Tag Archives: Caroline Wozniacki

Tennis is back – runners and riders for Australian Open

It’s still a novelty to come into a Grand Slam without Andy Murray being one of the favourites, definitely so with Novak Djokovic seeded as low as 14, with Serena Williams still missing and the unrepentant Maria Sharapova remaining a dangerous floater. That being said, there is solace for the nostalgics amongst us to have Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the top seeds and Venus Williams to be amongst the favourites in Melbourne. Whatever, there is a lot to be both intrigued and excited by with the 2018 edition of the Australian Open starting in a couple of hours. Here are a few of the main protagonists to look out for.

IMG_6745

Dimitrov faring much better these days

 

Both Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov will be very happy with life right now. The Spaniard, after enjoying his most successful season in many, yet recovering from injury, is rightly the top seed. His capture of Grand Slams number 15 and 16 last year clearly reignited his passion and desire to create more history. He will go to Paris in spring as the most scorching favourite and has landed in an incredibly light half of the draw in Melbourne. Only Marin Cilic could lay claim to causing the marvellous Mallorcan’s sleep any trouble before he reaches the final four. Yet it is there that, if proceedings go to form, he will come up against a rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov. 18 months ago, the Bulgarian appeared to be going nowhere. I watched him bundled out of the first round of Roland Garros and he looked helpless, hopeless and listless; a European Bernard Tomic, if you like. Fast forward a year and a half and he comes to Melbourne the third seed and winner of the ATP Finals, having triumphed on his first appearance in the showpiece event. Granted, there was no Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Raonic, Nishikori, or Wawrinka but the level Dimitrov showed indicates he is finally ready to fulfil his major-winning potential.

bn-rv762_2w4fr_or_20170129074235

Two Kings embrace

 

Will ‘Baby Federer’ have to dispose of the real deal if he is to win his first major? The strong likelihood is yes. Whilst the 36-year-old 19-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer is playing down his status as favourite, it is very apparent that he remains one of the two men to beat. His 2017 renaissance saw a serene Federer dealing impeccably with his previous anxiety to make history time and time again. This is a new, relaxed maestro, a man who finally believes that he has Nadal’s number. It will be of little concern to him that he has barely played since the US Open , showing himself to be in fine fettle in the recent Hopman Cup. He may have to see off an ever-more consistent Dominic Thiem to reach the final, which would take a lot out of him and leave him easier picking for his final opponent but I do expect the Swiss to line up on the final day of the fortnight, gunning for Grand Slam number 20. As for the rest, the bottom half of the draw could well have match-ups of Thiem v Wawrinka, Djokovic v Zverev, and Goffin v Berdych in the Last 16. What a treat we are in for!

Serena Williams has decided she is not yet ready to return so the scamper for majors for the top tier of women goes into an extra bonus tournament. The American sounded an ominous warning this week, stating she does not need more majors but simply wants them. Her desire is greater than any other so the field have been put on notice. In Serena’s absence, six different players reached the three Grand Slam finals last year; Simona Halep, Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. In addition, Caroline Wozniacki won the WTA Tour Finals, rising back up to number two in the world. With the exceptions of Stephens and Keys, any one of other five women are in with genuine hopes in the coming fortnight. Simona Halep responded in positive fashion to what must have been a crushing French Open final defeat, rising to finish the year as World Number 1 and she has already struck gold in 2018, winning in Shenzhen. She does, however, have a tough draw; Petra Kvitova, Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova await before any thoughts of a semi-final appearance.

1509932_10153524258832388_3677819471366836942_n

Melbourne city skyline

 

Garbine Muguruza’s toughest opponent may prove to be her thigh. She is scheduled to face up against Maria Sharapova in Round 4 which could end up being the match of the fortnight but if her body is right and her game clicks, nothing can stop the two-time major winner adding a third trophy to her collection. Later on, her big game would surely be too much for Halep to handle in the semi-finals. Speaking of big hitters, Jelena Ostapenko is no flash in the pan. A potential final for the Latvian against Muguruza would not be for the faint-hearted – it may not be full of the touch and guile to delight the tennis purists but my goodness would they smack the hell out of those poor balls. Her Round 4 opponent is projected to be CoCo Vandeweghe which would prove to be a fine warm-up for a hard-hitting final and surely Caroline Wozniacki could not live with a an in-form Ostapenko in between. However, if Ostapenko is slightly off, expect Wozniacki to give her enough rope to hang herself with. It is, however, tough to see.

IMG_7356

Ostapenko loves giving the ball a good thwack

 

Further to this, an Ostapenko-Venus Williams semi-final would be fun. The Latvian had just turned three when Venus Williams won her first Wimbledon title in July 2000 and most in tennis are rooting for the elder Williams to crown her career Indian Summer with one more major; she was the chief bridesmaid in Melbourne and Wimbledon last year as well as at the WTA Tour Finals. Expect her to go deep here again, but to not quite match last year’s achievement. She should however have a little too much nous for Elina Svitolina in the last eight. The Ukrainian is in blistering form having already won in Brisbane and has a shot at stealing the World Number 1 slot in the next fortnight, albeit along with Wozniacki, Pliskova, Ostapenko, Muguruza and Venus. Svitolina does seem to falter when the pressure is on, and with the pursuit for her first major and the ranking firmly in her head, it will all get too much.

Even thought there are four former champions in the men’s draw (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Wawrinka) and another two in the women’s (Sharapova and Angelique Kerber), there may well be two new names considering a dive into the Yarra River in two weeks’ time. I wonder if Grigor Dimitrov and Garbine Muguruza have packed their wetsuits?

 

Quick predictions

Grigor Dimitrov to beat Roger Federer in the final

Garbine Muguruza to beat Jelena Ostapneko in the final

Most likely to disappoint: Jo Konta, Madison Keys and Stan Wawrinka.

1 Comment

Filed under Australian Open

Australian Open 2015 preview – Bouchard and Murray to reign?

Oh really, we’re here already? The tennis off-season whizzed by in a flash, seeming like mere weeks since Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic swept all before them in their respective end-of-season Championships. The big names have taken different warm-up routes prior to arriving in Melbourne but, with the Australian Open’s propensity to throw in one or five surprises, a cracking fortnight of tennis is in store.

The home of tennis for the next two weeks

The home of tennis for the next two weeks

On the women’s side, Serena Williams looked everything but invincible during the Hopman Cup, losing heavily to both Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska, whilst being pushed to the very limit by Lucie Safarova. She will not like the fact that she faces tricky likely encounters with fast-rising Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza in the first week. I will not be surprised if the latter, who reached the fourth round here last year, springs a big shock. Maria Sharapova beat Ana Ivanovic in a classic Brisbane final eight days ago, both ladies going at it hammer and tongs for two and a half hours with an intensity belying the fact that it was the first week of the new season. Both of them will fancy their chances this fortnight, Sharapova admitting that she is only here to win. If I had to pick though, I’d go with Ivanovic to go deeper into the tournament and match her semi-final appearance of 12 months ago.

Agnieszka Radwanska is a tough one to call. In the past, I’ve been critical of her mental fragility, especially when a draw opens up. She has the game to trouble anybody on tour, as borne out by her demolition job on Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion of the time, in the quarter finals last year. But her mind simply goes AWOL on occasions, which has cost her dear time after time in her career thus far. She has now done well to seek out help in the form of her new coach Martina Navratilova. One can only assume that only good will come out of this partnership. There’s not a lot wrong with the Pole’s physical game, and if she gets it right between the ears, she will end her Grand Slam duck sometime in the near future. Having said that, this fortnight will come too soon; a place in the quarter-finals would seem reasonable reward. Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki will look to carry their fine 2014s into the new season but the latter has the prospect of a mouth-watering clash with Victoria Azarenka on the horizon in the second round. If it’s the Wozniacki of late summer and the Azarenka of the same period, the Dane will be a shoe-in. However, if Wozniacki does not bring her A-game, we all know that it’s power-hitters who have the ability to smash her off the court. Halep will not face too many hurdles en route to the quarters, and I would say anything after that is a bonus for the Romanian who is looking to consolidate her place at the very top table.

My strong suspicion is that it will be the Wimbledon finalists who meet up once again on January 31st; both Genie Bouchard and her conqueror Petra Kvitova have looked tough and uncompromising so far this year. Kvitova has never been fitter and the confidence that she can hit through most of the tour, aligned with her new-found fitness, should see her strike through the field. Bouchard has an inner-steel that sees her through the tough battles. Expect a quarter-final classic against Sharapova – for sheer intensity if not for quality. Despite Kvitova being the bigger and better hitter, something’s telling me that Genie’s time has come.

Inspired by our meeting,  Genie's time has come

Inspired by our meeting, Genie’s time has come

If I’m uncharacteristically writing off Serena Williams, I might as well dismiss Rafael Nadal too.  The Spaniard has of course come into tournaments before when his fitness has looked suspect but this time he appears unfit and off-form. I don’t see any Steve Darcis or Lukas Rosol escapades on the horizon, but I do think the second week will see the 14-time Grand Slam champion come up way short should he have to take on one of the world’s top six. It always amuses me how people immediately start looking to a Roger Federer-Nadal semi-final when the draw is made, almost making the first eleven days of the tournament redundant. Despite the Spaniard’s current shortcomings and the great Swiss’ early season success, I actually see it being Federer who fails to meet the expectation of the draw analysts; he’ll fend off youthful challenges from the likes of Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios but will likely fall at the Last 8 stage.  Don’t write these two old frenemies off completely just yet – I’d put good money on them sharing the following two majors.

Stan Wawrinka starts his title defence as somewhat of an unknown quantity. He finished the best year of his career atop the shoulders of his victorious Swiss Davis Cup team and may find it tough to live with life as the hunted, rather than the hunter here in Melbourne. On the flip side, he has been given a bobbydazzler of a draw. There is nothing to be afraid of until a potential quarter-final match with his conqueror from the US Open, Kei Nishikori. I’d still anticipate Stan’s feeling of home comfort here to take him over the line in that tough match-up. A semi-final showing wouldn’t exactly match up to last year’s triumph but it would show that he deserves to be respected at the top of the game and can play the big matches well. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Milos Raonic in the Last 8 club, along with Tomas Berdych. Raonic’s game is of course suited to this surface but, against the very best, he needs to find some variety to his game. Berdych arrives in Melbourne looking super-relaxed. He could even spring a minor surprise by ousting Nadal but a quarter-final berth would be a good start to what is an important year for the Czech; the male equivalent of Radwanska, he needs to sort out the mental aspect of his game as his talent deserves at least one Grand Slam.

I sometimes fail to give Novak Djokovic the praise and attention his career deserves. Whilst I didn’t write during Wimbledon, I was genuinely pleased that he added a second All-England Club championship to his trophy cabinet. A man that Nick Bollettieri calls the most-perfect tennis player that ever lived, a man with no weakness, is not a man who should have only a handful of major titles. He is unfortunate to have played during this period but he has made the most of his talent too. He’ll come up against big-servers at pretty much every turn here in Australia, but I expect him to have little trouble negotiating a path to a finals shoot-out with….Andy Murray.  The Brit looks as relaxed as Berdych, appears to be fully fit, in form and, most importantly, free of doubt in relation to his previous injury. He’s a three-time runner-up at the Australian Open, and whilst his potential run to the final is a hazardous one (Dimitrov, Federer, Nadal…) I just think the fact that he could come through under-the-radar will help him immensely. He has the game to win this one day, and I think that day is here right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WTA’s week in the spotlight – we need a stellar week

All eyes are on Singapore over the next week or so as the WTA season ends with its round-robin event; a format that seems to now be the accepted way on both WTA and ATP tours alike to settle the year’s champion. Six of the eight different Grand Slam finalists from the year line up in Asia, with Dominika Cibulkova missing out due to her failing to capitalise on her early-season momentum and of course the event and the tour from hereon will be a much lesser place for the lack of the recently-retired Na Li. The Chinese had an on and off-court personality which very few out there can come close to matching and her legacy will not be fully known for an other decade or so.

The three later Grand Slam finals of the year are all represented with potential rematches of Maria Sharapova v Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova v Eugenie Bouchard, and Serena Williams v Caroline Wozniacki all possible. In addition, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic will aim for their first Finals trophy, coming into this event after differing seasons. hat we have to hope for is that neither of the alternates Angelique Kerber and Kate Makarova are pressed into action. Too often in the past, this tournament under its different names has been ruined by the withdrawals and retirements of players, making a mockery of the format. The season is a long and gruelling one and it’s always hard for players to come into the tournament fully fit, which leads me nicely onto……

Eugenie Bouchard really shouldn’t be playing this tournament. There are massive concerns over her fitness coming into Singapore and the strapping on her during practice sessions is most unlike her. However, I simply feel like withdrawing wouldn’t have been an option for Genie due to commercial reasons. She’s a big draw, the biggest out there in tennis right now and I feel like if this was her third or fourth WTA Finals, she maybe wouldn’t be under so much pressure to play. Simona Halep also sees to be struggling with injury but she will think her hard work and fabulous results over the last 15 months merit her a place in Singapore so she will give it a shot. Alas, I expect neither of them to make it out of their group, even if they do manage to fulfil their fixtures.

Agnieszka Radwanska has had a hugely frustrating season, which peaked with her quarter-final dismembering of Vika Azarenka’s game in Melbourne in January. Whilst she has been known to throw in the odd shock result somewhere along the line, I have no qualms in writing off her chances here. Caroline Wozniacki, on the other hand, has had a summer of rejuvenation and her all-new attacking game has taken her back into the world’s Top 8. She’ll use these last few months as a mental springboard onto an even better 2015 in my opinion but she’ll find it a touch call to get out of the group.

Maria Sharapova comes into this event as an elder stateswoman but fresh as a daisy. She’s had a solid year, adding to her Grand Slam collection and playing some of her best fighting tennis of her career in Paris. She’ll be glad she’s not in the same group as her nemesis Serena Williams and should come through her group comfortably. Her round-robin match with Petra Kvitova will prove crucial in determining who avoids the World Number One in the last four . Ana Ivanovic should come through the other group at the expense of the less-than-fully-fit pair of Halep and Bouchard, and Ana is another who has been riding the wave of rejuvenation this year. Her forehand is working wonderfully and her aggression is tuned in at the right moments these days. She has a new-found belief that she belongs at the top of the women’s game going into 2015 and she fully deserves her time in the Singapore spotlight. Expect her to make the knock-out stage.

Petra Kvitova is the second best player in this tournament and her result here will match it. The now-2-time Wimbledon champion has the ability to hit most players, even Serena , off court and will fancy her chances of adding to the Finals trophy she won back in 2011. I expect her to claim four victories on her way to a Final showdown with the reigning US Open champion and it’ll be a blockbuster affair going down to the very wire. But, as so often in these previews, I have no option but to back Serena Williams to once again come out on top. Nothing seems so fitting in tennis as Serena standing atop the game at the end of a calendar year and I expect her to bring the form, fitness and motivation here to take away her fifth, and third successive , WTA Finals championship. Let’s just hope we get some fantastic three-set matches after some lacklustre latter stages of the Slams this year, as the women’s game has the full spotlight to itself this week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Cilic Bang! Croat enters exclusive club whilst Serena continues unique brand of dominance

For about eighteen months now, people have predicted that the days of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the top of men’s tennis were numbered. Eventually, they were always going to be proven correct. Has that day finally come? How many Grand Slam titles will Serena win if she fancies it? These were the two big questions left in my head at the end of another cracking tournament, albeit one that was a little lop-sided on the WTA side. My biggest rant will, once again, be directed at the organisers of the tournament, something of an annual tradition!

Saturday could well prove to be a pivotal moment in the changing of the guard, but I don’t think it necessarily announces that the changing has already taken place. Kei Nishikori had an amazing fortnight; to take out Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic in successive rounds will do wonders for his confidence. It’s such a shame that he suffered from nerves in the final, and be in no doubt about that – Kei got tight and it ruined his shot at this title. However, his dismantling of Djokovic’s game in the final two sets of their semi-final suggests that the pack have caught up with Djokovic, on their best day. But therein is the key for the moment; Djokovic will still beat the rest of the field on his best day regardless of what they do. He looked lethargic in the latter stages of his semi-final, and Nishikori just ground him down before dismantling the game, something which his coach would be mightily proud of.

Marin Cilic played exemplary tennis in the second week of the season’s last major, a surprising breakthrough but not wholly illogical. Boris Becker stated during the final that Djokovic had knocked the big Croat out of the last two Slams but in really tough battles, and that they’d both felt that Marin was beginning to knock louder on the door of the tennis dynasty. Cilic has pushed them close before in the past but his game was prone to imploding in moments of pressure. His liaison with Goran Ivanisevic seems to have righted that wrong. The former Wimbledon winner looks to have had the same effect on his compatriot as Ivan Lendl had on Andy Murray’s game two years ago. Perhaps Cilic’s moment in the sun will be a fleeting one, but after the way he tore through the quarters, semis and final in New York there is hope that he can genuinely challenge in majors from herein. The newest Grand Slam champion has everything in his game, the depth he achieves off the ground is unreal and coupled with the booming serve (not dissimilar to his or Djokovic’s coaches), he has everything he needs to mount an assault on the top of the rankings.

Roger Federer is in a different place to Novak Djokovic in that his best is no longer always good enough to beat the likes of Cilic’s best. Sure, he is still a contender and I still make him, at this point, one of if not the favourite to win Wimbledon in 2015 but on other surfaces his A-game is not always going to beat the A-game of a Monfils, a Dimitrov, a Cilic. Weirdly enough, his record of 17 Slams looks more secure now than it did a fortnight ago. The breakthroughs this year of Wawrinka and now Nishikori and Cilic mean that it will be tougher for Rafael Nadal to inch closer to Federer’s total, but this small crumb of comfort will not seem too palatable for the ever-competitive Swiss number 1.

A usual sight in the opening ten days - not one you expect for the men's final though

A usual sight in the opening ten days – not one you expect for the men’s final though

The women’s tournament lacked a quality match in the second week. It’s becoming a depressing pattern; first weeks full of promise and high-quality tussles which then fizzle out in the second week, the popcorn week. The casual viewer of women’s tennis probably tunes into the latter stages and wishes they hadn’t bothered. It’s not the participants’ faults of course, just Sod’s Law but I remain glad that I follow the first week as much as I do the latter stages. There’s still depth there in the women’s game, highlighted by the eight different Grand Slam finalists this year but there’s no getting away from the fact that if Serena Williams really goes after a title then it’s her whose name will be on the trophy at the end of the fortnight. I find it a little frustrating to see Serena on ONLY 18 majors, because if she had given it her all throughout the career, her total would be closer to, if not greater than, Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Slams. Chrissie Evert and Martina Navratilova achieved their 18 majors in direct competition with each other. Since Venus went past her peak, Serena has had no serious competition to speak of and she has failed to capitalise, particularly this year.  I know it’s churlish to criticise the woman who just decimated the field, losing no more than three games in any set during the fortnight, but it really hit home to me what she hasn’t done. I’ve been her biggest fan but she could have taken the major records to untouchable heights. Her impact on tennis will live forever, but she could have been truly immortal if she had channelled correctly at all times.

My annual US Open rant is based again on the scheduling and pretty shoddy display by fans on final day. Luckily, we are going back to a Sunday final next year which should take away the ridiculous image of starting a major final in a stadium that was less than half full. Having a final on a workday is ludicrous, but to have it start at 5pm is downright crazy. The minute that we knew the final was between two new names on the block, it was evident that tennis tourists would not leave work early to get there. I won’t hold too many of them to account, but what I found disgustingly disrespectful was the fact that only 50% of the crowd stuck around for the presentation. This doesn’t happen in the other majors, what was so pressing at 7pm on a weekday evening that 14,000 people had to do a runner the minute Cilic entered the Grand Slam club? Such a shame. But a scenario not helped by the Monday final scheduling.

All in all, a great fortnight of tennis. Caroline Wozniacki returned to prominence and relevance, the trio of Shuai Peng, Kate Makarova and Kei Nishikori all made major breakthroughs and Croatia has a new sporting superstar. The Grand Slam year ended as it had begun, with a new name being able to forever call himself a Grand Slam champion. Pa učinio Marin!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, US Open