Australian Open picks for Tuesday, January 20

Rod Laver Arena

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Sam Stosur can’t seem to get going in front of her country audience.
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

20-Samantha Stosur v Monica Niculescu
It is almost impossible to know how well Stosur will play. She has been terrific on times, but rarely in Australia. Sometimes she is very nervous, other times she is not, but that doesn’t mean she will be playing her best either way at home. She will find a way to best Niculescu, but after that, who know?

4-Stan Wawrinka v Marsel Ilhan
The defending champion Wawrinka appears very happy in Australia and did win Chennai the week before last. At times, he can lose his head, but he loves his somewhat slow hard court. The Turkish Ilhan wants the fans to notice him and perhaps they will, but the Swiss is much more bravado.

1-Novak Djokovic v Aljaz Bedene
The Serbian has been sick over the past week but he is feeling better and he is the man to beat. While Djokovic is not perfect at the Grand Slams, he almost always gets close. He will take down the Slovenia Bedene in straight sets.

Lleyton Hewitt v Zhang Ze
Hewitt admitted that he did not play well in Brisbane, but he has been at Australian Open many, many times before. However, he has aged and even though he is very smart, that doesn’t mean that he can crack the ball. Hewitt will win the match, but it will take him five long sets against China’s Ze.

Ajla Tomljanovic v Shelby Rogers
The young Tomljanovic is now an Australian … so that’s why she’s on the Rod Laver Arena schedule. The once Croatian is powerful, and moves fairly quickly, and played a solid win over Jelena Jankovic in Brisbane. However, the American Rogers has slowly rising and she outlasted Tomljanovic in Montreal last year. Rogers wouldn’t be nervous, while Tomljanovic will be. Take Rogers in three sets.

Margaret Court Arena

5-Kei Nishikori v Nicolas Almagro
The Japanese is a real threat to win the tournament, but finding out the former top 10 Almagro is back in the court after being hurt much of the year could be troubling. It could be, but the Spaniard isn’t ready for prime tie yet. Nishikori will win in straight sets.

8-Caroline Wozniacki v Taylor Townsend
Wozniacki has been pretty darn good since last August, but she hasn’t won a big title in a long time. However, if her wrist is hurting she could be in trouble. The 18-year-old Townsend still has a way to go, but she is very strong and ambitious. But she is not ready yet, as Wozniacki will win in two interesting sets.

17-Gael Monfils v Lucas Pouille
The flying Monfils can be so good – recall his amazing win over Roger Federer in the Davis Cup final (although the Swiss won the title) – and so impossible to figure out. Monfils has a lot more experience against 20-year-old fellow French Pouille, but is the kid ready to shock him? Perhaps, just not yet. Monfils will win in five aching sets.

Hisense Arena

Sloane Stephens v Victoria Azarenka
Imagine these two are not seeded when two years ago they played in the semifinals here in the Aussie Open. Azarenka says that she essentially wasn’t around much at all during 2014. Stephens faded quickly after June. So who know is ready to make a serious push again? Stephens might this year but she didn’t start during the past two weeks. Azarenka lost to Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane, but the Czech is very good now and it went 3 hours and 20 minutes. Azarenka is ready to battle again. She will take it in two sets.

8-Milos Raonicv v Ilya Marchenko
The Canadian is ready for prime time. Yes, he still needs to improve his return and his backhand, but his forehand is massive and so is his first round. The Ukraine Marchenko can hit the ball, but he won’t be able to hurt him enough. Raonic will win in straight sets.

New days, happy days as 2015 seasons starts

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – It’s the first day and on the first ready to rock and roll – or we think, that is. Tennis has begun, a fresh new start on brand new courts. It’s the New Year smf everyone is ready to play perfectly. There is hope, there is potential, there are aces one after another.

The players are quite excited in the first tournaments, thinking they can beat anyone. While the top players rarely go down fast and quietly, it can occur, which is exactly what appended on the first day in Brisbane.

On Sunday the young WC Ajla Tomljanovic took down Jelena Jankovic 7-6(6) 6-0. The Croatian – but now to be soon Australian – Tomljanovic was thrilled, but the former No. 1 Jankovic says that she almost retired at the end of last year due to her aching back. (Here’s the full report.) Who would have thunk it?

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Will Sam Stosur ever reign in Australia. Photo by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Then Kaia Kanepi upset No. 13 Andrea Petkovic 6-4 5-7 6-4. Kanepi had won the tournament back in 2012, but she has fallen over the years, very up and down. But, here she is a star again, at least on one day.

“Winning this tournament, I will always remember that, even if I come back here in ten years or doesn’t matter,” the smiling Kanepi said.  “So I still have the feeling, and I feel, I think, better because of that.”

Late at night, Samantha Stosur, of Australia, was very hopeful. She won the US Open four years ago, and was so close at the Roland Garros a few years ago. She can be very, very good when she clicking in, but can she play her best at home Down Under? No, not at all. She is very nice and has the weapons for the most part, but she can panic and that’s what she did. Sam was up 5-1 in the third set against Varvara Lepchenko, but the American began to lock it, and she was very steady. Lepchenko could see that Sam’s eyes were getting glassy. And she did, racing to the net, not knowing why and when she was going. It was obvious she was going to fold. She went down as Lepchenko was very smart and meaningful, winning 4-6 6-4 7-5.

“So, look, 5‑1, match point, you get yourself into that winning position there is not too much you’re doing wrong,” said Sam.  “I don’t feel like I did too much wrong even from that point. I think she played a fantastic last set from that position and absolutely went for it. She obviously had nothing to lose at that point in time, and tonight it all came off for her. I don’t feel like I went away. I kept trying my guts out, and unfortunately I came out on the wrong end.”

If Stosur is really playing well at the most part, everyone will really see how well when she heads to Sydney. She has never won an Australian title, but she did reach two finals, way back in 2005 at Gold Coast and Sydney. She has never reached the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open, but the current world No. 21 has another chance, so perhaps she can finally do it. Perhaps.

While three seeded women went down on Monday, the others who won deserved it and all of them – Tomljanovic, Kanepi and Lepchenko –want to climb up the ladder and are good enough to make runs in the rankings.

Keys has substantial potential.

Keys has substantial potential. Photo by Ron Cioffi/

On Monday, another youngster came to play. The 19-year-old Madison Keys of the US smacked the balls and upsetting Dominica Cibulkova in straight sets. “Domi” reached the Aussie Open final last year, and didn’t play badly, but Keys was on fire, nailing 32 winners and six aces. She has her new coach, the former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, and while it is clear that the coach knows what she is talking about, but Keys can become nervous, or irritated. But as she said later, she is trying to be more consistent and on that day, she was looking calmer and playing smart. As she said, it’s time for her to enter the second week at the Aussie Open.

On Monday, the youngsters and the veterans all looked good. Angelique Kerber beat down Caroline Garcia; Yaroslava Shvedova stunned Sabine Lisicki 0-6 7-5 6-4; another soon-to-be Aussie Daria Gavrilova bested Alison Riske and Jarmila Gajdosova won.

It’s only January 5, but it’s a new day and, on the looks of it, 2015 has a fine start.

Stosur leaps another hurdle in defeating Azarenka to win Southern California Open

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By Matt Cronin

FROM THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN IN CARLSBAD- Before she toppled a slow and erratic Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 to win her first title at the Southern California Open on Sunday, Samantha Stosur’s last title had been her most important one, the 2011 US Open title, which somewhat remarkably was her last.

She won her maiden title in Osaka in 2009, and about six months later grabbed 2010. Charleston. But it would be another year and half before she raised the US Open trophy with her shocking victory over Serena Williams in the final. That was 23 months ago, nearly two years gone.

So few expended her to win Carlsbad, not when she looked out of sorts in losing to Olga Govortsova in her opening match at Stanford. After that defeat she put in a call to Octagon tournament director Alastair Garland and requested a wild card. It was not an easy decision, because as she noted after her win over Azarenka, she didn’t want to jinx herself.

In 2011, after another lousy Wimbledon, she traveled to  Stanford and took an early loss to Sabine Lisicki at Stanford. But instead of playing Carlsbad, she decided to train for week. That paid off in Toronto where she reached the final, where she fell to Serena Williams. A few weeks later, she took down the might Serena in the final of the US Open.

So one could imagine her thought process after she went down to the free swinging Olga Govortsova at a week and a half ago at Stanford. She had not reached a semifinal in 2013, but players are creatures of routine and she thought for more than a few moments about 2011 and how that path to Grand Slam glory worked out for her.  But she also knew she needed matches so she went with her head rather than her gut.

Clearly that was the right call as the 29 year old won her first title in nearly two years. “I knew that that was the past,” Stosur said. “My coach David Taylor and I] spoke about all the pros and cons.  You can practice all you want, but at some point you got to put it into play in matches.  That’s why I came, and obviously now very, very pleased with that decision.”

Azarenka came into the final with an 8-0 record again her, but Stosur had noted after her semifinal win over Virginie Razzano that she believed she could finally get over the Belarussian. She had played her very close at the 2012 US Open and at 2013 Rome. If she could get in position to win, then it would be a matter of closing, which in her case, would be to find way to break and then serve massively.

That is exactly what Stosur did very well, although it should be said that Azarenka was way off her game as she only struck 11 winners, committed 32 unforced errors and only converted 1 of 12 break points opportunities.

“I think I was taking too many wrong kind of decisions or too risky decisions when there was no need to be risky,” Azarenka said. “I didn’t try to sometimes stay in the rally.  I just wanted to make what sometimes I can make with eyes closed.  Today I didn’t do it with open eyes. It’s just a little bit of stubbornness that worked a little bit against me today.”

Azarenka did give credit to Stosur and well she should have. Time and time again while facing break points she came up with massive serves, many of the into the Belarussian’s body. Only a couple of returns were put back into pay, which is incredible given how well Azarenka usually returns.

“I think that was a really big part of the match,” Stosur said. “That first set she did have lots of opportunities.  I think nearly all of them except one I hit a really good first serve in and she didn’t make the ball into play.

So that’s something I have to be very happy with, to be able to step up to the line under that pressure and hit the serve where I want to, how I want to time and time again.  I know what it feels like not to be able to break serve when you have opportunities, and it gets pretty frustrating.”

Stosur also did something else extremely well — she broke serve in every game she had the opportunity to do so. That’s the very definition of being advantageous

“That’s great. I guess it’s kind of the opposite of what she had,” she said. “Maybe the fact that I was able to hold that serve, that kind of gives that you little bit of extra lift when you get the opportunity. Having not beaten her before, I know how important every single opportunity is.  I think in Rome I was up a break a couple of times in a set and let that go.  I knew even though you’re up a break you can’t relax and just rely on always trying to hold serve. You got to break as soon as you get a chance.

It is way to early to begin picking top drawer US Open contenders as there are two huge events still to be played at the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Cincinnati. Before her loss to Stosur, Azarenka had a 28 match winning streak going on outdoor hard courts, so if the sore back that caused her to pull out of Toronto heals (and the knee and hip injuries that suffered at Wimbledon also stop effecting her) she will be one of the main contenders, regardless if she plays a match before the doors open in New York.

But at the very least, the Australian showed that if she is kicking up big serves and controlling the court with her high hopping, nuclear forehand, that she cannot be ignored this week in Toronto, or in a few weeks in New York. She may not be consistent enough to rack up one title after the next, but she does have the capacity to put together a fantastic six weeks of play. She’s done it before and has the possibility of doing it again.

“Obviously this is the lead‑up to the US Open and that’s where everyone want to peak,” she said. “I think this is a huge boost for me.  I haven’t had great results for really all year, so to be able to bounce back especially from last week’s first‑round loss and play better and better each day and come away with this is, really exciting and a good boost going into the last Slam of the year.”


A Champion’s attitude: Razzano fights the good fight


Razzano has taken plenty of big scalps

By Matt Cronin

FROM THE  SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN- Virginie Razzano calls herself a “champion,” Not necessarily a tennis champion, but a champion of life. She has bore through a number of difficult situations over the past three and a half years, including the death of her fiancée and coach, and then with a major hip injury that took her out of play after her stunning upset of Serena Williams at the 2012 Roland Garros. Her ranking plunged to No. 196, and in the first quarters of this year, there were not enough Challengers for her to enter so all she could do was practice, practice, and practice. But she didn’t become too impatient, kept her nose to the grindstone and never lost hope.

Now it’s paying off as she’s having her best tournament in three years with victories over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Carla Suarez-Navarro and on Friday, Petra Kvitova 6-7(6) 7-5 7-6(8) in three and a half hours to reach the semis.

“The success is a lot work,” she said. “There is not secret. I don’t want to be quickly and say, Okay, Virginie, you must to be quickly for comeback. No. I take my time.  I’m practicing a lot.  I stay with focus on my job, to work on my game and when you go on court.  I think I am a champion.  I am a champion, because it’s not easy for comeback every time if you have some problems with injuries or pressure of life.

I think I have a big character.  I have a strong character and I’m never down.  I am every time going up.  It’s life.  You can’t go down.  You must to go and progress and do your job during your life.

If it’s professional life, you must to do your best. If I don’t think that, I prefer to stop and say, ‘Okay, this is finished for you, Virginie.’”

Her victory over the Czech was by no means a perfect match, in fact she needed five match points to win the contest and all were unforced errors: four by her and the final one by Kvitova on a double fault. Kvitova also held match points, two of them in the tiebreaker. On the first one she clunked a 76-MPH second serve by Razzano into the net and on the second one, when she couldn’t handle a serve into her wheelhouse.

The most hilarious match point was her second one when serving for the contest at 5-3. She tossed the too far to the left and instead of catching it, pushed the ball high up into the air, sort of a half lob, 90 an under super senior style serve that didn’t even register on the speed gun. It went way wide. Nerves were quite apparent.

“ I think if I serve with forehand it was the same.  I prefer I think to serve with my forehand,” she said while laughing. “I can be better maybe. No, this way it was not very good, you know.  Maybe next I can do that and I can surprise my adversary I don’t want to serve again like that, you know.  (Laughter.)  It’s the same if I play with my sister.”

Razzano is no slouch, having cracked the year-end top 20 in 2009. She’s won two titles and has taken plenty of big scalps including both Williams sisters, Martina Hingis, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and Dinara Safina, Serena, Venus. She is a terrific mover, rock solid off the ground and she’s not without power. She usually stays within her playbook and isn’t very wild.

She is also far from a consummate closer, which is why she needed to go deep into the tiebreaker to win the contest instead shutting the Czech down earlier. Kvitova never looked tired – which is a great sign considering that can be a problem for her when matches grow late – but she was erratic and less than advantageous.

“I was nervous,” Razzano said. “I am human. It’s normal.  I’m not a robot, you know.  Sometimes you can feeling stress, emotion.  I tried to focus on me, on my game and on my points when I’m feeling nervous. With my experience I know how you must to do for to win You must to progress and say, Okay, point after point, game after game, you go.  I did my best for that and I think I do a good job.”

Razzano was given wild card into the tournament and she needed it with her No. 131 ranking. She hasn’t played badly over the past two months, reaching the third round of Roland Garros, qualifying for Wimbledon and then two weeks ago reaching the quarters of Gstaad on what she calls her worse surface – clay. But this is her first semifinal since she reached he final of 2009 Eastbourne and that’s a long time ago.

Razzano comes from humble origins: her father is a policeman and her mother is a nursery school teacher. They taught her that you get what you put into something and to keep battling, and that’s what she has continued to do.

She puts in an effort on court and off. When her boyfriend and former coach was dying of a brain tumor, she stood by him though thick and thin. At that time, she didn’t put her tennis first. She doesn’t totally separate her career from her other relationships and interests, and that makes her somewhat unique in the sport.

“For me, everything is very important in my life,” she said.

Ana Ivanovic pulled off an impressive 6-1 6-7(1) 6-2  over Roberta Vinci and then  Samantha Stosur took down Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5 2-6 6-3, a darn good win for the Aussie, but Radwanska looks  a little flat. In a very entertaining thriller on court 2, Abigail Spears and Raquel Kop-Jones overcame Martina Hingis/Daniela Hantuchova 4-6 7-5 10-3. Hingis and Hantuchova had two break points to go up 4-0  in the second set and as Martina said, when they couldn’t covert those, they opened the door up. Hingis is a brilliant player overall but she served poorly and if she can’t find way to spot her serve better they are going to struggle to win big tournaments. She had by far the weakest serve on court. Credit to Spears and Kop-Jones though: they are a long standing, talented, coordinated team. In some way I’m surprised they haven’t won a Slam yet.






Heads or Tails: Who will have a better 2013?

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Is Caro her generation’s leader?

Going into every new season, hundreds of questions exist in trying to determine who will be able to reach their peak and who will falter. Predictions are always difficult to make as the injury factor consistently plays a huge role in tennis. However, just for the fun of it I thought I would pose a few different opposing scenarios and select which ones I think are more probable in 2013. I will begin with the WTA.

‘Gen Caro’

Who will have better season collectively of the current top 10, these “Gen Caro” members (Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Aga Radwanska, Angelique Kerber & Petra Kvitova) or the old guard (Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Li Na, Sara Errani and Sam Stosur)?

At some point in the future the old guard is going to fall off and Gen Caro is going to completely take over the WTA, but it

TR Year-end Top 50s: The women, Nos. 6-10

Li has all the weaponry but is still prone to walkabouts.

Thus continues our review of the top 50 singles players on the ATP and WTA Tours. We resume with the women ranked Nos. 6 -10.

6. Sara Errani

There is strong argument to be made that Errani improved more than anyone in 2012, and while I feel that two of the lower and medium rung players improved more (Robson and Lepchenko), Errani gets my vote in the elite category, even over Angie Kerber, who also had a terrific season. What Errani did was transform herself from a run of the mill clay court player to one who could play most matches on her terms, and from a forgettable hard court player to one who could counterpunch with more zip and effectiveness.

Not only did she reach the Roland Garros final and the US Open semis in singles, but also ended the year as member of the top- ranked doubles teams with fellow Italian Roberta Vinci. She can scamper, has a fine return and under rated volley. I don’t expect her to better her year ranking in 2013, but I could see finishing in the top 10 again because she is super committed to her tennis.

7. Li Na

Even though Li has frequently said that she can

WTA Championships Racket reaction: Sharapova over Radwanska

Who needs to do what heading to WTA Championships?

Maria fell in Tokyo to Stosur, but still has chances to end her year on a high note

Wanting a piece of the elite kids

Nadia is seeking relevancy

FROM BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – I sometimes ask myself why Nadia Petrova fell out in my internal hard drive when I am re-filing my folders on current notable players. Wasn

12 New Year’s Wishes for 2012



Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIIroy wish you a New year from Thailand.

No. 1 : That Kim Clijsters and Serena play each other in at least four big matches before the Belgian retires.

No. 2: That Andy Murray plays as well as he’s capable of against a Big 3 member in a Grand Slam final so we can see if that level is good enough to win a major.

No 3: That Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic return to their 2008 levels and consistently push Generation Caro to show how good they really are,

No. 4: That Juan Martin Del Potro returns to his 2009 level so the ATP has potential Big 5 & that the promising youngsters (i.e. Tomic, Raonic, Harrison and Dmitrov) show the elite they can really play with them

No. 5: That Kvitova, Wozniacki, Azarenka, Radwanska et al develop intense rivalries that we’ll still be taking about 5 years from now.

No. 6: That the Big 3 of Djokovic, Nadal & Federer stay healthy all year and play each other on every surface & at least 5 times each.

No. 7: That both tours focus less on branding and more on how the sport is played. After all, tennis is a sport played on a court

No. 8: That Aussie, French & British players have huge impacts at their home Slams — its been a long time coming.

No. 9: That deserving WTA players like Radwanska, Pennetta, Petkovic, Pennetta & Peng reach at least onne Slam quarter so they can make strong go at their first final fours.

No. 10: That American veterans Roddick, Fish, Blake & Ginepri stay healthy enough so they can have major impact at least one more Slam again.

No.11: That all players would actually use social media as a way to interact with fans and not as a substitute texting service

Wish 12 for 2012: 24 highly dramatic, very well played Grand Slam semifinals and finals making 2012 the best year in tennis history!