Tomic progresses in Sydney vs. top players: ‘Gives us confidence’

Tomic USO 13 TR MALT6955

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 13, 2016 – Everyone is talking about Novak. In 2014, it seemed like everyone thought Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka could still win a Slam, or an ATP 1000. But in 2015, it changed, radically. Djokovic won 11 titles, three of which were Grand Slams, six ATP 1000s and one ATP 500. With the exception of falling to Wawrinka in the final of Roland Garros, he won every time he needed to.

Last week, the Serbian crushed everyone to win Doha, blowing out Nadal in the final. Now, according to almost every player, Djokovic is dominating.

On Wednesday in Sydney, the Aussie Bernard Tomic said that other than downing Djokovic, the young guys are finally ready to upend the elite, veteran players. Tomics, who beat the fellow Australian Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarters, just shook his head.

“Novak, it’s just a joke now. It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Tomic said. “That’s the reason why he’s the best player in the world. I think even Roger and Rafa are just — when you step on the court against Novak now it’s like, ‘How can you beat him?’ Even Rafa playing that final in Doha, it was amazing tennis to watch, but so comfortable, and on score just shows how much Novak is dominating the sport. I think he is a different level, Novak, now, and there is a reason why he’s there. I think the other players, there are a little bit more weaknesses. There is a reason why Novak is the best. No weaknesses. I can’t think of any. He deserves to be there.”

Tomic, who had reached the semifinal of Brisbane and then lost against his buddy Milos Raonic, agrees with Grigor Dimitrov that the very good young players can beat the Big 4 plus 1 this season. But maybe not against everyone.

“[Milos beating Federer in Brisbane] that’s a good sign for us,” Tomic said. “Not just for Milos winning that tournament. It gives us confidence stepping on the court against Federer, Murray, and against these other guys.”

He then laughed: “Except Novak.”

By the way, Tomic is now ranked No. 16 at the Aussie Open. In one way, it’s more important to win the tournament in Sydney again because he will continue to get more confidence. But it is also important that he won’t be able to play against the highest player until at least the Round of 16. He is very pleased.

“It gives me an opportunity now playing I think 17 to 24 seeds in the third round,” he said. “There are dangerous floaters out there, as well, first and second round that you can get, so can be difficult as well. Hopefully I get the right draw to save energy to play well in the first few rounds and confidence getting to the third, fourth round. What I’ve noticed the past year or so, you need to get to those third, fourth rounds and be ready and physically fresh. You have to beat the top players. You have to be physically ready. If you play top matches first, second round, not a good thing.”

Dimitrov, who lost against Federer in three sets, says he is getting closer and closer – even though he thought he should have won. On Wednesday, he beat Pablo Cuevas 7-6(2) 6-4. Dimitrov will face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarterfinal, which should be a fun match, as both men have a tremendous amount of spin. A few years back, Dolgopolov reached the second week at the Aussie Open. He had enough variety that most thought  he would eventuallycrack the top 5. He was unable to do so and he may never reach the top 10. He is just not strong enough. But next week when the Aussie Open begins, there are plenty of players who can punch their tickets into the second week. Three of the interesting veterans are still alive in Sydney: Viktor Troicki, Gilles Muller and Jeremy Chardy. 

Dimitrov wants to win a major some day, and soon. He truly believes that someone can play as well as he can – or he is locked into the zone – and stun Novak.

“You just never know when you’re going to get the chance and the opportunity in general,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what tournament you’re on or which round you’re playing. In a way anything is possible if you have the will and the faith.”


Halep continues to deal with an injury. Photo: Jimmy48

Halep continues to deal with an injury. Jimmy48 Tennis Photography

Whether or not Simona Halep wins the title here in Sydney, or at the Aussie Open, give her credit for sticking in there. The world No. 2 has been dealing with an inflamed Achilles heel for months and she was forced to pullout of Brisbane. But all she wanted to do was to simply play again, so she went on court and even though it could hurt her, she has been running as fast as she can. On Wednesday, she beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4 7-5 in a very close match. She yanked the Czech around time and time again until she frustrated her.

She’ll face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis, who beat Sara Errani 7-6(1) 6-0. The Russian veteran said the reason why Halep has risen over the past two years is because she is simply more consistent. It is hard to know if Kuznetsova will play great on Thursday. As she said, she pushed herself too much last year so now she wants to be calmer and more relaxed this week. ‘Whatever wind was blowing,” she said.

Here was the big upset: the 22-year-old Monica Puig took out Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. Stosur had a decent draw, but she looked pretty slow. If she reaches the second week at the Aussie Open, Australians will be crying in joy.

The Puerto Rican Puig slumped last year, so during the off-season she decided in 2016 she would actually have fun. At least this week, however.

“You always put pressure on ourselves because we want this so bad. Every single one of us wants to be the No. 1 in the word; we want to win titles. We want to win,” Puig said. “It’s a really competitive sport. Kind of putting it into perspective. I’m traveling the world and seeing so many new places. On top of that, I’m doing what I love for a living. It’s pretty amazing. If I take time to look back at where I’ve come from and all that I’ve done to get here, why not enjoy it a little bit more and have some fun while I’m doing it? Doesn’t hurt to crack a smile on the court every now and then.”

Puig will be the underdog against Belinda Bencic, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 2-6 6-4. There were a lot of fans watching Bencic during the match, including her friend/coach Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza. In the doubles, the No. 1 Hingis/Mirza haven’t lost in months.


The excellent Swiss: Belinda Bencic, 18, rising up again


APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 12, 2016 – Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but last year, the Swiss was already rising fast and she managed to beat the unthinkable Serena Williams and the super steady Simona Halep to win Toronto.

However, even when she was only 17, she felt like she was pretty much right there and able to compete with the best. She has tremendous variety, she has beautiful strokes, she is fairly strong and she can be ambitious. She can get mad – very mad during a bad day when can’t keep the balls inside the court – but she keeps improving and seems to listen to her parents and coaches.

The former junior champion came right out of the box. On the start of 2014 season, she was ranked No. 187 and then she moved quickly. She qualified at the Aussie Open, and lost to the now-retired Li Na. She qualified in Charleston, reaching the semis after she stunned Sara Errani in the quarters on green clay. At the US Open, she shocked Angie Kerber and Jelena Jankovic before she lost against Shuai Peng – quickly. She could get tired at times, winning a few terrific matches and then falling because she couldn’t run at her fastest. But she was young and, eventually, her body would get stronger and stronge, As long as she is working out, she wouldn’t be exhausted unless she had to play for multiple hours.

Last January she was ranked No. 33 but she couldn’t get going for the first five months. She did nothing at all, on hard courts or on clay. But then once she got on grass, she decided that she would be more consistent, more aggressive, more patient and lethal. She reached the final of Netherlands, she won Eastbourne and then she lost against Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

She won Toronto, beating Genie Bouchard, Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic, Serena and Halep. She lost to Venus Williams in the third round at the US Open, but she did reach the final in Tokyo. Her legs were strong and she could mix up her attack. Then, everyone knew she could really play.

But, in Beijing, she had to retire with a hand injury. She wanted to continue and reach the WTA Finals, but she couldn’t.

However, she became healthy during the off-season and with the start of year, she said she is feeling wonderful.

Maybe Bencic will reach the top 10 very soon. But, as she said, she doesn’t want to think about – yet.

“I am not trying to find out where the counting points are, or the points are automatically,” she said. “I still have a lot of time, if it’s top 10 it doesn’t matter now or later, but I hope some day.”

Bencic laughed that the only good thing about Australia in 2015 was thatshe doesn’t have to defend the points because she couldn’t win anything, meaning there won’t be any pressure on her this year. But if she goes super deep in the next two and half weeks, everyone will pay attention again.

In Sydney, she has to face Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals – a very tough match – perhaps against the Aussie veteran Sam Stosur in the semis, or maybe against No. 2 Simona Halep or the tall and rising Katarina Pliskova in the final.

If Bencic wins that title, the pressure will be intense once again.

Sydney: Great tournaments, but dropping like flies

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY — The historic venue has had quite the past three days. Who wouldn’t want to come to Sydney? It’s one of the most attractive cities in the world. A gorgeous beach, the harbors, the restaurants, music, drinks – oh and some fine tennis courts, which date back to 1885.

Unfortunately, the tournament is the week before the Australia Open and that hurts.

Yes, the 2000 Olympic site is problematic because it’s way outside the city, but so what: if you love tennis, then find your way out there. Yes, the tournament needs improving and it is, but if you want to watch some excellent players, and then go out, sit down, and enjoy the players bashing away.

But the problem now is that many of top players are very wary about how they feel before the Australian Open. Two weeks prior, some of the top players will go all out to win a tournament, thinking that they will have a week of practice before Melbourne starts.


Venus on the rise. Photos by Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Take Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic — all reached the final of Brisbane and fought as hard as they could. The same goes for Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, and David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych in Doha. They all reached the finals. How about Stan Wawrinka in Chennai and Simon Halep in Shenzhen? They both won.

By Tuesday in Sydney, they were dropping like flies.

Federer and Lleyton Hewitt came out to play an exo in downtown in Sydney and that is just fine. Wozniacki, however, retired in her first match as her left wrist was painful. Halep had a sore stomach and pulled out. Madison Keys won a match and, then in the second round, her right shoulder hurt and she retired.

Had the Aussie Open not started next week, they may have continued on. In fact, both said they didn’t want to take the risk because of the Slam. So why play in the first place? If you are going to enter, you are supposed to give it all out. If you are not going to, then why bother?

How about the men’s in Auckland this week? Ferrer, Gael Monfils and John Isner all pulled out at the last moment. David said he was hurt, the defending champ Isner says that he was tired after playing the Hopman Cup and who knows what personal reasons Monfils had? When your top guys aren’t there, are the fans really going to want to come? Not as much, that is for sure.

Yes, if you become injured just prior to the Aussie Open, then that stinks. But you can actually play well during the week before and dominate the Aussie Open. In 2012, Vika Azarenka won Sydney and went one to win her first Slam by grabbing the Australia Open title. Former No. 1 Hewitt won Sydney 2000-2001 and 2004-2005.

It is plausible, as long as the players stay healthy physically and psychologically, to win it all, both the warmups and the Slams. Then the fans will keep coming back, cheer loudly, during day, and during night.


Here’s the good news: Juan Martin del Potro took down Fabio Fognini 4-6 6-2 6-2. On Tuesday, he was very shaky in the first match he played since 10 months due to his sore left wrist. On Wednesday, he was flying high.

“I was nervous yesterday, not today,” he said. “My first match was too many sensations before getting to the court.  Today I did like normally, like a normal match.  He was the favorite for sure, but I played very calm.  I never give up, even losing the first set. I think the crowd also help me to keep fighting and enjoy all of the things too much.”

Guess what? On Wednesday, the Auckland got smacked again when Roberto Bautista Agut withdrew and Tommy Roberdo pulled out. Ugh.

The Italian Simone Bolelli bested second-seed David Goffin 6-3 6-3. We will quickly see how good the Belgian will be this season; a great results would be reaching the fourth round of the Aussie.

Angie Kerber beat Davia Gavrilova 6-7(6) 7-6(2) 6-3 in a match that began around 12:33 AM (Wednesday) & finished at 03:09. It’s very rare to start playing past midnight. It’s simply too late. Wait until the next day.

There are some very good players left in Sydney. The Czech Karolina Pliskova didn’t look tired and wiped out Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6 6-4 6-0. Don’t forget that Pliskova played Azarenka for more than three hours in Brisbane. She has almost cracked the top 20 and she is rising. She has a real shot to reach the final.

Tsvetana Pironkova won the tournament as a qualifier last year and here she goes again; she did not receive a wildcard (what a shame), so she went out and won three matches in the singles qualifying. Now she has won three more matches, besting Barbara Strycova 6-4 6-1.Could she do it again? She faces Petra Kvitova in the semis.

Pain is Pironkova’s gain as she wins first title in Sydney

pironkova wins sydney

Pironkova’s career has turned around.

By Matt Cronin

SYDNEY – It is very rare to find a veteran player who was sitting outside of the top 100 and, at times, who thought about quitting, who can find a way to come though qualifying and mow down an elite WTA field at a Premier level event.

Welcome to Tsvetana Pironkova’s world, one that was filled with angst and now is filled with joy. In one of the most impressive weeks in recent memory, the Bulgarian  won the Apia International Sydney on Saturday, besting the favored fifth-seed Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-4  in the final. That win followed brilliant performances against two other top 10 players, Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova; the world No. 107 became the first qualifier to win a WTA Premier since Ekaterina Makarova at 2010 Eastbourne.

The 26-year-old needed to win eight matches  to grab the crown When she came on court against Kerber, both of her legs hurt. But she would not give in, even though the German is a terrific defensive  player who is capable of grinding anyone down.

“In the beginning of the match I was feeling pain all over my legs actually, in my thighs,” Pironkova recalled. “I said, ‘You’re in the final now.  You cannot let this affect you that much.  Play until you pass out.’”

Pironkova outhit Kerber on the backhand side with low laser shots, served much bigger and more effectively and kept her weaker forehand deep enough so that Kerber was unable to eat her alive. She broke the weak-serving German six times, nailed 32 winners to Kerber’s  23 and did not appear to be nervous while closing the match out, even though it was her first career final. But, in reality, she was riddled with anxiety until she took a  deep breath and  focused on the task at hand.

“I felt very nervous, but I tried my hardest not to show it,” she said. “I was trying to concentrate so hard that I just see only the ball.  I was only watching the ball and I’m like, ‘Okay, just watch the ball and follow every point.’ ”

She won the contest when Kerber pushed a groundstroke wide, fell to her knees and cried a bit in her chair. Her first words in an on-court ceremony were to her parents, her father and coach Kirlei who was on site, as was her mom, Radosevta.

“Mom, Dad, we have trophy!” she said with a big smile on her face.

Her emotion flowed freely, which was not surprising given that there were times in 2013 when she couldn’t win a match.

“When I know what I’ve been through, not only last season but throughout my career, it hasn’t been easy for me,” she said. “This is something that I’ve been waiting for so long and something that I’ve missed so much.  Now that I finally have it, it’s all surreal.  I still cannot believe it, honestly. My mom and dad are the people that have always been with me. Good or bad, they have always been behind my back and pushing me.”

Pironkova admitted that retirement did cross her mind last season, but she stuck with her sport because she’s been chasing that elusive trophy her whole career

“One bad season. I said to myself, ‘Okay, it sucks, but you have to keep pushing. You have to go forward. Just take all your chances and do what you have to do, and then we’ll see what happens.’ So that’s what I did,” she said.

The Bulgarian added that  all of her improvement is due to her newfound mental stability and that she didn’t lose her head once she reached the latter stages of he event. After she upset Errani in the quarters, she knew she had a chance to win it, but she couldn’t afford to daydream, couldn’t think too much ahead. She actually had to wins points, games, sets and matches. And that is what she did. The former Wimbledon semifinalist will head out of Sydney to Melbourne a very happy camper, a top-60 player and a much more dangerous competitor.

“That’s for the first time it came to my mind,” she said of her Errani upset. “ ‘Whoa, you are on a roll here, you play really good, you feel confident, so why not win the tournament.’ But I try to push that thought deeper in my mind and not to think too much about it. Just to take each match on its own.  I think that’s the right strategy for me.”

Brains vs  Brawn: Tomic  vs Del Potro in men’s final

Brains will go up against brawn in the final of the Apia International Sydney on Sunday, with Juan Martin del Potro facing  Bernard Tomic. That description is more apt on court as the Argentine is more thoughtful off court than the Australian is, but Tomic tends to be a more of thinking man’s player while Del Potro’s style consists of huge serves and bigger forehands. The two have faced off only once, last year in Washington, which appeared to be a routine win for Del Potro. But Tomic thought he had chances in that contest.

Then 21-year-old Aussie has created a lot of his own opportunities during the week and was mentally strong in his last two matches against two tricky opponents who are as hard to read as he is. Those men would be Alex Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky, whom he bested  6-7(4) 7-5 6-3  in the semis. Tomic was drained during the semi, but his fitness level appears to have improved and he was able to out leg  the Ukrainian when he needed to in the third set.

But he is going to have a tougher time against Del Potro, who is not going to hesitate at key moments like Stakhovsky did.  Del Potro appears to have adjusted to the quick  courts now and thumped Dmitry Tursunov 6-4 6-2.

As Tomic said, DelPo may very well have the best forehand on tour these days. While Nadal has the best left-handed one and Federer is right there with him on good days, the Tower of Tandil can rock the shot

“Best forehand I think on tour now.” Tomic said. “Very, very good first serve. Not much you can do when he’s playing good. He can play amazing.  I have to stick with him to have a chance I play a little bit differently, so hopefully I can get buzzed up and play my tennis. know what Juan is gonna be doing.  Obviously he’s very, very good at what he does.  This is why he’s there.  I have to do something different.  I have to play my game. It’s a final.  I’ll go out there, have fun, relax, and I’m going for the win.”

Del Potro praised how intelligent Tomic’s game is, but it’s the Aussie’s first serve and more powerful forehand that has been most impressive this week, not his backhand slice or drop shot. Having a lot of variety can help players win matches as long as they can execute, which Tomic has not been very adept at outside of Australia. But he is playing at home, where he frequently displays top-20 stuff.

“He’s very smart to play,” Del Potro said. “He has everything to be in the higher ranking very soon.  He’s a local guy, so he has a little advantage to the rest.  He already won this tournament last year, so he must feel confidence to play down the center court.”

Tomic added that it is possible that the Argentine will get nervous and that would give him a  chance.


Picture of the Day: Tomic goes Disco style after his win in Sydney

tomic in purple

‘Unlucky’ Wozniacki in questionable form for Aussie Open

wozniacki ring 14

Despite loss, Caro feels she’s ready for Melbourne


SYDNEY – Caroline Wozniacki may be in slightly improved form heading onto the Australian Open than she was last year, but the former No. 1 does not appear to be playing substantially better. The newly engaged Dane is in a happy place in her personal life (she is wearing a diamond the size of the Rock of Gibraltar on her finger, which is the engagement ring that her pro golfer fiancée Rory McIlroy gave her), but she can’t be terribly pleased about her career, as she is struggling to beat very good players. After pulling out of Brisbane due to shoulder injury, she decided to played the Apia Sydney International, taking out Julia Goerges in three sets on  Monday night, but then falling 6-4 7-6 (7) to Lucie Safarova on Tuesday afternoon.

The lefty Czech has cracked the top 20 before and is no pushover, but under a new coach, Thomas Hogstedt, No. 10 Wozniacki did not look much  better than last season. Her serve is rarely a weapon, her forehand doesn’t have enough depth or pop and her style is currently is one of  “tweener:” stuck between playing standout defense and headstrong offense. Her defense is still there – that’s what brought her to the No. 1 ranking – but her offense is still a work in progress. Her forehand has improved, but she still has trouble hitting it for winners and she can’t belt it down the line. Her flat first serve is pretty decent, but her slice and kicker are nothing to write home about. She isn’t a bad volleyer, but does not attack the cords enough. She is an accurate return of server. but doesn’t take an enough big rips at the ball.

She held four set points in the tiebreaker and had she won one of those, the lefty Safarova might have faded in the third set. Wozniacki  could have pushed herself  harder in rallies and taken more risks, but she didn’t see it that way.

“The first one we have a really long, good rally and I really felt like I put pressure on her there.  She just really stepped it up and won that point,” Wozniacki said. “She served me to the backhand where I miss‑timed it a little bit and missed it by a little.  And then I served on the third set point, and again we have a very long rally.  Again I felt like I put pressure on her, and then it was going back and forth.  I think it was at least 12 or 15 shots going back and forth. You know, again, she hit the line a few times as well.  Just unlucky really.  Fourth one I had a chance.  She served a second serve but it attacked me right in the body.  I misread the ball a little bit and it got too close to my body. Yeah, unlucky really. I feel like I did everything right.  What I could have done, maybe one of the returns of the returns if I had returned it differently, but, again, you can always say that.”

If the Dane feels she was just unlucky, than maybe that will aid her confidence headed into Melbourne, the one Grand Slam tournament that perhaps she should have won back in 2011, when she held a match point against Li Na in the semis and then pushed the ball around in a three set loss. She says she feels good going into the 2014 edition, which begins next week. Perhaps she make a mini run, or maybe her campaign will end in the fourth round, like it did last year when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Against Safarova, she looked no better than a potential quarterfinalist, but she doesn’t seem to feel that way.

“I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” she said. “I should be ready for Melbourne.  I just need to push hard and I need to serve and return well.  I think those are the keys. Then obviously try to put the pressure on the opponent.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY Defending champion Bernard Tomic discussed having his banned father and coach John be allowed back on a site this year. John Tomic, who was banned from the tour last May for assaulting his son’s former hitting partner, was allowed to attend Bernard’s 6-3 6-0 wipe out of  Marcel Granollers as a fan on Tuesday. “Having my dad there a very good feeling.  Obviously winning my first title here gives a lot of memories to me.  I’m happy the way I played today.  Having my dad there for the first time in a while, it’s good. I know his ban will finish very soon, in a few months, and back to helping me.  I’m happy.  Today that was the position.  I played very good.  Felt very good.  I’m happy to be back playing like this.”

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DAY The US men continue to struggle Down Under, with qualifier Ryan Harrison falling to Nicolas Mahut and Lucky Loser Albert Ramos of Spain upending Sam Querrey. There are no US men left in the Sydney singles draw.

What to watch for on Wednesday American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands takes on US teenager Madison Keys, whom she mentors a bit. “She’s a great upcoming player,” said Mattek Sands “Plays aggressive shots, big serve. “She goes for her shots.  She’s not afraid.”

Bury Isner’s AO chances on his wounded knee?

Isner 2nd week prospects don't look good.

Isner’s 2nd week prospects don’t look good.

FROM THE APIA SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL – John Isner was hoping to turn his fortunes around at the Grand Slams in 2013, but now it looks like he

Wozzy Wozzy, Wozzy, Oh no, Oh no, Oh no

wozniacki asian swing 12

FROM THE APIA SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL – Deep in the first set of her 7-6, 1-6, 6-2 loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round, Caroline Wozniacki engaged in a sharp, hard-hitting rally where she had her money shot, her two-handed backhand lined up to end the rally, and she plunked it into the net. She then threw her racket angrily on the ground, knowing that yet another opportunity had been lost.

The likeable Dane is once again in a tough spot in her now not-so-young career. She