbine Muguruza in two sets. I mean she knew exactly how to play against her. And she did, with incredible confidence. So now the Czech will have to face Serena Williams, who overcame the No. 1 Simona Halep 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Pliskova reached the 2017 US Open final, losing in a close three-setter to Angie Kerber. She has been around for a fair amount of time, so at some point, she will have an opportunity to go super deep. But, she has to get over Serena, which is very difficult. However, she will have a decent chance.  

“We played [at the 2018] US Open. I didn’t play well that match, so for sure would be good revenge to play [Serena] again,” Pliskova said. “Different conditions here. I think I’m playing a little bit better than I was last year, so looking forward.  I think she’s playing very solid this tournament. … I have my game, so of course I have to take care a little bit of them, too. But I have to play my game so I don’t have any plan B, C, D,” she said with a smile.

“Of course if Serena is playing at her best, then it’s tough because she can serve, put a lot of pressure on her returns, but she can also miss.”

Everyone can miss, but not right at the end. Once in a while, in the past 20 years, Serena has missed some key ones in the Slams, and she lost. But not many. That’s why she owns 23 Grand Slams…

Last year, outside of college, very few fans knew who Danielle Collins was. Not anymore. The 25-year-old crushed the two-time Grand Slam champion Angie Kerber 6-0, 6-2. Earlier, she took down Julia Goerges and Caroline Garcia. Those are three top-10 players. Over the years, it is very rare for the college players to go on to the tour and eventually crack the top 10. Or eventually make the top 20. Right now, though, Collins has already reached the top 25 and if she keeps playing this way, she can go way up high. She will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who stunned Sloane Stephens, very late at night. … A tougher match for Ash Barty, who played a great contest, beating Maria Sharapova, but she has to play Petra Kvitova, who is on fire.

Madison Keys talks about being healthy

Madison Keys

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Day 2 — Four years ago, Madison Keys, who advanced to the second round, reached the semis at the Australian Open, stunning Venus Williams then she finally went down to Serena Williams.

The same thing occurred in the 2017 US Open final when she was incredibly nervous and she lost quickly to Sloane Stephens. Last year, almost out of nowhere, at Roland Garros, she never loves clay, but finally, she understood her strategy, so she reached the semis. But Keys again lost to Stephens in straight sets. At the 2018 US Open, she was at the semis, playing well, smoking the ball, but she couldn’t not return very well and Naomi Osaka waxed her.

All in all, in the Slams, Keys has played very well overall, staying on top of the ball and digging in. She hasn’t won a Slam yet. But, if she can stay healthy all year, she will have a real chance to win it. Her first serve and forehand are gigantic.

But will she be healthy during the entire year? She wants to, but that doesn’t mean that it will happen, year after year. However, in December, she decided not to play early in Australia; she didn’t play Brisbane or Sydney. She wanted to wait and feel healthy. On Tuesday, Keys beat Destanee Aiava, easily.

‘I started being able to do some stuff at the beginning of December, but I was still a little bit limited, and it was still seeing, if we did something physical one day, had to back off the next day,” Keys said. “It was definitely managing that still for the first probably 10 days, so it was middle of December before I really got to ramp things up. We have been training a lot, so I’m glad you said that I looked fit. … There is a little bit of stress,
but at the same time, it is what it is. I couldn’t do anything about it. So, all I could do was prepare as well as I could and play as many practice sets. Luckily, things paid off, and I got the win.”

In 2018, at the AO, the 23-year-old Keys reached the quarters, going down to the former champion Angie Kerber. That was another tough loss, because the German is very quick, and can run side to side forever, while Keys cannot.

But she has worked her footwork and spped, so at the AO, she can look play even better. However, there are some difficult matches: against Elise Martens in the third round, perhaps against Elina Svitolina or Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, and in the quarters — hello — Osaka, the US Open champion. As Keys said, her defense has improved. Well, it has to get better.

“I think my movement is, it’s gotten a lot better. It’s something I have been very focused on,” Keys said. “I think it’s more what I do when I get there is my issue. So, I’m working on making the right decision once I have slid into the ball, that’s more my problem.”

Sharapova wins easily, but for how long?

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Day 1: Maria Sharapova won today, very quickly, crushing Harriet Dart 6-0, 6-0. That was a blow out, and the Russian/American played as well as she has over the past year, because she was injured, a lot. While she isn’t 100 percent, at least she can still crack the ball from both sides.

Her forehand and backhand are lethal, but her serve is spotty — more than spotty — because her right shoulder and arm are almost dead. She has tried to fix it for many years, but it hasn’t worked. I asked her whether it will get better this year, or will she fix it. She doubts that.

“That’s a good question. I have asked Dr. Altchek that many times,” Sharapova said. “I saw him beginning of December, and he says it’s a day-by-day pain management situation.”

She has won five Grand Slams, wonderful matches. Can she do it again? Right now, during the next two weeks, I would doubt that. It’s one thing to beat the mediocre players, but to take down the excellent players, she has to be spot-on. She could face AO champion Caro Wozniacki in the third round. Sharapova has to play extremely well to knock her off. She must be forceful, patient and creative. If she doesn’t, Wozniacki will gradually where her down.   

The 31-year old will not retire soon. For sure, she wants to play great tennis, and win some more events at the Slams, the Premier Mandatories, the little ones. As she says, even when she is ticked off, or tired, or frustrated, it doesn’t matter, because she walks on court to practice because she really loves it.

“That I still really have the passion for this. I enjoy it, seeing the effort that I’m able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface, not necessarily in maybe the specific, say, it’s tennis or something else. But I do feel that it’s really shaped the way that my career has been in and my life has been. If I put an effort into a certain category, sometimes it doesn’t come overnight, doesn’t come in a year, and sometimes it comes maybe in very unrelative things in your life, and I believe in that,” she said. “The way I handle my career today is the way I’ll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that’s extremely important to me.”

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.