Tag Archives: Eugenie Bouchard

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.

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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.

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My Wimbledon 2013 : ground pass goodness and a bit of constructive criticism


The one thing that instantly struck me about Rafael Nadal’s first round defeat on Monday afternoon wasn’t worry for his old knee problem, nor was it to marvel at Steve Darcis’ accomplishment (after all, it’s becoming old hat to send Rafa tumbling early at SW19 – he may be needing a wildcard shortly with all those ‘deserving’ Brits). No, it was to reassert just how wonderful Roger Federer’s achievement is to have reached 36 (not out…..) consecutive major quarter-finals. Not since the 2004 French Open has he failed to be a part of the Last 8. It is a staggering achievement, and does disservice to how difficult it is to reach the latter stages of a Slam. Witness Rafa’s early exit here or Lleyton Hewitt’s first round defeat as defending champion in 2003. Players raise their level against you and every top player can have an off-day. Except Federer, it would seem. Or so it seemed until late on Wednesday evening when his run finally came to an end. He didn’t play his worst match, but Sergiy Stakhovsky produced a master class of serve and volley, a real return to the past. But whatever, Federer’s record of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals will never be matched.

My trip to Wimbledon this year consisted of ground pass tickets on Days 1 and 2. Ground pass is really where the value is on the first few days of a Slam, the potential for well-matched ties all over the grounds. Maybe the quality isn’t so high but you usually see competitive action. But this year, I got lucky and managed to see several really high-quality first round match-ups.

2012 girls’ champion Eugenie Bouchard showed no lack of mental fortitude to battle back against the wily Galina Voskoboeva. Bouchard has the game to be a contender in years to come if she can transfer the potential into development. I was delighted to see her follow that up with a smashing win against former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, although it has to be said that Ana has never been totally at ease on grass. Fernando Verdasco showed a surprising willingness to come to net and out-volley grass-court specialist Xavier Malisse in four highly enjoyable sets. Truth be told, the one I was most looking forward to disappointed. American Sloane Stephens never looked in any danger against her compatriot Jamie Hampton, and whilst the latter has nice variety to her game, for me it is evident that the Australian Open semi-finalist will go further with her career.

Day Two saw Alexandra Cadantu raise her level to comfortably see off a low-on-confidence-and-form Tamira Paszek, a member of the Wimbledon Last Eight Club. The Austrian needs to take some time to pick apart her game – she has talent, but is slipping away at this stage in her career. The biggest height mismatch came out on Court 10, with 5ft6 Olivier Rochus attempting to slay the 6ft9 Kevin Anderson. I’ve only ever seen the Belgian play three times and each time the opponent has been at least 6ft8. It felt a bit like we were at the circus. The veteran hit more drop-shots in a single match than will probably be produced in total during the remainder of the tournament, but as effective as this tactic was it was ultimately in vain as Anderson’s big serving saw him through in the end. Elena Vesnina negotiated a tricky-looking pairing with big-hitter Andrea Hlavackova, following up her first grass-court title in Eastbourne last week by winning through in two impressive sets. The Russian is a favourite of mine, and in particular my tennis mate who insists we watch her every time we go to Slams. After six long years, the player that he always knew was hidden behind all the errors appears to have finally broken out into a Top 20 player. It’s nice when that happens. The best match of my Wimbledon experience was Dominika Cibulkova against Maria-Elena Camerin. Allow me to explain: Camerin is another of these players you just kind of stumble upon. I think we’ve seen her play five times at Wimbledon, and each time she has been defeated. But this was the closest she has come and against a very good player too. Baseline rallies, crosscourt backhand winners, volleys, lobs, drop-shots; this had it all. What we expected to be a 45 minute destruction job turned into two and a half hours of fab grass-court tennis. Well done to both ladies. And see you next year, Camerin!

A word of warning for the best tournament in the world. If you continue to pride yourself on selling 7,500 tickets each day, you must ensure that they can be sold prior to the start of play. It is not fair that a paying customer who is within the first 7,500 people through the gates misses the first 90 minutes of play. I have been going for the past decade and the whole process is getting slower each year. They have moved the start of play forward, but there is no movement in the start of ticket sales. Two hours to sell 7,500 tickets is a tall order. They have to rethink because the popularity is proving too much for them to handle. I would hasten to add that this four-hour process is not helped by the draconian security search that takes fully ten minutes from the moment you remove your belt. In my two days there, the line was held up as officials scurried to seek the answer to whether it was necessary to take belts off and whether knives and forks were allowed (how difficult is it to know the rules in advance). An airport-style security scan is then performed, and then EVERY bag is searched individually by hand. Yeah, 7,500 bags. After scanning. Too much. I don’t think anybody would accuse the US of being lax with security yet the Open is seamless in getting people through quickly and efficiently. The All England Club will probably argue that security is paramount, yet the scanning is not done with people who enter with debenture tickets etc. Maybe people with more money couldn’t possibly be terrorists, what say you Wimbledon? Either way, it’s shoddy and people who join a queue four hours prior to play (the time the Club recommends) deserve to be accommodated on time. Look out for the players and the corporate customers by all means, but don’t forget the real fans.

Due to that factor, despite the enjoyable matches this time Wimbledon only scores 8/10.

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