The top 32’s in 2015: Who did what, and who will rise in 2016




No. 32

Sabine Lisicki

It is nearly impossible to figure out which way she is going. The German can bomb her first serves, and she loves the grass, but even though she can rake it near the baseline, she can totally disappear. Its hard to believe that such a talent is stuck at the bottom of this list.

No. 31

Irina-Camelia Begu: The Romanian was pretty quiet this season, but she didn’t back off, winning Seoul. She did manage to stun Angie Kerber in the first round of the Aussie, perhaps her best win in 2015.

No. 30

Sloane Stephens: Beginning this year, the 22-year-old said that she was ready to crack the top 10. She did play a little better than in 2014, but this year, she was a bit shaky, especially in the fall. Sloane has all the tools; the question is whether she really wants to commit to her sport.

No. 29

Kristina Mladenovic: The fairly young Frenchwoman has been a pretty decent year, in the singles, doubles and mixed. She is pretty muscular, she likes the net and she can move forward. If she can improve mentally, she can certainly crack the top 20.


No. 32

Steve Johnson: The American keeps grinding and now he is very close to crack the top 30. Can the former USC undefeated star reach a quarterfinal at a Slam in 2016? Sure he can.

No. 31

Jeremy Chardy: The veteran Frenchman can hit the heck out of the ball, and he can be super aggressive, but he isn’t fast enough or have enough variety. He is streaky.

No. 30

Nick Kyrgios: The 20-year-old has been up and down this season, as he is thrilling on court, but he has been lost control and shows off his angry side way too often. The Aussie can smoke his first serves, his forehand and backhand. He can be patient, too. If he matures in 2016, he can go very deep.

No. 29

Andrea Seppi: The Italian shocked Roger Federer during the Australian Open with a lot of variety. The 31-year-old will never win a major, but he can mix it up and he is over due to win a title for the first time – any title.

The Big 6, semis, Queens, Halle & Birmingham: Murray, Federer, Lisicki & more

Sabine Lisicki


At Queen’s

Andy Murray vs. Victor Troicki

The Britain had to play very well in the last two sets to overcome Gilles Muller 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4. The lefty Muller kept charging, and Murray mixed it up, attacking early and making sure that he would be in charge. That was a solid win by Troicki beating John Isner 7-6(5) 6-3, who really has improved this year. He may not be the strongest player out there, but he is steady and he has become a better server. Murray has too much game on grass and will dismisses the Serbian in straight sets.

Gilles Simon vs. Kevin Anderson

This is a true pick-em, because Simon was very solid to best Milos Raonic, and the tall Anderson was more than respective as he rarely loses early. Simon seems to like the grass, and can skid around happily, but Anderson can crack serves and wind up and swing away from inside the baseline. Anderson will win in straight sets.

At Halle, ATP

Roger Federer vs. Ivo Karlovic

Yes, Karlovic through bomb after bomb and he upset Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-7(8) 6-3, nailing 45 aces. Obviously, he was untouchable when he served, and he is pretty decent at the net, but Federer knows how to return. Plus, the Croat has never been able to make it to the semis at Wimbledon. Here in Halle, Federer realizes he has to be super patient, but he will and when the rallies begin he will yank him.   Federer will win in straight sets.

Kei Nishikori vs. Andreas Seppi

Nishikori has been pretty consistent this year, but his five set loss against Jo Tsonga at RG really hurt. However, on Halle he is moving quickly and he understands the grass courts. Seppi can be fun to watch, but he has yet to show he could knock out the top 10 guys on the super fast courts. Take Nishikori in straight sets.

At Birmingham, WTA

Karolina Pliskova vs. Kristina Mladenovic

Both of these hitters aren’t that fast side-to-side, but they both have huge serves and can crack the balls from both sides. On grass, not only do you need to have a lot of aces, or un-returnable, but when you are returning the second serves, you have to make sure that you can go close to the lines or go extremely deep. Mladenovic is a fine volley, and she could upset one of the top 10ers at Wimbledon, but here, the Czech will take her out in three sets. The Frenchwomen upset Simona Halep, but the Romanian is fragile now and Pliskova – who smoked Carla Suarez Navarro – is just too consistent.

Angelique Kerber vs. Sabine Lisicki

The German Lisicki is serving bombs and it’s not just because “Boom, Boom” is crushing the lines, but because mentally, she is much more confident on the grass. Yes, Kerber is a better player overall, but Lisicki has reached the final before at Wimbledon and she likes bending down very low and whacking the ball. Lisicki will win in straight sets.

Australian Open picks for Monday, January 19

The 2015 Australian Open is here and ready to roll. Here are our picks for the opening day.

Rod Laver Arena

3-Simona Halep v Karin Knapp

The Romanian believes she is ready now to win a Slam. She played excellent ball at the WTA Final, very aggressive, fast and full of life. She will out steady Knapp, but she cannot be conservative against the big women.

5-Ana Ivanovic v Lucie Hradecka

For the first times, you can feel Ana playing smartly and not becoming nervous. She has improved a ton overall and will be heard from during the tournament, bashing the huge server Hradecka.

kerber 2013 pre champs

Kerber should get by Begu.

3-Rafa Nadal v Mikhail Youzhny

Who knows how well Rafa will play, saying that he isn’t right yet and still a little sore during the last half of 2014. But as he says that should he reach into the second week, then perhaps he will be competitive again. You know he will, nailing Youzhny side to side.

2-Roger Federer d Lu Yen-hsun

Here goes Roger again and in Brisbane towards the end he looks very, very good. Federer does not lose to the smaller guys in the Slams, so he will out think Yen-hsun, but Roger will have to be spot-on to win another Slam, as it’s been two-and-a-half years since his last triumph.

2-Maria Sharapova v Petra Martic

Sharapova had added a few new things, such as coming into the net more (I know, I know: it’s taken 10 years) and drop shots. She hasn’t played great in the past two years at the Aussie, but she is ready to rumble and knock the Croatian right off the court.

Margaret Court Arena

Jarmila Gajdosova v Alexandra Dulgheru

The Aussie Gajdosova looked very well in Sydney and while she can become wild, she wants the fans to see her again and take down a couple of seeds. She will begin run down Dulgheru in straight sets.

6-Andy Murray v Yuki Bhambri

Murray isn’t sure whether or not he can take out the best yet, but he doesn’t want to tell the big boys that, at least not yet. The young India Bhambri looked very good as a junior but isn’t strong enough. Murray will beat him down.

9-Angelique Kerber v Irina-Camelia Begu

Angie is all over the place. She tries super hard, but she doesn’t commit enough, which is why she can be had. But not yet, as the lefty will outlast Begu.

7-Eugenie Bouchard v Anna-Lena Friedsam

The Canadian has come a long way over the last year and wasn’t afraid to go after anyone, but she struggled the last four months in 2014. Now everyone knows who she is, which means it’s going to get even harder. Genie will hit through against Friedsam, but right now, she could be in for a fall.

Nick Kyrgios v Federico Delbonis

The Aussie Kyrgios is only 19 so he still has a long to go, but he has a gigantic serve and can crack his forehand. His back in hurting, meaning it is going to be very tough to reach very deep into the tournament. However, he could win a few rounds, like over the Argentine in four tough sets.

Hisense Arena

32-Belinda Bencic v Julia Goerges

I really like the Swiss teen overall as she is very smart and mixes it up, but she is a little up and down. The German Goerges has fallen in the singles but she can crush her forehand. How about an upset, stunning the Swiss in three long sets?

28-Sabine Lisicki v Kristina Mladenovic

I am not sure exactly where Lisicki is going (if she’s not on grass), but she will win in three long sets, as neither the German nor the French Mladenovic moves well enough.

Bernard Tomic v Tobias Kamke

The Aussie Tomic has been very good at times in Brisbane and Sydney, but he has not been able to take down the good boys. He is rising again, but he doesn’t want to get caught by a ton of up-and-coming Aussies like Sam Groth or Thanasi Kokkinakis. We don’t know yet, but Tomic will be good enough to best Kamke in straight sets.

Sam Groth v Filip Krajinovic

Speaking of which, Groth was also pretty darn good in Brisbane and Sydney. He has improved quite a bit over the past year or so. He has a massive serve and consistently charges to the net. The problem is, will he be too nervous at the AO? Perhaps, but not yet as he will edge Krajinovic in five sets.

Kvitova key to Fed Cup final between Czech Republic v. Germany

MVP Safarova proved more than a fine No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova

MVP Safarova proved more than a find No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova in 2012.

PRAGUE — How many women love slick courts? Not many, that’s for sure.

But Petra Kvitova would prefer to hit as hard as she can … just booming it. Forget it about engaging 30-plus rallies; she would rather wipe her serves into the corner and break them way out wide. Even if it’s punched back by one of her opponents, she will step in and power her forehand for a winner.

Kvitova has won two Grand Slams, in 2011 and 2014 at Wimbledon. Her foes in the finals, Maria Sharapova and Genie Bouchard, couldn’t even blink as the Czech hit with power so quickly that they couldn’t touch her shots. That is exactly what Kvitova has done for the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup: She was her lights out, nailing the corners and winning two of the past three Fed Cup finals at home in Prague.

And guess what … she can do it all over again. Coming up this weekend in Prague, the world No. 3 will be favored again. The Czechs, including Lucie Safarova, were tough and aggressive in 2012 when they stomped Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to win the title. Kvitova was not perfect that weekend, as she was sick, and Ivanovic played well to grab one of the points. But, in the end, the Czechs won anyway because the left-handed Kvitova kept swinging and Safarova was on ultra-speed.

This is different though. Kvitova has become more mature during the last year or so, but she knows that she cannot go on a walkabout. They will play against Germany, led by Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic, both of whom say that they know to keep balls in play until the tall Kvitova grows tired and wild.

The 24-year-old Kvitova says she is faster than she was as a baby back in 2008 when she played her first time in Fed Cup. She could only split against Israel, but they won anyway. From then on, she kept on playing in the team competition.

Kvitova loves Fed Cup so much that she has played 15 times already. She has played twice against Germany before, in 2010 in World Group at home when she beat Petkovic and lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld but the came through anyway. Then she won a classic match in 2012 when the Germans chose hard courts, but Kvitova edged Julia Goerges 10-8 in the third set and then out-pushed Sabine Lisicki in the third set.

Goerges and Lisicki are on the German team this week and could play the doubles, or the 2013 Wimbledon finalist Lisicki, who also loves to bang the ball, may play in Sunday’s singles

But, it really doesn’t matter what strategy German captain Barbara Rittner employs. The key is whether or not Kvitova can make big swings and find the lines. If she does, the Czechs will win the Fed Cup again and Petra will once again be perfect.

Bartoli Aces Crisis Management and Reaches Final


Bartoli was willing to live through ups and downs

WIMBLEDON – Give partial credit to anyone you want to for Marion Bartoli reaching the Wimbledon final again: Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo, who is helping advise her in Paris, her hitting partner Thomas Drouet (he of John Tomic head-butting infamy) who has been with her for about six weeks now, or the French Tennis Federation physio and trainers who are aiding her cause, too.

Of course, a load of credit needs to go to her father Walter, who taught her the game and has been with her just about every second of her career except for a few critical months in 2013.

But most of the credit should go Marion herself, who is a very driven person who never gave up on her Grand Slam hopes, even though time and time again over the years she has fallen short against other elite players. She’s been a very good player over her career, but not a great one and if she can beat Sabine Lisicki in the final and win this  Wimbledon, she will have earned the accolade, at least for this year.

Throughout most of her career, Bartoli has seemed to be engaged in some kind of combat. She is very smart person for someone who did not receive much of a formal education. She is engaging and she always tries to be honest, although there are things about her life that perhaps she should have met head on earlier her career, such as that it’s not easy to mature as  player or person when you have a parent around your 24/7, and that was the case with Marion and Walter.

Because of that, she never socialized much with the other players. She isn’t the only player who was in that situation, but players like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams who also don’t hang around a ton with other players travel with large teams who keep them company. Bartoli did not. so there were times when you would see her alone. And when Walter stopped coaching her, she admitted to being lonely.

“There are moments when I feel very lonely and there are some very tough days and I am getting back to my hotel room and I turn around and say ‘Dad’ and there is no one anymore,” she told me back in March. But then she added hopefully:  “In a way it helps me on court mentally.”

From a media perspective, the now 28-year-old has been one of the most cooperative players on the tour over the past decade. She is opinionated and gives a lot of herself and most of what she says is insightful.

But having a high IQ and being open doesn’t always translate to on court success. She is not the most athletically gifted player out there, even though she is terrific ball striker and has improved her movement over the years. She hits with two hands off both sides so she still can be had on the move and while her first serve is pretty formidable despite her odd motion, her second serve can be attacked. Her hyper-aggressive return is simply legendary when she gets t the ball in her wheelhouse.

I had nothing to do against her,” said the hobbled Flipkens after her 6-1, 6-2 defeat.  “She played an amazingly well match. I tried my slices. She didn’t have any problem with that. I tried the drop shot.  She got it. I played a passing, she came to the net. I tried a lob. I tried everything, actually.  I was trying to give myself 100%, but it didn’t work out.”

Really, it looked like a nightmare year for Bartoli in the spring. After she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time back in the fall, Walter was very satisfied that she had managed to do it for the first time. She had also reached the final eight of the other three majors so the circle was complete. He was done and wanted to spend more time at home

She was very excited about the prospect of striking out on her own, but it looked better on the outside than it did in reality. She hired  Jana Novotna to coach her and the Czech was gone after one tournament, Indian Wells. She then hired Gerard Bremond away from the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy and he lasted all of one tournament, Monterrey. There she said she played her worst match ever as a pro in a loss to  Coco Vandeweghe. She returned home, said her father knew she needed help and he tried again, but his heart wasn’t in it and he needed a rest. So after Roland Garros, she let allowed him to stay home again.

Other than the fact that she is a terrific grass court player, how  Bartoli has managed to reach the final when so much turmoil has been going on in her life this year is slightly befuddling, but she isn’t that surprised. She is used to making mid match adjustments on court and seemed to have done the same in her off court life.

“I believe as a sportsperson you cannot have always some highs, and you have to go through some low moments to enjoy even more the highs,” she said. “But, yes, I’ve been having some tough moments ‑ most out of the court than on the court, to be honest with you.  But I think carry on the same attitude every single day on the practice court and in the gym and whatever helped me to really bounce back and to come back in the great shape that I am right now.  Obviously it shows that determination and truth for every single day always pays off.”

Perhaps more importantly, Bartoli seemed to believe it was her destiny to return to the final. In 2007, she stunned Justine Henin in the semis and due to earlier rain delays then had to come back a day later and face Venus Williams and went down.

Six years later, she believes she is much better all around player. Does she see her return to the final as inevitable? No, but  all those late hours she put in after losing matches when others were back in their hotels rooms did yield a reward. That’s another shot at Wimbledon glory. “I felt I deserved it,” she said.

Grass court specialist: Lisicki outlast Radwanksa to reach final

There have been way too many occasions over the past few years when some analysts and ex-players have said the grass has slowed way down, but if that is the case how to explain the fact that Sabine Lisicki – who has only twice reached the fourth round of other Slams – has reached the final? The reason she has is because she serves huge, returns big when the balls are in her strike zone and can rip groundstrokes. No discredit to the German, who showed tremendous heart in outlasting Aga Radwanska 6-4 2-6 9-7 in an epic semifinal, but she is by no means a terrific all around player yet. She has reached the quarterfinals or better or Wimbledon four times precisely because she is a big server, and attacking lass who can bend low and whack winners.

The 23-year-old Lisicki has improved since she reached the semis in 2011, especially mentally. Radwanska did not play her best, but she played well enough to best most players and even after she was broken back when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, Lisicki didn’t bend and fired away. She has taken down a slew of very good to great player en route to the final: Francesca Schiavone, Elena Vesnina, Sam Stosur, Serena Williams, Kaia Kanepi and now Radwanska. That’s about as difficult of a road as anyone could have traveled. And only a player with grass court skills could have managed it.  Perhaps when she leaves Wimbledon, she’ll take all that newfound confidence and develop more skills of other surfaces.

“I had a tough draw, but I think it made me ready for each and every single match that I had to play the next round>” she said.
Having Francesca in the first round and Vesnina, the Eastbourne champion, all those matches were different challenges.  They made me ready to play against Serena, as well.  I just keep going from there.  I gained so much confidence also in my shots and playing long rallies. I feel great out there.  I was fighting for every point. I fought my heart out.”


Wimbledon: Not a great day for the legends


Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova will contest the only predictable women’s quarterfinal on Tuesday, while the rest of the match-ups were exactly what were anticipated when the draw came out.

There are no entrants amongst the final eight who are true shockers, but an old rivalry, vintage match up between Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters did not come to past when they were overpowered by two good young Germans: Sabine Lisicki served the lights out and got revenge of Sharapova for two previous Slam losses in a 6-4 6-3 victory; and Angelique Kerber roared past 6-1 6-1 in the Belgian’s final match at Wimbledon

Sharapova was not advantageous on the day, didn